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MEMS-Based Thermionic Energy Converter for AC Power Output


Stanford Reference:

12-217


Abstract


Engineers in Prof. Roger Howe’s laboratory have designed a thermionic microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) energy converter that can be used to generate AC electric power directly from high temperature heat. This invention utilizes a model of thermionic current that depends on the gap between the microcathode and an underlying anode. The variation in current can be harnessed to produce AC power without the cost and complexity of the external inverter, which is needed to convert DC to AC power in conventional thermionic system. By eliminating the inverter, this technology simplifies the integration of thermionic converters (which are attractive for applications such as topping cycles in concentrated solar power plants) into the energy grid. This technology could also be used for natural gas-fired micro-cogeneration applications.

(a) Conceptual design for a thermionic converter element with a controllable gap to implement DC to AC conversion. A rectangular cathode is used in this embodiment to facilitate integration of the displacement actuators. The color indicates the temperature, varying from 1000 °C at the suspended cathode to 100 °C at the substrate. (b) Details of the displacement actuators. Bimorphs are incorporated into the suspension legs of the cathode on two opposite sides, creating an initial out-of-plane displacement of the cathode to the desired height after the release step. The vertical comb drives, incorporated into the other two opposite ends of the suspended cathode, are used to drive the suspended cathode at 60 Hz to modulate of the gap between the suspended cathode and the substrate anode.

Stage of Research
    A feasibility study of the actuator has been completed.
    A process has been designed to fabricate the integrated inverter.


Applications


  • Solar thermal energy - AC electricity production directly compatible with power grid
  • Natural gas electricity production - thermionic conversion for small-scale combined heat and power (e.g. water heaters)

Advantages


  • Reduced cost and complexity - potential to be implemented with simple blocking series capacitor compared to the large expense of a conventional external DC to AC inverter which costs ~$0.70/installed Watt

Publications



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Innovators & Portfolio



Patent Status



Date Released

 1/21/2015
 

Licensing Contact


Evan Elder, Licensing Associate
650-725-9558 (Mobile)
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Related Keywords


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