Recent high energy density thin film material development has led to an increased interest in pyroelectric energy conversion. Using state-of-the-art lead-zirconate-titanate piezoelectric films capable of withstanding high electric fields we previously demonstrated single cycle energy conversion densities of 4.28 J/cm3. While material improvement is ongoing, an equally challenging task involves developing the thermal and thermodynamic process though which we can harness this thermal-to-electric energy conversion capability. By coupling high speed thermal transients from pulsed heating with rapid charge and discharge cycles, there is potential for achieving high energy conversion efficiency. We briefly present thermodynamic equivalent models for pyroelectric power generation based on the traditional Brayton and Ericsson cycles, where temperature-pressure states in a working fluid are replaced by temperature-field states in a solid pyroelectric material. Net electrical work is then determined by integrating the path taken along the temperature dependent polarization curves for the material. From the thermodynamic cycles we identify the necessary cyclical thermal conditions to realize net power generation, including a figure of merit, rEC, or the electrocaloric ratio, to aid in guiding generator design. Additionally, lumped transient analytical heat transfer models of the pyroelectric system with pulsed thermal input have been developed to evaluate the impact of reservoir temperatures, cycle frequency, and heating power on cycle output. These models are used to compare the two thermodynamic cycles. This comparison shows that as with traditional thermal cycles the Ericsson cycle provides the potential for higher cycle work while the Brayton cycle can produce a higher output power at higher thermal efficiency. Additionally, limitations to implementation of a high-speed Ericsson cycle were identified, primarily tied to conflicts between the available temperature margin and the requirement for isothermal electrical charging and discharging.

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