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ANSYS-Based Detailed Thermo-Mechanical Modeling of Complex Thermoelectric Power Designs

Marco A. Soto, Rama Venkatasubramanian

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

Abstract Niobium Compliance Pad Material Model

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
= (1)
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

0-7803-9552-2/05/$20.00 2005 IEEE 204 2005 International Conference on Thermoelectrics

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
= (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
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
focus on other areas of the total device package.
30 The author would like to acknowledge Dr. Anil J. Reddy
Stress (MPa)

25 for his guidance and assistance during this project. The

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
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.
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.
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
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