Thermocouples


Types

Certain combinations of alloys have become popular as industry standards. Selection of the combination is driven by cost, availability, convenience, melting point, chemical properties, stability, and output. Different types are best suited for different applications. They are usually selected based on the temperature range and sensitivity needed. Thermocouples with low sensitivities (B, R, and S types) have correspondingly lower resolutions. Other selection criteria include the inertness of the thermocouple material, and whether it is magnetic or not. Standard thermocouple types are listed below with the positive electrode first, followed by the negative electrode.

K

Type K (chromel{90 percent nickel and 10 percent chromium}–alumel)(Alumel consisting of 95% nickel, 2% manganese, 2% aluminium and 1% silicon) is the most common general purpose thermocouple with a sensitivity of approximately 41 µV/°C, chromel positive relative to alumel. It is inexpensive, and a wide variety of probes are available in its −200 °C to +1350 °C / -328 °F to +2462 °F range. Type K was specified at a time when metallurgy was less advanced than it is today, and consequently characteristics vary considerably between samples. One of the constituent metals, nickel, is magnetic; a characteristic of thermocouples made with magnetic material is that they undergo a step change in output when the magnetic material reaches its Curie point (around 354 °C for type K thermocouples).

E

Type E (chromel–constantan) has a high output (68 µV/°C) which makes it well suited to cryogenic use. Additionally, it is non-magnetic.

J

Type J (iron–constantan) has a more restricted range than type K (−40 to +750 °C), but higher sensitivity of about 55 µV/°C. causes an abrupt change in the characteristic, which determines the upper temperature limit.

N

Type N (Nicrosil–Nisil) (Nickel-Chromium-Silicon/Nickel-Silicon) thermocouples are suitable for use at high temperatures, exceeding 1200 °C, due to their stability and ability to resist high temperature oxidation. Sensitivity is about 39 µV/°C at 900 °C, slightly lower than type K. Designed to be an improved type K, it is becoming more popular.

Platinum types B, R, and S

Types B, R, and S thermocouples use platinum or a platinum–rhodium alloy for each conductor. These are among the most stable thermocouples, but have lower sensitivity than other types, approximately 10 µV/°C. Type B, R, and S thermocouples are usually used only for high temperature measurements due to their high cost and low sensitivity.

B

Type B thermocouples use a platinum–rhodium alloy for each conductor. One conductor contains 30% rhodium while the other conductor contains 6% rhodium. These thermocouples are suited for use at up to 1800 °C. Type B thermocouples produce the same output at 0 °C and 42 °C, limiting their use below about 50 °C.

R

Type R thermocouples use a platinum–rhodium alloy containing 13% rhodium for one conductor and pure platinum for the other conductor. Type R thermocouples are used up to 1600 °C.

S

Type S thermocouples are constructed using one wire of 90% Platinum and 10% Rhodium (the positive or "+" wire) and a second wire of 100% platinum (the negative or "-" wire). Like type R, type S thermocouples are used up to 1600 °C. In particular, type S is used as the standard of calibration for the melting point of gold (1064.43 °C).

T

Type T (copper–constantan) thermocouples are suited for measurements in the −200 to 350 °C range. Often used as a differential measurement since only copper wire touches the probes. Since both conductors are non-magnetic, there is no Curie point and thus no abrupt change in characteristics. Type T thermocouples have a sensitivity of about 43 µV/°C.

C

Type C (tungsten 5% rhenium – tungsten 26% rhenium) thermocouples are suited for measurements in the 0 °C to 2320 °C range. This thermocouple is well-suited for vacuum furnaces at extremely high temperatures. It must never be used in the presence of oxygen at temperatures above 260 °C.

M

Type M thermocouples use a nickel alloy for each wire. The positive wire contains 18% molybdenum while the negative wire contains 0.8% cobalt. These thermocouples are used in vacuum furnaces for the same reasons as with type C. Upper temperature is limited to 1400 °C. It is less commonly used than other types.

Chromel-gold/iron

In chromel-gold/iron thermocouples, the positive wire is chromel and the negative wire is gold with a small fraction (0.03–0.15 atom percent) of iron. It can be used for cryogenics|cryogenic applications (1.2–300 K and even up to 600 K). Both the sensitivity and the temperature range depends on the iron concentration. The sensitivity is typically around 15 µV/K at low temperatures and the lowest usable temperature varies between 1.2 and 4.2 K.

Thermocouple comparison

The table below describes properties of several different thermocouple types. Within the tolerance columns, T represents the temperature of the hot junction, in degrees Celsius. For example, a thermocouple with a tolerance of ±0.0025×T would have a tolerance of ±2.5 °C at 1000 °C.

