The technology being developed is a patent-pending plasma direct energy conversion mechanism. The concept is based on two technologies developed by NASA in the 1970s and the Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s; a plasma-to-electricity converter and a nuclear pumped laser respectively. By combining the energy converting mechanism of the former with the nuclear plasma excitation of the latter, Atlas Energy Systems realizes the Nuclear Excited Plasma Energy Converter (NEPEC) device.
The NEPEC utilizes ionizing particles to create a plasma, then extracts energy from the high temperature electrons produced in this plasma; the extraction is accomplished via two electrodes of dissimilar work functions electrically connected across a load. Free electrons will deposit unequally on the two electrodes, which drives a potential across the load. Since the temperatures of plasma electrons can reach tens of thousands of kelvin, NEPEC has a high theoretical conversion efficiency. The original NASA technology was demonstrated at 35% conversion efficiency.
Being mediated by a nuclear process, which is both temperature and pressure independent, the device’s functionality is not constrained by its surrounding environment: it can be operated from the depths of the ocean to beyond the stars. Additionally, the energy extraction process is agnostic to the particle type generating the plasma: alpha, beta, gamma, and fission fragments may be used. Thus, the particle source and plasma can be tailored to fit applicable sizes from D-Cell battery to nuclear reactor scale, with desired power requirements from microwatts to megawatts.