New highly efficient thermoelectronic generator


Through a process known as thermionic conversion, heat energy—such as light from the sun or heat from burned fossil fuels—can be converted into electricity with very high efficiency. Because of its promise, researchers have been trying for more than half a century to develop a practical thermionic generator, with little luck. That luck may soon change, thanks to a new design—dubbed a thermoelectronic generator—described in AIP Publishing’s Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy (JRSE).

Thermionic generators use the temperature difference between a hot and a cold metallic plate to create electricity. “Electrons are evaporated or kicked out by light from the hot plate, then driven to the cold plate, where they condense,” explained experimental solid-state physicist Jochen Mannhart of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, the lead author of the JRSE paper. The resulting charge difference between the two plates yields a voltage that, in turn, drives an electric current, “without moving mechanical parts,” he said.

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