Design & Manufacture

Nextreme – Thin-film thermoelectric waste-heat power generator output doubled

Mar 23 2009 - Design & Manufacture [More Design & Manufacture Articles]

The efficiency and power output of its thin-film thermoelectric power generator has been doubled, says microscale thermal and power management product specialist, Nextreme Thermal Solutions.

Recently Nextreme undertook a development program, made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Green Business Fund, to enhance the efficiency of its devices used to convert waste heat into electricity. By modifying the thermoelectric epitaxial materials, the company was able to increase the power conversion efficiency and power output by a factor of two compared with standard thin-film thermoelectric generators operating under the same heat input conditions. This achievement represents a substantial milestone in epitaxial film growth and is a technology first for the thermoelectric industry.

Nextreme’s thin-film embedded thermoelectric generator (eTEG) produces electricity via the Seebeck effect, where electricity is produced from a temperature differential applied across the device. Nextreme synthesized bismuth telluride epitaxial films that demonstrated a thermal-to-electrical power conversion efficiency increase of more than two-times when compared with baseline thin-film thermoelectric devices. At 9W of heat input power, the devices produced in this program generated 247mW of output power, equivalent to 2.6% power conversion efficiency.

The performance improvements demonstrated in this program will have a significant, positive impact on Nextreme’s ability to target micro-power applications with its products, says the company.

“The NC Green Fund Program provided the impetus and focus for Nextreme in demonstrating the feasibility of improving our material’s power conversion efficiency,” said Dr. Jesko von Windheim, CEO of Nextreme. “The grant provided a much needed first step in proving the commercial viability of this technology.”

The concept of generating clean power from waste heat is alluring and gaining significant attention worldwide. However there is a direct link between thermoelectric module performance, in terms of efficiency, and the applicability of thermoelectrics in key power generation markets. The applications that stand out, both in terms of feasibility and market size, are micro power (e.g., powering remote sensors or other portable applications) and automobile waste heat energy conversion.

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