Thermoelectric Generator Modeling and Simulation: 8 Things You Should Know

3D Modeling and Simulation results for a thermoelectric generator (TEG) and a two stage TEG module

Done correctly, most thermoelectric generator (TEG) projects succeed. Below, you will find many benefits of thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation that most people are unaware will help their project succeed.

If you are not familiar with thermoelectric generators, see “How thermoelectric generator work”

Also note, while this article is written for thermoelectric generators, the article also applies to thermoelectric cooling. Thermoelectric cooling is also known as TEC, TED, solid-state cooling, cooling chips, thermoelectric coolers and electric cooling.

I have talked to many people that think there is no need for thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation. Although I believed at the time that there was absolutely a need, I had not written this post yet. So, I did not have a nice summary of all the benefits and why thermoelectric generator projects are likely to fail without modeling and simulation.

Are you considering a thermoelectric generator product or application? How do you know your idea will work?  We have taken projects from not working to working great. How did we do it?

In other cases, we have attended to projects that are working but using a module that is too expensive for what little it does or using way too many thermoelectric generator modules at too high cost and too low output. How did we fix this? See below.


1. What is thermoelectric generator (TEG) modeling and simulation?

A thermoelectric generator model is an engineering tool. A tool whose use makes up a very large part of the engineering process. This tool is generally made from software code. The software code is used to replicate the behavior of a thermoelectric generator. Why would we want to replicate the behavior of a thermoelectric generator? Keep reading below.

Thermoelectric generator models may use mathematical functions to represent the thermoelectric generator physics. These models have inputs and outputs. The inputs are things like thermoelectric generator geometry, material properties and operating conditions. Outputs are things like electrical voltage, electrical current, power output and heat flows.

thermoelectric cooler and equations for thermoelectric design, simulation and analysis

Now we know what a thermoelectric generator model is, what is thermoelectric generator simulation? Thermoelectric generator simulation is the process of using a thermoelectric generator model to replicate what a thermoelectric generator will do or how it will behave in your product or application.

The thermoelectric generator simulation is used to find out what the outputs do when varying the inputs. A simulation output might tell you what thermoelectric generator power output will do when varying thermoelectric generator operating conditions or changing the design of the thermoelectric generator. Without thermoelectric generator simulation, there is no way to know if a given design will meet the requirements of a product or application until much money is spent prototyping and testing the design. Are you satisfied with spending a lot of time and money on prototyping and testing not knowing if the prototype is designed properly or will even work?


thermoelectric SPICE model Peltier cooling


2. Why is thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation needed?

Simply put, thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation saves a lot of time and a lot money.

When thermoelectric generator modeling is not used, the trial and error approach is. And this trial and error approach often fails. This trial and error approach goes like this. First choose a semi-random off-the-shelf thermoelectric generator module. After much time procuring parts, building the assembly, connecting instrumentation and running tests, the thermoelectric generator did not perform as what was wanted. Next find another semi-random thermoelectric generator module and go through the same time consuming and expensive process of guess, build, test, repeat. Maybe this time it gets a little closer to what we want or maybe a little farther. Maybe it works but the design is way too expensive. This trial and error process can be never ending until the budget or time runs outs. So, what can we do? Use an engineering tool like thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation.

Thermoelectric generators have many variables that affect their design and power output. Furthermore, there are many operating conditions that thermoelectric generators undergo that affect voltage, current and power output of the thermoelectric generator. Modeling and simulation can be used to quickly find out how the thermoelectric generator product or application will perform without ordering any parts, without building anything, without instrumenting anything and without testing anything. Imagine the cost and time savings. Hundreds or thousands of simulations can be performed in the time it would take to build and test just one physical sample.

How many trial and error builds and tests does it take to find a design that meets the thermoelectric generator design requirements? Nobody knows and that is a key point of why we use thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation.


3. Why not use manufactures data sheets instead of modeling and simulation?

Instead of using modeling and simulation, can we use the manufactures data sheets? No. Manufactures data sheets represent only one of an infinite number of possible thermoelectric generator module designs. The chances of that one design being the design that is needed for your product or application is very, very small. If you were very lucky and the off-the-shelf module is what you need, this one design is represented on the data sheet with only one or two operating conditions but there are many operating conditions for a real product or application. If the thermoelectric generator works for one operating condition, should we assume it will work for all operating conditions? No.

Additionally, the data sheet knows nothing about your application, the data sheet only knows about the module. Application specific variables (everything outside of the module) make a huge difference to how thermoelectric generators perform. Unless you are very lucky, manufactures data sheets are likely to tell you something very different than you will get when you use the thermoelectric generator module in your application. This data sheet approach leads to expensive and time-consuming trial and error with no end in sight.


