Achieve precision temperature control with TEC Seebeck-voltage sampling

Linear Technology LT1782

Stephen Woodward


TEC (thermoelectric-cooler) temperature-control systems often have limited stability. The causes of these limitations are the thermal properties of the system, not the performance of the control electronics. Real-world thermal-control systems incur nonzero thermal impedances in the heat-transfer paths between the TEC; the thermal load, which is the object of thermostasis; the temperature sensor – for example, a thermistor; and the ambient temperature.

If the ratios of these impedances don’t balance, then even perfect thermostasis of the sensor’s temperature doesn’t equate to adequate stability of the load’s temperature. The circuit in Figure 1 provides a thermoelectronic design that directly measures the heat flux through the TEC and then uses the measurement to better estimate and cancel the effects of thermal impedances. Its operation is based on the fact that the total voltage that every TEC develops is the sum of two components: an ohmic component proportional to drive current and the Seebeck voltage, VS, which is proportional to the temperature difference across the TEC and, therefore, to heat flux.

Точное управление температурой с помощью выборок напряжения Зеебека
Figure 1. This circuit periodically sets the thermoelectric cooler’s drive current to zero, sampling the Seebeck
voltage and holding it in a storage capacitor to achieve stable temperature control with real-world heat
sinks and thermocouples.

In this circuit, however, the drive current switches to zero approximately every 100 µsec because of the asymmetrical sample-pulse waveform that multivibrator S2/S3 generates. Each sample pulse turns off 5 V transistor Q1, which isolates the Seebeck voltage and allows its sampling through S1 and storage capacitor C1 to hold it. The duty factor of the sampling pulse, which the R1-to-R2 ratio sets, is less than 10% to avoid significantly reducing the TEC-drive capability of the circuit.

You apply the acquired Seebeck signal to the R3/R4/R5 adjustable-bridge circuit, which empirically determines the feedback ratio for both polarity and amplitude to provide best stability. With proper bridge adjustment, you can make gradient cancellation nearly perfect over a wide range of ambient temperatures. The TEC-control circuit in Figure 1 derives from a previous Design Idea because it eases the incorporation of Seebeck sampling (Reference 1). You can, however, adapt Seebeck sampling to virtually any TEC-drive topology. You can further enhance the circuit in Figure 1 by using nonvolatile, in-circuit-programmable resistors for the R3/R4/R5 bridge, automatically optimizing gradient cancellation. One attractive choice is the Rejustor family of monolithic resistors from Microbridge Technologies.


  1. Woodward, W Stephen, “Thermoelectric-cooler unipolar drive achieves stable temperatures,” EDN, Dec 3, 2007, pg 98.

Materials on the topic

  1. Datasheet Marlow NL1011T
  2. Datasheet Texas Instruments CD74HC4053
  3. Datasheet Linear Technology LT1782
  4. Datasheet Fairchild RFP30N06LE-ND
  5. Datasheet Infineon SPD50P03L


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