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Fraunhofer characterizes Alphabet Energy thermoelectric PowerCard; up to 5% fuel economy improvement in automotive

Alphabet Energy is commercializing low-cost, efficient thermoelectric materials for power generation leveraging technology initially developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (Earlier post.)

The company has now announced characterization from the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM of heat flow and thermal resistance (in air) of the Alphabet Energy PowerCard, the company’s core thermoelectric device for power generation. The PowerCard has shipped to customers in a variety of industries, including automotive; has been tested extensively; and is now entering high-volume production.

The PowerCard. Source: Alphabet Energy. Click to enlarge.

The PowerCard generates power from exhaust source temperatures ranging from 400-600 °C using Alphabet Energy’s proprietary thermoelectric materials: tetrahedrite and magnesium silicide stannide.

Competing materials, such as skutterudites and half-Heuslers, rely on rare and critical elements subject to scarcity and price volatility, making them unreliable for commercial scale, Alphabet Energy said. The tetrahedrite and magnesium silicide stannide combination consists of the most abundant and scalable elements available for high-temperature materials, enabling the PowerCard to meet commercial requirements for a wide range of applications from remote power generation in industrial settings to waste heat recovery in the automotive industry.

Fraunhofer IPM’s independent testing of heat flow and thermal resistance characterizes the performance of the Alphabet Energy PowerCard™ at high temperatures. We’re addressing our market needs for high-efficiency, low-cost with a light-element thermoelectric that operates with high efficiency and reliability in air.

—Doug Crane, Director of Thermoelectric Engineering, Alphabet Energy

In testing conducted at Alphabet Energy’s labs, the PowerCard generates over 9 watts of electricity at 5% efficiency with a hot-side temperature of 400 °C and a cold-side temperature of 100 °C, outperforming competing technologies that are able to produce around six watts (skutterudites, half-Heuslers) and two watts (bismuth telluride) when tested under the same conditions. Furthermore, the PowerCard has displayed high reliability through large numbers of thermal cycles and time at temperature in air.

These advancements with our PowerCard technology are truly unique from a materials science perspective, and align with our mission of being the “Intel-inside” for waste heat recovery.

—Matt Scullin, founder & CEO, Alphabet Energy

In addition to the significant advancements with thermoelectric materials science, the PowerCard represents a culmination of technological advances in manufacturing, metallization, package design, coatings, and assembly materials and processes.

Alphabet Energy has shipped PowerCard prototypes to a variety of customers, both stand-alone and as part of the larger PowerModule (which contains many PowerCards), in energy-intensive markets including, automotive, commercial trucking, oil & gas, industrial manufacturing, defense, and consumer appliances.

Source: Alphabet Energy. Click to enlarge.

Automotive. According to a McKinsey Quarterly report, the connected cars of the future will “become less like metal boxes and more like integrators of multiple technologies, productive data centers.”

The automotive industry is working to meet the increased electrical power requirements of the future car (e.g., connected, semiautonomous) while also achieving fuel efficiency standards (e.g., US EPA CAFE Standards).

The Alphabet Energy PowerModule is being used by an automotive OEM and tier-one supplier to address this challenge, and is expected to improve fuel efficiency by 5%, reducing the load on the alternator and generating the necessary electrical power to keep up with the future car’s electronics.



5% efficient at 400° C hot junction temperature
They could use these on power plants as well.


I wonder if these could be cost effectively integrated into a home furnace to supplement PV's during the winter when backup is needed and you are burning gas for home heating anyways?


The graphic is interesting.
Showing that each 100watts consumed in electrical energy costs 1% fuel economy @ 38.5 mpg. 1kw costs 3.85mpg 2kw 7.7,

This of course applies for battery powered cars as well.
If the consumer opts for all the mod cons, there is also a weight penalty for the add ons - coffee makers hair driers electric wake up seats personal assistants kW sound gear cameras reversing sensors along with wiring controllers etc etc.

While it is shown that electric steering stability control etc can lead to weight reductions and important safety outcomes, many consumers choose the the comfort options like flat screens for all back seat occupants.

It would not surprise me to see the meter hit 2kW of optional or unnecessary load when the driver and passengers are distracted to a galaxy far far away with sound pressure levels exceeding the 100+ decibel legal limit (for noise emission outside)
Often the full options become accepted as standard (remember when the car radio conferred bragging rights?)

While I might not represent the fully optioned version of product consumer, finding these are just a nuisance to remove and bin.
I believe - maybe unwisely - that consumers can be educated on the merits of spending at least some of the money saved by not ticking 'all' to the xtra's option box but instead directing that money towards lighter safer nimbler models that do more of the original purpose for owning a car - transport.

Oh yeah, 400oC is not really going to be much help on a BEV
but a lower 100 -120oC peltier would.


Useless in power plants.  Nuclear power plants operating at high-side temperatures around 300°C achieve efficiencies around 33%.  The only reason these TE materials are considered here is that they are solid-state.

Henry Gibson

Hydraulic hybrids can save far more fuel at less cost.

There is a thermo electric generator for cell phones that uses a food warming candle and some others with wood-burning.

Honda and Ecopower have furnace generating units. Honda with pull cords after Fukushima. ..HG..


fuel cells will achieve the high 90% if heat is recovered by these cells. The differential in temperature is the key driver so high heat 700*C from solid oxide fuel cells may make these stationary systems worthy of mobile utilization. replacing a 200 Kg ICE engine with
100Kg solid oxide stack, The excess heat is usually the limiting factor, by converting the waste heat to current the cooling systems would need to be a magnitude smaller. Making these systems competitive with BEV and fcPEM power plant. Also liquid fues could be used with solid oxide fuel cells because of steam reformation.

Ceramics are needed to make this technology work because of the high heat flux. New 3D print system created by HRL will enable the manufacturing of ceramic structures for these heat recovery systems to be cost effective.


The heat from SOFCs can be used for heating and cooling, but seldom is.

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