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Electrostatically Achieving Record Low Work Functions for Efficient Thermionic Energy Conversion

photo: Aquila cropped from Flickr

David Goldhaber-Gordon, Physics and, by courtesy, Applied Physics; Nick Melosh, Materials Science and Engineering and Photon Science

Professors Goldhaber-Gordon and Melosh plan to demonstrate the ability to achieve an ultra-low work function graphene anode, which when integrated into a thermionic device will be able to efficiently convert waste heat into useful energy.  As part of a distributed energy system this type of energy generation promises sustainable electric power without the need for expensive infrastructure.  Also, with the barrier to adoption low, a near term mass deployment is possible.  This is because residences and small buildings already have heating systems that could serve as distributed energy sources. The natural gas burner on a residential water heater is very hot at 1200 C – 1400 C, but much of its thermal energy is presently wasted.  Just 30% conversion efficiency of this waste heat from normal hot water use would satisfy all of a typical household’s electrical power needs.


Awarded 2015