Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
THERMOELECTRIC DEVICE AND METHODS FOR MANUFACTURE AND USE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/025600
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
A thermoelectric device (20) and a method for manufacturing and using the same are disclosed. The thermoelectric device (20) includes a hot shoe (24) and a cold shoe (28) disposed about the hot shoe. A heat conducting member (32) formed of a thermoelectric material extends between the hot shoe (24) and the cold shoe (28) and generates electricity in response to a temperature difference therebetween. The hot shoe (24) is heated and expands at a greater rate than the cold shoe (28) does during operation. The structural and spatial relationship of the hot shoe (24) and the cold shoe (28) maintains the thermoelectric material of the heat conducting member (32) in compression during operation of the thermoelectric device (20).

More Like This:
Inventors:
TIMM, Edward J. (122 Haslett Road, Williamston, Michigan, 48895, US)
SCHOCK, Harold J. (7136 Forest Way Court, Brighton, Michigan, 48116, US)
ZHU, Guoming G. (47288 White Pines Drive, Novi, Michigan, 48374, US)
RUCKLE, Trevor (5855 Edson Street, Haslett, Michigan, 48840, US)
MORAN, Kevin (2112 Ardmore Street, Trenton, Michigan, 48183, US)
Application Number:
US2015/044862
Publication Date:
February 18, 2016
Filing Date:
August 12, 2015
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY (450 Administration Building, East Lansing, Michigan, 48824, US)
International Classes:
H01L35/32
Other References:
None
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FALCOFF, Monte L. et al. (Harness, Dickey & Pierce P.L.C.,P.O. Box 82, Bloomfield Hills Michigan, 48303, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

What is claimed is:

1 . An apparatus for a thermoelectric device comprising:

a hot shoe disposed adjacent a heat source;

a cold shoe disposed adjacent a heat sink; and

at least one heat conducting member extending between said hot shoe and said cold shoe that thermally couples said hot shoe and cold shoe, and that generates electricity in response to a temperature difference between said hot shoe and said cold shoe;

said cold shoe being disposed about said hot shoe such that expansion of said hot shoe during heating exceeds expansion of said cold shoe and compresses said at least one heat conducting member between said hot shoe and said cold shoe during operation of said thermoelectric device.

2. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 1 further comprising:

at least one compression member stretched about said cold shoe that applies additional compression to said at least one heat conducting member by compressing said cold shoe inwardly toward said hot shoe.

3. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 1 wherein said hot shoe has a cylindrical shape with a central bore therein and said cold shoe has a cylindrical shape that is disposed annularly about and co-axially with said hot shoe to define an annular cavity between said hot shoe and said cold shoe.

4. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 3 wherein said hot shoe has an outer diameter and said cold shoe has an inner diameter that is larger than said outer diameter of said hot shoe such that said annular cavity extends radially along a predetermined gap distance.

5. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 3 wherein said at least one heat conducting member is disposed in said annular cavity.

6. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 3 wherein said central bore receives said heat source such that an inner surface of said hot shoe contacts said heat source and receives thermal energy from said heat source.

7. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 1 wherein said at least one heat conducting member is made of a thermoelectric material.

8. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 7 wherein said thermoelectric material of said at least one heat conducting member is a semi-conductor.

9. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 7 wherein said thermoelectric material of said at least one heat conducting member at least partially comprises skutterudite.

10. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 7 wherein said at least one heat conducting member includes a positive leg and a negative leg.

1 1 . An apparatus as set forth in Claim 1 further comprising:

an insulating member disposed adjacent said at least one heat conducting member that extends between said hot shoe and said cold shoe.

12. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 1 wherein said hot shoe and said cold shoe are at least partially comprised of titanium.

13. An apparatus as set forth in Claim 2 wherein said at least one compression member is at least partially comprised of brass.

14. A thermoelectric generator comprising :

a heat receiving structure disposed adjacent a heat source;

a heat dissipating structure disposed adjacent a heat sink;

at least one heat conducting member extending radially between said heat receiving structure and said heat dissipating structure that thermally couples said heat receiving structure and heat dissipating structure and that generates electricity in response to temperature differences between said heat receiving structure and said heat dissipating structure; and

said heat dissipating structure extending annularly about said heat receiving structure forming an annular cavity between said heat receiving structure and said heat dissipating structure wherein said at least one heat conducting member is disposed within said annular cavity and is radially compressed between said heat receiving structure and said heat dissipating structure in response to greater thermal expansion of said heat receiving structure relative to said heat dissipating structure.

15. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 14 further comprising:

at least one compression member stretched circumferentially about said heat dissipating structure that applies additional radial compression to said at least one heat conducting member by compressing said heat dissipating structure radially inwardly toward said heat receiving structure.

16. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 14 wherein said heat receiving structure has an outer diameter and said heat dissipating structure has an inner diameter that is larger than said outer diameter of said heat receiving structure such that said annular cavity extends radially along a predetermined gap distance.

17. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 14 wherein said at least one heat conducting member includes a positive leg and a negative leg.

18. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 17 wherein said positive leg and said negative leg each extend radially between an inner circumference and an outer circumference and axially between a distal end and a proximal end.

19. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 18 wherein said heat receiving structure has an inner surface defining a central bore in said thermoelectric device and an outer surface that is opposite said inner surface and that partially bounds said annular cavity.

20. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 19 wherein said heat dissipating structure has an inner surface that faces said outer surface of said heat receiving structure and that partially bounds said annular cavity and an outer surface that is opposite said inner surface.

21 . A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 20 wherein said inner circumference of said positive leg and said inner circumference of said negative leg abut said outer surface of said heat receiving structure and said outer circumference of said positive leg and said outer circumference of said negative leg abut said inner surface of said heat dissipating structure.

22. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 18 wherein said proximal end of said positive leg is axially spaced from and faces said proximal end of said negative leg to form an annular chamber therebetween.

23. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 22 further comprising:

an insulating member disposed in said annular chamber.

24. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 23 wherein said insulating member defines an annular gap within said annular chamber between said positive leg and said negative leg.

25. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 24 wherein said heat dissipating structure defines an annular slot that is axially aligned with said annular gap of said insulating member, said annular slot dividing said heat dissipating structure into two electrically isolated portions.

26. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 25 wherein said at least one compression member is a pair of compression members each extending circumferentially about said heat dissipating structure on opposite sides of said annular slot such that one of said compression members compresses said positive leg and another one of said compression members compresses said negative leg.

27. A thermoelectric generator as set forth in Claim 24 wherein said heat receiving structure defines an annular slot that is axially aligned with said annular gap of said insulating member, said annular slot dividing said hot shoe into two electrically isolated portions.

28. A thermoelectric coupling comprising:

a hot shoe;

a cold shoe;

at least one heat conducting member being made from a thermoelectric material and extending between said hot shoe and said cold shoe;

said hot shoe extending about a central bore;

said cold shoe extending co-axially about said hot shoe forming a cavity between said hot shoe and said cold shoe wherein said at least one heat conducting member is disposed within said cavity and includes a positive leg and a negative leg that generate electricity in response to a difference in temperature between said cold shoe and said hot shoe; and

at least one compression member disposed about said cold shoe that applies additional compression to said at least one heat conducting member by compressing said cold shoe inwardly toward said hot shoe.

29. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore of said hot shoe receives a tube communicating a fluid.

30. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore of said hot shoe receives a tube communicating a heated substance.

31 . A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore of said hot shoe receives an exhaust pipe.

32. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore of said hot shoe receives a nuclear fissile material.

33. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore of said hot shoe receives a radioactive rod.

34. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said hot shoe has an outer diameter and said cold shoe has an inner diameter that is larger than said outer diameter of said hot shoe such that said cavity extends annularly between said hot shoe and said cold shoe.

35. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said positive leg and said negative leg each extend radially between an inner circumference and an outer circumference and axially between a distal end and a proximal end.

36. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 35 wherein said hot shoe has an inner surface that bounds said central bore and an outer surface that is opposite said inner surface that partially bounds said cavity.

37. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 36 wherein said cold shoe has an inner surface that faces said outer surface of said hot shoe and that partially bounds said cavity and an outer surface that is opposite said inner surface.

38. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 37 wherein said inner circumference of said positive leg and said inner circumference of said negative leg abut said outer surface of said hot shoe and said outer circumference of said positive leg and said outer circumference of said negative leg abut said inner surface of said cold shoe.

39. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 35 wherein said proximal end of said positive leg is axially spaced from and faces said proximal end of said negative leg to form an annular chamber therebetween.

40. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 39 further comprising: an insulating member disposed in said annular chamber.

41 . A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 40 wherein said insulating member defines an annular gap within said annular chamber between said positive leg and said negative leg.

42. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 41 wherein said cold shoe defines an annular slot that is axially aligned with said annular gap of said insulating member.

43. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 42 wherein said at least one compression member is a pair of compression members each extending circumferentially about said cold shoe on opposite sides of said annular slot such that one of said compression members compresses said positive leg and another one of said compression members compresses said negative leg.

44. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 41 wherein said hot shoe defines an annular slot that is axially aligned with said annular gap of said insulating member.

45. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said central bore receives a heat source such that an inner surface of said hot shoe contacts said heat source and receives thermal energy from said heat source.

46. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said thermoelectric material of said at least one heat conducting member is a semiconductor.

47. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 46 wherein said thermoelectric material of said at least one heat conducting member at least partially comprises skutterudite.

48. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said hot shoe and said cold shoe are made of a first material at least partially comprising titanium.

49. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said at least one compression member is made of a second material at least partially comprising brass.

50. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein said at least one heat conducting member includes a plurality of heat conducting members spaced along said cavity formed between said hot shoe and said cold shoe.

51 . A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 28 wherein multiple ones of said thermoelectric coupling are arranged adjacent to one another to form a thermoelectric module.

52. A method for manufacturing a thermoelectric device, the method comprising the steps of:

creating a hot shoe having a cylindrical shape and an outer diameter;

creating a cold shoe having a cylindrical shape and an outer diameter and an inner diameter that is larger than the outer diameter of the hot shoe;

arranging the hot shoe coaxially within the cold shoe; and hot pressing a thermoelectric material between the hot shoe and the cold shoe to create at least one heat conducting member having an annular disclike shape.

53. A method as set forth in Claim 52 further including the steps of:

creating at least one compression member having cylindrical ringlike shape and an inner diameter that is smaller than the outer diameter of the cold shoe when the at least one compression member and the cold shoe are at the same temperature;

cooling the hot shoe, the cold shoe, and the at least one heat conducting member to a first temperature to contract the hot shoe, the cold shoe, and the at least one heat conducting member and reduce the outer diameter of the cold shoe;

heating the at least one compression member to a second temperature that is greater than said first temperature to expand the at least one compression member and increase the inner diameter of the at least one compression member to a value that is greater than the outer diameter of the cold shoe;

fitting the at least one compression member over the cold shoe; and equalizing said first temperature of the hot shoe, the cold shoe, and the at least one heat conducting member and said second temperature of the at least one compression member to compress the cold shoe and to compress the at least one heat conducting member between the hot shoe and the cold shoe.

54. A method as set forth in Claim 52 further including the steps of:

pressing an insulating member adjacent the at least one heat conducting member and between the hot shoe and the cold shoe.

55. A method for generating electricity using a thermoelectric device, the method comprising the steps of:

inserting a heat source within a central bore of the thermoelectric device;

drawing thermal energy from the heat source using a hot shoe of cylindrical shape disposed adjacent the central bore of the thermoelectric device;

conducting thermal energy from the hot shoe to a cold shoe of cylindrical shape disposed co-axially about the hot shoe via at least one heat conducting member being made of a thermoelectric material that extends between the hot shoe and the cold shoe;

dissipating thermal energy from the cold shoe to create a temperature differential between the hot shoe and the cold shoe; and

generating electricity through the at least one heat conducting member in response to the temperature differential between the hot shoe and the cold shoe.

56. A thermoelectric coupling comprising:

a hot shoe;

a cold shoe extending about said hot shoe to; and

a plurality of heat conducting members located between said shoes, said members each contain a thermoelectric material and extend outwardly from said hot shoe to said cold shoe such that said plurality of heat conducting members are compressed between said hot shoe and said cold shoe in response to greater thermal expansion of said hot shoe relative to said cold shoe during operation of said thermoelectric coupling.

57. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 56 wherein said cold shoe includes a first portion and a second portion, each having a cylindrical shape, said first portion and said second portion of said cold shoe being aligned with one another and axially spaced to define an annular slot between said first portion of said cold shoe and said second portion of said cold shoe.

58. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 57 wherein said plurality of heat conducting members includes at least one positive leg and at least one negative leg that together generate electricity in response to a difference in temperature between said cold shoe and said hot shoe, said at least one positive leg and said at least one negative leg abutting said cold shoe on opposite sides of said annular slot.

59. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 58 wherein said at least one positive leg extends radially between said hot shoe and said second portion of said cold shoe and said at least one negative leg extends radially between said hot shoe and said first portion of said cold shoe.

60. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 59 further comprising: an insulating member having a disc shape extending radially between said hot shoe and said cold shoe that is positioned axially between said first portion of said cold shoe and said second portion of said cold shoe such that said insulating member is disposed within said annular slot.

61 . A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 60 wherein said at least one positive leg includes a plurality of positive legs that are circumferentially spaced from one another and wherein said at least one negative leg includes a plurality of negative legs that are circumferentially spaced from one another, said plurality of positive legs and said plurality of negative legs being disposed on opposite sides of said insulating member.

62. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 58 wherein said at least one positive leg has a rectangular cross-section and has a pair of ends faced with a copper foil, a pair of outer layers disposed at said pair of ends directly adjacent said copper foil that contain titanium, a pair of intermediate layers directly adjacent and inward of said pair of outer layers that contain cobalt, and a middle layer disposed between said pair of intermediate layers that contains skutterudite.

63. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 58 wherein said at least one negative leg has a rectangular cross-section and has a pair of ends faced with a copper foil, a pair of outer layers disposed at said pair of ends directly adjacent said copper foil that contain titanium, and a middle layer disposed between said pair of outer layers that contains skutterudite.

64. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 56 wherein said plurality of heat conducting members are circumferentially spaced from one another within said cavity defined between said hot shoe and said cold shoe.

65. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 64 wherein said hot shoe and said cold shoe are co-axially aligned about a centerline and wherein said plurality of heat conducting members extend along equally spaced radians that are perpendicularly arranged with respect to said centerline.

66. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 56 wherein said hot shoe presents an outer surface facing said cold shoe that includes a plurality of mating surfaces that are circumferentially spaced from one another and that have a flat shape to receive said plurality of heat conducting members in an abutting relationship.

67. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 56 wherein said hot shoe has a cylindrical shape and contains titanium and said cold shoe has a cylindrical shape and contains brass.

68. A thermoelectric coupling as set forth in Claim 56 wherein multiple ones of said thermoelectric coupling are arranged adjacent to one another in an abutting end-to-end arrangement to form a thermoelectric module.

Description:
THERMOELECTRIC DEVICE AND METHODS

FOR MANUFACTURE AND USE

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/061 ,384, filed on October 8, 2014 and U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/036,304, filed on August 12, 2014. The entire disclosures of the above applications are incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD

[0002] The subject disclosure describes an apparatus for a thermoelectric device. Methods for manufacturing the thermoelectric device and for generating electricity using the thermoelectric device are also disclosed.

BACKGROUND

[0003] This section provides background information related to the present disclosure which is not necessarily prior art.

[0004] With increasing emphasis on energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy, methods of energy generation and storage that increase efficiency and reduce cost are continuously being developed. One method of recovering otherwise wasted thermal energy is through the use of thermoelectric devices. Thermoelectric devices in general comprise a hot shoe disposed adjacent a heat source and a cold shoe disposed adjacent a heat sink. The hot shoe and the cold shoe are linearly aligned and spaced apart from one another. A pair of thermoelectric legs extends between the hot shoe and the cold shoe to thermally couple the hot shoe and cold shoe as part of a thermally conductive circuit. Together with the hot shoe and the cold shoe, the pair of thermoelectric legs form a thermoelectric couple. Furthermore, the thermoelectric legs are made from different thermoelectric materials that generate electricity in response to a temperature difference or temperature gradient across their length. The different thermoelectric materials used in the thermoelectric legs typically are semiconductors. For example, one thermoelectric material that can be used in each of the thermoelectric legs is comprised of skutterudite. The different response of each thermoelectric material used for the thermoelectric legs to the temperature gradient creates a current flow that can be harnessed to perform work. The amount of current generated depends not only upon the selection of the thermoelectric materials as semiconductors, but also upon the magnitude of the temperature gradient between the heat source and the heat sink and the contact interface between the pair of thermoelectric legs and the hot shoe and the cold shoe respectively.

[0005] While this technology enjoys a promising outlook, its application as a real world energy generator faces a major obstacle - long term reliability. A problem arises by virtue of the necessary construction of the thermoelectric device itself, which requires the use of different materials having different rates of thermal expansion. Since the materials used for the hot shoe, the cold shoe, and the pair of thermoelectric legs expand at different rates, conventional thermoelectric devices frequently fail due to a differential of thermal expansion in the materials at the interface of the thermoelectric legs and the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The frequency of these failures requires the individual thermoelectric devices to be connected in parallel as part of a thermoelectric module rather than in series to allow operation of the thermoelectric module after failure of one or more of the thermoelectric couples occurs. This arrangement is more costly, requires a more complicated control scheme, and the electronics take up more space within any particular application.

SUMMARY

[0006] An apparatus for a thermoelectric device is described in accordance with one aspect of the subject disclosure. The thermoelectric device generally includes a hot shoe disposed adjacent a heat source and a cold shoe disposed adjacent a heat sink. At least one heat conducting member extends between the hot shoe and the cold shoe to thermally couple the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The at least one heat conducting member generates electricity in response to a temperature difference between the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The cold shoe generally extends about the hot shoe. During operation of the thermoelectric device, the hot shoe expands at a greater rate than the cold shoe does because the hot shoe is heated by the heat source. As a result of the structural and spatial relationship between the hot shoe and the cold shoe, the at least one heat conducting member is compressed between the hot shoe and the cold shoe during operation of the thermoelectric device. It has been found that the resiliency of the material forming the at least one heat conducting member is improved when the material is kept under compression in comparison to neutral loading and/or tension. Thus, the disclosed thermoelectric device prevents failures of the at least one heat conducting member caused by thermal expansion.

[0007] In accordance with another aspect of the subject disclosure, the cold shoe extends annularly about the hot shoe forming an annular cavity between the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The at least one heat conducting member is disposed within the annular cavity and is radially compressed between the hot shoe and the cold shoe. In accordance with yet another aspect of the subject disclosure, the cold shoe extends co-axially about the hot shoe forming a cavity between the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The at least one heat conducting member is disposed within the cavity and includes a positive leg and a negative leg that generate electricity in response to a difference in temperature between the cold shoe and the hot shoe.

[0008] In accordance with yet another aspect of the subject disclosure, the thermoelectric device (for example, a thermoelectric coupling) includes a hot shoe and a cold shoe that extends about the hot shoe to form a cavity there between. A plurality of heat conducting members are disposed in the cavity between the hot shoe and the cold shoe. Each heat conducting member of the plurality of heat conducting members contains a thermoelectric material and extends outwardly from the hot shoe to the cold shoe. In accordance with this structural arrangement, the plurality of heat conducting members are compressed between the hot shoe and the cold shoe in response to greater thermal expansion of the hot shoe relative to the cold shoe during operation of the thermoelectric coupling. Accordingly, all of the disclosed arrangements advantageously maintain the heat conducting member(s) in compression during operation of the thermoelectric device or thermoelectric coupling.

[0009] A method for manufacturing a thermoelectric device is also described in accordance with another aspect of the subject disclosure. Advantageously, this method of manufacture produces a thermoelectric device where the thermoelectric material of the heat conducting member(s) is maintained in compression throughout operation of the thermoelectric device. Additionally, a method for generating electricity using a thermoelectric device is described in accordance with the subject disclosure.

