, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 1845-1850
Date: 04 Apr 2012

Scalable Cost/Performance Analysis for Thermoelectric Waste Heat Recovery Systems

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We study the cost/efficiency trade-offs for different ZT values and identify applications in which low-cost organic thermoelectric (TE) materials such as polymers with embedded nanoparticles or nanowires could have a big impact. In a TE generator, in addition to the TE material, there needs to be a water- or air-cooled heat sink in order to create a temperature gradient. The costs of the material in the TE module and the heat sink need to be co-optimized. We used our recently developed analytic model which describes the maximum power output for various conditions. The optimum design allows us to find the minimum material mass used in the TE module and in the heat sink. This yields the power per material cost (W/$) and the power per unit mass (kg/W). We compared organic and inorganic TE materials as an interesting example based on this scalable analytic model. The results suggest that polymers or other low-cost lower-efficiency TE materials have the greatest potential for lightweight remote power applications for sensors in conjunction with passive heat sinks.