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.

PTPM Energy Scavenger Aims for Maintenance-Free Sensor Nodes

[Mile]’s PTPM Energy Scavenger takes the scavenging idea seriously and is designed to gather not only solar power but also energy from temperature differentials, vibrations, and magnetic induction. The idea is to make wireless sensor nodes that can be self-powered and require minimal maintenance. There’s more to the idea than simply doing away with batteries; if the devices are rugged and don’t need maintenance, they can be installed in locations that would otherwise be impractical or awkward. [Mile] says that goal is to reduce the most costly part of any supply chain: human labor.

The prototype is working well with solar energy and supercapacitors for energy storage, but [Mile] sees potential in harvesting other sources, such as piezoelectric energy by mounting the units to active machinery. With a selectable output voltage, optional battery for longer-term storage, and a reference design complete with enclosure, the PPTM Energy Scavenger aims to provide a robust power solution for wireless sensor platforms.

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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2.5kW of Beverage-Cooling Awesomeness

We’ve covered many thermoelectric beverage coolers in the past, but none come close to the insane power of the AbsolutZero. [Ilan Moyer] set out to design a beverage cooler that chills a drink from room temperature to 5 degrees Celsius as quickly as possible, and it looks like he succeeded. The AbsolutZero consumes around 2.5kW of power and runs 8 water-cooled thermoelectric modules to quickly chill a drink.

[Ilan] put his machinist skills to work and fabricated many custom parts for this build. He machined water blocks for each thermoelectric cooler out of solid copper which draw heat away from each thermoelectric cooler. He also fabricated his own bus bars to handle the 200A+ of current the system draws. To transfer heat from the beverage to the thermoelectric modules, he turned and milled a heat spreader that perfectly fits a can of any beverage.

[Ilan]’s design uses a closed-loop water cooling system and 4 radiators to dissipate all of the heat the system produces, which is quite a lot: thermoelectric modules are typically only 10-15% efficient. The whole design is buttoned up in a custom polycarbonate enclosure with a carrying handle so you can conveniently lug the massive setup wherever quickly chilled beverages are needed. Be sure to check out [Ilan]’s build photos to see his excellent machining work.

Thanks for the tip, [Stefan].

Fail of the Week: Project Frosty Mug is Merely Chilly

Like many of us, [C] enjoys an ice-cold, refreshing soda while coding. Driven by a strong desire to keep a soda ice-cold indefinitely without using ice, [C] started Project Frosty Mug.

[C]’s stated goal is to keep a 20oz plastic bottle of soda at ~35F indefinitely while it sits in a room temperature environment. He started with a thermoelectric unit to cool an aluminium disc, like a cold coaster. Builds one and two made him realize that dealing with the generated heat was a big issue: it got so hot that it deformed the PLA frame. [C] also realized that bottom-only cooling wasn’t going to get the job done.

This project is now in its third build, which is pictured above. As you can see, it’s more koozie than coaster. That 3-D printed holster is lined with aluminium sheeting. Another flat piece covers the opening and attaches to the cooling element. A beefy CPU heat sink does its best, and a couple of U-brackets hold it all together.

[C]’s tested it with a glass bottle of Diet Sun Drop chilled to 38F. After 30 minutes in an ambient temperature of ~70F, the soda measured 45F. [C] lamented having not used a control bottle for comparison and reports that the power supply became quite warm. [C] isn’t going to give up that easily. Do you have any ideas for the fourth build?

Editor’s Note: This is one of the last Fail of the Week tips we have stored up. If you want to see the series continue on a weekly basis, we need help finding more documented fails! Please look back through your projects and document the ones that didn’t go quite right. We also encourage you to send in links to other fails you’ve found. Just drop the links in our tips line. Thanks!


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Thursday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

 

Candle Powered Fan Keeps You Cool Using a Thermoelectric Generator

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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