Ferrotec's Thermoelectric Technical Reference Guide is a comprehensive technical explanation of thermoelectrics and thermoelectric technology.
4.1 The use of thermoelectric modules often provides solutions, and in some cases the ONLY solution, to many difficult thermal management problems where a low to moderate amount of heat must be handled. While no one cooling method is ideal in all respects and the use of thermoelectric modules will not be suitable for every application, TE coolers will often provide substantial advantages over alternative technologies. Some of the more significant features of thermoelectric modules include:
No Moving Parts: A TE module works electrically without any moving parts so they are virtually maintenance free.
Small Size and Weight: The overall thermoelectric cooling system is much smaller and lighter than a comparable mechanical system. In addition, a variety of standard and special sizes and configurations are available to meet strict application requirements.
Ability to Cool Below Ambient: Unlike a conventional heat sink whose temperature necessarily must rise above ambient, a TE cooler attached to that same heat sink has the ability to reduce the temperature below the ambient value.
Ability to Heat and Cool With the Same module: Thermoelectric coolers will either heat or cool depending upon the polarity of the applied DC power. This feature eliminates the necessity of providing separate heating and cooling functions within a given system.
Precise Temperature Control: With an appropriate closed-loop temperature control circuit, TE coolers can control temperatures to better than +/- 0.1°C.
High Reliability: Thermoelectric modules exhibit very high reliability due to their solid state construction. Although reliability is somewhat application dependent, the life of typical TE coolers is greater than 200,000 hours.
Electrically "Quiet" Operation: Unlike a mechanical refrigeration system, TE modules generate virtually no electrical noise and can be used in conjunction with sensitive electronic sensors. They are also acoustically silent.
Operation in any Orientation: TEs can be used in any orientation and in zero gravity environments. Thus they are popular in many aerospace applications.
Convenient Power Supply: TE modules operate directly from a DC power source. Modules having a wide range of input voltages and currents are available. Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) may be used in many applications
Spot Cooling: With a TE cooler it is possible to cool one specific component or area only, thereby often making it unnecessary to cool an entire package or enclosure.
Ability to Generate Electrical Power: When used "in reverse" by applying a temperature differential across the faces of a TE cooler, it is possible to generate a small amount of DC power.
Environmentally Friendly: Conventional refrigeration systems can not be fabricated without using chlorofluorocarbons or other chemicals that may be harmful to the environment. Thermoelectric devices do not use or generate gases of any kind.