Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) have been an enabling technology for the exploration of deep space since the dawn of the Space Age. Since its first deployment in a meteorological satellite in the late 1960's, RTGs have been used to provide solid-state, maintenance-free power to 27 American spacecraft and scientific instruments. While showing great success in the past, the future usage of thermoelectric devices is limited by the low operating efficiencies and the use of hazardous or expensive materials, limiting the use of thermoelectric technologies to niche applications such as space exploration. Current research efforts that address these disadvantages have focused on the creation of nanostructured materials, where the thermoelectric properties can be finely tuned and quantum mechanics can offer properties not observed in traditional materials. The present work begins to look at the prospects of nanostructured polymer-derived ceramic (PDC) systems for their future use in thermoelectric devices. Such a system could provide not only a lightweight, environmentally friendly alternative to the aerospace industry, but it could also find application on Earth in renewable energy technologies. To begin the process of developing such a polymer-based system for bulk thermoelectric materials, this dissertation has investigated the prospects of utilizing graphene networks encased in a silicon oxycarbide (SiOC) matrix. The effects of graphene content and synthesis route on the resulting material properties of SiOC nanocomposites are explored. The structural, thermal, electrical, and mechanical properties of these systems are presented and discussed. This early-stage research on the development of SiOC ceramics for thermoelectric materials concludes with lessons learned and future directions that can be taken towards the successful development of polymer derived ceramics for thermoelectric applications.


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Graduation Date





Zhai, Lei


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Materials Science and Engineering

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering




CFE0008297; DP0023734





Release Date

December 2021

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Restricted to the UCF community until December 2021; it will then be open access.