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Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol.

663 (2014) pp 299-303


(2014) Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland
doi:10.4028/www.scientific.net/AMM.663.299

Online: 2014-10-08

Experimental Study of Thermoelectric Generators


Ubaidillaha, Suyitnob, Imam Alic, Eko Prasetya Budianad
and Wibawa Endra Juwanae
1

Mechanical Engineering Department, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Sebelas Maret,


Jalan Ir. Sutami 36A, Kentingan, Surakarta 57126, Central Java, Indonesia
a

ubaidillah@uns.ac.id, bsuyitno@uns.ac.id, cimamaliimli@gmail.com,


d

budiana.e@gmail.com, ewibawa.ej@gmail.com

Keywords: thermoelectric generator; measurement; characterization

Abstract. Thermoelectric generator is solid-state device which convert temperature difference, T


into electrical energy based on Seebeck effect phenomenon. The device has been widely used in
self-powered system applications. This paper focuses on presentation of methodology for
characterizing thermoelectric generators. The measurement of its behavior is performed by varying
load resistances. A standard module of thermoelectric generator (TEC1-12710) is used in
examination and an instrument setup consists of controllable heat source, controllable cooler,
personal computer, data logger MCC DAQ USB-1208LS equipped with two sets of K-type
thermocouples. The experiment is performed by measuring output voltage and output current in 4
values of temperature gradient by applying 10 values of resistive loads connected to the
thermoelectric output wires. The common parameters studied in this research are output voltage,
current and power. Generally, the relationship between parameters agrees with the basic theory and
the procedure can be adopted for characterizing other type of thermoelectric generator.
Introduction
Nowadays, renewable energy issues have been becoming one of promising research topics
among researchers since the increase in fossil fuel dependence has much environmental drawbacks
and limited sources [1]. Environmental destruction especially greenhouse effect strengthen
arguments to leave such fuel [2]. These facts increase the concern in developing potential renewable
power resource and optimizing the existing devices by considering natural sources of each country
[2,3]. Renewable energy sources have currently been employing such as solar, wind, ocean, hydro,
geothermal, sound, vibration and natural heat. Thermoelectric as shown in Fig. 1 is alternative way
of renewable energy source to optimal heat waste.

Fig. 1: Structure of a thermoelectric [4]


Thermoelectric has two fundamental phenomena namely Seebeck effect and Peltier effect. An
amount of electric current supplied to the thermoelectric will make the device becomes heat pump.
This phenomenon is called by Peltier effect. Thermoelectric usually applied for environmental
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friendly cooler [5] such as water dispenser, serum box and mobile refrigerator. Seebeck effect
occurs when thermoelectric converts thermal difference between two surfaces into electricity
without either any movable parts or fluids [6,7], maintenance free and silent operation. This type of
energy converter is suitable for standalone wireless devices, which is able for running at long period
of operation time without battery replacement [1].
Several previous researches on thermoelectric generator have been performed and reported.
Maneewan et al. [8] has proposed thermoelectric power generator by taking benefits from solar
heat. The prototype was applied for roof design and has successfully produces 1 W for 800 W/m2 of
solar intensity simulator. The work was then pursued in 2005 [9] by applying the Thermoelectric
Roof Solar Colector (TE-RSC) on a house roof. The TE-RSC could generate about 9 W under
972 W/m2 global solar radiation and 35oC ambient temperature. Thermoelectric generator called
automobile exhaust thermoelectric generator (AETG) has also been applied for truck exhaust by
Thacher et al. [10]. The AETG employing 16 pieces of HZ-20 was designed to produce 300 W
electric power. Lertsatitthanakorn et al. [11] reported performance and economic analysis of
thermoelectric generator in a solar water heater. At atemperature difference of 27.1oC, the
thermoelectric generator could achieve a power output of 3.6 W and the efficiency of electricalpower generation is about 0.87 percents. Thermoelectric generator based liquid heat exchanger has
also applied by [12] for industrial heat waste recovery.
The thermoelectric power conversion effect was firstly discovered by Seebeckin 1822 [13].
Seebeck found an electric flowwhen one junction of two dissimilar metals bounded at two places,
was heated while theother junction was kept at a lower temperature [14]. An artistic illustration of
thermoelectricpower module shown in Fig. 1 shows an interconnected n-type and p-type heavily
doped semiconductor thermoelementsin series by highly-conducting metal strips.If two junctions of
semiconductor pair is subjected to different temperature, an electron will be appeared at the hot side
and absorb heat in the process. The pairs recombine and reject heat at the cold side. This will result
voltage potential which drives the electron flows [1,2]. In this work, TEC1-12710 was used as
measurement object. Both n and p types of semiconductor are made of bismuth tin (BiSn) while the
ceramic covers are made of alumina (Al2O3).
The performance of thermoelectric device can be determined by figure-of-merit of the materials
used [1]. The figure-of-merit is dimensionless parameter, ZT, which is expressed by Eq. 1 below:
=

