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Seebeck effect

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Thermoelectric effect

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



This article is about the thermoelectric effect as a physical phenomenon. For applications of the thermoelectric effect, see thermoelectric materials and thermoelectric cooling.


The thermoelectric effect is the direct conversion of temperature differences to electric voltage and vice-versa. A thermoelectric device creates a voltage when there is a different temperature on each side. Conversely, when a voltage is applied to it, it creates a temperature difference. At the atomic scale, an applied temperature gradient causes charge carriers in the material to diffuse from the hot side to the cold side.

This effect can be used to generate electricity, measure temperature or change the temperature of objects. Because the direction of heating and cooling is determined by the polarity of the applied voltage, thermoelectric devices are efficient temperature controllers.

The term "thermoelectric effect" encompasses three separately identified effects: the Seebeck effect, Peltier effect and Thomson effect. Textbooks may refer to it as the Peltier–Seebeck effect. This separation derives from the independent discoveries of French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier and balt-German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck. Joule heating, the heat that is generated whenever a voltage is applied across a resistive material, is related though it is not generally termed a thermoelectric effect. The Peltier–Seebeck and Thomson effects are thermodynamically reversible, whereas Joule heating is not.

Contents [hide]
  • 1 Seebeck effect
    • 1.1 Thermopower
    • 1.2 Charge-carrier diffusion
    • 1.3 Phonon drag
  • 2 Peltier effect
  • 3 Thomson effect
    • 3.1 Thomson relations
  • 4 Figure of merit
  • 5 Device efficiency
  • 6 Applications
    • 6.1 Seebeck effect
    • 6.2 Peltier effect
    • 6.3 Temperature measurement
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

Seebeck effect

Diagram of the circuit on which Seebeck discovered the Seebeck effect. A and B are two different metals.

The Seebeck effect is the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity and is named for the balt-German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck, who, in 1821 discovered that a compass needle would be deflected by a closed loop formed by two metals joined in two places, with a temperature difference between the junctions. This was because the metals responded differently to the temperature difference, creating a current loop and a magnetic field. Seebeck did not recognize there was an electric current involved, so he called the phenomenon the thermomagnetic effect. Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted rectified the mistake and coined the term "thermoelectricity". The voltage created by this effect is of the order of several microvolts per kelvin difference. One such combination, copper-constantan, has a Seebeck coefficient of 41 microvolts per kelvin at room temperature.[2]

The voltage V developed can be derived from:

where SA and SB are the thermopowers (Seebeck coefficient) of metals A and B as a function of temperature and T1 and T2 are the temperatures of the two junctions. The Seebeck coefficients are non-linear as a function of temperature, and depend on the conductors' absolute temperature, material, and molecular structure. If the Seebeck coefficients are effectively constant for the measured temperature range, the above formula can be approximated as:

The Seebeck effect is used in the thermocouple to measure a temperature difference; absolute temperature may be found by setting one end to a known temperature. A metal of unknown composition can be classified by its thermoelectric effect if a metallic probe of known composition, kept at a constant temperature, is held in contact with it. Industrial quality control instruments use this as thermoelectric alloy sorting to identify metal alloys. Thermocouples in series form a thermopile, sometimes constructed in order to increase the output voltage, since the voltage induced over each individual couple is small. Thermoelectric generators are used for creating power from heat differentials and exploit this effect.

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