Lily Power Pods Make the Seebeck Effect Look Good

Small proof of concept generating just under one volt in cloudy conditions.

The Seebeck effect (part of the broader thermoelectric effect) is how a difference in temperature can be directly converted into a voltage, and it is the operating principle behind things like thermocouples and Peltier junctions. Harnessing this effect in an effort to wrangle a useful electrical current out of the environment has led to some interesting ideas, like the Lily Power Pods by [Josh Starnes].

What’s interesting about this particular design is that the artistic angle crosses over with functionality. Electrically speaking, the pods have one side of the thermoelectric generator heated by the sun while the other is cooled by being submerged in water, and the temperature differential creates a measurable voltage. [Josh] designed the pods to resemble flowers, with foil petals that help direct sunlight towards the blackened “hot side” of the thermoelectric generator while water takes care of the cool side.

Are foil petals the best way to gather and direct sunlight? They are not, but the idea is to have the pods look like something other than the floating hunks of machinery that they are. Since the pods must float in water and be exposed to sunlight, they will as a result have high visibility. [Josh] seems to feel that it’s important that they not be an eyesore. After all, a less efficient generator that doesn’t overstay its welcome still generates more power than one that has figuratively been handed its hat and told to move along.

Big Power, Little Power, Tiny Power, Zap!

Our Hackaday Prize Challenges are evaluated by a panel of judges who examine every entry to see how they fare against judging criteria. With prize money at stake, it makes sense we want to make sure it is done right. But we also have our Hackaday Prize achievements, with less at stake leading to a more free-wheeling way to recognize projects that catch our eye. Most of the achievements center around fun topics that aren’t related to any particular challenge, but it’s a little different for the Infinite Improbability achievement. This achievement was unlocked by any project that impressed with their quest for power, leading to some overlap with the just-concluded Power Harvesting Challenge. In fact, when the twenty Power Harvesting winners were announced, we saw that fourteen of them had already unlocked the achievement.

Each of the Power Harvesting winners will get their own spotlight story. And since many of them have unlocked this achievement, now is the perfect time to take a quick tour through a few of the other entries that have also unlocked the Infinite Improbability achievement.

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A Flashlight Powered by Your Hot Little Hands

We are smack-dab in the middle of our Energy Harvesting Challenge, and [wasimashu] might have this one in the palm of his hand. Imagine a compact flashlight that doesn’t need batteries or bulbs. You’d buy a 10-pack and stash them everywhere, right? If there’s nothing that will leak or break or expire in your lifetime, why not have a bunch of them around?

Infinity uses nothing but body heat to power a single white LED. It only needs a five-degree temperature difference between the air and your hand to work, so it should be good in pretty much any environment. While it certainly won’t be the brightest light in your collection, it’s a whole lot better than darkness. Someday, it might be the only light around that works.

As you might expect, there’s a Peltier unit involved. Two of them, actually. Both are embedded flush on opposite sides of the hollow aluminum flashlight body, which acts as a heat sink and allows air to pass through.  After trying to boost the output voltage with a homemade feedback oscillator and hand-wound transformers, [wasimashu] settled on a unipolar boost converter to reach the 5V needed to power the LED.

[wasimashu] has made it his personal mission to help humanity through science. We’d say that Infinity puts him well on the way, and can’t wait to see what he does next.

Thermoelectric Fan Harvests Wood Stove Heat Junkyard Style

Anyone who heats with a wood stove knows that the experience is completely different from typical central heating. It’s not for everyone, though, and it’s certainly not without its trade-offs. One of the chief complaints is getting heat away from the stove and into other areas of the house, and many owners turn on an electric fan to circulate the heated air.