(1)

where is Seebeck coefficient in VK-1, T is temperature in K, is electrical resistivity in m and


is thermal conductivity in Wm-1K-1. Other parameter represents performance of thermoelectric
known as power factor. The power factor can be written in Eq. 2 [1]:
=

(2)

This research focuses on the methodology for measuring thermoelectric converter performances.
The paper reports examination results of commercial thermoelectric module TEC1-12710 having
effective surface area of 40 mm by 40 mm which can work until peak temperature of 470 K.
Measurement Setup
Schematic diagram shown in Fig. 2 is complete configuration in thermoelectric performance
measurement.A piece of thermoelectric is placed coincide two aluminum fins. One side faces
controllable heat source and the other side touching controllable cooling unit. A thermal paste is
used to increase the thermal contact surfaces between thermoelectric and aluminum plate. This
arrangement will make the heat flow with lower thermal resistivity.
Two thermocouples K-type are mounted in each side to measure hot side and cold side
temperatures. The thermometer connected to the data acquisition via bridge amplifier to ensure the
precise measurement of temperature. Measurement computing MCC DAQ USB-1208LS is used as

Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol. 663

301

data logger in which this data logger is low-cost with reasonable technical specification for the
application proposed in this paper. The data are stored and displayed in personal computer via
TracerDAQ software. The USB interface is preferable since its fast data transfer with resolution of
12 bits and sampling rate of 1.2 kS/s. The thermoelectric generator is loaded by variable resistor or
rheostat having maximum resistance of 100 ohm. The measurement of output voltage and current
uses 4 digits digital multimeter in parallel and series, respectively.
The procedures applied for thermoelectric generator characterization are described as follows:
the hot side and cold side temperatures are set to be constant heat flow for several resistive loads
connected to the thermoelectric generator output. These are performed by controlling heat source
and cooling radiator pump using dependent analog control. Both cooler and heater have ability in
maintaining operation in certain set point. Having temperature gradient adjustment, the rheostat
which has been set in certain load resistant before is the connected to the thermoelectric output.
This step will change the value of current and the temperature gradient has to be adjusted to reach
the previous value. The temperature gradients of 7oC, 27oC, 42oC, 61oC were selected in this
experiment. The set temperature gradients are not fixed values and they depend on both heater and
cooler abilities. When taking voltage and current data of each temperature gradient, several load
resistances of 10 ohm, 20 ohm, 30 ohm, 40 ohm, 50 ohm, 60, ohm 70 ohm, 80 ohm, 90 ohm, 100
ohm were set in the rheostat. So that, each certain value of temperature gradient obtained 10 sets of
output voltage Vout and output current Iout. From the data, several relationships could be figured out
and analyzed.

