Feasibility of Thermoelectrics for Waste Heat Recovery in Conventional Vehicles

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Thermoelectric (TE) generators convert heat directly into electricity when a temperature gradient is applied across junctions of two dissimilar metals. The devices could increase the fuel economy of conventional vehicles by recapturing part of the waste heat from engine exhaust and generating electricity to power accessory loads. A simple vehicle and engine waste heat model showed that a Class 8truck presents the least challenging requirements for TE system efficiency, mass, and cost; these trucks have a fairly high amount of exhaust waste heat, have low mass sensitivity, and travel many miles per year. These factors help maximize fuel savings and economic benefits. A driving/duty cycle analysis shows strong sensitivity of waste heat, and thus TE system electrical output, to vehiclespeed and driving cycle. With a typical alternator, a TE system could allow electrification of 8%-15% of a Class 8 truck's accessories for 2%-3% fuel savings. More research should reduce system cost and improve economics.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2009

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-540-44247


  • advanced vehicle systems
  • thermoelectrics
  • vehicle fuel economy
  • waste heat recovery


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