The first boom in the thermoelectric element occurred after RCA developed a prototype of a small refrigerator using thermoelectric elements in 1954. Then most of the major electronic manufacturers in USA such as GE and Westinghouse joined the development competition, and actively carried out development and trial manufacture of thermoelectric applied products aiming at commercialization. I would like to introduce a part of an article which was published in the magazine of'Air Conditioning and Refrigeration News' to have you realize the situation in those days. The title was'Thermoelectric Refrigeration Catches Nation's Interest' .
Discussion of thermoelectric refrigeration are no longer restricted to industrial circles. Consumer magazines, business journals, newspapers, even the Jack Paar television show are carrying news of this new technology and arousing public interest in its promises.
Then it introduced news from Detroit.
Westinghouse, in 1959, will market a thermoelectric appliance; In three to five years, something approaching the magnitude of a household refrigerator will be offered. Evans, who is manager of the section working on thermoelectric applications, emphasized at the Detroit Chapter of the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers that 'thermoelectric refrigeration is beyond the'maybe stage'. There is no question about its economic and technical feasibility for military use today--for domestic and commercial use soon.' On display at the meeting were the Westinghouse Hostess Cart and the Bottle Warmer-Cooler. The bottle device contains 50 thermo-elements, and the addition of more couples would permit it to pull down temperature faster, according to Evans.
We can also find other articles which told that' PITTSBURGH--Westinghouse Electric Corp. here is producing in commercial quantities, thermoelectric devices for industrial and military applications, it was disclosed here last week' ,' Westinghouse Electric Corp. is converting their compressor type refrigerator factory of 250,000 annual outputs to a thermoelectric refrigerator factory.' , and etc.. The enthusiasm and the expectation for the thermoelectric cooling in the United States at that time are strongly sensed.
These news prodded several Japanese companies including Komatsu towards the development of thermoelectric cooling technology as a dream device. Komatsu developed a domestic use air conditioner, a small refrigerator and a car air conditioner, but could not go forward to commercialize them because of the insufficient performance of the thermoelectric. Then we changed the emphasis to the development of industrial applications and introduced a low temperature isothermal bath, a dew point thermometer and a isothermal photographic developing pan to the market. A kit for the teaching materials was also offered for PR of the thermoelectric conversion. Sumitomo Electric Industries launched a thermoelectric cooler for the transistors in computers and seemed to have started the development of a drinking water cooler installed on the airplane. Sanyo Electric also entered into the thermoelectric cooler market with cooling cases for ampoules of various energy drinks and vitamin supplements at the drugstore. In around 1962, The Japanese Electronic Industry Development Association built a thermoelectric air conditioning room for demonstration of a 'dream room' at their office.
These activities showed how strongly the expectation for the thermoelectricity was raised in Japan. However, these dream products disappeared with time and the thermoelectric cooling went into the age of winter. The main reason was that the performance could not come up to the level of the compressor type cooling at all. (Please refer to the fourth story of the first volume)
The second boom started in around 1980, 26 years after the first boom. The time was in the middle of an economic bubble and people had a plenty of money to spend on consumables. Funny-ha-ha goods and little luxuries flooded the consumer market and many kinds of product planning that used thermoelectric elements were one after another brought into our company. They were variegated like a wine cellar, a head cooler, a wet towel cooler, a facial equipment, a dog cooler, a hot and cool moxibustion equipment and etc.. Everyone easily comes up with ideas of thermo-element applications when they observe the ceramic plate of the thermoelectric module rapidly cools down if it is powered. It may be said that the boom was an all comers marathon type. However, most of the applications developed during this time have disappeared with burst of the economic bubble.
We are now in the third boom which started in 2000. The boom seems to have been triggered by PC maniacs who tried to use the Peltier cooler for the CPU to increase the clock rate. Some products which were not successful and disappeared through the second boom made come back and are successful this time. One is a wine cellar by taking advantage of the wine drinking boom, and another is a soundless refrigerator for hotels and hospitals.
The boom is still continuing and various ideas for thermoelectric application will be introduced to the market from now. There is, however, a possibility that most of them have been developed and tried commercialization during the previous boom. If we can analyze the causes of the failures of those products and add some ingenuity to them from new viewpoints, it will be possible to revive them because the market trend has changed from the previous boom. In this sequel, we want to introduce what has been developed in the past and help you take a lesson from the past.