Thermoelectrics have a long history of providing simple, reliable power generation solutions. Alphabet's technology enables this for wider markets.

 
  1. 1821

    Thomas Seebeck Portrait

    Seebeck discovers that a circuit made from two dissimilar materials produced a voltage when their junctions were at different temperatures. It is later understood that a voltage will be induced in any material in a temperature gradient, known as the "Seebeck effect," which will be used to create thermoelectric power generators.

  2. 1834

    Jean Peltier Portrait

    Peltier discovers that passing an electric current through two dissimilar materials produces heating or cooling at their junction. This is known as "Peltier effect," and will later be used to make refrigerators.

  3. 1854

    Lord Kelvin Portrait

    William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin, finds that the Seebeck and Peltier effects are related, indicating that any thermoelectric material can be used to either generate power in a temperature gradient or pump heat with an applied current.

  4. 1909-1911

    Thermoelectric Figure of Merit

    Altenkirch correctly derives the maximum efficiency of a thermoelectric generator (1909) and performance of a cooler (1911), which later developed into the 'thermoelectric figure of merit' z.

  5. 1928

    Abram Ioffe Portrait

    Ioffe begins to develop the modern theory of semiconductor physics in order to describe thermoelectric energy conversion. This opens up the understanding of how to engineer thermoelectric materials, as well as providing the basis for understanding the physics of transistors and microelectronics.

  6. 1930

    The first thermoelectric-powered radio

    The first radio powered by thermoelectrics is publicized.

  7. 1947

    Maria Telkes Portrait

    Maria Telkes constructs the first thermoelectric power generator with an efficiency of 5%.

  8. 1954

    H. Julian Goldsmid Portrait

    H. Julian Goldsmid cools a surface to 0° C using a thermoelectric Peltier cooler based on Bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3).

  9. 1959

    1959 Advertisement for Westinghouse Refrigerator

    Westinghouse unveils a full-size home refrigerator based on Bismuth Telluride (Bi2Te3) Peltier thermoelectrics. While commercially unsuccessful, later thermoelectric refrigerators would become prevalent as wine coolers for homes.

  10. 1959

    The First Radioactive Thermoelectric Generator (RTG), "SNAP III"

    US President Dwight D. Eisenhower unveils the first Radioactive Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) "SNAP III," launched two years later in the first RTG-equipped spacecraft, Transit 4A, to orbit earth as a navigational satellite.

  11. 1968

    SNAP-19 on the moon

    SNAP-19 becomes the first radioisotope thermoelectric generator to be flown on a NASA spacecraft after the simplicity and reliability of thermoelectrics prove to be the most viable way to generate power remotely. Another thermoelectric SNAP generator makes it to the moon the next year.

  12. 1970

    The first cardiac pacemaker powered by a miniature radioisotope thermoelectric generator

    The first cardiac pacemaker powered by a miniature radioisotope thermoelectric generator, made by Medtronic, is implanted into a human in France.

  13. 1975

    8550 TEG by Global Thermoelectric

    A group of entrepreneurs acquire Lead Telluride (PbTe) thermoelectric technology from 3M to produce remote terrestrial power generation products, forming Global Thermoelectric.

  14. 1977

    MHW-RTG3, a Silicon Germanium (SiGe) thermoelectric generator

    NASA launches Voyagers 1 and 2 powered by MHW-RTG3, a Silicon Germanium (SiGe) thermoelectric generator.

  15. 1993

    Millie Dresselhaus

    Hicks and Dresselhaus publish a theory paper indicating that nanotechnology may offer significant advances in the efficiency of thermoelectric materials, ushering in the modern era of thermoelectrics. It would be nearly ten years before such improvements were shown experimentally, and twenty before they were incorporated into working systems.

  16. 1995

    John Fairbanks Portrait

    John Fairbanks at the US Department of Energy begins a program to develop thermoelectric generators for automotive engines after Porsche does a prototype study using Iron Silicide thermoelectric materials.

  17. 1998

    Thermic Watch by Seiko

    Seiko introduces the Thermic watch, the first watch powered from body heat, which has in it a Bismuth Telluride (Bi2Te3) thermoelectric generator.

  18. 1999

    Thermoelectric seat coolers by Amerigon

    Amerigon (now called Gentherm) is founded by Dr. Lon Bell, Advisor to Alphabet Energy, and introduces the first thermoelectric seat coolers in the Lincoln Navigator and Toyota's Lexus using Bismuth Telluride (Bi2Te3).

  19. 2001

    Nanoscale materials

    RTI reveals the first significant breakthrough in thermoelectric material efficiency in forty years by using nanoscale materials. Starting a new era of rapid advances in thermoelectric materials, nanostructures would be studied in many new thermoelectric materials systems. Some of the modern materials for power generation include the Tellurides, Skutterudites, Half Heuslers, Silicides, and Silicon.

  20. 2004

    Automotive thermoelectric generators

    The US Department of Energy (DOE), in conjunction with General Motors, BMW, Caterpillar, and others, fund a program for automotive thermoelectric generators that becomes the driving force for much of the research in the field of thermoelectric generators for the next several years.

    At the same time, DOE also funds a program focused on new thermoelectric materials, led by Professor Arun Majumdar at UC Berkeley, which would eventually lead to the formation of Alphabet Energy.

    Image source: Energy.gov | Photo courtesy of BMW

  21. 2008

    Alphabet Energy logo

    Alphabet Energy is formed in Berkeley, California by Dr. Matthew L. Scullin and Professor Peidong Yang to commercialize new breakthrough nanostructured materials after licensing key patents and developing manufacturing schemes for modern nanomaterials.

  22. 2013

    NASA Voyager 1

    Voyager 1 becomes the first manmade object to exit the solar system and enter interstellar space after being continuously powered by a thermoelectric generator for 36 years.