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Thermoelectric Ambient Energy Harvester

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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Environments where natural temperature differences exist (above/below ground and either side of ductwork that delivers heating, ventilation and air conditioning in buildings) are applications.
Environments where natural temperature differences exist (above/below ground and either side of ductwork that delivers heating, ventilation and air conditioning in buildings) are applications.

Technology Marketing Summary

A novel thermoelectric generator (TEG) design by PNNL allows the conversion of ambient thermal energy into electric power for a variety of low-power uses. These miniature TEGs are able to power wireless sensors and their associated radio frequency transmitters used in a wide range of remote monitoring applications including building energy management, automotive component controls, agricultural monitoring, security surveillance, and wildlife management.

Description

The Thermoelectric Ambient Energy Harvester uses an assembly of ultra-thin thermocouples in a unique configuration that can exploit small (>2°C) temperature differences occurring naturally in the environment of the application (i.e. ground to air, water to air, or skin to air interfaces). The TEG is constructed from reliable and stable components that offer maintenance-free, continuous power for the lifetime of the application.

The individual thermocouples, which are typically no more than 1 cm high by 1.5 cm wide and only a few micrometers thick, are deposited in a linked “chain” onto a thin, flexible plastic substrate (similar to camera film), using sputtered thin-film deposition techniques developed by PNNL. This plastic substrate is coiled around a spool enabling up to several thousand thermocouples to be assembled into a cylindrical TEG 1 to 2 cm in diameter. Depending on the magnitude of the temperature range they experience, their electrical output can be designed over a range from a few microwatts to 100’s of milliwatts and more.

Benefits
  • Utilizes temperature differences that exist naturally between adjacent environments, producing electric energy for sensor, monitors and other low-power end uses
  • Capable of supplying average electric power of up to hundreds of milliwatts without an external fuel supply or human attention
  • Could supply a varying power demand profile that includes brief outputs of tens to hundreds of watts for communications and other high power requirements, when combined with energy storage media such as supercapacitors and rechargeable batteries
  • Application tailoring achieved simply by varying number of thermocouples, deposition parameters, and substrate dimensions
  • Projected life longer than equivalent batteries
  • Provides power for the lifetime of the application
  • Adaptable to wide range of ambient conditions
  • Fabrication amenable to standardization and automation
Applications and Industries

PNNL evaluated these miniature TEGs as power sources for wireless sensors used to optimize energy management in buildings, as part of the Building Technology Project conducted by PNNL for the U.S. Department of Energy. Other applications are currently anticipated in many areas including automotive performance monitoring, homeland and military security and surveillance, biomedicine, and wilderness area and agricultural management. The Thermoelectric Ambient Energy Harvester may be suitable for many other stand-alone, low-power applications not mentioned above.

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Date
Patent 7,834,263
Patent
7,834,263
Thermoelectric power source utilizing ambient energy harvesting for remote sensing and transmitting
A method and apparatus for providing electrical energy to an electrical device wherein the electrical energy is originally generated from temperature differences in an environment having a first and a second temperature region. A thermoelectric device having a first side and a second side wherein the first side is in communication with a means for transmitting ambient thermal energy collected or rejected in the first temperature region and the second side is in communication with the second temperature region thereby producing a temperature gradient across the thermoelectric device and in turn generating an electrical current.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 11/16/2010
Issued
Application 20050115601
Application
20050115601
Thermoelectric devices and applications for the same
High performance thin film thermoelectric couples and methods of making the same are disclosed. Such couples allow fabrication of at least microwatt to watt-level power supply devices operating at voltages greater than one volt even when activated by only small temperature differences.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 12/02/2003
Filed
Application 20050139250
Application
20050139250
Thermoelectric devices and applications for the same
High performance thin film thermoelectric couples and methods of making the same are disclosed. Such couples allow fabrication of at least microwatt to watt-level power supply devices operating at voltages greater than one volt even when activated by only small temperature differences.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 12/02/2004
Filed
Patent 9,281,461
Patent
9,281,461
Thermoelectric devices and applications for the same
High performance thin film thermoelectric couples and methods of making the same are disclosed. Such couples allow fabrication of at least microwatt to watt-level power supply devices operating at voltages greater than one volt even when activated by only small temperature differences.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 03/08/2016
Issued
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
12398-E, 13664-BLicensedAvailable - Available for licensing in all fields except applications for powering wireless sensors. 06/30/201001/14/2011

Contact PNNL About This Technology

To: Bruce Harrer<bruce.harrer@pnnl.gov>