A Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting System for Powering Wireless Sensors in Nuclear Power Plants

(Sep 2016)

Author-Jie Chen,Jackson Klein,Yongjia Wu


Safety is the most important issue in the development of nuclear energy. This paper reports experimental studies of a thermoelectric energy harvesting system designed for integration in a nuclear power plant capable of performing in radiation rich environments and producing enough power to run wireless sensors meant to increase plant safety. Furthermore, the system, which utilizes wasted heat present in coolant system piping, has the unique ability to provide power in both normal and accidental situations, to run the sensors without the need for external power. Two energy harvesting prototypes were designed utilizing a heat pipe for heat transfer. The first can supply a maximum power of 2.25 W using two Bi2Te3 thermoelectric modules of 2.79cm (1.1″) × 2.79cm (1.1″), in a source temperature near 250 °C. A second design was put forward to extend the application in higher-temperature primary loops, in which one PbTe-Bi2Te3 hybrid TEG module of 5.6cm (2.2″) × 5.6cm (2.2″) can provide a power of 3.0 W when the hot side temperature reaches 340 °C. In addition to the energy harvester, wireless communication circuits were developed along with an integrated power management circuit for wireless data transmission. A high intensity gamma radiation experiment was conducted during which each component was irradiated. A total dose of 200 kGy±10% (20M rads) was applied to the first prototype in order to approximate the expected lifetime accumulation for one implemented thermoelectric generator. Results showed that thermoelectric modules used in the prototype had no reduction in voltage output throughout irradiation. Throughout the experiment the harvester system witnessed a small voltage drop in open circuit voltage attributed to a reduction in heat pipe performance from radiation exposure. We also acquired a baseline radiation survivability level for non-hardened, non-shielded electronics of 102 Gy.

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