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Anintroductiontothermoelectriccoolers|ElectronicsCooling

Anintroductiontothermoelectriccoolers
September1,1996
SaraGodfrey
Coolers,Design,Number3,TECs,Test&Measurement,Volume2
TEC,ThermoelectricCooler

Figure1:CrossSectionofaTypical
TECouple

Introduction
Thermoelectriccoolersaresolidstateheatpumpsusedinapplicationswheretemperature
stabilization,temperaturecycling,orcoolingbelowambientarerequired.Therearemanyproducts
usingthermoelectriccoolers,includingCCDcameras(chargecoupleddevice),laserdiodes,
microprocessors,bloodanalyzersandportablepicniccoolers.Thisarticlediscussesthetheorybehind
thethermoelectriccooler,alongwiththethermalandelectricalparametersinvolved.

HowtheThermoelectricWorks...
ThermoelectricsarebasedonthePeltierEffect,discoveredin1834,bywhichDCcurrentapplied
acrosstwodissimilarmaterialscausesatemperaturedifferential.ThePeltierEffectisoneofthethree
thermoelectriceffects,theothertwoareknownastheSeebeckEffectandThomsonEffect.Whereas
thelasttwoeffectsactonasingleconductor,thePeltierEffectisatypicaljunctionphenomenon.The
threeeffectsareconnectedtoeachotherbyasimplerelationship.
ThetypicalthermoelectricmoduleismanufacturedusingtwothinceramicwaferswithaseriesofP
andNdopedbismuthtelluridesemiconductormaterialsandwichedbetweenthem.Theceramic
materialonbothsidesofthethermoelectricaddsrigidityandthenecessaryelectricalinsulation.The
Ntypematerialhasanexcessofelectrons,whilethePtypematerialhasadeficitofelectrons.OneP
andoneNmakeupacouple,asshowninFigure1.Thethermoelectriccouplesareelectricallyin
seriesandthermallyinparallel.Athermoelectricmodulecancontainonetoseveralhundredcouples.
AstheelectronsmovefromthePtypematerialtotheNtypematerialthroughanelectricalconnector,
theelectronsjumptoahigherenergystateabsorbingthermalenergy(coldside).Continuingthrough
thelatticeofmaterial,theelectronsflowfromtheNtypematerialtothePtypematerialthroughan
electricalconnector,droppingtoalowerenergystateandreleasingenergyasheattotheheatsink
(hotside).
Thermoelectricscanbeusedtoheatandtocool,dependingonthedirectionofthecurrent.Inan
applicationrequiringbothheatingandcooling,thedesignshouldfocusonthecoolingmode.Usinga
thermoelectricintheheatingmodeisveryefficientbecausealltheinternalheating(Joulianheat)and
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theloadfromthecoldsideispumpedtothehotside.Thisreducesthepowerneededtoachievethe
desiredheating.

ThermalParametersNeeded
Theappropriatethermoelectricforanapplication,dependsonatleastthreeparameters.These
parametersarethehotsurfacetemperature(Th),thecoldsurfacetemperature(Tc),andtheheatload
tobeabsorbedatthecoldsurface(Qc).
ThehotsideofthethermoelectricisthesidewhereheatisreleasedwhenDCpowerisapplied.This
sideisattachedtotheheatsink.Whenusinganaircooledheatsink(naturalorforcedconvection),the
hotsidetemperaturecanbefoundbyusingEquations1and2.
(1)

Th=Tamb+(O)(Qh)

Where

Th=Thehotsidetemperature(C).

Tamb=Theambienttemperature(C).

O=Thermalresistanceofheatexchanger(C/watt).

and

(2)

Qh=Qc+Pin

Where

Qh=theheatreleasedtothehotsideofthe
thermoelectric(watts).
Qc=theheatabsorbedfromthecoldside(watts).
Pin=theelectricalinputpowertothethermoelectric
(watts).

