Everything I need to know about thermoelectric generators

Seiko thermicThermoelectric generators(TEG) are devices that convert heat energy directly into electrical energy. This technology is used as an alternative energy solution for public and private purposes. Converting heat into electrical energy paves way for conserving the exhaustible resources that are slowly being extinct now. So transforming these renewable resources into usable energy helps to balance the future environmental issues and economic survival. In spite of the rise in electricity bills, electricity still plays a major role in our daily lives.

Have you ever wondered how it would be to be living in a world without any electricity? No heater to warm you when you are cold. No refrigerator to keep your food from getting spoilt. No air conditioning when it is really hot and what not? What we save today will be what we will have left for tomorrow. Let’s just say, “Maximum use of scarce resources”. So it is better to squeeze out maximum energy from the ones that are being wasted and harvest them into consumable energy.

Trends





Thermo electric generators are made of thermo electric modules and are used in many situations. Solar energy, whilst being a great alternate cannot be relied on a cloudy or rainy day. Similarly, wind energy too comes inconvenient during hot summers when there is not enough wind. However, combining both the energies with TEG results in giving you enough energy for all your household needs.

The thermoelectric wrist watch is another example wherein the heat from the wearer’s body is converted to energy to run it. Seiko and Citizen are two companies that have taken an initiative to built these models. Under normal usage conditions the Seiko watch produces 22 μW of electrical power ultimately using an electric efficiency of about 0.1%. So expect more and more watchmakers to come out with thermoelectric watches in the future as the human body heat provides enough energy to run a wristwatch. Just like automatic watches have been the trend for quite some time now, thermoelectric watches could be the next big thing in the watch industry.

Benefits





Thermoelectric generators are preferred mostly for the quality of harvesting wasteful heat sources to energy that can be used on a daily basis and does not rely on fuel or gas. The generators come in as “solid-state” which adds on to its durability and are perfect to be used in harsh environment viz automobiles, incinerators, and spacecraft.

Schematic of Electrostatic generator

Lowdown

One of the major drawbacks of TEG is the factor of cost. Because of its expensive nature it is not encouraged to be used on a wider scale. A limit on efficiency of power conversion is also found to be another flaw but this is still being worked upon and has shown a progress by a factor of two or three levels. Another study shows that it requires the same amount of electrical resistance to operate powerfully.

Impact

The ability to convert energy from small semi conducting elements has helped in yielding reusable energy from heat energy that is wasted. They use up any sources of heat to generate electricity thus making it possible [PDF] to reduce the use of exhaustible natural resources. Going ahead, expect to see many devices like mobile phones, MP3 players, etc to usher in the thermoelectric generators as a viable alternative power generating or battery recharge mechanism.