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Alpha-Voltaic Sources Using Liquid Ga as Conversion MediumA family of proposed miniature sources of power would exploit the direct conversion of the kinetic energy of alpha particles into electricity. In addition to having long operational lives, these sources are expected to operate with energy-conversion efficiencies from 70 to 90 percent. A power source as proposed (see figure) would be an electrolytic cell in which liquid gallium would serve as both an electrolyte and an energy-conversion medium. The cell would contain an iridium cathode and a zirconium anode. The alpha particles, each with a kinetic energy approx.5.8 MeV, would be emitted by radioactive decay of Cm-244, which has a half-life of 18 years. The Cm-244 source would be positioned so that the a particles would enter the liquid gallium, where their kinetic energy would be dissipated mostly through ionization of Ga atoms, creating Ga(+) ions and free electrons. The electrons would be collected by iridium cathode, and the Ga(+) ions would be neutralized at the zirconium cathode by electrons returning after flowing through an external circuit. Gallium is a candidate for use as the electrolyte and the energy-conversion medium because in the liquid state it is a semimetal: its electrical conductivity is greater than that of a typical semiconductor but small in comparison with the conductivities of metals. Consequently, in liquid gallium, electrons and Ga(+) can exist without immediate recombination and can be moved by electric fields. It is expected that electric fields, resulting at least partly from the difference between the work functions of the electrode metals, would move the electrons and ions to their respective electrodes. The open-circuit potential of the cell is expected to be 1.62 V - equal to the difference between the work functions of iridium and zirconium. Unlike in a solid-state energy conversion medium, the impingement of energetic a particles would not give rise to displacement damage in the liquid gallium. Hence, the cell should have a long life, limited only by the half-life of Cm-244. A cell having a volume less than 25 cu mm, containing 1 curie of Cm-244 (the curie is a unit of radioactivity equal to 3.7 10(exp 10) disintegrations per second) is expected to deliver a current between 7 and 12 mA, which, at the expected open-circuit potential, would provide a power in the approximate range of 11 to 20 mW.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Document Type
Other - NASA Tech Brief
Patel, Jagdish U.
(California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Fleurial, Jean-Pierre
(California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Snyder, G. Jeffrey
(California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
July 1, 2006
Publication Information
Publication: NASA Tech Briefs, July 2006
Subject Category
Man/System Technology And Life Support
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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