Even though nanowires are not great for thermoelectric applications, researchers at Sandia National Labs believe that better control of the manufacturing process could improve the quality enough to make a useful thermoelectric material.

Their research shows that the nanowires could make it possible for carmakers to harvest power from the heat wasted by exhaust systems or lead to more efficient devices for cooling computer chips, as described in IEEE Spectrum.

The novel manufacturing process controls the crystal orientation, crystal size and alloy uniformity of nanowires, allowing them to be used in a range of thermoelectric applications. Traditional materials possess relatively poor thermoelectric conversion efficiency or are prohibitively expensive for commercial uses.

In a research published in Cambridge Journal of Materials Research, the Sandia team used a method known as room-temperature electroforming, which is used in commercial electroplating. In electroforming, material is deposited at a constant rate, which results in the nanowires growing uniformly.

The next step in the research will be to make an electrical contact with the nanowire-based material and to measure the resulting thermoelectric behavior.

Researchers are also seeking funding to solve the problem of making contacts, and then they plan to characterize the thermal electric properties of the arrays.

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