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Pyroelectric energy conversion with large energy and power density in relaxor ferroelectric thin films


The need for efficient energy utilization is driving research into ways to harvest ubiquitous waste heat. Here, we explore pyroelectric energy conversion from low-grade thermal sources that exploits strong field- and temperature-induced polarization susceptibilities in the relaxor ferroelectric 0.68Pb(Mg1/3Nb2/3)O3–0.32PbTiO3. Electric-field-driven enhancement of the pyroelectric response (as large as −550 μC m−2 K−1) and suppression of the dielectric response (by 72%) yield substantial figures of merit for pyroelectric energy conversion. Field- and temperature-dependent pyroelectric measurements highlight the role of polarization rotation and field-induced polarization in mediating these effects. Solid-state, thin-film devices that convert low-grade heat into electrical energy are demonstrated using pyroelectric Ericsson cycles, and optimized to yield maximum energy density, power density and efficiency of 1.06 J cm−3, 526 W cm−3 and 19% of Carnot, respectively; the highest values reported to date and equivalent to the performance of a thermoelectric with an effective ZT  1.16 for a temperature change of 10 K. Our findings suggest that pyroelectric devices may be competitive with thermoelectric devices for low-grade thermal harvesting.

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Fig. 1: Pyroelectric and dielectric permittivity measurements of PMN–0.32PT thin films.
Fig. 2: Temperature- and field-dependent pyroelectric measurements.
Fig. 3: Implementation of solid-state pyroelectric Ericsson cycles for energy conversion.
Fig. 4: Exploring pyroelectric Ericsson cycles for energy conversion.


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S.P. acknowledges support from the Army Research Office under grant W911NF-14-1-0104. J.W. acknowledges support from a UC Berkeley Graduate Fellowship. J.K. acknowledges support from the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences through grant no. DE-SC-0012375 for development of the relaxor materials. R.G. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation under grant OISE-1545907. A.D. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation under grant DMR-1708615. L.W.M. acknowledges support of the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division under contract no. DE-AC02-05-CH11231: Materials Project programme KC23MP for development of advanced functional materials.

Author information




S.P. and L.W.M. conceived the central concepts and designed the experiments. J.K. synthesized the materials. S.P. completed the electrical studies. J.K. and R.G. completed the structural characterization of the materials. S.P. and J.W. completed the thermal characterization and implemented the energy conversion cycles. S.P. conducted additional thermal–electrical studies that contributed to the understanding of the data. J.W. and C.D. contributed to the development of both the analytical and finite-element-based heat transport models. J.W., J.K. and A.D. contributed to analysis, discussions and understanding of the data and the development of the manuscript. S.P. and L.W.M. wrote the core of the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and implications of the work and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Lane W. Martin.

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Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary References 1–12.

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Pandya, S., Wilbur, J., Kim, J. et al. Pyroelectric energy conversion with large energy and power density in relaxor ferroelectric thin films. Nature Mater 17, 432–438 (2018).

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