Thermoelectronic Generator Turns Heat, Light into Electricity
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 American Institute of Physics Publishing’s Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
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,” explains experimental solid-state physicist Jochen Mannhart of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, 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 says.
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