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Enhancing the performance of 3D-printed organic thermoelectrics by electric field-assisted molecular alignment

Project description

The molecular stars align, signalling a new era in organic electronics

Organic electronics – utilising organic carbon-based materials offering tremendous opportunity for functionalisation and tailored properties – are a flourishing area of materials development. They are finding applications in everything from consumer lighting and photovoltaics to biosensors and tissue scaffolds. Organic thermoelectrics that combine the benefits of organic electronics with superior heat management relative to conventional electronics could revolutionise the electronics industry. The EU-funded 3DALIGN project is developing ways to enhance the electrical conductivity of 3D-printed organic thermoelectrics while maintaining low thermal conductivity through an innovative method of molecular alignment. This winning combination will open the door to a new era of organic electronics.


Thermoelectrics (TEs) are important because they can convert heat directly into electrical energy and enable efficient heating/cooling. However, their popularization has been hindered by 1) their low efficiency (especially at room temperature), 2) the use of rare/toxic materials, and 3) the difficulty to process those materials. In 3DALIGN, I target a 3-in-1 solution to these challenges by using for the first time electric-field-assisted molecular alignment of 3D-printed TE polymers. High electrical/low thermal conductivity is required for efficient TEs, but both conductivities go hand in hand in traditional inorganic TE materials. This paradigm can shift for polymers, which possess complicated molecular structure. Despite their relatively low electrical conductivity, conducting polymers are appealing for TEs due to their much lower thermal conductivity than inorganic TE materials. Existing studies of organic TEs have focused on finding new materials, but no attention has been paid to molecular ordering, a known strategy to improve performance in organic transistors. I have recently developed a versatile method to induce molecular alignment in solution-processed polymers by using externally applied electric fields. In 3DALIGN, I propose to use this new method to boost the electrical conductivity of polymer TEs while inducing minimal alteration in their thermal conductivity. The high-risk of this goal is mitigated by other advantages of using polymer TEs: polymers are less toxic and more abundant than inorganic TE materials; and they are easy to 3D print, enabling a simple fabrication route for large-area through-plane TE structures that will lead to novel applications. In conclusion, this project will shed light in the relationship between molecular ordering and transport properties of organic electronic materials. If successful, it will also introduce a breakthrough in the performance and feasibility of TEs.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 710 853,00
3000 Leuven

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 710 853,00

Beneficiaries (1)