MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Thermoelectric Materials for Space and Automotive Power Generation

Jihui Yang and Thierry Caillat


Historically, thermoelectric technology has only occupied niche areas, such as the radioisotope thermoelectric generators for NASA's spacecrafts, where the low cooling coefficient of performance (COP) and energy-conversion efficiency are outweighed by the application requirements.Recent materials advances and an increasing awareness of energy and environmental conservation issues have rekindled prospects for automotive and other applications of thermoelectric materials.This article reviews thermoelectric energy-conversion technology for radioisotope space power systems and several proposed applications of thermoelectric waste-heat recovery devices in the automotive industry.


  • thermal conductivity;
  • thermoelectricity

Jihui Yang is a staff research scientist in the Materials and Processes Laboratory at General Motors Research and Development Center.

He received a BS degree in physics from Fudan University of China in 1989, an MS degree in physics from the University of Oregon in 1991, an MS degree in radiological physics from Wayne State University in 1994, and a PhD degree in physics from the University of Michigan in 2000. His research interests include low-temperature transport properties of intermetallic compounds and semiconductors, magnetism, thermoelectric materials, and the development of thermoelectric technology for automotive applications.

Yang has published several book chapters and more than 30 papers. He was the recipient of the GM DEGS fellowship in 1997 and the Kent M. Terwilliger Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis from the Physics Department of the University of Michigan in 2001. He has served on various committees for APS and the Materials Research Society and organized several symposia for MRS and ACerS. He was also elected to the board of directors of the International Thermoelectric Society in 2005.

Yang can be reached at General Motors Research and Development Center, Mail Code 480-106-224, 30500 Mound Road, Warren, MI 48090, USA; tel. 586-986-9789 and e-mail

Thierry Caillat is a senior member of technical staff with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. He received his PhD degree in materials science from the National Polytechnique Institute of Lorraine, France, in 1991. He then received a National Research Council fellowship to study new materials for thermoelectric applications at JPL. He joined the permanent staff at JPL in 1994. Caillat's primary research interests have focused on the identification and development of new thermoelectric materials and devices. In the last ten years, he has played a key role in identifying several families of promising compounds for thermoelectric applications, including skutterudites and â-Zn4Sb3–based materials. More recently, he has been involved in the development of advanced thermoelectric power-generation devices for both space and terrestrial applications.

Caillat has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications, given more than 40 invited presentations, and served on numerous national and international organization committees and panels. He was also a board member of the International Thermoelectric Society from 1996 to 2005.

Caillat can be reached at the California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 277/207, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA; tel. 818-354-0407 and e-mail thierry.