Thermionic energy conversion – a technology first developed in the 1950s to power spacecraft – could soon be significantly more efficient, thanks to two key innovations made by researchers in the US. The work is at an early stage, but the researchers believe that the technology could eventually produce electricity in situations where a traditional steam turbine would not be feasible. As well as making conventional power stations more efficient, the energy conversion could also lead to more environmentally friendly sources of electrical energy.
Team member Hongyuan Yuan says the device might eventually generate electricity from waste heat in the existing power infrastructure, reducing the amount of coal that needs to be burned, for example. It could also generate electricity from renewable sources such as geothermal or solar thermal energy, where a steam turbine would not be viable.