Demonstrating the Fuel Economy Benefit of Exhaust Energy Recovery

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering


The internal combustion (IC) engine remains the most cost effective device for converting liquid fuels to useful work. Even as bio-fuels become more popular, it is the IC engine that is the practical device for realising their benefits. The IC engine works by ensuring a good flow of fresh air into the engine to support the combustion process. The process of supplying air requires that the products of combustion in the form of exhaust gas are removed quickly creating a hot exhaust gas stream.It is this hot exhaust stream that offers the potential for generating additional useful energy. Generating energy from hot exhaust gas can be done in several ways and attempts have been made with steam cycles and with additional expansion through a turbine. Most methods tend to significantly increase the mechanical complexity of the engine and with it the cost.Thermo-electric (TE) devices use the so called Seebeck effect where using dissimilar metals a potential difference can be created between hot and cold objects. In an engine that temperature difference will be created between the exhaust gases and the external air temperature. This is a large temperature difference and offers the potential for efficient energy conversion. Thermodynamic theory suggests that with a 50kW passenger car engine, there is the potential to regenerate energy in the range 9-12 kW. With the best of modern thermo-electric materials only 0.5-1 kW could be achieved, but this is already enough to consider, for example, replacing the vehicle alternator with a such a thermo-electric device. A thermo-electric device is solid state, with no moving parts and is likely to be more durable than the other methods that have been considered so far.The primary challenge for the successful application of TE methods is the quality of materials. At present, bulk materials deliver a low efficiency. Newer materials offer a great deal of potential, but it is unclear how much extra performance is needed from materials before there is a practical proposition. The primary aim of this project is to demonstrate the best thermo-electric performance using the class of materials known as Skutterudites which are showing great promise in this application. Properly understood and assembled into modules, these materials can produce TE performance competitive with a vehicle alternator. The modules will be tested on the bench then computer based models representing this performance will be used in real time alongside a practical engine to predict the fuel economy of the whole engine system. The model will be adjusted to include hypothetical material properties. The investigation will be directed to identify the set of material properties that will give a strong system performance. The proposed work will use a technique known as component-in-the-loop, signifying that a real engine is in use in an engine test laboratory. At the same time the TE device is represented as a model which is run on a fast computer at the same rate as the physical behaviour of a real device. Its output will be fed back to the engine system to represent the electrical current produced. Component in the loop is an emerging technique and we are proposing this novel application as a secondary research goal.With the two sets of results: a set of proposed material properties and a viable research methodology, this project will set the scene for a detailed investigation into materials whose result will be a device capable of practical application.

Planned Impact

The chief beneficiary will be the automotive supply sector. Energy recovery is of great importance to the whole sector. The various techniques promise a substantial improvement in fuel economy without major changes to vehicle or powertrain architecture. The great promise of thermo-electric (TE) generators is the replacement of the vehicle alternator leading to a reduction in engine friction and simplifying the engine. Energy recovery allows a shift in the added value from the engine to the exhaust system and would permit a shift in the supply pattern of engine exhaust components or possibly a new entrant to the market. Dissemination to both the vehicle manufacturers and the supply sector is of great importance, but because these two sectors have quite different character, we will seek the advice of industry bodies like SMMT as to the best forum. We are proposing industry seminars as a means of communication of the results and the potential for fuel economy benefit. Given to the right audience, there is the potential to encourage consortia and joint development work. Ricardo Consulting Engineers have expressed a strong interest in understanding TE technology and are in a position to propagate the results and the potential. Potentially this dissemination can lead overseas vehicle manufacturers back to the UK The utility of the technology goes beyond the passenger sector and indeed applies to all engine systems that are run consistently at high loadings. Caterpillar, manufacturers of off-highway and construction equipment would benefit greatly from the kind of fuel economy benefit offered by TE. Loughborough's co-operation with Caterpillar provides a helpful channel for a discussion of the application of the technology to this wider range of equipment and to stationary power generation. For Government, an advance in this sector is a helpful indication of the potential to improve fuel economy. A solid UK capability help strengthen the national position in hybrid vehicle technologies.
Description It is feasible to use a thermoelectric generator (TEG) to generate reasonable amounts of power in passenger car applications so as to have a significant effect on the vehicle fuel economy.

That advanced materials (skutterudites) may be used with a purpose designed heat exchange systems and function according to their predicted performance.

That a combination of laboratory testing and computer based modelling may be used to accurately predict the output of a TEG design.
Exploitation Route The results have shown that there is considerable potential in the application of TEG devices. The immediate application to passenger cars is compelling because regulations are forcing car manufacturers to adopt and develop new technologies. In the longer term and depending on the cost of fuel, the kind of solutions we are proposing have a wider applicability in industrial processes.
Sectors Energy


including Industrial Biotechology


Description The research team has been able to demonstrate the performance of a thermoelectric generator through a combination of experimentation and the prediction of a computer model. The prediction was sufficiently robust that one of our industry partners has been able to proceed to further analysis of their own business prospects.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy,Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description EPSRC responsive mode
Amount £900,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K026658/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 04/2017
Description Energy Technology Partnership
Amount £83,000 (GBP)
Funding ID HW/001 
Organisation Energy Technology Partnership (ETP) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2011
Description Development of a business model for TEG applications in passenger cars 
Organisation Ricardo UK Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Definition of the analysis process, development of a modelling process for the application of thermoelectric generators to whole vehicle fleets, cost estimation for manufacturing of components and presentation of results.
Collaborator Contribution Discussions throughout the process. An initial discussion to set up the framework of the analysis process. Supply of data. Review of the vehicle and fleet modelling processes. Feedback on the results and assistance with the preparation of the next stage of development.
Impact Paper to be presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress (2017). (Involves mechanical engineering and business processes.)
Start Year 2016
Description Supply of design support for heat exchange 
Organisation Dana Incorporated
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Technical discussions; co-operation in design and test activity.
Collaborator Contribution Industry requirements; design expertise.
Impact Supply of parts in support of a test programme.
Start Year 2010