Thermoelectric generators are low maintenance and generate zero emissions, they are also have very low maintenance costs. The vast majority of government-sponsored research in the field of thermoelectrics over the past 10-15 years has been in the area of thermoelectric power generation. The driving force behind most of this research seeks ways to improve our utilization of energy. Consider that less than a fourth of the energy content in the gasoline in your car actually goes into useful work to move the vehicle. The majority of the energy escapes as heat loss to the ambient primarily through the vehicle exhaust and radiator. Likewise, the U.S. manufacturing industry discharges roughly one-third of the energy consumed as thermal losses to the atmosphere or to cooling systems. This heat loss is measured in Quads (1015 BTU) and represents a huge opportunity for thermoelectrics to someday impact national energy consumption and our dependence on foreign fuel.
Thermoelectric waste heat recovery is the process of recapturing this lost heat and converting it to electrical power. This is the primary focus of most DOE, DARPA and DoD research for new, more efficient power generator materials and devices.
Energy harvesting and the opportunity it creates to use components continuously, off grid and for extended periods of time, has garnered much attention in commercial as well as military use. Future applications may include designs of high-powered output devices for use in remote locations. Additionally, the wearable electronics industry looks to find ways to create harvesting devices that can recharge or power radio communications equipment, cellphones, mobile computers and more. The ability to harvest energy from the temperature differences between night and day may one day be used to power outdoor applications. One of the challenges faced in applications such as these is creating a device robust enough to withstand long-term exposure to harsh settings. Their designs would also need to incorporate the ability to harvest energy from multiple sources of ambient energy.
Thermoelectric energy is fascinating and has great potential for future applications, both big and small. Heat sources abound and can be easily scavenged by thermoelectric generators (TEGs) for use in these applications. II-VI Marlow has lead the way for providing thermal energy harvesting products to power wireless sensors and other microdevices, thereby eliminating the need for battery-powered solutions. The EverGen series from II-VI Marlow offers a low-cost and zero-maintenance solution for wireless sensor technology.
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