Silicon could turn heat into electricity for cheaper than current technologies based on other materials, reports Technology Review. Researchers made nanowires out of silicon so that it would conduct electricity, but not heat. Normal silicon conducts both very well. The specially-made wires, however, convert heat applied at one end to electricity at the other end.
Existing thermoelectric materials like bismuth telluride aren’t efficient enough to make it worth converting the heat from a car’s engine, for instance, into electricity, or for large-scale refrigeration. Silicon’s worldwide infrastructure makes it a good candidate. The technology will take time to mature from the lab to production lines, though, warns one electrical engineer.