Measurements of assembled thermoelectric modules commonly include investigations of the module output power versus load resistance. Such measurements include non-ideal effects such as electrical and thermal contact resistances. Using an AC electrical measurement, two models for a thermoelectric module have been developed utilizing electrical circuits for both the thermal and electrical characteristics of the module.
Measurements were taken over the frequency range of 1mHz to 500Hz using lock-in amplifiers. We present data showing the extraction of ZT from such measurements on commercially available modules utilizing both the magnitude and phase of the measured impedance. Here we extend upon a simple RC equivalent circuit model by utilizing transmission line theory in electrical circuits to explain the thermal activity in a thermoelectric module. This model includes all components of a module such as nickel traces and ceramic end caps, and makes use of their corresponding thermal conductivities, thermal capacitance, and density. This model can then be applied to pn unicouples in either a standard or inline configuration, and to individual p or n legs of the module. Data is presented showing the advantages of both models. Measurements on new thermoelectric materials and modules are also presented.