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Tunable Molecular Heterostructures for Optimal Energy Conversion and Storage



Developing more efficient, cost-effective:

  • Thermoelectric energy converters
  • Thermoelectric power generators for power plants, automobiles, and computers
  • Portable power generators for laptops and mobile phones
  • High-power-density, double-layer capacitor batteries for use in automobiles, laptops, and mobile phones
  • Devices for refrigeration and air conditioning, and cooling in computers


Abundant organic molecules:

  • Are more affordable, abundant, and easily processed than inorganic materials
  • Offer a potentially infinite toolbox to tune and optimize thermoelectric efficiency through material synthesis

The new material can be used to manufacture thermoelectric devices that:

  • Are cost-effective and energy-efficient
  • Store more charge per unit area than standard double-layer capacitors
  • May reduce emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • Promise savings in fuel costs


Dr. Arun Majumdar and Dr. Rachel Segalman of Berkeley Lab are the first to create a new nanostructured thermoelectric material and device composed of organic molecular heterostructures. The new thermoelectric material promises energy efficiency and cost savings in the manufacture and use of thermoelectric energy converters, high-energy-density batteries, and high-power-density, double-layer capacitor batteries used to power automobiles, laptops, mobile phones, and portable or stand-alone power generators. The Berkeley Lab invention is the first thermoelectric device to conserve heat with an organic molecule/metal junction.

Composed of organic molecules (e.g., simple aromatic dithiols) sandwiched between metal or semiconducting inorganic nanoparticles, the Berkeley Lab thermoelectric heterostructure takes advantage of the electrical current induced when heat is applied across the molecules, making it possible to tune and optimize thermoelectric efficiency and reduce heat waste. Because organic molecules are cheaper and more abundant than alloys of tellurium or bismuth--the materials of choice for conventional nanostructured thermoelectric devices--the Berkeley Lab invention is also more affordable and versatile than standard thermoelectric devices made of only inorganic materials. In addition, the electronic and thermoelectric properties of the molecules can be tuned via synthesis, allowing a much broader range for application-specific optimization.

The Berkeley Lab invention may also help design more efficient portable and stand-alone solar cells to generate power for homes and industry, advancing national efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and increase savings in fuel costs.


  • Published PCT Patent Application WO2008/140845 available at Published US Application # 12/538, 804 available at Available for licensing or collaborative research.

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Reddy, P., Jang, S.-Y., Segalman, R., Majumdar, A., "Thermoelectricity in Molecular Junctions," Science , 315 , 1568 (2007); DOI: 10.1126/science.1137149.



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