Thermoelectric Cooling

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Thermoelectric cooling uses the Peltier effect to create a heat flux between the junction of two different types of materials. A Peltier cooler, heater, or thermoelectric heat pump is a solid-state active heat pump which transfers heat from one side of the device to the other side against the temperature gradient (from cold to hot), with consumption of electrical energy. Such an instrument is also called a Peltier device, Peltier heat pump, solid state refrigerator, or thermoelectric cooler (TEC).[1] Because heating can be achieved more easily and economically by many other methods, Peltier devices are mostly used for cooling. However, when a single device is to be used for both heating and cooling, a Peltier device may be desirable. Simply connecting it to a DC voltage will cause one side to cool, while the other side warms. The effectiveness of the pump at moving the heat away from the cold side is dependent upon the amount of current provided and how well the heat can be removed from the hot side.

A Peltier cooler is the opposite of a thermoelectric generator. In a Peltier cooler, electric power is used to generate a temperature difference between the two sides of the device; while in a thermoelectric generator, a temperature difference between the two sides is used to generate electric power. The operation of both is closely related (both are manifestations of the thermoelectric effect), and therefore the devices are generally constructed from similar materials using similar designs.


Peltier element schematic. Thermoelectric legs are thermally in parallel and electrically in series.
Peltier element (16x16 mm)

Thermoelectric junctions are generally only around 5–10% as efficient as the ideal refrigerator (Carnot cycle), compared with 40–60% achieved by conventional compression cycle systems (reverse Rankine systems using compression/expansion). Due to the relatively low efficiency, thermoelectric cooling is generally only used in environments where the solid state nature (no moving parts, maintenance-free) outweighs pure efficiency.

Peltier (thermoelectric) cooler performance is a function of ambient temperature, hot and cold side heat exchanger (heat sink) performance, thermal load, Peltier module (thermopile) geometry, and Peltier electrical parameters.