Thethermalresistanceoftheheatsinkcausesatemperatureriseaboveambient.Ifthethermal
resistanceoftheheatsinkisunknown,thenestimatesofacceptabletemperatureriseaboveambient
are:
Natural
Convection

20Cto40C

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Forced
Convection

LiquidCooling

Anintroductiontothermoelectriccoolers|ElectronicsCooling

10Cto15C

2Cto5C(riseabovetheliquidcoolant
temperature)

Theheatsinkisakeycomponentintheassembly.Aheatsinkthatistoosmallmeansthatthedesired
coldsidetemperaturemaynotbeobtained.
ThecoldsideofthethermoelectricisthesidethatgetscoldwhenDCpowerisapplied.Thissidemay
needtobecolderthanthedesiredtemperatureofthecooledobject.Thisisespeciallytruewhenthe
coldsideisnotindirectcontactwiththeobject,suchaswhencoolinganenclosure.
Thetemperaturedifferenceacrossthethermoelectric( T)relatestoThandTcaccordingtoEquation
3.
(3) T=ThTc
ThethermoelectricperformancecurvesinFigures2and3showtherelationshipbetween Tandthe
otherparameters.
EstimatingQc,theheatloadinwattsabsorbedfromthecoldsideisdifficult,becauseallthermalloads
inthedesignmustbeconsidered.Amongthesethermalloadsare:
1.Active:I2Rheatloadfromtheelectronicdevices
Anyloadgeneratedbyachemicalreaction
2.Passive:Radiation(heatlossbetweentwocloseobjectswithdifferenttemperatures)
Convection(heatlossthroughtheair,wheretheairhasadifferenttemperaturethantheobject)
InsulationLosses
ConductionLosses(heatlossthroughleads,screws,etc.)
TransientLoad(timerequiredtochangethetemperatureofanobject)

PoweringtheThermoelectric
AllthermoelectricsareratedforImax,Vmax,Qmax,and Tmax,ataspecificvalueofTh.Operatingator
nearthemaximumpowerisrelativelyinefficientduetointernalheating(Joulianheat)athighpower.
Therefore,thermoelectricsgenerallyoperatewithin25%to80%ofthemaximumcurrent.Theinput
powertothethermoelectricdeterminesthehotsidetemperatureandcoolingcapabilityatagivenload.
Asthethermoelectricoperates,thecurrentflowingthroughithastwoeffects:(1)thePeltierEffect
(cooling)and(2)theJoulianEffect(heating).TheJoulianEffectisproportionaltothesquareofthe
current.Therefore,asthecurrentincreases,theJouleheatingdominatesthePeltiercooling
andcausesalossinnetcooling.ThiscutoffdefinesImaxforthethermoelectric.
Foreachdevice,Qmaxisthemaximumheatloadthatcanbeabsorbedbythecoldsideofthe
thermoelectric.ThismaximumoccursatImax,Vmax,andwith T=0C.The Tmaxvalueisthe
maximumtemperaturedifferenceacrossthethermoelectric.ThismaximumoccursatImax,Vmaxand
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withnoload(Qc=0watts).ThesevaluesofQmaxand Tmaxareshownontheperformancecurve
(Figure3)astheendpointsoftheImaxline.

AnExample
Supposeadesignerhasanapplicationwithanestimatedheatloadof22watts,aforcedconvection
typeheatsinkwithathermalresistanceof0.15C/watt,anambienttemperatureof25C,andanobject
thatneedstobecooledto5C.Thecoldsideofthethermoelectricwillbeindirectcontactwiththe
object.
ThedesignerhasaMelcorCP1.412706Lthermoelectricinthelabandneedstoknowifitissuitable
forthisapplication.ThespecificationsfortheCP1.412706Lareasfollows(thesespecificationsareat
Th=25C):
Imax=6.0amps
Qmax=51.4watts
Vmax=15.4volts
Tmax=67C

Todetermineifthisthermoelectricisappropriateforthisapplication,itmustbeshownthatthe
parameters TandQcarewithintheboundariesoftheperformancecurves.
Theparameter TfollowsdirectlyfromThandTc.Sincethecoldsideofthethermoelectricisindirect
contactwiththeobjectbeingcooled,Tcisestimatedtobe5C.Assuminga10Criseaboveambient
fortheforcedconvectiontypeheatsink,Thisestimatedtobe35C.Withoutknowingthepowerinto
thethermoelectric,anexactvalueofThcannotbefound.Equation3givesthetemperaturedifference
acrossthethermoelectric:
T=ThTc=35C5C=30C
Figures2and3showperformancecurvesfortheCP1.412706Latahotsidetemperatureof35C.
ReferringtoFigure3,theintersectionofQcand Tshowthatthisthermoelectriccanpump22wattsof
heatata Tof30Cwithaninputcurrentof3.6amps.
PerformanceCurve( Tvs.Voltage)

