Thermoelectric (TE) generators have a potential advantage of the wide applicable temperature range by a proper selection of materials. In contrast, a steam turbine (ST) as a Rankine cycle thermodynamic generator is limited up to more or less 630 °C for the heat source. Unlike typical waste energy recovery systems, we propose a combined system placing a TE generator on top of a ST Rankine cycle generator. This system produces an additional power from the same energy source comparing to a stand-alone steam turbine system. Fuel efficiency is essential both for the economic efficiency and the ecological friendliness, especially for the global warming concern on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.
We report our study of the overall performance of the combined system with primarily focusing on the design parameters of thermoelectric generators. The steam temperature connecting two individual generators gives a trade-off in the system design. Too much lower the temperature reduces the ST performance and too much higher the temperature reduces the temperature difference across the TE generator hence reduces the TE performance. Based on the analytic modeling, the optimum steam temperature to be designed is found near at the maximum power design of TE generator. This optimum point changes depending on the hours-of-operation. It is because the energy conversion efficiency directly connects to the fuel consumption rate. As the result, physical upper-limit temperature of steam for ST appeared to provide the best fuel economy. We also investigated the impact of improving the figure-of-merit (ZT) of TE materials. As like generic TE engines, reduction of thermal conductivity is the most influential parameter for improvement. We also discuss the cost-performance. The combined system provides the payback per power output at the initial and also provides the significantly better energy economy [$/KWh].