Research Papers

Computational Modeling of a Solar Thermoelectric Generator

[+] Author and Article Information
Chukwunyere Ofoegbu

Department of Mechanical
and Aerospace Engineering,
The Ohio State University,
Columbus, OH 43210

Sandip Mazumder

Fellow ASME
Department of Mechanical
and Aerospace Engineering,
The Ohio State University,
Suite E410, Scott Laboratory,
201 West 19th Avenue,
Columbus, OH 43210
e-mail: mazumder.2@osu.edu

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Heat Transfer Division of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF THERMAL SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING APPLICATIONS. Manuscript received July 25, 2014; final manuscript received April 7, 2015; published online June 16, 2015. Assoc. Editor: Francis Kulacki.

J. Thermal Sci. Eng. Appl 7(4), 041004 (Dec 01, 2015) (7 pages) Paper No: TSEA-14-1171; doi: 10.1115/1.4030637 History: Received July 25, 2014; Revised April 07, 2015; Online June 16, 2015

Solar thermoelectric generators (STEGs) convert solar energy to electricity. The solar energy is first used to heat an absorber plate that serves as the high temperature reservoir. Power is generated by connecting the hot reservoir and cold (ambient) reservoirs with a pair of p- and n-doped thermoelectric legs. Experimental studies have shown that the efficiency of a STEG can reach values of about 5% if the entire setup is placed in near-vacuum conditions. However, under atmospheric conditions, the efficiency decreases by more than an order of magnitude, presumably due to heat loss from the absorber plate by natural convection. A coupled fluid–thermal–electric three-dimensional computational model of a STEG is developed with the objective of understanding the various loss mechanisms that contribute to its poor efficiency. The governing equations of mass, momentum, energy, and electric current, with the inclusion of thermoelectric effects, are solved on a mesh with 60,900 cells, and the power generated by the device is predicted. The computational model predicts a temperature difference (ΔT) of 16.5 K, as opposed to the experimentally measured value of 15 K. This corresponds to a peak power of 0.031 W as opposed to the experimentally measured peak power of 0.021 W. When only radiative losses are considered (i.e., perfect vacuum), the ΔT increases drastically to 131.1 K, resulting in peak power of 1.43 W. The predicted peak efficiency of the device was found to be 0.088% as opposed to the measured value of 0.058%.

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Fig. 1

Schematic of a STEG showing a single pair of thermoelectric legs

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Fig. 2

Computational mesh used for the solid regions with 60,900 cells

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Fig. 3

Side view of temperature distribution of entire STEG under adiabatic conditions

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Fig. 4

Predicted power curve for the STEG under adiabatic conditions

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Fig. 5

Electric potential and temperature distributions (side view) in the unicouple (thermoelectric leg pair) at 0.49 A and adiabatic conditions

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Fig. 6

Comparison of the predicted power generated by the STEG under adiabatic conditions and with radiation losses

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Fig. 7

Temperature distributions of the entire STEG and surrounding air at four different instances of time

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Fig. 8

Predicted (present study) and measured [3] performance of the STEG: (a) power versus current and (b) voltage versus current

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Fig. 9

Electric potential and temperature distributions (side view) in the unicouple (thermoelectric leg pair) at 0.09 A with full coupling and all heat transfer modes

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Fig. 10

Comparison of predicted performance with a fully coupled model versus a model in which the convective heat losses are predicted with prescribed heat transfer coefficients



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