[0010] Advantageously, the disclosed thermoelectric device and the methods for manufacturing and using the same, facilitates high heat flux through a thermoelectric device and provides optimal interfaces between the heat conducting member(s) and the hot shoe and the cold shoe. The disclosed thermoelectric device is superior to conventional designs because the disclosed construction does not suffer from thermal expansion related failures since the design maintains the thermoelectric material in compression between the hot shoe and the cold shoe during operation of the thermoelectric device and optionally when the thermoelectric device is inactive depending on the structural arrangement and size of the various components.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0011] The drawings described herein are for illustrative purposes only of selected embodiments and not all possible implementations, and are not intended to limit the scope of the present disclosure. Other advantages of the present invention will be readily appreciated, as the same becomes better understood by reference to the following detailed description when considered in connection with the accompanying drawings wherein:

[0012] Figure 1 is a side perspective view of an exemplary thermoelectric device constructed in accordance with the subject disclosure;

[0013] Figure 2 is a side cross-sectional view, taken along line 2-2 of Figure 1 showing the exemplary thermoelectric device;

[0014] Figure 3 is an exploded perspective view of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 1 ;

[0015] Figure 4 is a side perspective view of another exemplary thermoelectric device constructed in accordance with the subject disclosure further including a cooling mechanism adjacent the cold shoe; [0016] Figure 5 is a side cross-sectional view, taken along line 5-5 of Figure 4, showing the exemplary thermoelectric device;

[0017] Figure 6 is an exploded perspective view of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 4;

[0018] Figure 7 is a side cross-sectional view of another exemplary thermoelectric device constructed in accordance with the subject disclosure wherein multiple heat conducting members are axially spaced along the annular cavity disposed between the hot shoe and the cold shoe;

[0019] Figure 8 is a side cross-sectional view of multiple exemplary thermoelectric devices arranged adjacent to one another;

[0020] Figure 9 is a side cross-sectional view of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 4 installed on an exemplary exhaust pipe;

[0021] Figure 10 is a side cross-sectional view of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 4 installed on an exemplary radioactive rod;

[0022] Figure 1 1 is a flow diagram illustrating the steps of an exemplary method for manufacturing a thermoelectric device in accordance with the subject disclosure;

[0023] Figure 12 is a flow diagram illustrating the steps of an exemplary method for generating electricity using a thermoelectric device in accordance with the subject disclosure;

[0024] Figure 13 is a side perspective view of another exemplary thermoelectric device constructed in accordance with the subject disclosure;

[0025] Figure 14 is an exploded perspective view of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 13;

[0026] Figure 15A is a side perspective view of an exemplary positive leg of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 13;

[0027] Figure 15B is a side perspective view of an exemplary negative leg of the exemplary thermoelectric device of Figure 13; and

[0028] Figure 16 is a side perspective view of multiple exemplary thermoelectric devices arranged adjacent to one another. DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0029] Referring to the Figures, wherein like numerals indicate corresponding parts throughout the several views, an apparatus for a thermoelectric device 20 is disclosed along with methods for manufacturing and using the same. Generally, thermoelectric device 20 generates electricity in response to a temperature differential or gradient applied to a thermoelectric material 22. Thus, it should be appreciated that such a thermoelectric device 20 may alternatively be referred to as a thermoelectric generator 20 or a thermoelectric couple 20.

[0030] Exemplary embodiments will now be described more fully with reference to the accompanying drawings. Exemplary embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough, and will fully convey the scope to those who are skilled in the art. Numerous specific details are set forth such as examples of specific components, devices, and methods, to provide a thorough understanding of embodiments of the present disclosure. It will be apparent to those skilled in the art that specific details need not be employed, that example embodiments may be embodied in many different forms and that neither should be construed to limit the scope of the disclosure. The method steps, processes, and operations described herein are not to be construed as necessarily requiring their performance in the particular order discussed or illustrated, unless specifically identified as an order of performance. It is also to be understood that additional or alternative steps may be employed.

[0031] Referring to Figure 1 , thermoelectric device 20 includes a hot shoe or heat receiving structure 24 disposed adjacent a heat source 26 and a cold shoe or heat dissipating structure 28 disposed adjacent a heat sink 30. Accordingly, there is a temperature difference or a temperature gradient between hot shoe 24 and cold shoe 28 where thermal energy flows to thermoelectric device 20 at hot shoe 24 and is dissipated from thermoelectric device 20 at cold shoe 28. Heat conducting member 32 extends between hot shoe 24 and cold shoe 28. Heat conducting member 32 thus thermally couples hot shoe 24 and cold shoe 28. Heat conducting member 32 is made from a thermoelectric material 22 such that it generates electricity in response to the temperature difference between hot shoe 24 and cold shoe 28. By way of example and without limitation, thermoelectric material 22 of heat conducting member 32 is a semi-conductor, which is at least partially comprised of skutterudite. Such skutterudite material is more specifically comprised of cobalt and antimony.

[0032] With reference to Figure 2, insulating members 34 are disposed adjacent to and sandwich each heat conducting member 32, between hot shoe 24 and cold shoe 28. Insulating member 34 provides several functions. First, insulating members 34 electrically isolate each heat conducting member 32 and therefore prevents shorting. Second, insulating members 34 thermally insulate each heat conducting member 32. Third, insulating members 34 seal each heat conducting member 32 from the environment to reduce or eliminate corrosion and/or oxidation of thermoelectric material 22. While many different insulating materials may be used without departing from the scope of the present disclosure, insulating member 34 may be made of, for example, Macor, Mica, or other ceramic materials.

[0033] It can be seen in Figures 2 and 3 that hot shoe 24 extends annularly about a centerline C and axially between a first end 38 and a second end 40 thereof. Hot shoe 24 has a circular-cylindrical shape and defines a central bore 42 disposed therein. Hot shoe 24 thus presents an inner surface 44 that circumferentially bounds central bore 42 and an outer surface 46 that is opposite inner surface 44. Central bore 42 of hot shoe 24 is configured to receive heat source 26 such that inner surface 44 of hot shoe 24 contacts heat source 26 and receives thermal energy from heat source 26. Hot shoe 24 has an outer diameter OD1 that is measured across outer surface 46 of hot shoe 24 and an inner diameter ID1 that is measured across inner surface 44 of hot shoe 24.

[0034] The cold shoe 28 of the thermoelectric device 20 extends annularly and co-axially about the hot shoe 24 and axially between a first end 48 and a second end 50. Accordingly, the cold shoe 28 has a cylindrical shape presenting an inner surface 52 facing the hot shoe 24 and an outer surface 54 that is opposite the inner surface 52. The inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28 is radially spaced from the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 such that an annular cavity 56 is formed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. The cold shoe 28 has an outer diameter OD2 that is measured across the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 and an inner diameter ID2 that is measured across the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. The inner diameter ID2 of the cold shoe 28 is larger than the outer diameter OD1 of the hot shoe 24 such that the annular cavity 56 extends radially a predetermined gap distance G between the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 and the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. It should be appreciated that while the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 are described herein and illustrated in the figures as circular-cylindrical in shape, other shapes of the hot shoe 24 and/or the cold shoe 28 may be utilized without departing from the scope of the present disclosure, although some of the advantages of the subject thermoelectric device may not be realized if other shapes are utilized. Accordingly, the central bore 42 may or may not be cylindrical in shape and the central bore 42 may or may not be centered with respect to hot shoe 24.

