Scientists from the University of California and Northrop Grumman Space Technology have developed a novel method for generating electrical power for deep-space travel using sound waves. The research, appearing in the journal Applied Physics Letters, suggests that the traveling-wave thermoacoustic electric generator could be used to power spacecraft venturing into the furthest reaches of the Universe.
Scientist Scott Backhaus and his Northrop Grumman colleagues, Emanuel Tward and Mike Petach say the traveling-wave engine/linear alternator system is similar to the current thermoelectric generators in that it uses heat from the decay of a radioactive fuel to generate electricity, but is more than twice as efficient. The new design is an improvement over current thermoelectric devices used for the generation of electricity aboard spacecraft. Such devices convert only 7 percent of the heat source energy into electricity. The traveling-wave engine converts 18 percent of the heat source energy into electricity.