Type Temperature range °C (continuous) Temperature range °C (short term) Tolerance class one (°C) Tolerance class two (°C)
K 0 to +1100 −180 to +1300 ±1.5 between −40 °C and 375 °C
±0.004×T between 375 °C and 1000 °C
±2.5 between −40 °C and 333 °C
±0.0075×T between 333 °C and 1200 °C
J 0 to +700 −180 to +800 ±1.5 between −40 °C and 375 °C
±0.004×T between 375 °C and 750 °C
±2.5 between −40 °C and 333 °C
±0.0075×T between 333 °C and 750 °C
N 0 to +1100 −270 to +1300 ±1.5 between −40 °C and 375 °C
±0.004×T between 375 °C and 1000 °C
±2.5 between −40 °C and 333 °C
±0.0075×T between 333 °C and 1200 °C
R 0 to +1600 −50 to +1700 ±1.0 between 0 °C and 1100 °C
±[1 + 0.003×(T − 1100)] between 1100 °C and 1600 °C
±1.5 between 0 °C and 600 °C
±0.0025×T between 600 °C and 1600 °C
S 0 to 1600 −50 to +1750 ±1.0 between 0 °C and 1100 °C
±[1 + 0.003×(T − 1100)] between 1100 °C and 1600 °C
±1.5 between 0 °C and 600 °C
±0.0025×T between 600 °C and 1600 °C
B +200 to +1700 0 to +1820 Not Available ±0.0025×T between 600 °C and 1700 °C
T −185 to +300 −250 to +400 ±0.5 between −40 °C and 125 °C
±0.004×T between 125 °C and 350 °C
±1.0 between −40 °C and 133 °C
±0.0075×T between 133 °C and 350 °C
E 0 to +800 −40 to +900 ±1.5 between −40 °C and 375 °C
±0.004×T between 375 °C and 800 °C
±2.5 between −40 °C and 333 °C
±0.0075×T between 333 °C and 900 °C
Chromel/AuFe −272 to +300 n/a Reproducibility 0.2% of the voltage; each sensor needs individual calibration.


Four wire thermocouples

Why?

Laws for thermocouples

Law of homogeneous material

A thermoelectric current cannot be sustained in a circuit of a single homogeneous material by the application of heat alone, regardless of how it might vary in cross section. In other words, temperature changes in the wiring between the input and output do not affect the output voltage, provided all wires are made of the same materials as the thermocouple.

Law of intermediate materials

The algebraic sum of the thermoelectric forces in a circuit composed of any number of dissimilar materials is zero if all of the junctions are at a uniform temperature. So If a third metal is inserted in either wire and if the two new junctions are at the same temperature, there will be no net voltage generated by the new metal.

Cold junction compensation

Thermocouples measure the temperature difference between two points, not absolute temperature. To measure a single temperature one of the junctions—normally the cold junction—is maintained at a known reference temperature, and the other junction is at the temperature to be sensed.

Having a junction of known temperature, while useful for laboratory calibration, is not convenient for most measurement and control applications. Instead, they incorporate an artificial cold junction using a thermally sensitive device such as a thermistor or diode to measure the temperature of the input connections at the instrument, with special care being taken to minimize any temperature gradient between terminals. Hence, the voltage from a known cold junction can be simulated, and the appropriate correction applied. This is known as cold junction compensation. Some integrated circuits such as the LT1025 are designed to output a compensated voltage based on thermocouple type and cold junction temperature.

A detail worth noting: the EMF (or voltage) is NOT generated at the junction of the two metals of the thermocouple but rather along that portion of the length of the two dissimilar metals that is subjected to a temperature gradient. Thermocouples work because heat creates a thermoelectric voltage in a wire. This is the Seebeck effect. Anywhere there is a temperature gradient, there will be a voltage because electrons want to flow from hot to cold. The voltage value per degree temperature difference is the Seebeck coefficient which depends on the characteristics of the specific wire alloy.

Alternatively cold junction compensation can be performed by computation using look-up tables or polynomial computation.

Power production

A thermocouple can produce current, which means it can be used to drive some processes directly, without the need for extra circuitry and power sources. For example, the power from a thermocouple can activate a valve when a temperature difference arises. The electrical energy generated by a thermocouple is converted from the heat which must be supplied to the hot side to maintain the electric potential. A continuous flow of heat is necessary because the current flowing through the thermocouple tends to cause the hot side to cool down and the cold side to heat up (the Peltier effect).

Thermocouples can be connected in series to form a thermopile, where all the hot junctions are exposed to a higher and all the cold junctions to a lower temperature. The output is the sum of the voltages across the individual junctions, giving larger voltage and power output.

Grades

Thermocouple wire is available in several different metallurgical formulations per type, typically, in decreasing levels of accuracy and cost: special limits of error, standard, and extension grades.

Law of successive or intermediate temperatures

If two dissimilar homogeneous materials produce thermal emf1 when the junctions are at T1 and T2 and produce thermal emf2 when the junctions are at T2 and T3 , the emf generated when the junctions are at T1 and T3 will be emf1 + emf2 .

Disclaimer

This information may have errors; It is not permissible to be read by anyone who has ever met a lawyer.
Use is confined to Engineers with more than 370 course hours of electronic engineering for theoretical studies.
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