Conversion efficiency of skutterudite-based thermoelectric modules
Presently, the only commercially available power generating thermoelectric (TE) modules are based on bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) alloys and are limited to a hot side temperature of 250 °C due to the melting point of the solder interconnects and/or generally poor power generation performance above this point. For the purposes of demonstrating a TE generator or TEG with higher temperature capability, we selected skutterudite based materials to carry forward with module fabrication because these materials have adequate TE performance and are mechanically robust. We have previously reported the electrical power output for a 32 couple skutterudite TE module, a module that is type identical to ones used in a high temperature capable TEG prototype. The purpose of this previous work was to establish the expected power output of the modules as a function of varying hot and cold side temperatures. Recent upgrades to the TE module measurement system built at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques allow for the assessment of not only the power output, as previously described, but also the thermal to electrical energy conversion efficiency. Here we report the power output and conversion efficiency of a 32 couple, high temperature skutterudite module at varying applied loading pressures and with different interface materials between the module and the heat source and sink of the test system. We demonstrate a 7% conversion efficiency at the module level when a temperature difference of 460 °C is established. Extrapolated values indicate that 7.5% is achievable when proper thermal interfaces and loading pressures are used.