A MEMS thermoelectric energy harvester for energy generation in mobile systems

Topal, Emre Tan
In this thesis design, optimization, fabrication and performance characterization of MEMS thermoelectric (TE) energy harvesters for harnessing waste heat in mobile systems are presented. As a proof of concept, chromium and nickel are used as the thermoelectric material in the proposed design. The feasibility of the state of the art thermoelectric materials is also discussed. MEMS TE energy harvesters proposed in this study are designed to generate power at relatively lower ΔT values. The performance of the MEMS TE energy harvesters was optimized using analytical and 3-D finite element models. An analytical code was used for profiling the electrical power output with varying geometry. The design points with maximum generated power were selected, and the microfabricated thermoelectric energy harvesters were designed accordingly. The fabricated devices are formed on a silicon wafer and composed of Nickel and Chromium thermocouples on SiO2/Si3N4 diaphragms, and Titanium heater and monitor resistors for testing purposes. Microfabrication was followed by the performance characterization of MEMS TE energy harvesters with the conducted tests. For 10 °C temperature difference between the hot and cold junctions (a heat source at 35 °C), the proposed TE energy harvesters are capable of providing 1.1 µW/cm2 power density and 1.71 V voltage. The performance of the thermoelectric generators in general is limited by Carnot cycle efficiency. Nevertheless, the validated practical performance of MEMS TE energy harvesters proposed in this thesis is comparable to other examples in literature. It is anticipated by the calculations that this design will be able to provide the highest thermoelectric efficiency factor (4.04 µW/K2cm2) among the lateral TE energy harvesters if thermoelectric materials having high Seebeck coefficient values (such as p-Si, n-Si, polysilicon, Bi2Te3 etc.) are used. According to the performance results, the MEMS TE energy harvesters can be implemented in mobile systems to convert waste heat into electricity. The fabrication process can be adapted to CMOS with some modifications if needed. The lateral MEMS thermoelectric energy harvesters can also be combined with vibration energy harvesters to realize multi-mode energy scavenging. For prospective study, vertical thermoelectric generator configurations are also discussed in order to further increase the power density generated. The finite element simulations for proposed vertical configurations with air and water convection were completed. The vertical TE generators proposed can supply up to 4.2 mW/cm2 with a heat source at a temperature of 310 K.


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Citation Formats
E. T. Topal, “A MEMS thermoelectric energy harvester for energy generation in mobile systems,” M.S. - Master of Science, Middle East Technical University, 2011.