Nanofilms developed by UNN physicists will be able to charge gadgets using body heat
Lobachevsky University physicists have developed manganese silicide-based nanofilms that convert heat into electricity. Unlike their semiconductor counterparts, these thermoelectric energy converters are capable of operating in outer space.
Thermoelectric converters are widely used to generate electricity from the thermal energy of heated machine parts. Because of the particular crystalline structure of manganese and silicon compounds, they are among the most promising materials for generating electricity. Nanofilms produced by UNN physicists are less than 100 nanometres thick and weigh as little as a millionth of a gram.
According to the scientists, the films can be integrated into the outer shell of spacecraft, reducing the weight and power consumption of the equipment operating in space. Thin-film converters can also be used in everyday life: to charge gadgets from body heat or in thermoelectric clothing with an air-conditioning function.
" A film with a complex crystalline structure is formed by combining manganese and silicon in vacuum. Pulse laser deposition is used to first sputter the silicon target and then the manganese target. We solved the problem of instability of the material's thermoelectric properties by using spark plasma sintering of a powder mixture of the two metals. This increased the homogeneity of the structures of both the target and the film that is produced when the target is sputtered. As a result, we obtained more stable samples of thermocouples with different thicknesses," said Mikhail Dorokhin, leading researcher at the Laboratory of Spin and Optical Electronics at the UNN Physics and Technology Research Institute.
An important feature of the thin-film converter developed by Nizhny Novgorod scientists is that it can operate in a wide temperature range (30-800 degrees Celsius) with a strong radiation background and with lower energy losses than its semiconductor counterparts.
The invention was patented in May 2022. Researchers at the UNN Physics and Technology Research Institute are planning to further increase the efficiency of electricity generation by combining the films with layers of other thermoelectric nanomaterials.