How does Peltier technology work?

The Peltier Effect

The Peltier Effect, named after Jean Peltier, is based on the knowledge that a current flow applied to semiconductors arranged in a certain sequence creates a temperature gradient. A so-called Peltier module can therefore act as a heat pump by applying an electrical voltage. The reverse effect, after an electrical current flow is generated by the use of a temperature gradient, is called the Seebeck effect.

What are the advantages of cooling with Peltier modules?

What are the differences and similarities to conventional compressor systems?

In both cooling systems a heat flow takes place from a cold to a warm reservoir.

In the compressor system, the heat is transported by a gas, which subsequently condenses.

In the Peltier cooler, the electric current corresponds to the cooling liquid of the compressor, the DC voltage source corresponds to the compressor.

There are many applications that can only be solved with Peltier technology:

  • Control Accuracy

    Peltier devices are electrically controllable. This enables control accuracies to be achieved that are not possible with compressor cooling.

  • Reversibility

    Peltier elements are easily reversible. By simply reversing the polarity of the DC voltage, heat can be generated where cold was first generated and vice versa.

  • Robustness

    Peltier coolers can work in the most adverse environmental conditions. e.g. at high ambient temperatures or heavily polluted ambient air, even vibrations and strong accelerations are no problem.

  • Miniature Cooling

    Peltier coolers can provide precisely defined small cooling capacities.


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The History of the Thermoelectric Effect

  • 1822


    Seebeck Effect

    Thomas Johann Seebeck observed the phenomenon named after him: If a closed conductor loop is formed from two different metallic conductors and there is a temperature difference between the two contact points of the two materials, a circular current flows in the conductor loop. Today’s thermocouples are demonstrative examples of this.

  • 1834


    Jean Charles Athanase Peltier discovered the opposite effect: under certain conditions, an electric current flow causes a temperature difference between two metallic conductors.




Peltier effect: Generation of a temperature difference by an electric current flow

In order to make the Peltier effect economically viable, two conventional metals are no longer used to build a Peltier element. The resulting temperature difference here is less than 1 K.

Instead, one metal is replaced by an n-doped semiconductor (electrical conduction is done by negatively charged electrons) and the other by a p-doped semiconductor (electrical conduction is done by positively charged holes). A copper bridge connects the two semiconductor legs. If direct current is sent through the Peltier element in the direction shown, the copper bridge connecting the two elements cools down. The two connecting bridges, also made of copper, heat up. In other words, there is a constant heat transfer from the upper copper bridge to the lower copper bridges.

In order to obtain Peltier blocks that are suitable for technical applications, the individual Peltier elements are joined together in a meandering pattern. The Peltier elements combined to a Peltier block are thus electrically connected in series and thermally connected in parallel. The Peltier blocks themselves can now be connected electrically in series or parallel if large cooling surfaces are required.

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