That’s hardly in the green nature of wood heating, though, and fans can be noisy. So something like this heat-powered stove-top fan can come in handy. Such fans, which use Peltier devices to power a small electric motor, are readily available commercially. [bongodrummer] thought that sounded like no fun, though, and created his own mostly from junk. The Peltier module was salvaged from an old travel fridge and mounted to a heat sink from a computer to harvest heat from the stove. The other side of the Peltier needs to have a heat sink to keep it cooler than the hot side, and [bongodrummer] chose an unconventional bit of salvage for the job — the cylinder of a chainsaw engine. The spark plug hole sprouts the mount for the fan motor, and the cooling fins help keep the Peltier cool. And to prevent overheating of the device, he added a surprise — a car cooling system thermostat to physically lift the device off the stove when it gets too hot. Genius!

The video below shows the build, which was not trivial. But we think the end results are worth it, and it reminds us a little of the woodstove generator we featured a while back.

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Thermoelectric Generator Shines Where the Sun Doesn’t

For off-grid renewable electricity, solar seems to make sense. Just throw some PV panels on the roof and you’re all set to stick it to the man, right? But the dirty little secret of the king of clean energy is that very few places on the planet get the sort of sunshine needed to make residential PV panels worth their installation cost in the short term, and the long-term value proposition isn’t very good either.

The drearier places on the planet might benefit from this high-power thermoelectric generator (TEG) developed and tested by [TegwynTwmffat] for use on a wood burning stove. The TEG modules [Tegwyn] used are commercially available and rated at 14.4 volts and 20 watts each. He wisely started his experiments with a single module; the video below shows the development of that prototype. The bulk of the work with TEGs is keeping the cold side of the module at a low enough temperature for decent performance, since the modules work better the higher the difference in temperature is across the module. A finned heatsink and a fan wouldn’t cut it for this application, so a water-cooled block was built to pump away the heat. A successful test led to scaling the generator up to 10 modules with a very impressive heatsink, which produced about 120 watts. Pretty good, but we wonder if some easy gains in performance would have come from using heat sink compound on the module surfaces.

Using thermal differences to generate electricity is nothing new, but a twist on the technique is getting attention lately as a potential clean energy source. And who knows? Maybe [TegwynTwmffat]’s or one of the other Hackaday Prize 2018 entries will break new ground and change the world. What’s your big idea?

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Thermoelectric Paint Opens Prospect Of Easier Energy Harvesting

We will all be used to the thermoelectric effect in our electronic devices. The property of a junction of dissimilar conductors to either generate electricity from a difference in temperature (the Seebeck effect), or heating or cooling the junction (the Peltier effect). Every time we use a thermocouple or one of those mini beer fridges, we’re taking advantage of it.

Practical commercial thermoelectric arrays take the form of a grid of semiconductor junctions wired in series, with a cold side and a hot side. For a Peltier array the cold side drops in temperature and the hot side rises in response to applied electric current, while for a Seebeck array a current is generated in response to temperature difference between the two sides. They have several disadvantages though; they are not cheap, they are of a limited size, they can only be attached to flat surfaces, and they are only as good as their thermal bond can be made.

Researchers in Korea have produced an interesting development in this field that may offer significant improvements over the modules, they have published a paper describing a thermoelectric compound which can be painted on to a surface. The paint contains particles of bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3), and an energy density of up to 4mW per square centimetre is claimed.

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Thermoelectric Dry Ice Generator Does Not Work (Yet)

[Pabr] is trying to make dry ice the hard way by building a thermoelectric dry ice generator. The project is a well planned round trip through thermodynamics and cryogenics with a hard landing on the icy grounds of trial and error.

[Pabr’s] four stage Peltier element on a heatsink.
While dry ice can be obtained with simpler methods, for example by venting gaseous CO2 from fire extinguishers and collecting the forming CO2 flakes, [pabr’s] method is indeed attractive as a more compact solid-state solution. The setup employs a four stage Peltier element, which uses four Peltier stages to achieve a high temperature differential. With sufficient cooling on the high-temperature side of the element, it should be well capable of achieving temperatures below -78.5 °C, the sublimation temperature of CO2. So far, [pabr] has built three different setups to expose small amounts of CO2 to the cold of the Peltier element, hoping to observe the formation of little dry ice flakes.

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