Thermionic energy conversion, transforming heat into electricity, was used in the 1950s to power Soviet space satellites. The space race threatened the West’s peace of mind, but today, Stanford University researchers are using graphene-assisted thermal energy to raise the world’s hopes for an improved source of low-cost, abundant renewable energy. In a process that’s seven times more efficient than the 1950s-era thermionic energy converters used to power the space race, researchers have unveiled a new prototype of the original technology that uses graphene instead of tungsten as a collector to convert heat into electricity.
Graphene is a far more efficient, lightweight and conductive material to harness the thermoelectric effect. This force, which directly converts temperature differences to electric voltage, has historically helped power much of the world through mechanical heat engines and turbines requiring large power facilities
“Engineering.com reports that the study’s lead researcher, Professor Roger Howe, says using graphene in the process could breathe new life the field of thermionic energy conversion — by improving electricity production and reducing environmental impacts of the process.”
“Per Engineering.com, Stanford researcher and lead paper author Hongyan Yuan explains: ‘TEC technology is very exciting. With improvement in the efficiency, we expect to see an enormous market for it. TECs could not only help make power stations more efficient, and therefore have a lower environmental impact, but they could be also applied in distributed systems like solar cells. In the future, we envisage it being possible to generate 1-2 kilowatts of electricity from water boilers, which could partially power your house.’”
Publication Journal: Howe, Roger T. et al., Back-gated graphene anode for more efficient thermionic energy converters, Nano Energy, Volume 32, February 2017, Pages 67–72