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Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

A. Introduction

Thermoelectricity, i.e. direct conversion of electricity into heat or heat into electricity, is very

important in modern technique: Peltier-coolers are common parts in PC’s; thermocouples are

widely used for temperature measurements; and radioisotope thermoelectric generators are used

in space missions; for examples. In this problem a semiconductor thermoelectric cell is studied.

Initially the cell is used as a thermocouple, and the Seebeck-coefficient, the internal resistance of

the cell, as well as the efficiency of the thermoelectric generator are to be measured. Then it is

studied as a Peltier-cell and the Peltier-coefficient is measured. Finally the absolute temperature

can be determined from Seebeck- and Peltier-coefficient.

B. Theoretical background

The thermoelectric cell used in this measurement consists of several n-type and p-type semiconduc-

tors connected in series and attached between two aluminium plates using electrically insulating

glue that is a good thermal conductor at the same time (Fig. 1(a) and Fig. 1(b)). The cell can be

used as a thermoelectric generator or as a Peltier-cell. In the first case the temperature difference

between the plates generates an electromotive force (emf) between the terminals of the cell, in the

second case the current through the cell pumps heat from one plate to the other.

Figure 1: (a) Left: Schematic of Thermoelectic cell (b) Right: Thermoelectric cell

B.1

In these processes the following thermoelectric and purely thermal phenomena are performing

significant roles:

B.1.1 Seebeck-effect

Let us consider a simple set-up of n- and p-type semiconductors connected as shown in Fig. 2.

If we keep plates A and C at temperature T0 and plate B at temperature T = T0 + ∆T then a

voltage V = α · ∆T occurs between A and C. The constant α (called Seebeck-coefficient) depends

on the properties of the different materials (in this case n-type and p-type semiconductors) but

independent of the connecting materials.

Thermoelectricity Page 1 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Figure 2:

B.1.2 Peltier-effect

If we force an electric current I through the set-up on Fig. 2 then, at the connection of the two

different materials (B), heat is absorbed or emitted, depending on the direction of the current.

The heat absorbed or emitted per unit time is P = π · I , where π is the Peltier-coefficient. The

Peltier-coefficient π is not independent of the Seebeck-coefficient α:

π = α · T, (1)

B.1.3 Joule-heat

An electric current I flowing through a conductor releases heat. The heat released per unit time is

P = R · I 2 , where R is the (temperature-dependent) resistance of the conductor. The Joule-heat

released in the thermoelectric cell is equally distributed between the two sides of the cell.

To understand the behaviour of the thermoelectric cell, we have to take into account this purely

thermal effect too. If there is a temperature difference ∆T between two sides of a material then

heat is flowing from the warmer side to the colder one. The rate of heat flow is P = λ · Ad · ∆T ,

where λ is the thermal conductivity of the material, A the cross-sectional area and d the thickness

of the material (the distance between the two sides).

Fig. 3(a) shows the thermal scheme of the cell used as a thermoelectric generator. A small part of

the heat absorbed on the warmer side of the cell (P2 ) is converted into electric power (PE ) and the

rest of it is emitted at the colder side (P1 ).

Similarly Fig. 3(b) shows the thermal scheme of the cell used as a Peltier cooler. Using electric

power (PP , Peltier-power) the cell absorbs heat (P2 ) on the cooled side and emits the total heat

at the heated side (P1 ). Notice the opposite effect of the thermal conduction.

Thermoelectricity Page 2 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

C. Apparatus

A. 1 × top part with heating resistor (big red-black connectors) and platinum thermometer

(small red-black connectors, RH = 10 Ω)

B. 1 × thermoelectric cell (red and black connectors) with heat conducting paste

C. 1 × bottom part with water cooling and platinum thermometer (small red-black connectors)

F. 4 × multimeters

H. 1 × stop watch

ATTENTION! Use the apparatus always as suggested in the tasks, otherwise you

can cause damages of the apparatus. Take care of the correct polarity of the cell, the

appropriate range of the multimeter, the maximum allowed values of voltage, current

and power.

Thermoelectricity Page 3 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Figure 4:

TASKS

Place the isolation cup carefully on the top part. Check whether the water cooling system works

properly.

TASK.1.1 Determining the Seebeck-coefficient

The temperature dependent resistance R of the platinum thermometers (small yellow-green

connectors) is

R = R0 · (1 + αP t · T ), (2)

where R0 = 100.0 ohm, αP t = 3.851 · 10−3 1/◦ C and T is the temperature in ◦ C.

Express the temperature T (in ◦ C) in the function of the measured resistance R using the given

constants R0 and αP t . Write your result on the answer sheet.

