How are high-efficiency materials presenting opportunities for the thermoelectric generators market?
Power generators are employed based on their unique characteristics, such as flexibility, efficiency, weight, size, and other assembling and performance-related factors. Thermoelectric generators are not highly efficient, and hence, users tend to opt for alternatives.
The efficiency of a thermoelectric generator depends on the kind of thermoelectric material used. Various conventional materials such as BiTe, PbTe, SiGe, and others have been used over the years; however, these are unable to provide high efficiency. This has compelled manufacturers to search for new materials, which are more efficient and less expensive.
Alphabet Energy Inc., a California-based thermoelectric manufacturing company, is planning to commercialize an abundant, cheap, and nontoxic material, tetrahedrite. It is a highly efficient mineral with a lower up-front manufacturing cost as compared to conventional thermoelectric materials. Alphabet Energy has priced the material at USD 4/Kg, which is less as compared to other materials available from USD 24/Kg to USD 146/Kg.
Such innovations are serving as opportunities for the thermoelectric generators market.
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Requirement for durable and maintenance free power sources
Thermoelectric generators are highly reliable and durable. They have an average expected lifespan of 25 years. No significant degradation is found over the life of a thermoelectric generator, though potential problems including mechanical or chemical degradation of heat exchanger surfaces or build-up of foreign material that degrades heat transfer. Thermoelectric modules have 15 to 25 years of expected life, without maintenance. This drives the market for these generators.
Inability to produce high power electricity output
Materials like BiTe, PbTe, SiGe, and other traditional materials provide low or average efficiency (of around 2.5%) at their respective operating temperatures. The figure of merit is less as compared to ideal thermoelectric generating devices. This is inhibiting the growth of the thermoelectric generators market.
The introduction of nanotechnology could contribute to increasing the efficiency of thermoelectric materials. Various companies have developed cheaper and highly efficient materials. For instance, in 2015, Alphabet Energy Inc. (US) developed a nanotechnology-based material called tetrahedrite.
How is the easy availability of prominent substitutes challenging the thermoelectric generators market?
Power generation from renewable sources such as sunlight, wind, and tides has increased over the years. The carbon footprint of renewable energy is low, which makes it environment-friendly. Most developed countries have set up windmills and hydroelectric power plants and install solar panels to generate electricity for their domestic as well as industrial needs. However, the technological cost to generate electricity from these sources is high.
Solar energy and piezoelectric power-based generators are considered to be major substitutes for thermoelectric generators. Solar energy converts light into electricity with an efficiency of 20-25% and piezoelectric; while a solid-state device has an efficiency of 10-15%. The higher efficiency of substitutes acts as a major challenge in the thermoelectric generators market.
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