STAMI-COPE Professor Shannon Yee Developing Thermoelectric Polymers for Personal Climate Control

This article adapted from "Cool Solutions" in Georgia Tech Research Horizons.

STAMI-COPE Professor Shannon Yee and his team of Georgia Tech researchers are developing new cooling technologies based on organic polymers to address challenges posed by climate change. 

Yee’s team is developing polymer-based thermoelectric (TE) materials and processing methods for wearable devices to help people feel warmer or cooler on demand. “This is already possible using inorganic TEs, but results in bulky ceramic devices,” Yee said. “With polymers, we can literally paint or spray material, resulting in more comfortable and stylish options.” The polymer TE materials could either harvest body heat to generate electricity or be used to produce a cooling sensation by hooking up a flexible battery to the circuitry, he explained.

It’s still early days for the technology, but researchers have made strides with a new n-type polymer. In contrast to existing n-types that oxidize readily, this new polymer remains stable in air. For a proof-of-concept project, the researchers have created the first textile-integrated thermoelectric shirt, which features a Georgia Tech logo made from the novel polymers.

Albeit a niche application, Yee believes polymer TEGs could achieve significant savings. “Forty percent of electricity from power plants is used for heating and cooling, which we could utilize better,” he said. “If we can provide heating and cooling locally so individuals feel more comfortable, we may be able to use less energy to heat and cool open spaces.”

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