The role of convection in liquid thermoelectric cells may be difficult to predict because the inter- and intramolecular interactions are not currently incorporated into thermodynamic models. Here, we study the thermoelectric response of a series of five anhydrous 1-methyl-3- alkylimidazolium halide ionic liquids with varied chain length and counterion in a high-aspect-ratio, horizontal-temperature-gradient geometry, where convection is minimal. While a canonical constant-volume thermodynamic model predicts that the longer aliphatic groups exhibit larger Seebeck coefficients, we instead measure the opposite: Longer aliphatic chains correlate with lower densities and greater heat expansion, stronger intermolecular associations, stronger steric repulsion, and lower Seebeck coefficients. As evidence of the critical role of thermal expansion, we measure that the Seebeck effect is nonlinear: Values of −2.8 mV/K with a 10 K temperature difference and −1.8 mV/K with a 50 K difference are measured with ether ion. Our results indicate that steric repulsion and heat expansion are important considerations in ionic liquid design; with large temperature differences, the Seebeck coefficient correlates negatively with heat expansion. Our results suggest that Seebeck values will improve if thermal expansion is limited in a pressurized, isochoric, convection-free design.
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