Thermionic Wave Generator (TWG)

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Direct conversion of thermal energy (heat) to electricity.

In collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), we have developed a proof-of-concept (TRL 5, as defined by DOE/NASA), electronic, wafer fabricated device for cheap, efficient direct conversion of thermal energy (heat) to electricity. We anticipate fully-scaled TRL 6 by end of July 2020.

This solid-state technology provides output energy, power density and fuel efficiency in the range of large, high-speed turbines, while delivering radical differences in cost, size, weight, scalability, manufacture and distribution, and fuel source. It will work across the spectrum of energy applications — residential through industrial and transportation.

  • No moving parts or working fluid.
  • Weigh a small fraction of comparable turbines.
  • Capitalization and production cost a tiny fraction of turbines, fuel cells.
  • Distributed fabrication at local levels, by small to medium size businesses.
  • TWGs scale in size from small appliances to transport to stationary Mega-Watt outputs.
  • Thermally agnostic: solar, H2, ammonia, NG, LNG, geothermal, radioisotope, etc.
  • Depending on thermal source, TWGs can operate with low to zero carbon footprint.
  • Rapid, clear path to market entry, with low capitalization.

TWG (U.S. Patent No. 10,388,496) differs substantially from other art by using an electrode architecture system similar to an electron gun for focusing emitted thermions into a controlled wave, and a transducer for extracting energy from the wave. This design strategy permits greatly increased output levels at low fabrication costs. The team works with newly available, ultra-low work function materials, as well as metallic discs with nano-scale geometric architectures currently under development at Argonne National Laboratory.

Relevance and Outcomes
Direct thermal to electrical energy conversion systems that can operate at lower temperatures (800–1200 °C) with initial high (30+%) to optimized ultra-high efficiency (>65%). Integrated into a combined heat and power (CHP) system could transform power generation at a range of scales (e.g., from kW–MW) at >95% efficiency.

Working prototypes have validated the performance engineering model, providing confidence that targeted engineering parameters will meet stated requirements. 18 – 24 month from ramp-up timeline to project completion.

  • Awards

  • 2020 Sustainable Technologies/Future Energy Honorable Mention
  • 2020 Top 100 Entries


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  • Name:
    John Read
  • Type of entry:
    Team members:
    John Read, Devin Vollmer, Todd Mitchell
  • Profession:
  • John is inspired by:
    Provide the world with clean, cheap, safe, independent electricity at all scales.
  • Software used for this entry:
    COMSOL, SolidWorks
  • Patent status: