Energy Conservation: Harnessing Excess Thermal Energy and Converting to Electricity by Use of the Thermoelectric Effect

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Katie Shideler
Majors: Physics, Mathematics
Advisors: Dr. Susan Lehman, Dr. R. Drew Pasteur

The dynamics of thermoelectric energy were studied throughout this research. This research was done in an effort to conserve energy and investigate how much energy and power can be recycled across campus of the College of Wooster by use of the thermoelectric effect. The thermoelectric effect takes excess heat or thermal energy and converts that heat into usable energy in the form of electricity. Various locations such as laundry rooms, mechanical rooms, and kitchens were explored to recycle as much energy as possible. A device comprised of thermoelectric generators, which are what generate the electricity, is used to harness the excess heat in these various locations. The energy recycled and power generated from our device was minimal and improvements need to be made to our device to recycle enough energy to power everyday appliances. Improvements such as increasing the number of TEGs used and generating a larger current in our device will hopefully decrease the cost of creating a device that can generate a substantial amount of power.This topic was interesting to me because energy conservation is ever-pressing concept explored in the real world today. My project is a small-scale type of energy conservation; however, if my project is continued and improved, this research has the potential to recycle significant amounts of energy which could make a small difference on campus. If we develop an efficient enough device, the harnessed excess heat could potentially powerlights, cell phone chargers or other small-scale appliances. This project was rewarding to me because I had the opportunity to explore what I am capable of in developing something that can genuinely make a difference someday. Even if that difference is small, it is something I was able to accomplish.

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Katie will be online to field comments on April 16:
8-10am EDT (Asia: evening, Africa/Europe: afternoon)

55 thoughts on “Energy Conservation: Harnessing Excess Thermal Energy and Converting to Electricity by Use of the Thermoelectric Effect”

  1. Well done, Katie! Congratulations! What a great way to bring together both of your majors. Terrific work – thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Thanks so much for looking it over and for all of your guidance during my time at Wooster.

  2. Nice work Katie! I learned a lot during your oral defense presentation, and really enjoyed the ensuing discussion.

    1. Thank you Dr. Leary! I appreciate all the help you have given me throughout the years, so I’m glad I could give you something to learn and enjoy in my orals presentation.

  3. Hi Katie! This is a really cool project! Do you have any ideas on how to reduce the cost and efficiency of this device?

    1. Hi Heather! Thank you for taking a look at my project! Yes, so to increase the efficiency of my device, I would want to either examine other thermoelectric modules that could possibly generate a larger current without a significant loss of output voltage, thus generating more power, or I hypothesis changing the design of my device slightly could effect how much energy could be recycled. For example, if I use a more ventilated device with an open back or use a cork base rather than plastic to maintain a temperature difference between thermoelectric plates longer, that would in turn increase our amount of energy recycled. Increasing energy and power efficiency would then lower the costs calculated.

  4. Nice work, Shideler! You mention improvements to the device in order to harness more energy – what might that entail?

    1. Hi ZoΓ«, thanks for looking at my project πŸ™‚ Improvements to the device could include using different thermoelectric generators which can generate a higher current than 66 mA without a significant loss of output voltage, altering the design of my device by either replacing the plastic base with something more insulated such as cork or wood or even making an open back system which introduces some ventilation to the thermoelectric modules, and even altering how I collected data. For example, taking the device on and off the heat source, I found, maintained a temperature gradient across the TEGs for a longer period of time than holding the device constantly to the heat source. With these improvements, the amount of energy recycled with my device would increase as well as decrease its cost.

  5. Very nice work, Katie! I am particularly intrigued by the engineering aspects of your research and the potential for optimizing efficiency of this energy form to make it practical. Energy conservation and recovery can be vital to the feasibility of industrial processes.

    1. Thank you for taking a look at my project!! This research was a good combination of physics, mathematics, and engineering. Energy conservation is a hot topic in industries throughout the world today, so I found it rewarding and encouraging to be working on and researching something that is applicable to life beyond Wooster.

  6. Nice work Katie! I enjoyed hearing about the project and how you feel it could be tweaked for a better outcome.

  7. What a fascinating investigation, Katie! I am particularly intrigued by your interest in actionable changes on your campus towards greener energy. What do you feel are the greatest barriers to commercial applications of these types of TEGs?

    1. Hi Lauren, thank you for taking the time to look at my project! I believe the greatest barrier to large-scale or commercial applications to this type of energy is its efficiency. Because of the relatively small efficiency, the size (surface area of the TEGs) of a device needed to power every day objects such as cell phones or LED lights is large — could be upwards of 600 cm^2. A device of this size is unfavorable to make and install, especially when electricity exists at such a smaller cost of production. What my device and this technology could be useful for, is powering small-scale objects that only require a few watts or less to run. That is the most effective way to use this recycled energy in a beneficial way rather than letting it go to waste.

