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Thermoelectric cooling (TEC) is the cooling effect that occurs as a result of current flowing between two different conductors or semiconductors; heat is produced at one juncture and a cooling effect at another juncture, creating a temperature differential. This can be used to transfer heat from one place to another.
A system that uses this effect is called a Peltier heat pump. The thermoelectric effect it produces actually occurs as a result of three separate effects:
Many textbooks also refer to thermoelectric cooling as the Peltier-Seebeck effect.
The Peltier-Seebeck effect can be used for both heating and cooling. Because so many other devices can produce heat more efficiently, Peltier devices are more often used for cooling.
The device consists of two different conductors, which can be connected to DC voltage to produce heat on one side and cooling on the other. The effectiveness of cooling depends on the amount of current provided, how well heat can be removed from the hot side, the ambient temperature, the geometry of the device and other Peltier electrical parameters.
Due to its relatively low efficiency, thermoelectric cooling is usually only used where solid-state devices (maintenance free devices with no moving parts) are required. Common uses are in camping and portable coolers and for cooling small electronic components or instruments. Computer components may be cooled without the need for a noisy fan and TEC components are often used to counteract the heat associated with overclocking.
TEC devices are even used to heat or cool beverages through a computer’s USB port, although the effectiveness of such devices is quite limited.