[0035] During operation of the thermoelectric device 20, the hot shoe 24 is heated and therefore expands at a greater rate than the cold shoe 28. As a result of the hot shoe 24 being disposed within the cold shoe 28 with the at least one heat conducting member 32 spaced therebetween, expansion of the hot shoe 24 compresses the thermoelectric material 22 of the at least one heat conducting member 32 radially between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Thus, the at least one heat conducting member 32 is maintained in compression between the hot shoe and the cold shoe during operation of the thermoelectric device 20. The thermoelectric device 20 may additionally include at least one compression member 58 circumferentially stretched about the cold shoe 28 that applies additional compression to heat conducting members 32 via compression of the cold shoe 28 inwardly toward the hot shoe 24. Stated another way, compression member 58 exhibits an interference fit with the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 such that the at least one compression member 58 applies radially inward pressure to the cold shoe 28. This advantageously maintains the thermoelectric material 22 of the at least one heat conducting member 32 in compression when the thermoelectric device 20 is at room temperature and inactive. While compression member 58 may be made of a variety of different materials, the compression member may be, by way of example and without limitation, one hundred percent brass, an alloy containing brass, or a compound containing brass as one of its constituents. [0036] As shown in Figures 1 -6, the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 is exposed to a surrounding environment such that the cold shoe 28 dissipates thermal energy or heat from the thermoelectric device 20. By way of example and without limitation, the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 is exposed to air such that convection carries heat away from the cold shoe 28 during operation of the thermoelectric device 20. In this way, the surrounding environment itself acts as the heat sink 30. Figure 4 shows cold shoe 28 alternatively connected to a cooling mechanism 60 that draws heat away from the cold shoe 28. The cooling mechanism 60 is a structural component that may generally be integral with or attached to the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28. By way of example and without limitation, the cooling mechanism 60 could be a plurality of cooling fins, cooling ducts communicating a cooling fluid, a fan, thermally conductive wires, or a thermally conductive plate. In this configuration, the cooling mechanism 60 and/or the surrounding environment itself acts as the heat sink 30. In Figures 4-6, the cooling mechanism 60 is illustrated as a series of three annular fins extending from the cold shoe 28. The annular fins of the cooling mechanism 60 are axially spaced such that air flow between the annular fins cools the cold shoe 28 by convection. Of course, this construction of the cooling mechanism 60 is merely exemplary and many other arrangements are possible.

[0037] Both the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 may be made of the same material. For example and without limitation, the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 may be made of one hundred percent titanium, an alloy of titanium, or a compound containing titanium as one of its constituents. Titanium has been found to be particularly suitable for both the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 because titanium expands at roughly the same rate as skutterudite during heating. Accordingly, the bond between the hot shoe 24 and the at least one heat conducting member 32 and the bond between the cold shoe 28 and the at least one heat conducting member 32 are less likely to crack or otherwise separate. Titanium is also chemically compatible with skutterudite. The skutterudite could lose the ability to conduct electricity if other non-compatible materials were used for the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Alternatively, the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 may be made of different materials but may not achieve the preferred advantages. For example, the hot shoe 24 may be made of a first material having a first thermal expansion coefficient. It should be appreciated that such a thermal expansion coefficient is a numerical value that quantifies the rate at which a material expands in volume in response to the application of a known and predetermined amount of thermal energy or heat. The cold shoe 28 may be made of a second material having a second thermal expansion coefficient that is less than the first thermal expansion coefficient such that the hot shoe 24 expands at a greater rate when heated than the cold shoe 28. Advantageously, this maintains the at least one heat conducting member 32 disposed in the annular cavity 56 between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 in compression during operation of the thermoelectric device 20.

[0038] The at least one heat conducting member 32 includes a positive leg 62 and a negative leg 64. The positive leg 62 and the negative leg 64 each extend radially between an inner circumference 66 and an outer circumference 68 and axially between a distal end 70 and a proximal end 72. When the thermoelectric device 20 is assembled, the inner circumference 66 of the positive leg 62 and the inner circumference 66 of the negative leg 64 abut the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24. Similarly, the outer circumference 68 of the positive leg 62 and outer circumference 68 of the negative leg 64 abut the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. The proximal end 72 of the positive leg 62 is axially spaced from and faces the proximal end 72 of the negative leg 64 to form an annular chamber 74 therebetween. The insulating member 34 is disposed in the annular chamber 74. The positive leg 62 and the negative leg 64 may have slightly different compositions of thermoelectric material 22 such that heat across the positive leg 62 and the negative leg 64 produce reverse electron flows. By way of example and without limitation, the positive leg 62 may be made of skutterudite containing cobalt, antimony, iron, and cerium while the negative leg 64 may be made of skutterudite containing cobalt, antimony, ytterbium, and barium.

[0039] The insulating member 34 further defines an annular gap 76 within the annular chamber 74 between the positive leg 62 and the negative leg 64. This annular gap 76 is formed as a narrow disc-shaped space in the insulating member 34 that is approximately halfway between the proximal end 72 of the positive leg 62 and the proximal end 72 of the negative leg 64 when measured along the axial direction. With reference to Figures 1 -3, the cold shoe 28 of the thermoelectric device 20 may define an annular slot 78 that is axially aligned with the annular gap 76 of the insulating member 34. In this way, the annular gap 76 is open to the annular slot 78 and thus the environment surrounding the cold shoe 28. With reference to Figures 4-6, the hot shoe 24 of the thermoelectric device 20 may alternatively define the annular slot 78. Again, the annular slot 78 is axially aligned with the annular gap 76 of the insulating member 34. In this configuration, the annular gap 76 is open to the annular slot 78 and thus the central bore 42 of the hot shoe 24. In both configurations, the annular slot 78 creates a discontinuity such that electricity cannot flow between the positive and negative legs 62, 64 via the cold shoe 28 in Figures 1 -3 and the hot shoe 24 in Figures 4-6. This prevents shorting of the thermoelectric couple 20.

[0040] Figures 4-6 specifically illustrate compression member 58 of thermoelectric device 20 as a pair of compression members 58 that each extend circumferentially about the cold shoe 28 on opposite sides of the annular slot 78. Accordingly, one of the compression members 58 compresses the positive leg 62 of the thermoelectric couple 20 and the other one of the compression members 58 compresses the negative leg 64 of the thermoelectric couple 20.

[0041] With reference now to Figure 7, a plurality of heat conducting members 32 are spaced along the annular cavity 56 formed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. As such, the plurality of heat conducting members 32 forms a thermoelectric network 80. As shown in Figure 8, multiple thermoelectric devices 20 are arranged adjacent to one another to form a thermoelectric module 82. It should be appreciated that the multiple thermoelectric devices 20 in the thermoelectric module 82 can be wired in series or in parallel with one another to achieve various desired electrical outputs. For example, the multiple thermoelectric devices 20 of the thermoelectric module 82 can be wired in series to increase the voltage output of the thermoelectric module 82. Alternatively, the multiple thermoelectric devices 20 of the thermoelectric module 82 can be wired in parallel to increase the current output of the thermoelectric module 82.

