INCREASING THE EFFICIENCY OF INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES: HEAT RECOVERY FROM EXHAUST GASES BY THERMOELECTRIC EFFECT

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Mauro Francesco Sgroi *
(*) Autore principale:
Mauro Francesco Sgroi | mauro.sgroi@crf.it

Abstract

The concern related to global warming is generating a legislative pressure on reducing CO2 emissions that is forcing automotive industry to find alternative and more efficient solutions to internal combustion engines. In Europe, the current regulation for passenger vehicles limits the CO2 emissions calculated as fleet average to 130 g/km and fix a target value of 95 g/km to be achieved by 2021. Car manufacturers will have to pay heavy penalties for each registered vehicle exceeding the CO2 limits (€95 per exceeding gram by 2019). Concurrently, the regulations on toxic emissions (CO, NOx, unburned hydrocarbons, particulate matter) is also becoming more and more stringent and requires complex and costly abatement systems to respect the strict limitations imposed on NOx and particulate matter emissions. On the other hand, zero emission electric vehicles, based on batteries, are still not mature enough for a replacement of the internal combustion engine in extra-urban applications, since they are not able to guarantee the driving range required by customers. Hydrogen fuelled vehicles, could meet the same performance of conventional cars, but the cost of materials used in the fuel cell stack is preventing the penetration into the market. Therefore, even though characterized by low energy efficiency, the internal combustion engine will remain, in the short-medium term, the reference technology for the transport industry but the environmental regulations will impose its hybridization with electric systems. Hybrid architectures allow circulating in electric mode in urban areas, limiting the local pollution, and increase the efficiency of the car through energy recovery during breaking phases. An energetic analysis of conventional internal combustion engine reveals that about 70% percent of the chemical energy stored in the fuel is converted in to mechanical energy for traction: the remaining part is dissipated as heat in the exhaust gases (30%) and in the cooling circuit (40%). So a great amount of thermal energy (tens of kW) is available on a car and its effective recovery can dramatically increase the efficiency of the system. Hybrid systems facilitate this task, since the produced electric energy can be stored in the battery pack. Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) offer the possibility to directly convert thermal energy into electricity with a reduced complexity and potential low cost. Even though available semiconducting junctions are characterized by low efficiency and limited operating temperatures, coupling a TEG to the internal combustion engine would allow recovering about 1 kW of electric power on a medium size car, with a reduction of CO2 emissions of about 10 g/km.

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