  8. Congratulations, Katie. This has been a great combination of modeling from first principles, practical engineering design, and data-driven analysis. I am very excited to see where life takes you in the years to come!

    1. Thank you Dr. Pasteur! It has been a pleasure working with you this year. Your mentorship, encouragement, and support across all aspects of my life went unmatched, and my project would not have made nearly as much progress as it did without your help. Thank you for everything you have done for me throughout my time at Wooster, and I look forward to keeping in touch.

  9. I’m wishing I could have joined you in harnessing the power of heat around campus, it sounds like a blast! Congratulations Shideler! A job well done!

    1. I also wish you could have joined me on my journey, it would have made it all the better. Thank you, Rose! You’re amazing and honestly left big shoes to fill in the academics/fh/lax realms, so I hope I measured up.

  10. Congratulations, Katie! I look forward to seeing your work have small and eventually large-scale impacts around campus.

  11. Great work, Katie! I’m glad that we were able to learn so much more about thermoelectric generators this year!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Lehman! I greatly appreciate all the guidance and assistance you have provided me throughout this journey. I have learned a tremendous amount about thermoelectric materials, physics, and myself throughout this whole process, and it was encouraging to be able to complete this task with your help. Thank you, again for everything!

  12. Shideler, this is so cool! I’m impressed by the implications of your study and the College should get on board. I’m proud of you for finIShing, see you at Camp Woo 😊

    1. Thanks for taking a look at my project! It’s been a journey for sure, I look forward to seeing you at Camp Woo πŸ™‚

  13. Katie! This project is great. I am fascinated by this and will look into translating it onto our campus in the glassblowing area. That space has uncharacteristically high thermal output with minimal energy return, beyond good vibes.

    1. Hi Dr. McGowan, thank you for taking the time to look at my research! That is an incredible space to investigate for heat loss, I did not think of that area, but there is tremendous potential! With some improvements to the device, this technology is a great implementation for energy recycling in high heat loss spaces such as your glassblowing area.

  14. Great work!! Gotta be honest, this is way above my head, but I do know how important it is!!

  15. Congrats Shideler!! Somehow, I had no idea what you project was on but this is super cool! Best lab ta out there:)

    1. Thanks Lillian! Maybe I should have talked to you more about it, but I’m glad you got the chance to come check it out πŸ™‚

  16. Congratulations, Katie! This is a really interesting project and I appreciate your sharing it. A terrific intersection of theory, experiment and real-world impact! All the best for your future plans!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to look at my research, President Bolton! It was an incredible process and I learned more from this experience than I ever thought it would.

  17. Your project sounds so interesting! Although it is out of my scope of knowledge I enjoyed reading about it and proud to have such a smart teammate and co-captain! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for checking it out Ash! I wouldn’t want to call anyone else my captain-oh-captain.

  18. This is a really cool project and shows great thinking about how to reduce wasted energy. I hope you continue to think about ways to improve your prototype.

    1. Thank you for taking a look at my project! I think my prototype does have a lot of potential, so I do not plan on just giving up on it. I hope it can accomplish big things some day.

  19. Hi Shideler!

    This is a cool project and every piece of technology has to start somewhere! It’s really neat how large appliances that effectively use heat also give off heat and how that could be recycled is something I never knew about before. Are you interested in doing more innovative projects like this in the future?

    Thanks for being a great TA to me in my physics classes; you are one smart cookie!

    1. Hi Sam! Thanks for taking the time to check out my research! I do enjoy working on innovative projects so I hope wherever I end up working some day I can both help improve the projects they are already working on, as well as bring my own ideas to the table to see how they can be effective.

  20. Well well, very cool project! We definitely need more of this these days! Keep up the strong work πŸ™‚

    1. JENNY!! Thanks for taking the time to look at my poster πŸ™‚ You’re the best!

  21. Amazing job Katie! I was wondering if you had any other suggestions about how the college could improve their energy conservation using the thermoelectric effect? Congratulations again!

    1. Hi Megan! Thanks for checking out my poster! I think at the moment, there are very few things that exist that the amount of energy recycled from my device could power. However, with some slight improvements to the device, the thermoelectric effect could be used to power very small-scale electronics. I think the energy recycled could be enough to power the electronic swipe from a COW card or the LED signs lighting the food areas in Lowry for example. There are locations in which a great deal of heat is given off on campus, and these small electronic appliances which require minimal power supplies would be great places to use this recycled energy. Thanks again for taking an interest in my project!

  22. Good work Shides! Your project was so interesting to learn about!! You are finIShed!!

  23. I love your topic and your research. Energy conversation is a key topic and I like that you connected it with wooster. It may be a small scale energy save but over long duration it has a big impact. Really enjoyed this. Good luck and all the best. YES YOU CAN

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