Tempronics, which wants to make electricity out of hot air and vice versa, has landed $2.7 million in a Series A round of funding, the company said today. Nth Power led the round.

The company specializes in thermoelectric materials, which can convert waste heat into electricity. Potentially, the material could be wrapped around pipes in a factory to take advantage of waste heat. Conversely, you can insert electricity (from solar panels or other sources) into the material and produce heat, which can be used to cook with or run chiller-style air conditioners. 

"Thermoelectric devices have the potential to be lower cost, more reliable, lighter, smaller and more environmentally friendly than many of today's rotating machines used for cooling and power generation, including: compressors, gas turbines, steam turbines and electrical generators," said Tarek Makansi, CEO of Tempronics in a prepared statement.

Waste heat and thermoelectrics could become a big business someday. The U.S. consumes 100 quads of energy a year, and approximately 55 to 60 percent of the total gets dissipated as waste heat. Companies such as Recycled Energy Development have created industrial, mechanical systems for harvesting waste heat for factories. In West Virginia, the company is working on a project to generate 45 megawatts of power from waste heat in a factory setting.

These mechanical systems, however, don't scale down easily. Thermoelectric companies believe they can expand the market with their solid state solutions. Some of the companies that have emerged in recent years are Alphabet Energy, which says its chips could produce power for $1 a watt in volume production. The company, which grew out of research conducted by ARPA-E's director Arun Majumdar while he was at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, came out of stealth last year. Its secret sauce is silicon nanowires, according to sources: traditional thermoelectric chips rely on less efficient bismuth telluride.

GMZ Energy, Promethean Power, Komatsu and Cypress Semiconductor are all also experimenting with thermoelectric devices. GMZ and Cypress want to turn heat into power, while Promethean converts electricity from PV panels directly into heat. MIT researchers, meanwhile, want to insert quantum dots into laptops and cell phones that could use the devices' internally generated heat to trickle-charge their batteries. It's power you are already paying for -- you might as well get to use it.

MC10 and Photonic Devices recently received grants from ARPA-E to develop waste heat semiconductors. Hmmm. Maybe ARPA-E and the DOE like this concept.