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T(C)
Figure2:MelcorCP1.412706L,^Tvs.Voltage
PerformanceCurve( Tvs.Qc)

T(C)
Figure3:MelcorCP1.412706L,^Tvs.Qc
ThesevaluesarebasedontheestimateTh=35C.Oncethepowerintothethermoelectricis
determined,Equations1and2canbeusedtosolveforThandtodeterminewhethertheoriginal
estimateofThwasappropriate.
Theinputpowertothethermoelectric,Pin,istheproductofthecurrentandthevoltage.Usingthe3.6
amplineinFigure2forthecurrent,theinputvoltagecorrespondingto T=30Cisapproximately10
volts.
UsingEquations1and2,Thcannowbecalculated.

Th=Tamb+(O)(Qh)

whereTamb=25CO=0.15C/watt

Qh=Qc+Pin=22watts+((3.6amps)*(10volts))=22
watts+36watts=58watts

thereforeTh=25C+(0.15C/watt)(58watts)

=25C+8.7C=33.7C

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ThecalculatedThiscloseenoughtotheoriginalestimateofTh,toconcludethattheCP1.412706L
thermoelectricwillworkinthegivenapplication.Ifanexactsolutionneedstobeknown,theprocessof
solvingforThmathematicallycanberepeateduntilthevalueofThdoesnotchange.

OtherParameterstoConsider
Thematerialusedfortheassemblycomponentsdeservescarefulthought.Theheatsinkandcoldside
mountingsurfaceshouldbemadeoutofmaterialsthathaveahighthermalconductivity(i.e.,copperor
aluminum)topromoteheattransfer.However,insulationandassemblyhardwareshouldbemadeof
materialsthathavelowthermalconductivity(i.e.,polyurethanefoamandstainlesssteel)toreduceheat
loss.
Environmentalconcernssuchashumidityandcondensationonthecoldsidecanbealleviatedby
usingpropersealingmethods.Aperimeterseal(Figure4)protectsthecouplesfromcontactwithwater
orgases,eliminatingcorrosionandthermalandelectricalshortsthatcandamagethethermoelectric
module.

Figure4:TypicalthermoelectricfromMelcorwithaperimeterseal
Theimportanceofotherfactors,suchasthethermoelectricsfootprint,itsheight,itscost,theavailable
powersupplyandtypeofheatsink,varyaccordingtotheapplication.

SingleStagevs.Multistage
Giventhehotsidetemperature,thecoldsidetemperatureandtheheatload,asuitablethermoelectric
canbechosen.If Tacrossthethermoelectricislessthan55C,thenasinglestagethermoelectric
issufficient.Thetheoreticalmaximumtemperaturedifferenceforasinglestagethermoelectricis
between65Cand70C.
If Tisgreaterthan55C,thenamultistagethermoelectricshouldbeconsidered.A
multistagethermoelectricachievesahigh Tbystackingasmanyassixorsevensinglestage
thermoelectricsontopofeachother.

Summary
Althoughthereisavarietyofapplicationsthatusethermoelectricdevices,allofthemarebasedonthe
sameprinciple.Whendesigningathermoelectricapplication,itisimportantthatalloftherelevant
electricalandthermalparametersbeincorporatedintothedesignprocess.Oncethesefactors
areconsidered,asuitablethermoelectricdevicecanbeselectedbasedontheguidelinespresentedin
thisarticle.
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SaraGodfrey
MelcorCorporation,1040SpruceStreet
Trenton,NJ08648,USA
Tel:+1(609)3934178
Fax:+1(609)3939461
Email:tecooler@melcor.com

References
1.Levine,M.A.,SolidStateCoolingwithThermoelectrics,ElectronicPackaging&Production,Nov.
1989.
2.MelcorCorporation,ThermoelectricHandbook,Sept.,1995.
3.Rowe,D.M.,CRCHandbookofThermoelectrics,CRCPress,Inc.,1995.
4.Smythe,Robert,Thermoelectriccoolerstaketheheatoutoftodayshotchips,ElectronicProducts,
Aug.1995.

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