Power generation through Thermoelectric generators

By | January 18, 2015

               Electricity has become a necessity for every one. Electricity is no longer a luxury, it has become a necessity in our everyday lives. Its very difficult to  live without electricity for an extended period of time. In this case everybody is searching for power generation which would be available at a decent price. To generate electricity there are many methods like solar generators, nuclear reactors, from wind energy etc but for every  generators, to be worked perfectly,  they need spaced places or having restricted to certain conditions. By using Thermoelectric generators(TEGs) we can over come few of these limitations.

What are Thermoelectric generators?

Thermoelectric generators are devices which convert heat directly into electrical energy, using a phenomenon called the Thermoelectric effect(Seebeck effect).



TEG uses a phenomenon called Seebeck effect. Seebeck is the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity. Seebeck discovered that a compass needle would be deflected when a closed loop was formed of two metals joined in two places with a temperature difference between the junctions. This is because the metals respond differently to the temperature difference, which creates a current loop, which produces a magnetic field. Seebeck, however, at this time did not recognize there was an electric current involved, so he called the phenomenon the thermomagnetic effect, thinking that the two metals became magnetically polarized by the temperature gradient. The Danish physicist Hans Christian played a vital role in explaining and conceiving the term “thermoelectricity”.

 When heat and cold are applied, the device then generates electricity.

Generation of electricity from Thermoelectric generators

Generation of electricity from Thermoelectric generators

Fig. shows how exactly TEG works. When heat is applied at the heat end side and the coolant side is kept in free space, heat flows from heat end to coolant end , thus moving holes from p-type and electrons from n-type  collected at two wires.

Their construction consists of pairs of p-type and n-type semiconductor materials forming a thermocouple. These thermocouples are then connected electrically forming an array of multiple thermocouples (thermopile). They are then sandwiched between two thin ceramic wafers.


N-type and P-type-semiconductors

Charge carriers in the materials (electrons in metals, electrons and holes in semiconductors, ions in ionic conductors) will diffuse when one end of a conductor is at a different temperature to the other. Hot carriers diffuse from the hot end to the cold end, since there is a lower density of hot carriers at the cold end of the conductor. Cold carriers diffuse from the cold end to the hot end for the same reason.

If the conductor were left to reach thermodynamic equilibrium, this process would result in heat being distributed evenly throughout the conductor (see heat transfer). The movement of heat (in the form of hot charge carriers) from one end to the other is called a heat current. As charge carriers are moving, it is also an electric current.

In a system where both ends are kept at a constant temperature difference (a constant heat current from one end to the other), there is a constant diffusion of carriers. If the rate of diffusion of hot and cold carriers in opposite directions were equal, there would be no net change in charge. However, the diffusing charges are scattered by impurities, imperfections, and lattice vibrations (phonons). If the scattering is energy dependent, the hot and cold carriers will diffuse at different rates. This creates a higher density of carriers at one end of the material, and the distance between the positive and negative charges produces a potential difference; an electrostatic voltage.

This electric field, however, opposes the uneven scattering of carriers, and an equilibrium is reached where the net number of carriers diffusing in one direction is canceled by the net number of carriers moving in the opposite direction from the electrostatic field. This means the thermopower of a material depends greatly on impurities, imperfections, and structural changes (which often vary themselves with temperature and electric field), and the thermopower of a material is a collection of many different effects.

Early thermocouples were metallic, but many more recently developed thermoelectric devices are made from alternating p-type and n-type semiconductor elements connected by metallic interconnects as pictured in the figures below. Semiconductor junctions are especially common in power generation devices, while metallic junctions are more common in temperature measurement. Charge flows through the n-type element, crosses a metallic interconnect, and passes into the p-type element. If a power source is provided, the thermoelectric device may act as a cooler, as in the figure to the left below. This is the Peltier effect, described below. Electrons in the n-type element will move opposite the direction of current and holes in the p-type element will move in the direction of current, both removing heat from one side of the device. If a heat source is provided, the thermoelectric device may function as a power generator, as in the figure to the right below. The heat source will drive electrons in the n-type element toward the cooler region, thus creating a current through the circuit. Holes in the p-type element will then flow in the direction of the current. The current can then be used to power a load, thus converting the thermal energy into electrical energy.

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8 thoughts on “Power generation through Thermoelectric generators

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  2. blankPetes

    Is it possible to buy semiconductor pellets to make my own Peltier module? If not, can I use any other component or dismantle diodes to get the p n parts?

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