Thermoelectric Coolers (TEC) are small cooling apparatus that use the Peltier effect. They are crafty little machines that make little to no sounds and have static machinery. They are used in a wide variety of areas from cooling beers to fiber optic arrays and cooling in outer space. Would TECs be used for cooling PCs? Let’s find out.

How does Thermoelectric cooling work?

How does Thermoelectric cooling work

To put it simply, you apply current to the device, one side gets cold and the other gets hot. The hot is dissipated into the environment from the hot side and heat will transfer from the environment to the cold side. Now suppose the environment touching the cold side is a can of beer, it will be cooled. This is essentially the principle behind the Peltier effect. To put it more precise, the effect creates a difference in temperature caused by the exchange of heat between two electrical junctions.

Applying voltage across two joined conductors will cause the flow of electricity through them. The heat is removed at one junction and deposited at the other. The transfer of heat through the conductors is done by electrons and it is deposited on the other side when electrons move from a high energy state to a low energy state. This effect is mainly used for cooling with the aid of a DC voltage. As with any other coolers, the more the number of coolers, the more intense the cooling will be. Usually, for commercial purposes, more than two coolers are joined side by side and placed between two plates.

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Advantage of Thermoelectric cooling

  • Thermoelectric cooling technology is safe for the environment because of no emissions of CFC gases.
  • They do not require a lot of maintenance and last a long time.
  • TECs can be used in the most extreme conditions and can cool far below the surrounding temperatures.
  • They don’t weigh as much, are cost-friendly and make little to no noise.

Now to get to the point, can the TEC be a good cooler alternative for PCs?

Why Thermoelectric cooling’s are a bad idea for PCs

No. They are not at all a good cooling option for PCs. Here we see why. TECs are used as cooling modules in both the industrial and medical sectors alike. The problem with devices function with the Peltier effect is that it can only be used to ‘cool’ devices that dissipate a small amount of heat. So of course, using it to cool a CPU which is a high power dissipating device is not ideal.

Imagine trying to cool a hot cup of tea in a refrigerator and a hot bucket of water in a refrigerator. Using TEC to cool PC CPUs is similar to this scenario. A refrigerator can cool a liquid which is at room temperature. But a large amount of extremely hot liquid is just excess workload and you did not buy the fridge for this purpose. It just can’t deal with such a large amount of heat. Now you understand why thermoelectric cooling is a bad idea for PC CPUs. Peltiers are useful in those applications where a big cooling system cannot be used or need not be used. Excess heat dissipating devices can overvolt and destroy a TEC.

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Applications of TECs

Thermoelectric coolers are ideal for applications that can’t or need not have huge refrigeration units around. They are comparatively smaller in size and when weight and area come into play for small heat dissipating devices, TECs are the ideal choice. They are also ideal to get to a lower temperature compared to the surroundings quickly. So for eg, they are ideal ‘beer-coolers’. They are to be used in low power applications or to regulate lasers using temperature to even one-hundredth of a degree Celcius. They also have applications in medical and telecommunication fields.

TECs are used in Thermocyclers

Another application for TEC would be in the Thermocyclers. Thermocyclers are used in both aerospace, defence technologies and biomedical technologies and are built to survive in the most extreme conditions including in the outer space. They also find applications as single-stage thermoelectric coolers designed for usage in laser diode arrays in fiber optic systems and even in inkjet printers.

One thing common in all these uses would be the absence of a large amount of power for the device. To sum it up,  thermoelectric cooling for PCs is not feasible.

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