[0042] Figure 9 shows thermoelectric device 20 connected to and disposed about a tube 84. More particularly, the tube 84 illustrated in Figure 9 is an exhaust pipe 84. The exhaust pipe 84 is connected in fluid communication with an internal combustion engine such that hot exhaust gases flow through the exhaust pipe 84 (i.e. the tube 84). It should be appreciated that the disclosed thermoelectric device 20 has a broad range of applications and that Figure 9 is merely exemplary of one of these applications. Further, it should be understood that the term tube 84, as used herein, encompasses all fluid carrying structures, including without limitation, pipes, hoses, cylinders, passages, vessels, and valve bodies. As illustrated in Figure 9, the central bore 42 of the hot shoe 24 receives a tube 84 configured to communicate a fluid therethrough. The fluid may be heated such that the inner surface 44 of the hot shoe 24 receives or draws thermal energy from the tube 84 (i.e. the hot shoe 24 is heated by the fluid in the tube 84). In accordance with this aspect of the disclosure, the thermoelectric device 20 advantageously can be used to generate electricity from the hot exhaust gases produced by the internal combustion engine. The hot exhaust gases heat the exhaust pipe 84 which in turn heats the hot shoe 24 of the thermoelectric device 20. Some of the thermal energy of the exhaust gases is thus harnessed for the useful purpose of generating electricity. This electricity may thus be used for powering electronics. The thermal energy harnessed by the disclosed thermoelectric device 20 is otherwise unutilized and is wasted when the exhaust gases are expelled from the exhaust pipe 84 into the environment. It should also be appreciated that the disclosed thermoelectric device 20 may be used with any internal combustion engine, including without limitation, spark ignition engines (e.g. gasoline engines) and compression ignition engines (e.g. diesel engines) of an automotive vehicle.

[0043] As shown in Figure 1 0, it is also envisioned that the disclosed thermoelectric device 20 could be used to generate electricity from nuclear or radioactive material 36. Radioactive decay produces heat. A fissile material 36 may be placed within the central bore 42 of the hot shoe 24 such that the inner surface of the hot shoe 24 receives thermal energy from the fissile material 36. By way of example and without limitation, the fissile material 36 could be a radioactive rod 36 such as a nuclear fuel rod 36 in a stationary or ship-board power plant.

[0044] With reference to Figure 1 1 , the subject disclosure further provides a method for manufacturing the thermoelectric device 20 described above. The method includes step 100 of creating a hot shoe 24 of cylindrical shape having an outer diameter OD1 . As explained above, the outer diameter OD1 of the hot shoe 24 is measured across the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24. In accordance with step 100 of the method, the hot shoe 24 is created from a material that is at least partially comprised of titanium. Thus, the hot shoe 24 may be formed of a material that is, for example, pure titanium, a titanium alloy, or a compound containing titanium as one of its constituents. Step 102 of the method includes creating a cold shoe 28 of cylindrical shape having an outer diameter OD2 and an inner diameter ID2 that is larger than the outer diameter OD1 of the hot shoe 24. As explained above, the outer diameter OD2 of the cold shoe 28 is measured across the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 and the inner diameter ID2 of the cold shoe 28 is measured across the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. In accordance with step 102 of the method, the cold shoe 28 is also created from a material that is at least partially comprised of titanium. Thus, the cold shoe 28 may be formed of a material that is, for example, one hundred percent titanium, an alloy containing titanium, or a compound containing titanium as one of its constituents.

[0045] Step 104 of the method includes inserting the hot shoe 24 coaxially within the cold shoe 28. Step 106 of the method includes hot pressing a thermoelectric material between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 to form at least one heat conducting member 32. Accordingly, the at least one heat conducting member 32 formed in accordance with Step 106 has an annular disclike shape and an inner diameter ID3 and an outer diameter OD3. It should be appreciated that the term "creating" as used herein to describe the manufacture of the disclosed thermoelectric device generally includes "to make." Thus, the term "creating" encompasses a broad range of manufacturing operations, including without limitation, cutting, machining, forming, extruding, forging, pressing, and stamping. Further, the term "hot pressing" includes an exemplary process where thermoelectric material, which may be in powdered form, is poured into the annular cavity 56 formed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Dies apply pressure and heat to the thermoelectric material, which bonds to itself and the inner surfaces 44, 52 of the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28.

[0046] Step 108 of the method includes creating at least one compression member 58 having cylindrical ring-like shape and an inner diameter ID4 that is smaller than the outer diameter OD2 of the cold shoe 28 when compression member 58 and the cold shoe 28 are at the same temperature. Step 110 of the method includes cooling the hot shoe 24, the cold shoe 28, and heat conducting member 32 to a first temperature to contract the hot shoe 24, the cold shoe 28, and heat conducting member 32. In accordance with Step 110, this cooling of the hot shoe 24, the cold shoe 28, and heat conducting member 32 as a subassembly reduces the outer diameter OD2 of the cold shoe. It should be appreciated that the term "cooling" as used herein is inclusive of, but not limited to, cooling by placing a hot part in a room temperature environment to sit and cool down to room temperature. Step 112 of the method includes heating compression member 58 to a second temperature that is greater than the first temperature to expand compression member 58. In accordance with Step 112, this heating of compression member 58 increases the inner diameter ID4 of compression member 58 to a value that is greater than the outer diameter OD2 of the cold shoe 28. Step 114 of the method proceeds with fitting t compression member 58 over the cold shoe 28. Thus, in accordance with Step 114, compression member 58 is placed around the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28. The method proceeds to Step 116 of equalizing the first temperature of heat conducting member 32 and the second temperature of compression member 58 to compress the cold shoe 28 inwardly and to compress heat conducting member 32 between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. In accordance with Step 116 of the method, heat conducting member 32 is held in compression between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 of the thermoelectric device 20. Advantageously, the thermoelectric material of heat conducting member 32 is less prone to failure as a result of thermal stresses when held in compression such that the durability of the thermoelectric device 20 is improved.

[0047] The method may optionally include Step 118 of pressing an insulating member 34 adjacent the heat conducting member 32. In accordance with Step 118, the insulating member 34 may be installed within the annular cavity 56 of the thermoelectric device 20 located between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28, on either side of heat conducting member 32, or both. It should be appreciated that the insulating member 34 may or may not be installed adjacent heat conducting member 32 prior to Step 114 of fitting compression member 32 over the cold shoe 28 and Step 116 of equalizing the first temperature and the second temperature to compress heat conducting member 32 between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Thus, the insulating member 34 may or may not be compressed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 as a result of equalizing the first and second temperatures in accordance with Step 116.

