Main article: Thermoelectric generator The Seebeck effect is used in thermoelectric generators, which function like heat engines , but are less bulky, have no moving parts, and are typically more expensive and less efficient. They have a use in power plants for converting waste heat into additional electrical power a form of energy recycling and in automobiles as automotive thermoelectric generators ATGs for increasing fuel efficiency. Space probes often use radioisotope thermoelectric generators with the same mechanism but using radioisotopes to generate the required heat difference. Recent uses include stove fans,  lighting powered by body heat  and a smartwatch powered by body heat. Such refrigerators are useful in applications where their advantages outweigh the disadvantage of their very low efficiency.
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When heat is applied to one of the two conductors or semiconductors, heated electrons flow toward the cooler one. If the pair is connected through an electrical circuit, direct current DC flows through that circuit. The voltages produced by Seebeck effect are small, usually only a few microvolts millionths of a volt per kelvin of temperature difference at the junction.
If the temperature difference is large enough, some Seebeck-effect devices can produce a few millivolts thousandths of a volt. Numerous such devices can be connected in series to increase the output voltage or in parallel to increase the maximum deliverable current.
Large arrays of Seebeck-effect devices can provide useful, small-scale electrical power if a large temperature difference is maintained across the junctions. The Seebeck effect is responsible for the behavior of thermocouples, which are used to approximately measure temperature differences or to actuate electronic switches that can turn large systems on and off.
This capability is employed in thermoelectric cooling technology. Thomas Johann Seebeck discovered the phenomenon in the s.
More recently, in , physicists discovered what they are calling the spin Seebeck effect. The spin Seebeck effect is seen when heat is applied to a magnetized metal. As a result, electrons rearrange themselves according to their spin. Unlike ordinary electron movement, this rearrangement does not create heat as a waste product. The spin Seebeck effect could lead to the development of smaller, faster and more energy-efficient microchips as well as spintronics devices.