Miniaturized radioisotope solid state power sources

Fleurial, J.-P.; Snyder, G. J.; Patel, J.; Herman, J. A.; Caillat, T.; Nesmith, B.; Kolawa, E. A.
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p1500
Academic Journal
Electrical power requirements for the next generation of deep space missions cover a wide range from the kilowatt to the milliwatt. Several of these missions call for the development of compact, low weight, long life, rugged power sources capable of delivering a few milliwatts up to a couple of watts while operating in harsh environments. Advanced solid state thermoelectric microdevices combined with radioisotope heat sources and energy storage devices such as capacitors are ideally suited for these applications. By making use of macroscopic film technology, microgenrators operating across relatively small temperature differences can be conceptualized for a variety of high heat flux or low heat flux heat source configurations. Moreover, by shrinking the size of the thermoelements and increasing their number to several thousands in a single structure, these devices can generate high voltages even at low power outputs that are more compatible with electronic components. Because the miniaturization of state-of-the-art thermoelectric module technology based on Bi[sub 2]Te[sub 3] alloys is limited due to mechanical and manufacturing constraints, we are developing novel microdevices using integrated-circuit type fabrication processes, electrochemical deposition techniques and high thermal conductivity substrate materials. One power source concept is based on several thermoelectric microgenerator modules that are tightly integrated with a 1.1W Radioisotope Heater Unit. Such a system could deliver up to 50mW of electrical power in a small lightweight package of approximately 50 to 60g and 30cm3. An even higher degree of miniaturization and high specific power values (mW/mm3) can be obtained when considering the potential use of radioisotope materials for an alpha-voltaic or a hybrid thermoelectric/alpha-voltaic power source. Some of the technical challenges associated with these concepts are discussed in this paper. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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