The Use of Thermoelectric Devices for Power Generation

Photograph of intern Robert Ellis. Credit: URC

Image Credit: URC

Student: Robert Ellis
University of Texas at El Paso

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Degree Level: Master of Science

Internship Site: NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

Mentor: Jeffrey George

Abstract: A standard technology for power generation is thermoelectric devices. Thermoelectrics take advantage of the Seebeck effect which allows for power generation when given just a temperature difference. They work by using two dissimilar semi-conducting materials along with a temperature difference to create an electromotive force which then generates power. They also have no moving parts which gives them very long life spans even up to 30 years. This makes them ideal candidates for almost any application where waste heat is not being utilized. However, since this technology is relatively inefficient the cost usually doesn’t justify their installation, but in applications where cost is not the main concern, such as in spacecraft, thermoelectric devices are very promising. In this project a system will be designed around a heat pipe and a thermoelectric element in order to produce power. The first step is to design a system that meets various requirements in order to simulate the environment in which it will be used. Next the designed setup must be created and tested to ensure optimization. Finally the thermoelectric device will be tested at Johnson Space Center for different temperature differences and data of the power, voltage, and current outputs will be recorded in order to determine the usefulness of this technology for other applications.

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