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An inconvenient truth about thermoelectrics

Despite recent advances, thermoelectric energy conversion will never be as efficient as steam engines. That means thermoelectrics will remain limited to applications served poorly or not at all by existing technology. Bad news for thermoelectricians, but the climate crisis requires that we face bad news head on.

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Figure 1: Integrating thermoelectrics into vehicles for improved fuel efficiency.

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Figure 2: Assessing thermoelectrics.
Figure 3: Size can favour thermoelectrics.


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I wish to thank A. Gore, L. Bell, J. Snyder, J. Stockholm, C. Uher, B. LeSage, B. Nickerson, R. Venkatasubramanian, D. Rowe, T. Kajikawa, J.-P. Fleurial, T. Caillat, J. Heath, L. Whitlow, H. Böttner, E. P. Vining and many others throughout the thermoelectric community for discussions and input. The opinions, errors and omissions, however, are solely my own.

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C.B.V. is an independent energy conversion consultant.

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Vining, C. An inconvenient truth about thermoelectrics. Nature Mater 8, 83–85 (2009).

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