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Thermoelectric Co-Generation

What is Co-Generation?

The U.S. military uses self-powered tent heaters that employ TEGs. In these heaters, most of the combustion energy passes through TEGs, converting it to a cooler temperature suitable for space heating. The remaining energy either converts to electricity or remains available for heating. The TEGs drive the blower and other electronics and can supply surplus power to an outlet. We call this type of application “co-generation.”

Thermoelectric co-generation mirrors thermoelectric waste heat recovery in many ways, except with certain distinctions. The differences appear in four characteristics of the applications:

Waste Heat Recovery

  • Fuel combusted to produce work
  • Required heat exhaustion at a certain rate and typically at > 300°C
  • TEG system is thermally in parallel with the customary exhaust path
  • Energy savings must cost-justify TEG system usage ($/watt)


  • Fuel combusted to provide heat
  • Required heat downgraded before delivery
  • TEG system is in the primary heat path
  • Portability and wireless installation cost justify the TEG system

While cost per watt is less important in co-generation than in waste heat recovery, volume and weight of the TEG system are critical. Due to greater efficiency, high-temperature TEGs often prove a better choice than bismuth telluride-based TEGs in both cases.

Typical Co-Generation Applications

  • Self-powered tent (space) heaters
  • Self-powered home heating systems
  • Mosquito catchers (fuel burned to make CO2)