A thermoelectric generator couple with charge carriers holes and electrons flowing through a resistive load with hot and cold side utilizing the seebeck effect
Thermoelectric Generator Charge Carriers


4. What else can thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation be used for?

Thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation is an engineering tool that can be used for design and optimization.

Thermoelectric generator and thermoelectric cooler module performance optimization

Design is the process of deliberately choosing your applications input variables to obtain the desired output or design performance. Here, rather than choosing a random module, you design the module to do what it needs to do. Or you can design the system for the module.

When designing a module, there is often more than one resulting design that will meet the requirements of an application. How do we choose the best design from all the possibilities? With optimization.

Thermoelectric generator optimization is the process choosing the best design out of many possible designs that will meet the requirements of the thermoelectric generator product or application.

Modeling and simulation are tools used for thermoelectric generator optimization.

Three dimensional thermoelectric module cost optimization

5. What are the advantages of thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation?

As mentioned above, big cost and time savings are had using thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation. The cost is saved by not having to do as much iterative trial and error design cycle that is very costly. Here is a list of benefits of thermoelectric modeling and simulation.

  • Reduced part procurement time for existing parts
  • Reduced prototyping cost and time for new parts
  • Reduced assembly time and cost
  • Reduced test equipment costs
  • Reduced testing time (man hours)
  • Reduced time to repeat everything above when it did not work the first (or second or third…) time with trial and error.

As mentioned, thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation can be used for design and optimization. This saves additional cost not discussed previously.

With thermoelectric generator design and optimization, the following are prevented.

  1. Over Design – Over design happens when design requirements are exceeded. For example, 10 watts of power output are required but we have 15 watts of power output. This may sound good but that extra 5 watts come at a cost for every product sold. If 15 watts is needed, then it should be the requirement.
  2. Under Design – Under design occurs when the product or application does not meet the design requirements or does not meet all the design requirements. The cost associated with under design is a product that poorly performs. A poorly performing product is one that customers do not buy. And that is a high price to pay.


Thermoelectric transient advantage as a function of pulse duration and pulse height for an Isosceles shaped current pulse


6. What are the disadvantages of thermoelectric modeling and simulation?

It takes a great deal of expertise to properly use thermoelectric generator modeling for simulation, design and optimization. This is a disadvantage because the expertise is rare. One might think that with many manufactures of thermoelectric modules, the expertise to design, model and simulate thermoelectric generators would be plentiful. Unfortunately, this is not the case.


7. Who needs thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation?

Projects that do not have unlimited budget or unlimited time for trial and error are good candidate’s for thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation. If it is not ok for the project to fail, the project is a good candidate for thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation.


High performance Thermoelectric Peltier Module with semiconductors and ceramic plates and wires


8. Can I model and simulate a thermoelectric generator myself?

Absolutely. If you have the interest, time and patience that is required, thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation can be intellectually very challenging and rewarding. Please find the below attached published, peer reviewed and award winning journal paper that will help you get started with thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation.

For this published work, we found after reviewing many models and simulations in existing literature that there are many common thermoelectric generator modeling deficiencies. These deficiencies included inability to accurately reproduce experimental test data with the model and simulation, certain factors are assumed negligible when they are not, not using enough detail to represent all the physics of a thermoelectric generator, using models that are too slow to carry out required modeling tasks, and models are limited in their platform capabilities. With the research, we rectified each of these items and make them available to our customers. Feel free to read the journal paper below for more details.


In Conclusion

Time savings and cost savings are the two main advantages of thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation. The time and cost savings come from eliminating much of the trial and error and uncertainty about if the design will ever work. This is the uncertainty that exists with approaches that do not use modeling and simulation. Thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation is an engineering tool that can also be used for design and optimization. Using these simulation and modeling tools leads to a better product by preventing over and / or under design. Using manufactures data sheets can lead costly trial and error.

Applied Thermoelectric Solutions has made advancements in thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation. Recently we won an editor’s choice award from the Journal of Electronic Materials (JEM) and we also won a worldwide open innovation contest utilizing thermoelectric generators. We have capabilities for thermoelectric generator modeling and simulation, design and optimization that cannot be found anywhere else.

What do you think about thermoelectric modeling and simulation? What other advantages or disadvantages did we not mention? Please leave a comment below. If you liked the post or know someone who would, please share it on your favorite social media platform.

Let us know about your challenge with thermoelectric generators.

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Our Award Winning Research in Thermoelectric Generator Modeling and Simulation


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