Determination of thermoelectric module efficiency: A survey
The development of thermoelectrics (TE) for energy conversion is in the transition phase from laboratory research to device development. There is an increasing demand to accurately determine the module efficiency, especially for the power generation mode. For many TE, the figure of merit, ZT, of the material sometimes cannot be fully realized at the device level. Reliable efficiency testing of thermoelectric modules is important to assess the device ZT and provide end-users with realistic values for how much power can be generated under specific conditions. We conducted a general survey of efficiency testing devices and their performance. The results indicated a lack of industry standards and test procedures. This study included a commercial test system and several laboratory systems. Most systems are based on the heat flow meter method, and some are based on the Harman method. They are usually reproducible in evaluating thermoelectric modules. However, different systems often showed large differences that are likely caused by uncertain heat loss and thermal resistance. Efficiency testing is an important capability for the thermoelectric community to improve. A follow-up international standardization effort is planned.