Optics 101

Thermoelectric Cooling - Definition and Applications

Thermoelectric cooling is a process of eliminating heat energy from a device, component or medium whilst applying a constant voltage between two dissimilar semiconductors or electrical conductors. It uses the principle of Petlier effect to pump heat electronically. This technology is generally less efficient than compressor-based refrigeration however, it is more cost-effective and more practical than conventional refrigeration technology in conditions that the require transfer of thermal energy away from a solid or liquid.

Operating Principle

A typical thermoelectric cooling system consists of a series of dissimilar metals sandwiched between two large electrodes. The negative electrode is connected with a medium to be cooled while the positive electrode is in contact with a heat sink which dissipates or radiates heat to the surrounding. With the application of DC voltage between the electrodes, the heat is transferred from one side to the other. This makes the positively charged side warmer while the negatively charged side becomes cooler. In some cases, multiple coolers can be arranged together to achieve a lower temperature.

Benefits of Thermoelectric Cooling

The key benefits of thermoelectric cooling are listed below:

  • Prolonged operating life
  • Physical ruggedness
  • Portability
  • Can be controlled by changing the input voltage/current
  • No moving parts and chlorofluorocarbons
  • Low maintenance requirements


Thermoelectric cooling can be applied to the following:

  • Consumer electronics such as computers, portable coolers, climate-controlled jackets, etc.
  • Microprocessors and power amplifiers
  • Satellites or space probes
  • Digital cameras and charge-coupled devices
  • Fiber optic applications


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