A New High Efficiency Segmented Thermoelectric Unicouple 1999-01-2567
To achieve high thermal-to-electric energy conversion efficiency, it is desirable to operate thermoelectric generator devices over large temperature gradients and also to maximize the thermoelectric performance of the materials used to build the devices. However, no single thermoelectric material is suitable for use over a very wide range of temperatures (~300-1000K). It is therefore necessary to use different materials in each temperature range where they possess optimum performance. This can be achieved in two ways: 1) multistage thermoelectric generators where each stage operates over a fixed temperature difference and is electrically insulated but thermally in contact with the other stages 2) segmented generators where the p- and n-legs are formed of different segments joined in series. The concept of integrating new thermoelectric materials developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory into a segmented thermoelectric unicouple has been introduced in earlier publications. This new unicouple is expected to operate over a 300-973 K temperature difference and will use novel segmented legs based on a combination of state-of-the-art thermoelectric materials and novel p-type Zn4Sb3, p-type CeFe4Sb12-based alloys and n-type CoSb3-based alloys. A conversion efficiency of about 15% is predicted for this new unicouple. We present in this paper the latest experimental results from the fabrication of this unicouple, including bonding studies between the different segments of the p-legs, n-legs, and p-leg to n-leg interconnect.