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Thermoelectric cooling uses the Peltier effect to create a heat flux between the junction of two different types of materials. A Peltier cooler, heater, or thermoelectric heat pump is a solid-state active heat pump which transfers heat from one side of the device to the other, with consumption of electrical energy, depending on the direction of the current. Such an instrument is also called a Peltier device, Peltier heat pump, solid state refrigerator, or thermoelectric cooler (TEC). They can be used either for heating or for cooling (refrigeration), although in practice the main application is cooling. It can also be used as a temperature controller that either heats or cools.
This technology is far less commonly applied to refrigeration than vapor-compression refrigeration is. The main advantages of a Peltier cooler (compared to a vapor-compression refrigerator) are its lack of moving parts or circulating liquid, and its small size and flexible shape (form factor). Its main disadvantage is that it cannot simultaneously have low cost and high power efficiency. Many researchers and companies are trying to develop Peltier coolers that are both cheap and efficient. (See Thermoelectric materials.)
A Peltier cooler can also be used as a thermoelectric generator. When operated as a cooler, a voltage is applied across the device, and as a result, a difference in temperature will build up between the two sides. When operated as a generator, one side of the device is heated to a temperature greater than the other side, and as a result, a difference in voltage will build up between the two sides (the Seebeck effect). However, a well-designed Peltier cooler will be a mediocre thermoelectric generator and vice-versa, due to different design and packaging requirements.