[0048] With reference to Figure 12, the subject disclosure further provides a method for generating electricity using a thermoelectric device 20. The method includes Step 200 of inserting a heat source 26 within a central bore 42 of the thermoelectric device 20. Step 202 of the method includes drawing thermal energy from the heat source 26 using a hot shoe 24 of cylindrical shape disposed adjacent the central bore 42 of the thermoelectric device 20. Step 204 proceeds with conducting thermal energy from the hot shoe 24 to a cold shoe 28 of cylindrical shape disposed co-axially about the hot shoe 24 via heat conducting member 32. In accordance with Step 204 of the method, heat conducting member 32 is made of a thermoelectric material that extends between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Step 206 of the method includes dissipating thermal energy from the cold shoe 28 to create a temperature differential between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 and Step 208 of the method includes generating electricity through heat conducting member 32 in response to the temperature differential between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. In accordance with these steps, it should be appreciated that the disclosed thermoelectric device 20 generates electricity from thermal energy or heat that the thermoelectric device 20 absorbs from the central bore 42. In other words, the thermoelectric device 20 may be used to convert thermal energy that is applied to the central bore 42 of the hot shoe 24 into electricity.

[0049] With reference to Figures 13-16 generally, an alternative construction for a thermoelectric coupling 20 is disclosed. As shown in Figures 13 and 14, the thermoelectric coupling 20 includes a hot shoe 24 disposed adjacent a heat source 26 and a cold shoe 28 disposed a heat sink 30. The hot shoe 24 extends annularly about a centerline C and axially between a first end 38 and second end 40. Although a variety of different shapes may be employed, the hot shoe 24 in Figures 13 and 14 has a circular-cylindrical shape defining a central bore 42 therein. Accordingly, the hot shoe 24 presents an inner surface 44 that circumferentially bounds the central bore 42 and an outer surface 46 that is opposite the inner surface 44.

[0050] The cold shoe 28 generally extends about the hot shoe 24 forming a cavity 56 between the cold shoe 28 and the hot shoe 24. Although the cold shoe 28 may have variety of different shapes, by way of example and without limitation, the cold shoe 28 preferably has a circular-cylindrical shape. As seen in Figures 13 and 14, the cold shoe 28 presents an inner surface 52 and an outer surface 54 that is opposite the inner surface 52. The cold shoe 28 co-axially arranged about the hot shoe 24 such that the cavity 56 is formed between the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 and the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. It should be appreciated that while the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 may be formed of a variety of different materials, by way of example and without limitation, the hot shoe 24 may be made of a material containing titanium and the cold shoe 28 may be made of a material containing brass.

[0051] As best seen in Figure 14, the cold shoe 28 includes a first portion 86 and a second portion 88, each having a cylindrical shape. The first portion 86 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28 are aligned with one another and are axially spaced to define an annular slot 78 therebetween. The first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 extends axially between a first end 90 and a second end 92 that is opposite the first end 90 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28 extends axially between a third end 94 and a fourth end 96 that is opposite the third end 94. The second end 92 of the cold shoe 28 and the third end 94 of the cold shoe 28 face each other and therefore define the annular slot 78 extending between the first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28. As shown in Figure 13, the first end 90 of the cold shoe 28 may be axially aligned with the first end 38 of the hot shoe 24. Similarly, the fourth end 96 of the cold shoe 28 may be axially aligned with the second end 40 of the hot shoe 24 such that the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 are coextensive in overall length.

[0052] The thermoelectric coupling 20 further includes an insulating member 34 that is positioned axially between the first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28. As shown in Figure 13, the insulating member 34 extends radially between the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 and the outer surface 54 of the cold shoe 28 such that the insulating member 34 extends into and fills the annular slot 78 defined between the first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28. As a result, the second end 92 and the third end 94 of the cold shoe 28 may directly contact the insulating member 34 in an abutting relationship. As best seen in Figure 14, the insulating member 34 may thus have a disc shape. Accordingly, the insulating member 34 electrically isolates the first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 from the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28. Although the insulating member 34 may be made of a variety of different materials, by way of example and without limitation, the insulating member 34 may be made of a material containing Mica. It should also be appreciated that the annular slot 78 may alternatively be formed in the hot shoe 24 instead of the cold shoe 28 such that the hot shoe 24 is split into two portions. In such a configuration, the insulating member 34 would extend between these two portions of the hot shoe 24 to electrically isolate the two portions of the hot shoe 24 from one another.

[0053] Still referring to Figures 13 and 14, the thermoelectric coupling 20 also includes a plurality of heat conducting members 32 disposed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28. Heat conducting members 32 are circumferentially spaced within the cavity 56 and extend radially between the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 and the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28. Accordingly, heat conducting members 32 are compressed between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 in response to greater thermal expansion of the hot shoe 24 relative to the cold shoe 28 during operation of the thermoelectric coupling 20. That is, the hot shoe 24 expands more than the cold shoe 28 during operation of the thermoelectric coupling 20 due to the hot shoe's proximity to the heat source 26 and the cold shoe's proximity to the heat sink 30. Since the cold shoe 28 is disposed outwardly about the hot shoe 24, the plurality of heat conducting members 32 are pressed against the inner surface 52 of the cold shoe 28 when the hot shoe 24 undergoes thermal expansion. Advantageously, this compression increases the structural integrity of the heat conducting members 32 and thus improves the reliability of the thermoelectric coupling 20.

[0054] The plurality of heat conducting members 32 illustrated in Figures 13 and 14 include at least one positive leg 62 and at least one negative leg 64 that together generate electricity in response to a difference in temperature between the cold shoe 28 and the hot shoe 24. The at least one positive leg 62 may include a plurality of positive legs 62 that are circumferentially spaced from one another and that extend along equally spaced radians that extend perpendicularly with respect to the centerline C. Similarly, the at least one negative leg 64 may include a plurality of negative legs 64 that are circumferentially spaced from one another and that extend along equally spaced radians that extend perpendicularly with respect to said centerline C. In the configuration illustrated in Figure 14, there are more specifically four negative legs 64 and four positive legs 62 such that the thermoelectric coupling 20 includes a total of eight heat conducting members 32.

[0055] The plurality of positive legs 62 and the plurality of negative legs 64 are disposed on opposite sides of the insulating member 34 and thus abut the cold shoe 28 on opposite sides of the annular slot 78. Accordingly, each positive leg 62 of the plurality of positive legs 62 extends radially between the hot shoe 24 and the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28 and each negative leg 64 of the plurality of negative legs 64 extends radially between the hot shoe 24 and the first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28. Although the positive legs 62 and the negative legs 64 may have a variety of different shapes and sizes, each leg 62, 64 of the plurality of positive legs 62 and the plurality of negative legs 64 may have, without limitation, a rectangular or square cross-section. A square cross-section with sides measuring approximately 3 millimeters (mm) in length is shown in the example illustrated in Figures 13 and 14.

[0056] The plurality of heat conducting members 32 are at least partially made from a thermoelectric material 22. As shown in Figure 15A, the at least one positive leg 62 includes a pair of ends 200a, 200b that may be faced with a copper foil 202. A pair of outer layers 204 is disposed at the ends 200a, 200b directly adjacent and inward of the copper foil 202. The pair of outer layers 204 of the at least one positive leg 62 may be made of a material containing titanium. A pair of intermediate layers 206 is disposed directly adjacent and inward of the pair of outer layers 204. The pair of intermediate layers 206 of the at least one positive leg 62 may be made of a material that contains cobalt. A middle layer 208 is disposed between the pair of intermediate layers 206 and the middle layer may be, for example, a material containing skutterudite. As shown in Figure 15B, the negative leg 64 also includes a pair of ends 210a, 210b that may be faced with a copper foil 202. A pair of outer layers 212 is disposed at the ends 210a, 210b directly adjacent and inward of the copper foil 202. Outer layers 212 of negative leg 64 may be made of a material that contains titanium. A middle layer 214 is disposed between outer layers 212 and the middle layer 214 of negative leg 64 is made of a thermoelectric material 22 that may be, for example, a material containing skutterudite. However, it should be appreciate that the skutterudite material used for negative leg 64 may have a different composition from the skutterudite material used for positive leg 62.

