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Efficient Reuse of Waste Energy

A thermoelectric power generator for automobiles.

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ENERGY IS AN IMPORTANT ISSUE for the development of human civilization, but the problem of exhaustion within decades of the principal fossil source of energy (petroleum) applied for energy consumption of almost the whole world must be confronted. How to utilize energy in an efficient way for alternative energy at the current stage has already become an important topic. In 1821, physicist Seebeck demonstrated the electric potential at a junction of two metals, for which a temperature difference exists between the two ends. This thermoelectric (TE) effect, known as the Seebeck effect, is also the basic working mechanism of a thermocouple. Applying this TE effect enables thermal energy in waste heat to be converted into electrical energy so as to retrieve the energy; but at early stages, the TE materials were expensive and their material properties were poorly characterized. Hence, transforming waste heat into electrical energy through this TE effect has not received due attention.

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MNANO.2009.932420



Recently, waste heat harvesting by using TE material in various cases have been reported by research groups worldwide, such as in applications of pipelines, furnaces [1], geothermal, solar heat [2], [3], and automobile engines [4][7]. It becomes more and more important to recycle waste energy into useful power, and overcoming the material cost constitutes a problem to be solved through technological progress. Automobiles consume boundless petroleum and produce much waste energy. Efficient reuse of waste energy from an automobile can decrease the consumption of petroleum in a manner that is economically and environmentally benign. The design and development of a TE power generator (TEG) would be of interest in many countries. Internal combustion automobile engines are of two types: diesel and otto. In each case, the engine uses a fossil fuel as an energy source. As ignition in an otto engine is initiated with a spark and in a diesel engine with compression, the energy outputs and losses of these engines differ. The energy balance for automotive engines with spark and compressive ignition is shown in Table 1 [8]. The miscellaneous component includes losses due to incomplete combustion, heat rejected to the lubricating oil, and heat lost through convection. As shown in Table 1, a significant proportion of energy is lost through the exhaust gases in the form of waste heat. The temperature of the exhaust gases is in a range of 500700 8C. If we can generate electrical energy through a temperature difference between waste gases and the environment, which can be restored in the battery of the automobile, both an improvement of efficiency and decrease of fuel consumption would be achieved. In 1998, Nissan fabricated the first TEG for automobiles (35.6 W with a temperature difference of 563 8C [9]). This TEG has 72 units of TE modules based on silicongermanium (Si-Ge) elements. The total efficiency of power generation of the system was only about 0.1%, implying a great scope for improvement of the system. If the efficiency can be improved to 2.5%, the system would generate power up to 950 W. In 2001, Hi-Z tested a TEG consisting of 72 pieces

Energy is an important issue for the development of human civilization.

of HZ-14 [10]; when the engine operated at 300 hp, the system had a maximum power output more than 900 W, and each HZ-14 had an average output of 12.5 W. The TE elements of the HZ-14 module are based on Bi2Te3, with a theoretical efficiency up to about 5%; the goal of Hi-Z for a practical device is to achieve an efficiency of about 20%. The replacement of the 1-kW TEG unit with that efficiency would attain a decreased fuel consumption between 12% and 30%. Research at General Motors R&D Center implies that the fuel savings for a vehicle at 23.5 mi/ gal over a three-year period for a consumer would be slightly under US$400, assuming US$2/gal, 15,000 mi/yr, and a 10% improvement of fuel economy [5]. In this work, we focused on the feasibility of generating electricity through the TE effect. We describe our research and fabrication of a TEG with microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. Transforming the energy of waste heat into electricity, especially for automobiles, is the specific issue of this research. A TEG has been designed and fabricated to achieve the objective of recovered energy in the following sections. in which I is the output current from the TEG, RL is the external load resistance, an and ap are the Seebeck coefficients of N-type and P-type TE materials, Th and Tc are the temperatures at the hot and cold sides of the TE module, and R is the internal resistivity of the TEG. The power of a TE module is governed by the characteristics of its TE modules, including dimensions, number of TE elements, material properties, and temperature difference. The efficiency h is calculated as P Qh

h5 5

I 2RL , 1 1 an2ap 2 ITh 2 I 2R 1 K 1 Th2Tc 2 2 (2)


Three TE effects, due to Seebeck, Peltier, and Thomson, are the basis of a TEG. Its structure is shown in Figure 1. The performance of a TEG referred to as output work 1 P 2 is calculated as P 5 I 2RL 5 1 an2ap 2 2 1 Th2Tc 2 2RL 1 R1RL 2 2 , (1)

in which Q h is the heat from an external supply and K is the thermal conductance of the TEG. The efficiency of a TE element is limited by its dimensions and materials. A TE module has its greatest efficiency in a particular temperature range as the material properties depend on a specific range of operating temperature. The efficiencies of TE modules with dissimilar materials and varied temperature differences are known from simulations in an ideal case.


To demonstrate the concept of a TEG, one should construct a configuration model for a thermal resistor using a


Energy balance for gasoline and diesel engines.






