An investigation into the viability of heat sources for thermoelectric power generation systems

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Title: An investigation into the viability of heat sources for thermoelectric power generation systems
Author: Smith, Kevin D.
Abstract: Thermoelectric materials are a potential means of converting thermal energy into clean and reliable electric power. Although current commercially-available modules are not economically viable, there is hope that in the next few years recent breakthroughs in the laboratories will result in a whole new class of high efficiency modules. To access the viability of the next generation of thermoelectric modules, improved system-level modeling tools are necessary. To this end, a versatile system model is developed, with the capability of accommodating many configurations, including but not limited to the number of modules, type of modules, geometrical parameters, and heat exchanger parameters. With this wide range of variables, it is possible to gain an understanding of the mechanisms of system performance and how they can be manipulated to optimize a thermoelectric system. Analytical tools, however, are necessary to determine the potential viability of the next generation of Thermoelectric Power Generation Systems. In this work, a model describing the performance of a thermoelectric system is developed and designed to operate over a large range of system configurations. The theoretical model is compared to the experimental results obtained from a Thermoelectric Power Generation System testing box tested under several configurations and conditions. Discrepancies between model and experiments are described with several model improvements developed and implemented. Finally, the model is incorporated with a heat transfer model and a pricing model to develop a preliminary optimization tool. The optimization tool is then used to analyze the viability of thermoelectric power generation in a hypothetical automotive application when compared with the operating costs of an alternator to develop viability curves based off the price of fuel.
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Date: 2009-02

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