[0057] Referring again to Figures 13 and 14, the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 includes a plurality of mating surfaces 98 that are circumferentially spaced from one another. The plurality of mating surfaces 98 have a flat shape and abut the plurality of heat conducting members 32. More specifically, the ends 200a, 200b of the positive legs 62 and the ends 210a, 210b of the negative legs 64 include interior ends 200a, 210a and exterior ends 200b, 210b. The interior ends 200a, 210a abut the outer surface 46 of the hot shoe 24 and optionally, the mating surfaces 98, while the exterior ends 200b, 210b abut the inner surface 52 of the first and second portions 86, 88 of the cold shoe 28 respectively. As shown in Figure 16, multiple thermoelectric couplings 20a, 20b may be arranged adjacent to one another in an abutting end-to-end arrangement to form a thermoelectric module 82. The first portion 86 of the cold shoe 28 of one thermoelectric coupling 20b may be connected to the second portion 88 of the cold shoe 28 of an adjacent thermoelectric coupling 20a such that the multiple thermoelectric couplings 20a, 20b are arranged in series to increase voltage output. Although the multiple thermoelectric couplings 20a, 20b may be connected to one another in various ways, Figure 16 illustrates directly connecting the cold shoes 28 of adjacent thermoelectric couplings 20a, 20b such that the first end 90 of the cold shoe 28 of one thermoelectric coupling 20b contacts the fourth end 96 of the cold shoe 28 of the adjacent thermoelectric coupling 20a. In Figure 16, a total of ten thermoelectric couplings 20 are connected together in this manner to yield a total resistance of 21 .1 milliohms. In other words, each coupling 20 can generate a resistance of at least 1 milliohm and more preferably at least 2 milliohms.

[0058] The thermoelectric coupling 20 of Figure 13 is preferably manufactured in accordance with the following exemplary method. The method includes the steps of creating a hot shoe 24 of cylindrical shape and a cold shoe 28 of cylindrical shape. In accordance with these steps, the hot shoe 24 may be created with a plurality of mating surfaces 98 that are flat and circumferentially spaced about the hot shoe 24. Also in accordance with these steps, either the hot shoe 24 or the cold shoe 28 is created in two separate portions to define an annular slot 78 therebetween. By way of example and without limitation, the hot shoe 24 is created from a material that contains titanium. Thus, the hot shoe 24 is a material that is, for example, pure titanium, a titanium alloy, or a compound containing titanium as one of its constituents. By way of example and without limitation, the cold shoe 28 is created from a material that contains brass. Thus, the cold shoe 28 is a material that is, for example, one hundred percent brass, an alloy containing brass, or a compound containing brass as one of its constituents.

[0059] The method includes the steps of inserting the hot shoe 24 coaxially within the cold shoe 28, creating an insulating member 34 of disc-like shape, and positioning the insulating member 34 in the annular slot 78. In accordance with these steps, a cavity 56 is created between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 on opposite sides of the insulating member 34. The method further includes the step of creating a plurality of heat conducting members 32. In accordance with this step, the plurality of heat conducting members 32 created may include at least one positive leg 62 and at least one negative leg 64 and optionally, a plurality of positive legs 62 and a plurality of negative legs 64. The positive leg(s) 62 is created to include: a pair of ends 200a, 200b faced with a copper foil 202, a pair of outer layers 204 disposed at the ends 200a, 200b directly adjacent and inward of the copper foil 202 that are made of a material containing titanium, a pair of intermediate layers 206 disposed directly adjacent and inward of the pair of outer layers 204 that are made of a material that contains cobalt, and a middle layer 208 disposed between the pair of intermediate layers 206 that is made of a thermoelectric material 22 containing skutterudite. The negative leg(s) 64 is created to include: a pair of ends 210a, 210b faced with a copper foil 202, a pair of outer layers 212 disposed at the ends 210a, 210b directly adjacent and inward of the copper foil 202 that are made of a material that contains titanium, a middle layer 214 disposed between the pair of outer layers 212 that is made of a thermoelectric material 22 containing skutterudite.

[0060] The method additionally includes the step of positioning the at least one positive leg 62 between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 on one side of the annular slot 78 and thus, the insulating member 34, and positioning the at least one negative leg 64 between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 on the opposite side of the annular slot 78 and thus, the insulating member 34. Where the at least one positive leg 62 is a plurality of positive legs 62 and where the at least one negative leg 64 is a plurality of negative legs 64, this step includes positioning the plurality of positive legs 62 and the plurality of negative legs 64 circumferentially about the hot shoe 24 so as to create an even spacing between the plurality of positive legs 62 and an even spacing between the plurality of negative legs 64. Optionally, this step may further include aligning the plurality of positive legs 62 and the plurality of negative legs 64 with the plurality of mating surfaces 98 of the hot shoe 24 such that the interior ends 200a, 210a of the plurality of positive legs 62 and the plurality of negative legs 64 abut the mating surfaces 98 of the hot shoe 24.

[0061] In accordance with the disclosed method, the plurality of heat conducting members 32 are held in compression between the hot shoe 24 and the cold shoe 28 when heat is applied to the hot shoe 24 forcing the hot shoe 24 to expand at a greater rate than the cold shoe 28 during operation of the thermoelectric coupling 20. Advantageously, the thermoelectric material 22 of the plurality of heat conducting members 32 is less prone to failure as a result of thermal stresses when held in compression such that the durability of the thermoelectric coupling 20 is improved.

[0062] Many modifications and variations of the present invention are possible in light of the above teachings and may be practiced otherwise than as specifically described while within the scope of the appended claims. The cross-sectional shape of the thermoelectric device 20 may depart from the circular geometry shown. For example and without limitation, the cross-sectional shape of the thermoelectric device 20 may be an oval, a triangle, a square, a rectangle, or that of any other polygon. The materials noted herein are for example only and the various components of the thermoelectric device 20 may generally be made from other materials than those described in this disclosure. Additionally, the relative size of the various components of the thermoelectric device 20 may differ from that shown in the drawings without departing from the scope of the subject disclosure. Further, any number of thermoelectric devices 20 may be arranged in parallel or in series with one another to form a thermoelectric module 82. Accordingly, the number of thermoelectric devices 20 shown in the Figures is exemplary and is not intended to be limiting. With respect to the methods set forth herein, the order of the steps may depart from the order in which they appear without departing from the scope of the present disclosure and the appended method claims.