Otto engine Diesel engine

2528 3438

1726 1635

3445 2235

515 38




Th Heat Source

Heat L Conduction (Air)

Electric Contact Resistance (rc)

If the effects at the thermal interface are ignored, a resistor network with a pair of TEG model can be built. For a known temperature drop between the exhaust pipe and the surroundings, the temperature difference across a TEG is estimated as (3). The power generation by a TEG is thus predictable. The simulation results are compared with the results of measurements in the following sections.

W Tc Heat Sink


Before applying a TE element, one must be concerned about the inf luence of an external load resistance and applied pressure on varying the temperature difference. The maximum power is obtained when the external load resistance equals t he internal resistance of the module, according to impedance-matching theory. A greater temperature difference increases the generated power, but the performance of a TE element decreases because of the temperature dependence of material properties. A TEG measurement system, TGT8001K0SA0, was used to measure the performance of a TEG modu le. The system comprising a source and a sink of heat maintains a


FIGURE 1 Schematic of a TEG.

TEG module on an exhaust pipe of an automobile, which helps one to realize how to harvest waste heat from an exhaust pipe. Figure 2 show the thermal resistor network.
Thermal Resistivity (K/W)

We simulated and estimated the efficiency of a TE module consisting of 200 bismuth telluride 1 Bi2Te3 2 couples; the material properties at 300 K are shown in Table 2.

Tambient 0.81.2 0.74 3.207 0.1443 0.25 116.79 or 109.89 Qpower 0.25 0.1443 3.207 0.74 Rsolder RP-type Rsolder Rheat sink Rgrease Rceramic RCu Rsolder RNtype Rsolder RCu Rceramic Rgrease Qexhaust Thot side TEG Tcold side

1 Pair TE Model

Exhaust Pipe / Heat Exchanger

Rexternal load

FIGURE 2 Thermal resistor networks with a pair of TEG model.

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Properties at 300 K of materials used in our simulation.








Seebeck coefficient / VK21 Resistivity / Vm Thermal conductivity / Wm21K21 Z/K1 Thermal resistivity / KW21 Contact area / m2) Thickness / m

2.12 3 10 4 1.04 3 10 5 1.456 2.97 3 10 3 109.89 4 3 10 6 6.4 3 10 4

2.15 3 10 4 1.04 3 10 5 1.373 3.23 3 10 3 116.79 4 3 10 6 6.4 3 10 4

3.2 3 10 8 385 0.1443 9 3 10 6 5 3 10 4

1 3 1012 22 3.207 9 3 10 6 6.35 3 10 4

12.1 3 10 8 50 0.25 4 3 10 6 5 3 10 5

N/A 3 0.74 9 3 10 6 2 3 10 5

temperature difference between the hot and cold sides of a TEG.


According to (1) and (2), the output power and eff iciency generated with a TEG are estimated based on a varied temperature drop across the system. Because the TE parameters such as Seebeck coefficient, resistivity, and thermal conductivity depend on temperature, the ideal case for which the material properties were used at 300 K must be modif ied in a simulation. Figure 3(a) and (b) shows the power generation on varying DT when all parameters are defined as for the ideal case at 300 K and in the case of a temperature dependence. From a measurement of the TEG element, the output power was only several watts, shown in Figure 3(c). One way to improve the performance of the system is to apply an appropriate pressure on a TEG, shown in Figure 3(d).

(3) based on the temperature difference from all the TEG modules. The eight modules generated a maximum power of 56.347 W in theory and 51.42 W in simulation at DT 5 200 K (303 K at the cold side of the module). The relative difference 8.73% between the theoretical value and the simulation is due to the figure of merit (Z) decreasing rapidly in the high-temperature region.

To increase the total electric power converted by the TEG modules, the number of TE modules mounted on the external surface of the exhaust pipe should be maximized. Because space is limited, there are in total 18 TEG modules used in the simulation: nine TEG modules mounted on the top surface and another nine on the bottom surface. Three heat sink structures, with 5, 10, and 22 fins as shown in Figure 4(b),


1 RN 1 2Rsolder 2 / 1 RP 1 2Rsolder 2 3 1 Texhaust pipe2Tambient 2 / 2 1 Rceramic1RCu1Rgrease 2 1 1 RN12Rsolder 2 / 1 RP12Rsolder 2 1Rheat sink /


60 (a) Theoretical Case (300 K) (b) Theoretical Case (420 K) (b) Theoretical b T 0 (c) Measured Result (No Pressure Applied) (d) Measured Result (4.46 PSI on TEG)


Power (W)


To estimate the output electric power converted from a TEG module through an exhaust pipe, we ran a simulation model shown in Figure 4(a). First, eight TEG modules were mounted on an exhaust pipe. To simulate the waste gas from an engine into an exhaust pipe, the speed of the internal flow was 12 m/s at 973 K. An external flow, substituting for the car speed, had a speed 10, 20, or 30 m/s at 300 K. The total electric power generated with TEG modules is estimated with




0 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Temperature Difference (K) 140 160 180

FIGURE 3 TEG output power estimated with all parameters in (a) ideal case at 300 K and (b) for a temperature dependence; the measured TEG output powers (c) with and (d) without an applied load on a TEG.



