The Department of Energy (DOE) is developing Thermoelectric Generators (TEG's) to harvest automobile engine waste heat directly to electricity. The objective is the commercial introduction of TEG's in the Chevy Volt, Chevy Suburban, Ford Fusion and BMW X6 . Production prototype TEG' s installed in vehicles are in test. First generation TEG's will provide a 5 percent on highway fuel economy gain.
Competitively contracts were awarded to teams headed by Ford and GM to develop automotive thermoelectric air conditioner/heater (TE HVAC). This approach uses the Zonal concept to maintain occupant comfort as opposed to cooling/heating the whole cabin. Analytically TE HVAC cools one occupant with 630 Watts while the compressed refrigerant gas systems use 3500 to 4500 Watts.The current refrigerant gas, R134a, has 1300 times the "greenhouse gas effect" as carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas.
The DOE jointly with the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded 9 contracts to Universities teamed with an industrial partner to improve thermoelectric performance.
The Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Program is developing more energy efficient and environmentally friendly highway transportation technologies that will reduce petroleum usage while minimizing emissions. The long-term aim is to develop "leap frog" technologies that will provide Americans with greater freedom of mobility and energy security, while lowering costs and reducing impacts on the environment. Thermoelectrics is one of these emerging "green automotive technologies".