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Complex Thermoelectric Power Designs

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Research Triangle Institute

3040 Cornwallis Road, Box 13981, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

msoto@nextremethermal.com, rama@nextremethermal.com

Using Finite Element Analysis (FEA) via ANSYS In order to properly model the compliance pads in

Workbench simulation software, complicated coupled-field ANSYS Workbench, several simulation tests were performed

analyses of thermoelectric devices can be performed. This is with the purpose of developing material property matrices for

effective in examining the thermo-mechanical stresses the appropriate directional properties. For these tests, two

introduced in these devices through their operation. Due to scaled models were constructed with the appropriate packing

the large temperature gradients inherent in their operation, as fractions of Niobium fibers. The Niobium compliance pad

well as the mismatch in coefficients of thermal expansion, models were then subject to various load and boundary

large stresses can be present during power generation. This conditions with the purpose of determining overall material

stress can lead to device failure in several ways; the device properties.

may break, bowing of the system may lead to a loss in thermal The first test was an axial load test. In this scenario, one

contact between layers and subsequent reduction in heat end of the compliance pad is fixed in all degrees of freedom,

transfer. FEA simulations examined the mechanical behavior while an axial force load is applied to the opposite end. The

of the device at operating temperatures, including; aim of this experiment is to determine the appropriate

determination of the optimum pellet length for shear stress modulus of elasticity using the familiar equations from solid

minimization, and modeling the behavior of Niobium mechanics [1].

compliance pads in the system. PL

Introduction

= (1)

AE

The presence of multiple materials, various contact forms, Where is the total deflection in the axial (z) direction under

and high temperature gradients make the modeling of thermal an applied load P. A is the cross sectional area, and E is

stress in power generating thermoelectric devices Youngs Modulus. Rearranging Equation (1) in terms of

computationally intense. Those same temperature gradients, Youngs Modulus yields the following:

as well as the high stress operating conditions of most power

generating devices exacerbate the need for accurate PL

E eff z = (2)

mechanical modeling [3]. An analytical model of such a A

system would need to include multidimensional differential

equations which would prove difficult to solve by

conventional methods [4]. Therefore, numerical modeling

can be a more appropriate solution. Finite Element Analysis,

in particular, is a valuable tool in constructing these models

[4]. The SP-100 power generation device is such a system.

In it, Niobium pads were used in order to provide compliance

to the system with a minimum thermal resistance. These pads

were constructed using a multitude of material fibers

sandwiched between two plates. A full finite element model

of such a system would prove impractical in terms of

computation and design time. Therefore, an equivalent

anisotropic material model was designed for the purpose of

simulating these compliance pads.

Previous reliability studies of the SP-100 device have

been carried out in [5,8]. Figure 1: Sign Convention and Axial Loading Configuration

The use of Niobium compliance pads has been examined for Nb Compliance Pads.

in [8]. Finite Element simulations of TE devices comprised

the investigations in [6].

A system similar to that of the Niobium compliance pad It is this equation which is used to determine the effective

was studied in [7] using carbon velvet fibers. modulus in the z direction.

The analysis carried out then was set to determine the The next test was aimed at determination of Youngs

existence of an ideal pellet length, and to accurately simulate modulus in the x and y directions. Again, one end of the

the effect of the Niobium compliance pads. compliance pad is fixed in all degrees of freedom, while a

shear force is applied to the opposite end. The result is a

bending effect, and the tip deflection can be measured. The The veracity of these material models was tested by

well known result for beam bending in shear was used to simulating a small system made of a bar using this anisotropic

determine this effective modulus for the x and y directions. material model. The bar was subject to the same loading

conditions, and it was found that the behavior of the bar

PL3

= (3) matched that of the Niobium model in terms of deflection and

3EI rotation.

Here, is the tip deflection in the shear (x) direction under With the Niobium compliance pads material matrices

applied load P. The term I is the cross sectional moment of completed, the general finite element analysis can proceed.

inertia. Again, rearranging this equation yields the expression

for effective modulus:

General Finite Element Analysis

PL3 The general system had thermal boundary conditions of

E eff x , y = (4)

3I 977oC on the hot side and 427oC on the cold side. The

Symmetry guarantees that this modulus will be equal in the x mechanical boundary condition case examined was the free-

and y directions. free scenario; therefore, all stress would be caused by thermal

With the measurements complete for Youngs modulus, a expansion, and thermal expansion mismatch between

similar test was used for determination of the shear modulus materials [1,8]. The remaining materials had linear, isotropic,

of the new anisotropic material. temperature dependant properties. The ANSYS Workbench

automatic meshing feature was used to construct the

The torsion twist test involved fixing one end of the

individual finite elements, with some refinement required by

structure in all degrees of freedom and placing a moment

the user in key areas where stress concentrations may occur.

about the opposite end. The resulting torsion measured could

These areas included the Niobium compliance pads, as well as

be compared to that required of the material through the

the interfaces between the Silicon Germanium pellets and

relation used in classical prismatic twisting [8].

other materials. Also, the SiGe pellets themselves underwent

TL a mesh refinement, as they were the prime objects of the

= (5)

cA 2 G stress analysis. After meshing, the program is run and the

Where is the angle of twist, T is the applied torque, A is solution is obtained. Post-processing allows for the

the cross sectional area, and G is the shear modulus of calculation of the maximum shear stress in the pellets, as well

elasticity of the material. The constant c is a value based on as the maximum von Mises stress in the pellets. The

the properties of the cross sectional area and can be found temperature drop across the length of the pellets is also

tabulated for several cases in [8]. This equation can also be recorded, for purposes thermoelectric performance, however,

rearranged in order to determine the effective shear modulus, not thermal stress. In order to simplify heat transfer

G. calculations, the aspect ratio of the pellets was kept constant.

This ratio was such that at a pellet length of 4mm, the cross

TL sectional area of the pellets was 1mm2.

