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Refractory Semiconductors for High Temperature Thermoelectric Energy Conversion*

  • Charles Wood (a1)

Thermoelectric energy conversion utilizing nuclear heat sources has been employed for several decades to generate power for deep space probes. In the past, lead telluride and, more recently, silicon-germanium alloys have been the prime choices as thermoelectric materials for this application. Currently, a number of refractory semiconductors are under investigation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in order to produce power sources of higher conversion efficiency and, thus, lower mass per unit of power output. Included amongst these materials are improved Si-Ge alloys, rare earth compounds and boron-rich borides. The criteria used to select thermoelectric materials, in general, and the above materials, in particular, will be discussed. The current state of the art and the accomplishments to date in thermoelectric materials research will be reviewed.

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The research described in this paper was carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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