Thermal energy sources, including waste heat and thermal radiation from the sun, are important renewable energy resources. Thermal energy can be converted into electricity by thermoelectric phenomena; the thermoelectric phenomena can also be operated in reverse when provided an electric current, producing a temperature gradient across the device. Thermoelectric devices are scalable, renewable, and cost effective products that offer capabilities to harness waste heat or environmental heat sources, and convert the captured heat into usable electricity. The operating principle of a thermoelectric device requires that a temperature gradient be present across the device, which induces the flow of electrons from the hot side of the device to the cold side. Thermoelectric devices are currently hampered by the low conversion efficiencies and strict operating temperatures for certain materials. This study investigates the main factors affecting efficiencies of thermoelectric devices as energy harvesters and aims to optimize the devices for maximum efficiency and lower costs by using microfabrication processes and self-assembled materials for complete thermoelectric modules (TEMs). By first establishing operating conditions and a desired mode of operation, optimization equations have been established to determine device dimensions and performance parameters. Compact integration realized by microfabrication technologies that allow for multiple output voltages from a single chip was also investigated. Additionally, cost savings were found by reducing the number of fabrication processing steps and eliminating the need for precious metals during fabrication. The optimized design proposed in this study utilizes copper electrodes and requires fewer applications of photoresist than previous proposed designs. In fabrication of thin film based micro devices, the film quality and the composition of the film are essential elements for producing TEMs with desired efficiencies. Although Bi2Te3 has been investigated as thermoelectric material, this study iv determined that there was a possibility that both N-type and P-Type Bi2Te3 could be created from a single electrolyte solution by controlling the amount of Te present in the film. Films were produced with both AC and DC signals and varied composition of Te at.% of Bi2Te3 was achieved by controlling the average current density during electrochemical deposition. A linear relationship was established between the average current density and the resultant Te content. SEM and EDS were used to characterize the morphology and the composition of the thin films created. With the fabricated thermoelectric materials, analytical models could be developed using known material properties of thermoelectric films with a given Te content. The analytical results obtained by the developed optimization equations were comparable with the FEA models produced by using COMSOL, a multiphysics program with powerful solving algorithms that was used to evaluate designs. Further improvements to device performance can be achieved by designing a segmented thermoelectric device with multiple layers of thermoelectric material to allow the device to operate across a larger temperature gradient.


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Graduation Date





Chen, Quanfang


Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (M.S.M.E.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Degree Program

Mechanical Engineering; Miniature Engineering Systems









Release Date

June 2015

Length of Campus-only Access

3 years

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic