IDTechEx releases thermoelectric-energy-harvesting research report


Applications include thermoelectric generation in automotive, industrial, and consumer applications

The market-research firm IDTechEx has released its report, Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting: Devices, Applications, & Opportunities 2012-2022, which examines Seebeck devices and their applications and market prospects for the coming decade. Among these are energy harvesting by thermoelectric generation. Although thermoelectric phenomena have been used for heating and cooling applications quite extensively, electricity generation has only seen very limited market in niche applications and it is only in recent years that interest has increased regarding new applications of energy generation through thermoelectric harvesting. The new applications are varied, reports report author Harry Zervos, and the vertical markets benefiting from new devices include monitoring in industrial environments, smart metering in energy markets, and thermoelectric applications in vehicles—terrestrial and otherwise. The report gives an overview of devices, materials, and manufacturing processes, with a specific focus on emerging technologies that allow for new functionality, form factor, and application in various demanding environments. Whether it is operation at high temperatures or in corrosive environments, applications with increased safety demands or components that need to be thin, flexible, or even stretchable, there is a lot of R&D work worldwide which the report highlights. Included in the report are interviews with potential adopters of thermoelectric energy harvesters and their views of the impact that the technology could have over their respective industries. Some of the application sectors include:

  • Waste-heat recovery systems in vehicles: A large number of car companies, including Volkswagen, Volvo, Ford, and BMW in collaboration with NASA have been developing thermoelectric waste-heat recovery systems in house; each achieving different types of performance but all of them expecting to lead to improvements of 3 to 5% in fuel economy while the power these devices generate could potentially reach up to 1200 W.
  • Wireless sensor network adoption: Wireless sensors powered by thermogenerators in environments where temperature differentials exist would lead to avoiding issues with battery lifetime and reliability. It would also lead to the ability to move away from wired sensors, which are still the technology of choice when increased reliability of measurement is necessary. Some applications have low enough power demands to operate with small temperature differentials, as small as a few degrees in some cases. These types of developments increase adoption trends.
  • Consumer applications: The consumer-goods sector presents thermogenerator opportunities in a variety of applications. They could save energy when cooking by utilising thermo-powered cooking sensors, powering mobile phones, watches or other consumer electronics, even body sensing could become more widespread with sensory wristbands, clothing or athletic apparel that monitor vitals such as heart rate and body temperature.
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