Asher Grant recipient: ASRI member, Prof. Yaron Amouyal
ASRI member Prof. Yaron Amouyal from the Department of Materials Engineering is one of this year's Asher Grant recipients, for his research on Thermoelectric materials. Thermoelectric (TE) technology enables conversion of waste heat into useful electrical power as well as solid-state cooling. TE materials are employed in several niches, among them are space applications.
The Technion Thermoelectric Materials Research Group (https://amouyal.net.technion.ac.il/) develops new materials for TE energy conversion by designing their thermal and electronic transport properties employing microstructure modifications. Herein, we focus on application of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for electrical power supply for either space rovers or deep space missions, where solar energy is unavailable. By conversion of heat emitted from long-lifetime radioactive isotope sources, RTGs are able to power the electronic systems of such rovers, e.g. NASA’s land rover Perseverance, which landed on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.
RTGs, however, exhibit conversion efficiencies of only 3-7% and can supply power levels around 100-200 W, where much power is lost via excess heat through radiation fins. The electrical power output is a function of the thermal properties and geometric design of the RTG package, the temperature of each junction, and the electronic and thermal transport properties of the TE materials. Enhancing the conversion efficiency of RTGs together with extending their lifetimes are the most desirable goals involving materials research.
We develop lead-telluride (PbTe) based compounds with improved transport properties, focusing on a combined experimental and computational study of the kinetics of microstructure evolutionin Ag- and Cu-alloyed PbTe, which is expected to guide us in design of improved, thermally-stable RTGs for space applications.