Murata Manufacturing's unicycling robot was the star attraction at the company's Ceatec booth this year, but visitors in a hurry to see the robot perform likely rushed by one of the company's more interesting projects: a thermoelectric device capable of turning heat into electricity. The device could one day find a home in laptops, and other products.
Murata's prototype thermoelectric device generates up to 38 milliwats of power per square centimeter at 360 degrees Celsius.
The thermoelectric device generates electricity when two ceramic semiconductors are subjected to different temperatures. When the semiconductors are connected, the temperature gradient produces a slight electric currentt.
In a demonstration at Ceatec, Murata showed a small electric fan powered by the devices. When the semiconductors -- which were heated to 90 degrees Celsius on one side and cooled to 20 degrees Celsius on the other -- were linked using a metal plate, the device produced 10 milliwats of electricity, enough to power the small plastic fan.
The thermoelectric device is a long way from being commercialized, according to a Murata engineer at the company's booth, estimating it could take 10 years or more for this capability to appear on the market.
When the technology is ready, these thermolectric devices will end up in cell phones, video cameras, laptops, and other portable electronic devices. Heat produced by the devices can then be used to recharge its internal battery, he said.