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UConn's Associate Dean for Research and Industrial Partnerships, S. Pamir Alpay, and Yomery Espinal '18 PhD (ENG) have published a paper on a novel portable pyroelectric technology in Cell Reports Physical Science with support from the Army Research Laboratory.

Pyroelectric energy research is focused on how to generate energy from heat that would otherwise be wasted in a catalytic chemical reaction.

When pyroelectric materials are heated, their polarization changes, leading to an electron flow that generates energy. These materials are commonly used in household devices like motion sensor lights, which detect body heat to determine when someone is near.

Anytime there is a catalytic reaction, heat is generated. These devices harness that heat and use it as energy. For example, a combustion engine in a car produces heat that, with this kind of technology, could be used to power the electrical functions of the car that otherwise rely on battery power.

The Army Research Lab (ARL) is particularly interested in this technology because it can provide more power with less weight, which is important for soldiers carrying heavy bags.

While scientists have been experimenting with pyroelectric power for decades, the technology proposed in this paper is completely novel.

"Something like that doesn't exist," Alpay says. "It would give you the opportunity to recover some things that just go to waste."

The technology proposed in this publication is portable and has an extended lifetime. It uses on-chip combustion of methanol, a high-energy fuel, to harness energy from the reaction. The pyroelectric material converts waste heat from the reaction to usable power.

Vapor of a high-energy fuel, in this case methanol, is combusted on a thin, 440 nanometer film on platinized silicon wafers. The device converts the heat from this reaction into pyroelectric power.

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Category: Science