Speaker Interview: Suraj Rawal, Technical Fellow, Lockheed Martin Space

Suraj RawaiWith the Ceramics Expo Conference just around the corner, we spoke to speaker Suraj Rawal, Technical Fellow at Lockheed Martin Space about the use of lithium-based ceramics in solid state batteries. Suraj will be talking on the ‘Innovative Applications of Ceramics for Thermal Management’ session on Track 1, Tuesday April 30 at 3:00pm. 

Recent advances in materials science and device engineering have led to breakthroughs in thermal-to-electrical conversion efficiency. Of the different thermal-to-electric energy conversion approaches, Suraj Rawal’s presentation will discuss the use of high-temperature (~700ºC–1,000ºC/1,290°F–1,830°F) thermoelectric (TE) devices for converting heat to electricity without moving parts. There will be a brief overview of the high-temperature TE materials and discussion around the challenges in the development of TE modules, specifically the integration and assembly procedures. More specifically, the presentation includes a few details of design, fabrication and testing of the multi-couple TE modules consisting of n- and p-type half-Heusler materials. 

Can you start by telling us about your role at Lockheed Martin and what it entails?

I am Technical Fellow at the Advanced Technology Center, Lockheed Martin Space, and am involved in areas of high-temperature materials and structures including ceramics and ceramic matrix composites, advanced composite materials, additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, and energy harvesting.

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 105,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. I have been fortunate to have been at Lockheed Martin Space, and be involved in the research and development of new technology solutions for different spacecraft subsystems. At Lockheed Martin, we design and deliver spacecraft for defense, NASA and commercial applications. The avionic subsystem of each platform uses electronic components made from ceramics.


What trends within the aerospace industry do you see as being particularly interesting at the moment?

One area involves solid state batteries using lithium-based ceramics both for commercial and aerospace applications. Rechargeable batteries or safe and reliable batteries offer disruptive technology landscapes for such a diverse application spectrum. Whoever can provide the best battery performance metrics will impact a multi-billion dollar market from the commercial arena to the defense industry. This is something that has been on the wish list of nearly all developers.

Also of interest are the emerging trends and the pace of developments in digital design and manufacturing technologies, and the challenges and opportunities in the development of ultra-high temperature ceramics and high entropy alloys.


What are you looking forward to hearing more about at Ceramics Expo 2019?

I have never seen so many ceramic industry exhibitors under one roof at one expo. Often, I have learnt about applications which I did not know about and it’s proved to be a very educational experience. Ceramics Expo provides a unique venue to, firstly, learn about advances in ceramic materials for diverse applications and, secondly, discover the capabilities of the entire ceramic industry under one roof!


What advice would you give to new members of the aerospace industry given your success and experience?

Aerospace systems provide unique challenges and opportunities for each engineer. Each aerospace platform has some commonality of different subsystem in respective platforms such as avionics/software, thermal/structural, propulsion, power and guidance and navigation. In the spacecraft industry there are several satellites which are one of a kind to perform a specific mission. Now with emerging constellations of smallsats being designed and built at different levels, the opportunities to enter the space industry have increased.

The other advice I’d give to new entrants is to keep the enthusiasm and avail yourself of all the opportunities to learn and innovate. I have been very fortunate to get external contract R&D and internal R&D support to develop new technologies and find an opportunity to transition into real spacecraft. One should find a good mentor, and try to learn as much from their experience and stay engaged to enjoy and contribute.

Don't miss Suraj speak on the ‘Innovative Applications of Ceramics for Thermal Management’ session on Track 1, Tuesday April 30 at 3:00pm.