New materials for autonomous power systems

Launchers use MEMs based microsensor packs extensively to monitor numerous parameters from launch preparation through launch to flight.

Typically these require powers up to 100 mW. Limited cycle life and power densities (<0.1 kW/kg) however restricts existing batteries as a solution. Similarly, satellites require power sources able to operate under extreme conditions (e.g. low temperature). Solutions that provide lightweight and autonomous power for such applications are essential to further technological development.

Our approach

Either new batteries or alternative power sources are needed if the challenges of the extreme and demanding environments of space applications are to be addressed. Launchers (such as Ariane) require lightweight sensors that can operate at high temperatures whereas satellites demand power sources for usage at the opposite extremes.

Our research embraces 3 relevant and complementary technologies; hydrogen stores for micro fuel cells, nanoscale thermoelectrics and new Li-ion batteries.

We thus have the means of both harvesting (converting) and storing energy in extreme conditions allowing (a) development of sensors for next generation launchers; (b) prolonged and efficient operation of satellites and deep space probes.

What makes this research important?

We have the capability, with industrial partners, to provide novel power supplies and devices. Power–hungry systems demand more from materials with reduced weight, volume and increased lifetime. Rates of supply, charge and discharge are crucial and can be revolutionised via nano-materials and –device approaches.

A step change in thermoelectric efficiency would provide power from heat previously inaccessible. New H2 stores provide the means for high-efficiency fuel cells to be exploited in space for the first time.


  • Prof Duncan Gregory

Research theme