The technology under development is a patent-pending thermionic energy convertor (TEC). The concept is inspired by a cesium plasma diode technology, previously developed in the 1960s for space nuclear power but terminated along with the fizzling space initiative in the late 1970s. The company aims to complete curtailed efforts in taking the TEC from laboratory success to a commercialized product.
A traditional TEC heats a metal, called the emitter, to temperatures at which the metal evaporates its own electrons. These "hot" evaporated electrons are conducted across a small gap through a weakly ionized cesium vapor, then condense on a "cold" collector. If the emitter and collector are connected across an electrical load, the electrodes may drive a circuit, thus producing electricity from the heat source. This process is analogous to the Rankine Cycle, where the electrons, themselves, are the working fluid in a TEC and need no machinery to transform their energy as conventional steam Rankine Cycle power systems do.
The main advantages of thermionic energy converters are their compact size, high power density, and no moving parts operation. These devices have little to no operational expenses and can survive in very harsh environments.
Atlas Energy Systems is leveraging techniques in Cs vapor additives and advanced grooved emitter fabrication to achieve optimal converter performance at a range of temperatures not seen in previous devices. The company plans to use newly available advanced manufacturing techniques for mass production of a grooved emitter and self managing cesium-oxygen reservoir system to accomplish this. Bringing this new capability to the technology is the necessary step in taking TECs from a laboratory technology to a commercialized product.