Optimizing solution chemistry and the addition of titania and fumed silica powder reduces shrinkage. These materials would serve to increase thermal efficiency by providing thermal insulation to suppress lateral heat leaks. They would also serve to prolong operational lifetime by suppressing sublimation of certain constituents of thermoelectric materials (e.g., sublimation of Sb from CoSb3) at typical high operating temperatures. [The use of pure silica aerogels as cast-in-place thermal-insulation and sublimation-suppression materials was described in “Aerogels for Thermal Insulation of Thermoelectric Devices” (NPO-40630), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 30, No. 7 (July 2006), page 50.]
A silica aerogel is synthesized in a solgel process that includes preparation of a silica sol, gelation of the sol, and drying of the gel in a solvent at a supercritical temperature and pressure. The utility of pure silica aerogel is diminished by a tendency to shrink (and, therefore, also to crack) during the gelation and supercritical-drying stages. Moreover, to increase suppression of sublimation, it is advantageous to make an aerogel having greater density, but shrinkage and cracking tend to increase with density.
A composite material of the type under investigation consists mostly of titania oxide powder particles and a small addition of fumed silica powder, which are mixed into the sol along with other ingredients prior to the gelation stage of processing. The silica aerogel and fumed silica act as a binder, gluing the titania particles together. It is believed that the addition of fumed silica stiffens the aerogel network and reduces shrinkage during the supercritical-drying stage. Minimization of shrinkage enables establishment of intimate contact between thermoelectric legs and the composite material, thereby maximizing the effectiveness of the material for thermal insulation and suppression of sublimation.
To some extent, the properties of the composite can be tailored via the proportions of titania and other ingredients. In particular (see figure), the addition of a suitably large proportion of titania (e.g., 0.6 g/cm3) along with a 10-percent increase in the amount of tetraethylorthosilicate [TEOS (an ingredient of the sol)] to an aerogel component having a density 40 mg/cm3 makes it possible to cast a high-average-density (>0.1 g/cm3) aerogel/particle composite having low shrinkage (2.3 percent).
This work was done by Jong-Ah Paik, Jeffrey Sakamoto, and Steven Jones of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials category. In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention.
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Refer to NPO-42031, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.