Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting for Wireless Sensor Systems in Aircraft
The use of structural health monitoring in the aerospace industry has many benefits including improved safety, reduced maintenance and extended aircraft lifecycles. A major focus of current research in this area is the development of wireless sensor 'nodes‘ which rely on batteries as a power source, severely limiting the product lifespan. This paper presents the results of work carried out to examine the feasibility of replacing or supplementing existing battery power supplies using thermoelectric energy conversion from ambient temperature differences in aircraft. An average power demand of 1mW over a typical sensor duty cycle is identified for current wireless sensor hardware. Temperature differentials between the wing fuel tanks and external air are determined and a theoretical model for thermoelectric energy harvesting potential is developed. Results indicate that average power outputs sufficient for the intended application of 6.6-22mW could be achieved during flight, based on a commercially available thermoelectric module of 30×30×4.1mm. An experimental investigation of the performance of this module when subjected to appropriate temperature conditions, using a Ranque-Hilshe vortex tube to generate easily controlled temperatures to -25°C is described. Excellent consistency is demonstrated between theoretical predictions and experimental results, confirming the accuracy of the theoretical model.
F. Chu, H. Ouyang, V. Silberschmidt, L. Garibaldi, C.Surace, W.M. Ostachowicz and D. Jiang
C.A. Featherston et al., "Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting for Wireless Sensor Systems in Aircraft", Key Engineering Materials, Vols. 413-414, pp. 487-494, 2009