The resistance of the heating resistor (big yellow connectors) is RH = 10.0 ohm which can be

taken independent of temperature in the range of your measurement. The heating power can be

Thermoelectricity Page 4 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Figure 5:

controlled by the output voltage of the power supply. At the next measurement start with a small

heating voltage (VH = 2.00V , e.g.) and later increase the voltage from time to time. Finally

increase the heating voltage up to VH = 10.0 V and after this measurement leave it switched on.

ATTENTION! Never use more then 10 V heating voltage in this task.

Measure the electromotive force V of the thermoelectric cell in the function of temperature

difference ∆T between the top and bottom parts. Fill in the Table 1.1.2 on the answer sheet with

the measured and calculated data. Label the quantities concerning to the bottom part with index

1 and to the top part with index 2 (R1 , T1 , R2 , T2 , e.g.).

Plot the electromotive force V of the cell versus temperature difference ∆T . Use a graph paper

and label it as Graph 1.1.3. Fit a line to the measured data points and estimate the

Seebeck-coefficient α of the cell. Write your result on the answer sheet.

Using the constant heating voltage (VH = 10.0 V) of the last task, the temperature difference and

the electromotive force of the cell approach a maximum value and equilibrium. If you load the

thermoelectric generator cell with a resistor for a short time a current starts to flow. In this

measurement you will load the cell with an ammeter in range 200 mA that has internal resistance

about 2 ohms. Measure the internal resistance of the ammeter: connect a multimeter in range 200

mA (DC) to another multimeter used as an ohmmeter in appropriate range. Be careful with the

connectors because they do not fit the ammeter and ohmmeter very well.

ATTENTION! The multimeters have to be disconnected from any other circuits!

Thermoelectricity Page 5 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Measure the internal resistance RA of the ammeter (in range 200 mA) and write your result on

the answer sheet.

Draw a circuit diagram on the answer sheet to show how you connect the ammeter (as a load) to

the thermoelectric cell and the voltmeter.

Read the electromotive force V0 of the unloaded cell and write your result on the answer sheet.

Load the cell with an ammeter (in range 200 mA) for a short time. Read the current IL

immediately after connecting the ammeter. Write your result on the answer sheet.

Express and calculate the internal resistance RC of the thermoelectric cell and write the

expression and your numerical result on the answer sheet.

In this task use the constant heating voltage (VH = 10.0 V) as in the last task before.

To obtain maximum external power from the cell, the resistance of the load should be equal to

the internal resistance of the cell. We can approach this maximum if the resistance of the load

and the internal resistance of the cell are in the same range. For the sake of this you can use an

ammeter (in range 200 mA) as a load.

If you connect the ammeter the launched current decreases the temperature difference between

the two sides of the cell (because of Peltier-effect) and thus it decreases the electromotive force,

too. After some time a new equilibrium can be approached with a constant voltage VE and a

constant current IE .

Read the equilibrium voltage VE and current IE and write them on the answer sheet.

ATTENTION! If you are ready with this task, switch off the power supply connected

to the heating resistor.

Express and calculate the useful (external) electric power PE of the thermoelectric generator and

write the expression as well as your numerical result on the answer sheet.

Thermoelectricity Page 6 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Express and calculate the power PH of the heating resistor and write the expression as well as

your numerical result on the answer sheet.

Express and calculate the efficiency η of the thermoelectric generator and write the expression as

well as your numerical result on the answer sheet.

Check, that the power supply connected to the heating resistor is switched off. Use the other

power supply to operate the Peltier-cooler and to measure the Peltier-voltage VP applied to the

cell. The Peltier-current IP through the cell have to be measured by an other multimeter.

ATTENTION! The red connector must be connected to the positive output of the

power supply. (Otherwise the top part will be heated instead of be cooled.)

ATTENTION! The Peltier current is bigger then 200 mA. Use the COM and 10

ADC inputs of the multimeter and the 10 A range; otherwise you can damage the

multimeter.

TASK.2.1.1 0.1 points

Draw a circuit diagram on the answer sheet to show how you connect the cell and the ammeter to

the power supply. Indicate the voltmeter of the power supply, too.

In this task you will cool down the top part by the cell used as a Peltier-cooler. During your

measurement you have to apply a constant Peltier-power PP = 1.00 W. But, because of the

changing electromotive force appearing on the cell, the Peltier-current IP is changing during the

measurement. So time to time you have to change the Peltier-voltage VP in order to keep the

Peltier-power PP constant. For easy and fast adjustment use the following table.

