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DLR working with Yamaha on thermoelectric generators for vehicles; seeking 3-5% gain in fuel economy

The Institute of Vehicle Concepts at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt, DLR) is, together with the Japanese company Yamaha Corporation, developing special vehicle systems based on thermoelectric effects. The aim of the cooperation is to develop prototype thermoelectric generator modules for on-road and rail vehicles. Yamaha is mainly contributing its know-how in the procurement and manufacture of the thermoelectric modules made of semiconductor materials, and DLR is contributing its broad knowledge in design, vehicle concepts, as well as the design and optimization of vehicle energy systems.

Internal combustion engines in vehicles use only about one-third of the potential energy in the fuel for propulsion; the remaining two-thirds are lost as waste heat. Thermoelectric generators use this heat and convert it into electricity. The power can then be used in the vehicle for control units or convenience electronics and thus reduces the load on the alternator, which would otherwise have to generate this power itself.

In hybrid and range-extender vehicles with internal combustion engines, the power obtained from such a thermoelectric generator can be fed directly to the battery. The goal of the DLR scientists is to reduce fuel consumption by 3-5% percent using thermoelectric generators.

Together with partners from industry and research, the Stuttgart-based DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts has, in the last few years, already developed systems based on thermoelectric generators and successfully tested them in a car. Until now, industrially produced thermoelectric modules have only been available to a very limited extent. The engineers therefore had to resort to modules that were not specially designed for this purpose.

Prototype thermoelectric module. Source: DLR. Click to enlarge.

The two partners are now developing vehicle-compatible modules for the next generation of their thermoelectric generators, said DLR researcher Mirko Klein Altstedde, who initiated the cooperation.

"With regards to shape, thermal and electrical properties, maximum application temperatures and cycle stability, these have been specially developed to meet our requirements. At the same time, our partner also cares for the production technology, so that, in future, the modules can be produced as efficiently and economically as possible for the automotive industry.

—Mirko Klein Altstedde

The first research demonstrators are currently being tested in the laboratory to further optimize details regarding the vehicle suitability and efficiency.


  • Klein Altstedde, M., Sottong, R., Freitag, O. et al. (2015) “Development of a Thermoelectric Module Suitable for Vehicles and Based on CoSb3 Manufactured Close to Production” Journal of Electronic Materials 44: 1716. doi: 10.1007/s11664-014-3523-5



Six cycle can get 50% gain, no hybrid.

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