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Published by api-3713985
Conversion of Heat Loss Using a Thermoelectric Generator
Conversion of Heat Loss Using a Thermoelectric Generator

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Published by: api-3713985 on Oct 14, 2008
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Conversion of Heat Loss Using a Thermoelectric Generator
Jessica Easton
Center of Power Electronics Systems (CPES), Virginia Tech

Electronic components now require more power, but occupy less space. This increased power density coupled with smaller device size generates more heat within the electronics leading to an increase in device temperature. Higher temperatures decrease the efficiency and reliability of a device and limit the power density levels that can be attained. This research project looked into using the heat loss, called parasitic heat, from a DC-DC power converter and transforming it into usable electrical energy.

Many methods are currently being explored to reduce temperatures of electronics to combat the negative
byproducts of increased power density. Investigation of heat conversion showed thermoelectric (TE) devices as a
viable option. A TE device, depicted in Figure 1, can be used in two ways: as an active cooler (TEC) or as an
electric generator (TEG). Because TEGs are light and space efficient, engineers have explored the integration of TE
devices into portable electronics, such as laptop computers, where space and weight are extremely important.

Figure 1. Schematic of a TEG.

Even though TEGs possess efficiencies of less than 20%, past studies produced positive results when a TEG is placed on a laptop\u2019s processor in a shunt configuration (Figure 1). This configuration allows for excess heat to be shunted away from the TEG to keep the processor temperature within thermal specifications. The processor gave off 25W of heat which produced enough electricity to run a 50mW laptop fan [1]. This result showed that \u201cheat-driven cooling\u201d requires no additional power (unlike active cooling TECs) and transforms energy to be used by the system. Shunting excess heat from the processor-TEG interface kept the system\u2019s junction temperature within safe limits. The goal of the project was to validate the work done by those engineers.

Verification of others\u2019 work started with computer modeling. The heat transfer equations required an iterative solution process. Writing a MatLab program achieved this goal. The system produced 94.7mW of electricity. This value closely matched the results produced by previous studies. Results from optimizing the heat sink and TEC material properties also matched the numbers from other studies. These validation steps are necessary to validate the MatLab programs that were to be used to analyze the power converter.

The thermal analysis of the power converter began with defining its geometry and thermal environment. The system\u2019s parasitic heat value totaled 137.5W within an ambient temperature of 50\u00baC. The junction temperature could not exceed 120\u00baC. The results showed that a 2.5cm x 2.5 cm off-the-shelf TEG could produce approximately 50mW with the given conditions.

Unfortunately TEGs possess low energy efficiency and thus cannot yet be utilized in wide-spread consumer
applications. Integrating TEGs into remote military sensors or covert operation equipment are possible applications

[1] Solbrekken, G.L., Yazawa, K., Bar-Cohen, A. \u201cThermal Management of Portable Electronic Equipment Using Thermoelectric Energy Conversion\u201d.International Society Conference on Thermal Phenomena. 2004. pp. 276- 283.

I would like to thank Dr. Scott for her guidance and support on this research project. Her novel idea, supervision,
and advice moved this project forward and I cannot thank her enough for her encouragement throughout the
Primary heat sink
Heat dissipating element
(processor chip)
Heat spreading plate
Shunt (secondary) heat sink

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