IP (A) VP (V) IP (A) VP (V) IP (A) VP (V) IP (A) VP (V) IP (A) VP (V)

0.40 2.50 0.50 2.00 0.60 1.67 0.70 1.43 0.80 1.25

0.41 2.44 0.51 1.96 0.61 1.64 0.71 1.41 0.81 1.23

0.42 2.38 0.52 1.92 0.62 1.61 0.72 1.39 0.82 1.22

0.43 2.33 0.53 1.89 0.63 1.59 0.73 1.37 0.83 1.20

0.44 2.27 0.54 1.85 0.64 1.56 0.74 1.35 0.84 1.19

0.45 2.22 0.55 1.82 0.65 1.54 0.75 1.33 0.85 1.18

0.46 2.17 0.56 1.79 0.66 1.52 0.76 1.32 0.86 1.16

0.47 2.13 0.57 1.75 0.67 1.49 0.77 1.30 0.87 1.15

0.48 2.08 0.58 1.72 0.68 1.47 0.78 1.28 0.88 1.14

0.49 2.04 0.59 1.69 0.69 1.45 0.79 1.27 0.89 1.12

Thermoelectricity Page 7 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Measure the temperature difference ∆T between the top and bottom parts in the function of time

t when PP = 1.00 W is applied during 15 minutes. Fill in the Table 1 on the answer sheet with

the measured and calculated data. Label the quantities as in TASK.1.1.2

In the previous task we know the electric power used for the cooling (PP ), but we couldnt

estimate the heat pumped by the Peltier-cooler, because of the presence of an unknown thermal

conduction. For estimating the heat pumped by the cell we should investigate the case where no

temperature difference, and so no thermal conduction are present.

In this task you will use the Peltier-cooler and the heating resistance in the same time. You have

to keep the Peltier-power at constant value PP = 1.00 W, as in the last task and you have to

apply heating powers PH1 = 5.00 W, PH2 = 11.00 W and PH3 = 18.00 W.

Express and calculate the voltage VH to be applied on the heating resistor (RH = 10 ohm) for the

appropriate heating powers. Write the expression as well as your numerical results on the answer

sheet.

Measure the temperature difference ∆T between the top and bottom parts in the function of time

t when PP = 1.00 W and different heating power PH are applied. Use PH1 = 5.00 W,

PH2 = 11.00 W and PH3 = 18.00 W after each other and continue the measurement for 10

minutes in each case. Fill in the Table 1 on the answer sheet with the measured and calculated

data. Label the quantities as in TASK.1.1.2.

ATTENTION! If you are ready with this measurement, switch off both power

supplies.

Using the results of TASK.2.1.2 and TASK.2.2.2 plot the temperature difference ∆T versus time

t . Use a graph paper and label it as Graph 2.2.3. Plot the ∆T values of TASK.2.1.2 and

TASK.2.2.2 in the same graph continuously after each other, i.e. the time scale should be

15 + 3 · 10 = 45 minutes long. You can observe that after a long enough time the temperature

difference approaches an equilibrium value ∆TE in any case if the heating power PH is kept

constant (or switched off). Estimate the four equilibrium temperature differences ∆TE and write

your result on the answer sheet.

Thermoelectricity Page 8 of 9

Problem Creator: Peter Vanko

Experiment 1: Thermoelectricity

Peltier-coefficient

TASK.2.3.1 0.8 points

Using the results of TASK.2.2.3 plot the equilibrium temperature difference ∆TE versus heating

power PH . Use a graph paper and label it as Graph 2.3.1. Fit a line to the measured data points

and estimate the heating power PH0 , where the equilibrium temperature difference ∆TE = 0.

Write your result on the answer sheet.

If the temperature difference ∆TE = 0 , there is no thermal conduction and so the external heat

pumped by the Peltier-cell in unit time is equal with the heating power PH0 . The Peltier-cell can

pump more heat per unit time then the electric power consumed, therefore here the term

“coefficient of performance” is used instead of the term “efficiency” used for thermoelectric

generator. The cell’s coefficient of performance ε is the quotient of the external heat pumped per

unit time and the electric power consumed by the cell.

Express and calculate the cell’s coefficient of performance ε and write the expression as well as

your numerical result on the answer sheet.

If the temperature difference ∆TE = 0, there is no electromotive force generated in the cell and

the Peltier-current IP can be simply calculated from the Peltier-power PP and the internal

resistance of the cell RC measured earlier.

Estimate or calculate the Peltier-current IP at PP = 1.00 W and ∆TE = 0. Write down how you

do it and your numerical result on the answer sheet.

Express and calculate the Peltier-coefficient π of the cell at the conditions of your measurement.

Write the expression and your numerical result on the answer sheet.

TASK.3.1 0.3 points

Using the result of TASK.1.1.3 and TASK.2.3.4 express and calculate the average absolute

temperature T of your device during the measurement. Write the expression and your numerical

result on the answer sheet.

Thermoelectricity Page 9 of 9

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