Fig. 2: Experimental configuration


Result and Discussion
Characterization results of the bismuth telluride based single module thermoelectric generator
are displayed in Fig. 3 and 4. As expected, output voltage data displayed in Fig. 3(a) increases along
with the increasing temperature gradient (T=Th-Tc) in various applied resistive load. The increase
of output voltage in equal temperature gradient is also occurred in various rheostat values.In other
words, the value of voltage increases in the same resistant as the influence of increasing temperature
gradient.The peak value of output voltage of the device is 2.3 V at T=61oC. This relationship is
valid theoretically.
The characteristic of current output as shown in Fig. 3(b) has different trend with output
voltage.The figure informs that the increase of temperature gradient results in decrease of output
current as the increase of resistive load in logarithmic curves.This trend agrees with the theoretical

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relationship between current and resistant. In the same value of resistant, the output current increase
in resultant of temperature gradient.
Relationship between output powers in variation of resistive load is shown in Fig. 4(a). The
decrease of power does not form logarithmic curve. The values of power are obtained from
multiplication between output voltage and output current measured parallel at shunt resistant and
series to the rheostat. The peak power achieved in this experiment is about 113 mWat the
temperature gradient of T=61oC and resistive load of 20 ohm. In the same value of load, the value
of power increases as the increase of temperature gradient.
Furthermore, the relationship between output current and output voltage is shown in Fig. 4(b).
The figure shows linearity between output current and output voltage. The higher value of output
current corresponds to the lower value of output voltage. It can also be seen from the figure that the
gradient of each curve is negative and almost the same gradient value. The internal resistant of
thermoelectric generator can further be calculated from the relationship between generated current
and voltage at the present treatment.

(a)
(b)
(b)
Fig. 3: (a) Output voltage in various load, (b) output current in various load

(a)

(b)

Fig. 4: (a) Current versus Voltage, (b) power in various load


Conclusion
Characterization of bismuth telluride based single module thermoelectric generator TEC1-12710
has been performed and briefly reported. The measurement device has been set up by elaborating
common device and simple configuration. The method is based on measuring output current and

Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol. 663

303

voltage as the response to variations of resistive load. The procedure has also been proven
experimentally resulting in valid relationship between parameters compared to the basic theory.
This characterization procedure can be applied to other types of thermoelectric generator that use
Seebeck effect.
Acknowledgement
The present project was supported by Directorate of High Education, Republic of Indonesia,
through DIPA LPPM-UNS 2013 under contract number of 2342/UN27.16/PN/2012
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10.4028/www.scientific.net/AMM.663

Experimental Study of Thermoelectric Generators


10.4028/www.scientific.net/AMM.663.299
DOI References
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thermoelectric generators by measuring the load dependence behavior, Measurement. 44 (2011) 2194-2199.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.measurement.2011.07.015
[5] N.F. Guler, R. Ahiska, Design and testing of a microprocessor-controlledportable thermoelectric medical
cooling kit, Applied Thermal Engineering. 22 (2002) 1271-1276.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1359-4311(02)00039-X
[7] C.B. Vining, Semiconductors are cool, Nature. 413 (2001) 577-578.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/35098159
[8] S. Maneewan, J. Khedari, B. Zeghmati, J. Hirunlabh,J. Eakburanawat, Investigation on generated power
ofthermoelectric roof solar collector, Renewable Energy. 29 (2004) 743-752.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2003.10.005
[9] S. Maneewan, J. Hirunlabh, J. Khedari, B. Zeghmati, S. Teekasap, Heat gain reduction by means of
thermoelectric roofsolar collector, Solar Energy. 78 (2005) 95-503.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.solener.2004.08.003
[10] E.F. Thacher, B.T. Helenbrook, M.A. Karri, C.J. Richter, Testing of an automobile exhaust
thermoelectric generator in a light truck, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D:
Journal of Automobile Engineering. 221 (2007) 95.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1243/09544070JAUTO51
[12] D. Dai, Y. Zhou, J. Liu, Liquid metal based thermoelectric generation system for waste heat recovery,
Renewable Energy. 36 (2011) 3530-3536.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2011.06.012
[13] J. Eakburanawat, I. Boonyaroonate, Development of a thermoelectric battery-chargerwith
microcontroller-based maximum powerpoint tracking technique, Applied Energy. 83 (2006) 687704.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2005.06.004