Candle Powered Fan Keeps You Cool Using a Thermoelectric Generator

Candle powered fan

This is a great example of using a thermoelectric generator for a project. [Joohansson] made both a functional, and aesthetically beautiful fan using components from a computer.

Thermoelectric generators (TEGs for high temperatures, and cheaper TECs for lower temperatures) are also called peltier elements, which look like small square pieces of ceramic with two wires sticking out of them. If you supply power to it, one side will become hot, and the other cold. The TECs [Joohansson] is using want a temperature difference of 68C between either sides. They are typically used for cooling electronics and even some of those cheap mini-fridges will make use of one with a giant heat sink on the hot side.

In addition, they can be used as an electric generator, thanks to the seebeck effect. If you can create a temperature differential between the two sides, you can generate electricity. Using a CPU heatsink, cooler, and fan, [Joohansson] was able to power a small DC fan using only a candle. It’s a brilliant demonstration of the seebeck effect.

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Peltier Joule Thief Power Supply

Peltier Joule Thief Power Supply

[Steven] manages to power an LED for 15 minutes using hot and cold water as a battery. He does this using the thermoelectric effect also known as the Seebeck effect, Peltier effect or Thomson effect. This isn’t particularly new; in fact there are commercial products that you can use to charge a cell phone using a small campfire or internal burner that works on the same principle.

What is interesting about [Steven’s] device is that he uses a salvaged Peltier device not meant for generating electricity, coupled with a home built joule thief circuit. In the video he describes how the joule thief functions and powers the LED using the small voltage generated by the Peltier device. The energy for the thermoelectric effect is conducted from a hot water bath through aluminum plates, through the positive and negative sides of the Peltier device, through more aluminum plates and finally into a cold water bath. As the heat energy transfers through the Peltier device a small electric current is generated and flows in two small wires coming out the side of the device.  The energy generated by the Peltier device is stored in the joule thief and periodically dumped at a voltage high enough to forward bias the LED “on” for a brief moment. Technically the LED is flashing but at a frequency too high for our eyes to see. As the hot water bath cools, the LED goes from very bright, to dim, to off in about 15 minutes.

Not a very practical power supply but still quite the parlor trick. He wraps up the tutorial specifying that a TEG thermoelectric generator would be a much better choice for generating power and can handle much higher temperatures. You can watch the video after the break.

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Generating electricity from alcohol

thermoelectric-generator-lamp

Here’s a thermoelectric generator which [x2Jiggy] built. The concept uses heat from a flame, biased against cooler temperatures produced by that huge heat sink making up the top portion of the build to produce electricity via the Peltier effect.

The build is passively cooled, using a sync assembly that takes advantage of heat pipes to help increase the heat dissipation. A nearly flat heat sink makes up the mounting surface for the hot side, which faces down toward a flame driving the generator. [x2Jiggy] started the project by using a can, wick, and olive oil as the heat source. He managed to get about 2V out of the system with this method. What you see here is the second version. It swaps out the olive oil lamp for an alcohol stove. The cans with holes punched in them act as a wind screen while also providing a stable base. This rendition produces about 3V, but it doesn’t sound like there are any precise measurements of what it can do under load.

Cooling a photomultiplier tube

photomultiplier-tube-cooling-rig

A photomultiplier tube is a device used to measure very low levels of light. It’s a common tool of particle physics when trying to detect just a few photons. It turns out that running a tube at room temperature will not provide the best results. To improve the accuracy and sensitivity of his equipment [David Prutchi] built this thermoelectric photomultiplier tube cooling rig.

You can’t actually see the tube in this image but it looks similar to a vacuum tube or Nixie tube. The difference being that the components inside the glass dome make up the detector instead of an amplifier or filament display. To make a physical interface with the glass [David] wrapped it in magnetic shielding and finished with a layer of aluminum foil tape. This cylinder was then snugly fit inside of an aluminum heat sync. two Peltier coolers were attached to the outside of the heat sync, using Arctic Silver thermal compound to help transmit heat. A thermocouple was also added to monitor the temperature of this first stage of cooling. All of this fits into an aluminum enclosure which was filled with expanding spray foam before having a trio of fan-cooled heat syncs attached to it.

Thermoelectric Solar Power

Thermo_Electric_Solar_Power

[Colin] has put together an instructable for a solar power generator that uses the thermoelectric effect instead of the photovoltaic (PV) effect. We have seen Peltier devices used in cooling cans, solder paste, backs, and hacked hard drives. This is the first hack we have seen where a Peltier device is used to generate electricity from heat, essentially running the device backwards. The thermoelectric effect is the same principle that is used to generate electricity in radioisotope thermoelectric generators used in deep space probes such as Cassini. What applications can you come up with to use the thermoelectric effect as a power source?

Toaster computer

[Gordon Johnson] recently completed part 1 of his toaster computer project. He used a standard four slot toaster as the enclosure and cut holes for access to the ports and a wireless antenna. While the specifications of the components used are not mentioned, the build is well documented on his site, complete with lots of pictures and a video. While he used a traditional fan based cooling method for part 1 of the build, he plans on using a special cooling method for part 2 that uses aluminum and mineral oil to create a thermoelectric cooling effect.

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