G= (6)

cA 2 The existence of an ideal length for shear stress

minimization in this system is a question which can be

answered by the simulation tools. For this case, that length

was found to be 5.5 mm.

The maximum shear stress of the system was then

compared to the maximum allowable shear stress of the

material. The max allowable shear for Silicon Germanium is

60 MPa, which is above the maximum shear seen in each

case.

Also, the distortion energy failure theory was used in

comparison with the von Mises stress [1]. In this case, the

von Mises stress is compared to the yield stress of the

material, which is 130 MPa, which is also above the

maximum von Mises stress in each case.

There is also the potential problem of system bowing.

Bowing is defined as a lateral bending of the structure which

would result in a loss of contact between layers, and

Figure 2 Torsion Testing of Nb Compliance Pad Material therefore, reduced heat transfer. It can be seen in the

exaggerated view of figure 4, some bowing of the system

Thermal characteristics of the material are direct functions would occur. However, the compliance of the Niobium

of packing fraction, and are easily calculated. These include compliance pads suggests that the subsequent loss of thermal

for purposes of this paper, thermal conductivity and contact would be minimized.

coefficient of thermal expansion.

active material, and attempts at stress reduction would have to

45

focus on other areas of the total device package.

40

35

Acknowledgements

30 The author would like to acknowledge Dr. Anil J. Reddy

Stress (MPa)

20 author would also like to acknowledge the JIMO (Jupiter Icy

15 Moon Orbiter) funding from Northup Grumman which made

10 this research possible.

Maximum Shear

5 Von Mises Stress References

0

1. Beer, F. P. and E. R. Johnston, Mechanics of Materials,

0 4 8 12

Pellet Length (mm)

McGraw-Hill (New York, 1992)

2. Brown, N. W. et. Al. Direct Energy Conversions for Fast

Figure 3: Shear and von-Mises Stresses were found to be Reactors. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,

Minimized at a Pellet Length of 5.5mm July 2000.

3. Chen, W. C. and C. W. Nelson, Thermal Stress in

Bonded Joints, IBM J. Res Develop, Vol. 23, No. 2

The peak stress was found to be located on the hot side of

(1979), pp. 179-188.

the pellets in all cases, where the pellet contacts the electrode

4. Cook, R. D. et. Al. Concepts and Applications of Finite

layer, as can be seen in figure 4.

Element Analysis Wiley (New York, 2001)

5. Josloff, A. T. et. Al. SP-100 System Design and

Technology Progress, Proc. American Institute of

Physics Conf, January, 1992 -- Volume 246, Issue 1, pp.

363-371

6. Kim, Jeong-Ho, and Glaucio H. Paulino, Finite Element

Evaluation of Mixed Mode Stress Intensity Factors in

Functionally Graded Materials, International Journal for

Numerical Methods in Engineering, Vol 53, Issue 8,

(2002), pp. 1903-1935

6. Rowe, D. M. (Editor) et. Al. CRC Handbook of

Thermoelectrics, CRC Press (Boca Raton, FL, 1995), pp.

539-549.

7. Seaman, C. L. and T. R. Knowles, Carbon Velvet

Thermal Interface Gaskets, Proc. 39th AIAA Aerospace

Sciences Meeting, January, 2001.

8. Ugural, A. C. and S. K. Fenster, Advanced Strength and

Figure 4: Side View of Shear Stress Contours of a 5.5mm

Applied Elasticity, Prentice Hall, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ,

Device Under Operating Conditions

1995)

Conclusions 9. Deane, N.A. et. Al. SP-100 Reactor Design and

The analysis of Niobium compliance pads in SP-100 like Performance, Proc. Of the 24th Intersociety Energy

power generating systems can be made simpler using Conversion Engineering Conference, August, 1989

anisotropic finite element material models. Numerical Washington, D.C.

simulations can be used to determine the properties of such

anisotropic materials for use in larger finite element

structures. Further numerical modeling reveals that under the

conditions outlined in this particular material model, the pellet

length which minimizes shear and von Mises stress in this

design is 5.5 mm.

It should be noted that the presented result is a product of

the particular geometrical construction of the problem being

studied. The implications of the curve in figure 3 hold only

for the interval examined in that curve. Of particular note are

the responses of thin-film devices under similar loading

conditions. The major difference, however, in these two

scenarios is the loading caused by thermal expansion of the

active TE material. For the bulk case studied here, TE

material expansion is large source of stress and expansion. A

thin-film device would have relatively small expansion of the

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