Thermocouple Working Principle Explained | ENGINEERING STUDY MATERIALS
A thermocouple is an electrical device consisting of two dissimilar electrical conductors forming electrical junctions at differing temperatures. A thermocouple produces a temperature-dependent voltage as a result of the thermoelectric effect, and this voltage can be interpreted to measure temperature. Thermocouples are a widely used type of temperature sensor.
Commercial thermocouples are inexpensive, interchangeable, are supplied with standard connectors, and can measure a wide range of temperatures. In contrast to most other methods of temperature measurement, thermocouples are self powered and require no external form of excitation. The main limitation with thermocouples is accuracy; system errors of less than one degree Celsius (°C) can be difficult to achieve.
Thermocouples are widely used in science and industry. Applications include temperature measurement for kilns, gas turbine exhaust, diesel engines, and other industrial processes. Thermocouples are also used in homes, offices and businesses as the temperature sensors in thermostats, and also as flame sensors in safety devices for gas-powered appliances.
Principle of operation
In 1821, the German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck discovered that when different metals are joined at the ends and there is a temperature difference between the joints, a magnetic field is observed. At the time, Seebeck referred to this consequence as thermo-magnetism. The magnetic field he observed was later shown to be due to thermo-electric current. In practical use, the voltage generated at a single junction of two different types of wire is what is of interest as this can be used to measure temperature at very high and low temperatures. The magnitude of the voltage depends on the types of wire being used. Generally, the voltage is in the microvolt range and care must be taken to obtain a usable measurement. Although very little current flows, power can be generated by a single thermocouple junction. Power generation using multiple thermocouples, as in a thermopile, is common.
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