The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is far-reaching, as successful demonstration of a TEC-SOFC generator will significantly benefit numerous civilian and military sectors, and also encourage further scientific research into this innovative power generation method. The aging U.S. electrical grid, which lacks sufficient redundancy and can leave the country susceptible to cascading blackouts, provides clear motivation for pursuing efficient, safe, and reliable power generation schemes. A TEC-SOFC generator could serve as an onsite generator for residential or industrial applications, eliminating consumer dependency on the current U.S. electrical grid. When fueled by natural gas, preliminary estimates indicate power production at 1/20th the cost of purchasing from the grid, while producing significantly less greenhouse gas emission than current fossil-fuel based approaches. Additionally, this portable technology would immediately benefit the military as a tactical electric generator due to its greatly improved fuel efficiency over existing generator designs. Calculations suggest that widespread adoption of TEC-SOFC generators by the military could reduce fuel-associated costs by 60%. Beneficial scientific impacts from this research are expected to include a more detailed understanding of the thermionic emission performance from advanced cathode materials, so that a range of practical TEC devices can be scientifically realized and commercialized.

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project seeks to develop a novel, highly efficient power generation technology particularly suited for small-scale, mobile, and off-grid type applications. This proprietary technology involves the combination of thermionic energy conversion (TEC) and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)?two highly efficient technologies?to create a generator with prospects of: 1) Greatly improved fuel efficiency, 2) Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and 3) Cheaper operating costs. Because the resulting TEC-SOFC generator is based on well-established physical and engineering principles, we anticipate rapid product development (

Project Report

IOP Technologies (IOP) has completed the NSF Phase I SBIR research for the projected entitled: Examination of Diamond Cathodes to Advance Thermionic Energy Conversion-Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Technology for Use in Onsite, DC, Power Generation Needs. Under the guidance of the Principal Investigator, Dr. Nicholas Hooten, IOP’s engineers and subcontracting partner, the Vanderbilt Microelectronics Laboratory (VML), have made significant advancements in the field of thermionic energy conversion (TEC) that meet or exceed the goals described in the Phase I SBIR proposal. During this research, engineers at IOP Technologies have validated their original hypothesis that operation of diamond cathodes in hydrogen-containing gaseous environment allow for vastly improved performance compared with vacuum operation. The power output levels of ~1mW/cm2 at temperatures on the order of 1000oC are believed to be the highest ever reported from any TEC implementation. This progress has IOP well-positioned to pursue further development of this novel power generation concept and advance it toward commercialization during Phase II and beyond. Though decades of work has gone towards advancing TEC to fulfill it’s potential with only marginal success, the results found during this Phase I SBIR research appear to indicate that this highly capable team has overcome many of the limitations of those past attempts. IOP is extremely confident that with additional support from the NSF and the private investment community, TEC could have substantial impacts in the energy sector. IOP has already been in employment talks with several, highly qualified TEC experts and with their help, IOP anticipates a product could be ready for commercialization within two years. In addition to advancing this novel TEC concept, the several findings made during this research will likely be beneficial to many other researchers in the field. Thus, IOP is currently preparing multiple manuscripts describing the results of this research for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
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Muralidharan S. Nair
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Iop Technologies LLC
United States
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