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Thermoelectric System Economics: Where the Laws of Thermoelectrics, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Economics Intersect

  • Terry J. Hendricks (a1)


Thermoelectric technology has key benefits and strengths in many terrestrial energy recovery applications. Thermoelectric system cost is a key factor governing final decisions on the use of thermoelectric energy recovery systems in all terrestrial applications; thus cost being just as important as power density or efficiency for the adoption of waste energy recovery (WER) thermoelectric generators (TEG). New integrated cost analysis / thermoelectric analysis approaches have now shown key relationships and interdependencies between overall TEG system costs, including TE material costs, manufacturing costs, and specifically heat exchanger costs; and the TE performance design metrics such as TE material properties, TE device design parameters, heat exchanger performance metrics such as hot-side and cold-side conductances and UA values, and hot side heat flux in achieving optimal TEG WER designs. These new approaches have led to a new thermoelectric system economics paradigm that strongly influences TEG cost and performance decisions. While prior work provided foundations for the latest cost scaling analysis / TE performance analysis, this new work offers new insights and understandings and provides the basis for new thermoelectric system economics. Optimum TEG system cost conditions can now be tied directly to the TE materials, TEG design parameters, and heat exchanger design parameters through critical non-dimensional analysis. The non-dimensional analysis and metrics show the TEG system cost and performance interdependencies and intercouplings in one unifying and cohesive relationship. Prior work by T.J. Hendricks, S.K. Yee, and S. LeBlanc, J of Electronic Mater, 45, (3), 1751-1761, 2015 has shown that the system design that minimizes cost (e.g., the G [$/W] value) can be close to designs that maximize power, but these design regimes are not necessarily aligned with high system conversion efficiency or high specific power. Key sensitivities and interrelationships between critical cost metrics and critical TE performance and design metrics in the new thermoelectric system economics paradigm are explored. Quantitative data showing these sensitivities and their implications on TEG system design in terrestrial WER applications are presented. Critical non-dimensional parameter mapping has shown where heat exchanger cost- dominated conditions, TE material or manufacturing cost-dominated conditions, and combinations of cost conditions control and drive the overall TEG cost and performance. This new cost-performance paradigm shows the required pathways and challenges to achieving TEG system costs of $1 -$3/Welec.


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[7]Hendricks, T.J. and Crane, D., in CRC Press Handbook of Thermoelectrics & Its Energy Harvesting: Modules, Systems, and Applications in Energy Harvesting, edited by Rowe, D., (Taylor and Francis Group, Boca Raton, FL, 2012), Book 2, Section 3, Chapter 22.
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[9]Hendricks, T.J., “New Paradigms in Cost Optimization of Thermoelectric Energy Recovery Systems”, 15th European Conference of Thermoelectric (Padova, Italy), J MaterialsToday:Proceedings, Elsevier Ltd.,, (2018). Paper accepted and in publication.
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Thermoelectric System Economics: Where the Laws of Thermoelectrics, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Economics Intersect

  • Terry J. Hendricks (a1)


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