Thermionic Energy Converters

With their collaborators, the Bargatin group has been developing MEMS-based prototypes of heat-to-electricity and solar-to-electricity energy converters that are based on evaporation of electrons from solid surfaces (thermionic effect). Such microfabricated thermionic energy converters (μ-TECs) can convert very high-temperature heat (>1000 C) directly to electricity. Microfabrication is the right manufacturing approach for thermionic energy converters because the optimal cathode–anode gap for TECs is in the range of 1–10 μm, which is highly suitable for MEMS-based fabrication processes. We have recently demonstrated a simple prototype of a mechanically and thermally robust encapsulated microfabricated thermionic energy converter (μ-TEC).