Automobiles consume boundless petroleum and produce much waste energy.

External Flow Fans

were used in the simulation, shown in Figure 4(a). All other conditions were maintained constant as mentioned earlier. The total electric power with these fin structures and varied speeds of external flow is shown in Figure 5. In the best case, the maximum total electric power attained 122.67 W for an external flow velocity (30 m/s) with 22 fins of heat sink structure.

Modules Fins Internal Flow Heat Exchanger

We performed experiments and simulations to obtain the power generated with a commercial TEG. A lthough t he d i m e n s io n le s s T E f ig u r e o f merit (ZT) in Bi2Te3 bulk alloys has remained around 1 in the past. A n innovation improvement of nanocrystalline bulk materials made by hotpressing nanopowders shows better performance. This ZT improvement is the result of small thermal conductivity caused by increased scattering of phonons at grain boundaries and defects. The value of ZT begins at 1.2 near 20 C (20% increase of trad it iona l Bi2Te3 ), ma x im izes at 1.4 at 100 C, and decreases to 0.8 at 250 C. These materials are thus useful for cooling and power generation. This discovery sets the stage for use of a new na nocomposite approach in developing bulk TE materials of high performance and low cost [11]. There is much scope for improvement of a T E G to be appl ied to future automobiles.

External Flow (a)

5 Fins

10 Fins (b)

22 Fins

FIGURE 4 (a) Scheme of the TEG module simulation. External flow had speeds 10, 20, and 30 m/s, respectively, at 300 K. (b) Three heat sink structures with 5, 10, and 22 fins were used this simulation, respectively.

125 120 115 110 105 100 95 90 85 80 75 70 65 60 55 50 45 40 10 20 External Flow Velocity (m/s) 5 Fins 10 Fins 22 Fins 30

Ecological awareness is all important for our environment. How to transfer the waste heat to electric power from exhaust pipes is discussed, which might serve to decrease the consumption of petroleum. We have presented a model of a thermal resistor network to estimate the power generated with TEG modules and investigated a concept of har vest ing waste heat with TEG in automobile applications. To apply the high performance of new nanocrystalline TE materials into the developed T EG modu le wou ld be ver y important for the automobiles in future.

FIGURE 5 Simulation results: total power generated by 18 TEG with varied speed of external flow and fin structures.

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Total Power (W)



Da-Jeng Yao ( received his Ph.D. degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2001. He is currently an associate professor with the Institute of NanoEngineering and MicroSystems, Depa r t ment of Power Mecha n ica l Engineering, and Department of Engineering System and Science, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China. Ke-Jyun Yeh ( tw) is an M.S. graduate student with Power Mechanical Engineering Department, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China. Cheng-Ting Hsu (d9635809@ oz. received his M.S. degree from the Institute of Nanotechnology, National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China. He is currently a Ph.D. graduate student with the NanoEngineering and MicroSystems

Institute, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China. Ben-Mou Yu ( tw) received his Ph.D. degree in electric engineering from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1992. He is currently a chief technical officer of Wise Life Technology dedicated in thermoelectric and its related applications. Jinn-Shing Lee (marble.lee@ msa. received his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Chung Yuan Christian University, Chung-Li, Taiwan, Republic of China. He is currently a researcher with Chemical Division, Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, Lung-Tan, Taiwan, Republic of China.

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[3] M. Hasebe, Y. Kamikawa, and S. Meiarashi, Thermoelectric generators using solar thermal energy in heated road pavement, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 2006, pp. 697700. [4] J. G. Haidar and J. I. Ghogel, Waste heat recovery from the exhaust of low-power diesel engine using thermal electric generators, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 2001, pp. 413418. [5] J. Yang, Potential applications of thermoelectric waste heat recovery in the automotive industry, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 2005, pp. 155159. [6] J. LaGrandeur, et al., Automotive waste heat conversion to electric power using skutterudite, TAGS, PbTe and BiTe, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 2006, pp. 343348. [7] H. L. Talom and A. Beyene, Heat recovery from automotive engine, Appl. Therm. Eng., vol. 29, no. 23, pp. 439444, 2009. [8] J. B. Heywood, Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988. [9] K. Ikoma, M. Munekiyo, K. Furuya, M. Kobayashi, T. Izumi, and K. Shinohara, Thermoelectric module and generator for gasoline engine vehicles, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 1998, pp. 464467. [10] A. S. Kushch, J. C. Bass, S. Ghamaty, and N. B. Elsner, Thermoelectric development at Hi-Z technology, in Proc. Int. Conf. Thermoelectrics, 2001, pp. 422430. [11] B. Poudel, Q. Hao, Y. Ma, Y. Lan, A. Minnich, B. Yu, X. Yan, D. Wang, A. Muto, D. Vashaee, X. Chen, J. Liu, M. S. Dresselhaus, G. Chen, and Z. Ren, High-thermoelectric performance of nanostructured bismuth antimony telluride bulk alloys, Science, vol. 320, no. 5876, pp. 634638, 2008.

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