The latest edition of Nature magazine details a new method scientists have derived for converting heat energy into electricity, using silicon to instigate the conversion. Researchers have more investigations to carry out, but if preliminary findings are indicative of what is to come, appliances that charge using your own body heat may be on the horizon.
Using "rough" silicon wires, produced by a process known as "electroless etching," where silicon nano-wires are synthesized in an aqueous solution, over a thin, semiconductor crystallized base, the scientists have been able to exploit the process of galvanic displacement of silicon. This displacement technique, which uses silver ions, causes the thermoelectric efficiency to be increased on the rough surfaces of the nano-wires.
The breakthrough comes from the boffins at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, who believe they have found a way to increase the conversion efficiency by a factor of 100. Though they are unable to pin the exact physics of why this works, what they can be certain of is that it definitely does work.
The potential uses for such a technology are mind blowing; from power-jackets that recharge gadgets kept in their pockets to vehicles that utilizes your farts for headlight juice, and pretty much everything else in between. It will be a long while before anything like this makes it to the consumer market, but the development is an exciting one. Expect my son to blog about future developments concerning these nano-wires in 2016. [Tom's Hardware]