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Peltier Effect Cooling Experiments

Sep 20th, 2020 | by: ELECTRONOOBS
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A Peltier cooling device is a thermoelectric semiconductor component that can provide cooling with no moving parts. It’s very easy to use and it can get very cold – and also very hot! Today we will conduct a few experiments with a common and inexpensive Peltier cooling device.

Introduction


The ability to cool air or exchange heat is critical in many situations. From computer chips that need to keep from overheating to spacecraft that need to withstand temperature extremes the design of cooling systems is big business.   Most of us are familiar with air conditioning. By reducing temperatures and humidity they allow us to live and work in environments that would otherwise be uncomfortable or even unbearable. Even in cool climates air conditioners are used in data centers to keep equipment (and personnel) at a comfortable operating temperature. Conventional air conditioning employs a refrigerant or coolant which is circulated through pipes, pumps, evaporators, and condensers to remove heat and dispense it outside.  It is efficient and effective, but it also takes up a lot of space. 

There are also applications where conventional air conditioning is not practical or even possible.

Enter the Peltier device. This semiconductor component can perform heat exchange without any moving parts. It is ideal for cooling down computer chips, as well as for building small cooling devices for personal use. It also is used in spacecraft as conventional air conditioning won’t operate in a low-gravity environment.

We won’t be building any spacecraft in the workshop, at least not today. But we can use inexpensive Peltier devices top provide cooling for small projects, or just for some interesting and fun experiments.

The Peltier Effect


In 1834 a French physicist named Jean Charles Athanase Peltier discovered that passing current through two dissimilar metals could create either a rise or fall in temperature at the junction of the two metals. 

Peltier experimented with wires made of copper and bismuth. He found that when current flowed from copper to bismuth heat would be generated at the junction.  He also found that the reverse was true, when the current flowed between bismuth and copper the junction grew colder. This phenomenon became known as the Peltier Effect.

The Seebeck Effect


An effect closely related to the Peltier Effect is the Seebeck EffectThe Seebeck Effect is named after German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck who discovered the effect in 1821, however, it had actually been observed as far back as 1794 by Italian scientist Alessandro Volta. In case that name sounds familiar Volta is indeed the gentleman who the Volt is named after. The Seebeck Effect is essentially the opposite effect to the Peltier Effect. The Seebeck Effect describes the conversion of heat directly into electricity at the junction of different types of wire. A Peltier device can also be used as a Seebeck device and vice-versa, although the efficiency of both is limited. Both the Peltier and Seebeck effects fall into the category of Thermoelectric Effects.

Modern Peltier Devices


Instead of using dissimilar metals modern Peltier devices make use of semiconductors. A semiconductor Peltier cooler consists of a collection of “legs” composed of P or N-type semiconductor material. A “leg” is constructed by creating several layers of substrate material, built up in order to have some height. These “legs” are arranged in a matrix, with alternating P and N-type material. A conductive sheet is placed below and above the matrix to provide electrical connections. The whole assembly is then sandwiched between a thermally conductive insulator, usually ceramic. This is the type of Peltier device that we will be experimenting with today.

TEC1-12706 Peltier Cooler


The Peltier device we are going to be using is a very common module, the TEC1-12706 Peltier cooler. This is a small device measuring 40mm x 40mm, I measured the thickness of my module at 3.75mm. This is a Standard size Peltier module, and you’ll find that 40mm x 40mm is also a standard heatsink size.   The module has two leads, a red one and a black one. These are for powering it, I used a 12-volt power supply for my module. As Peltier modules are not very efficient you’ll need a good amount of current to drive this, I recommend using a power supply capable of 6 amperes.

Quick Power-up


The first experiment is about a simple as it can get! All we are going to do is to power up our module very briefly, to see how hot the hot side gets. I underlined “very briefly” and I mean it, a couple of seconds is all it takes with a suitable power supply. First I measured the module temperature before powering it up.  Note that I placed the module on a jig to hold it, you don’t want to hold it in your hand when you do this experiment! As it can get VERY hot! 

In my case, it measured 20.8 Celcius, which is about right for the ambient temperature in the workshop when I made the measurements. Next, I applied power from my 12-volt bench power supply. This caused the modules hot side to immediately heat up, and I removed the power after only about 2 seconds.  I then took another temperature measurement. As you can see the temperature has increased dramatically in just a couple of seconds! Because of the arrangement that I used to hold the module the “cold” side was not that cold at all, my jig conducts heat to both sides. And, as the Peltier module creates a temperature difference, it would not have been that cold even if I had used an arrangement to isolate the two sides.If anything this experiment illustrates how vital it is to have a heatsink on the hot side. Which is what we will do next.

Before
After

Making Ice in the Workshop!


or the last Peltier module experiment, I am going to use the module for something it wasn’t intended to do. Remember the Seebeck Effect? This was the complementary effect of the Peltier Effect, it creates electricity out of heat. It turns out that the Peltier Module can act as a Seebeck device, albeit a very inefficient one. I tested out this theory by heating the “hot side” of my module with my heat gun while I observed the output voltage with a meter connected to the two leads.

If nothing else these assemblies are a great source of parts for a very low price.  The one I obtained had three fans, a Peltier module, and several heatsinks and heat pipes. It even came with a new 12-volt 6-ampere power supply. A great deal when you consider it costs about as much as the power supply would by itself! As everything on the assembly runs on 12-volts getting the device to work was very easy.  After hooking it up I tried to obtain a temperature reading from the “cool side”, the end with the small fan.

Peltier modules are very easy to use and, when heatsinked appropriately, can really reduce temperatures. They can provide cooling for semiconductors or for a frosty beverage, without any moving parts. Hopefully, this article and the accompanying video will give you some ideas for some cool projects of your own!

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