Molecular Thermoelectric Device

Case ID:

Peltier coolers (which utilize the thermoelectric effect) have found their way to market very specific applications. These current devices, however, are inefficient and costly. ZT is a dimensionless figure of merit typically used to evaluate the performance of thermoelectric systems. Most of the devices mentioned above have a ZT≈1. So far, only ZT≈3 has been achieved in the lab. In order for a thermoelectric material to have broad commercial applicability, it must have a ZT≥4. The simulations and projections developed by University of Arizona researchers demonstrate that ZT>4 is achievable through the use of polyphenyl ether molecules sandwiched between two electrodes. Polyphenyl ether is, essentially, a chain of benzene rings each connected asymmetrically. Because of the asymmetric connection, electricity has a longer path to travel in one direction around the aromatic ring than the other. This results in destructive interference. When a temperature gradient exists between the two electrodes, however, the effect essentially amplifies voltage and mitigates the effects of entropy, resulting in an efficiency much closer to Carnot efficiency (the theoretical efficiency limit for any energy conversion system) and a ZT>4.


Thermoelectric materials have long held the promise to revolutionize commercial applications such as power generation, heat management, and cooling. To date, however, proposed thermoelectric systems have proved to be relatively inefficient and expensive. Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed a thermoelectric material with high efficiency and low cost that will make this technology widely viable for commercial applications for the first time.


  • ZT>4 is achievable through the use of polyphenyl ether molecules sandwiched between two electrodes
  • Has broad commercial applicability


  • Thermoelectric materials, through the use of the Seebeck effect, can find application anywhere a large amount of waste heat is present
  • Key areas such as photovoltaics, engine design, and industrial processes
  • The Peltier effect (the flip side of the Seebeck effect) can be utilized to cool a surface
  • Can be used as a cooling agent for chips, or an alternative method of refrigeration
Patent Information:
Contact For More Information:
Laura Silva
Sr. Licensing Manager, COS
The University of Arizona
Lead Inventor(s):
Charles Stafford
Justin Bergfield