Modeling a thermionic energy converter using finite-difference time-domain particle-in-cell simulations

F. S. Lo, P. S. Lu, B. Ragan-Kelley, A. Minnich, T. H. Lee, M. C. Lin, J. P. Verboncoeur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A thermionic energy converter (TEC) is a static device that converts heat directly into electricity by boiling electrons off a hot emitter surface across a small inter-electrode gap to a cooler collector surface. The main challenge in TECs is overcoming the space charge limit, which limits the current transmitted across a gap of a given voltage and width. We have verified the feasibility of studying and developing a TEC using a bounded finite-difference time-domain particle-in-cell plasma simulation code, OOPD1, developed by Plasma Theory and Simulation Group, formerly at UC Berkeley and now at Michigan State University. In this preliminary work, a TEC has been modeled kinetically using OOPD1, and the accuracy has been verified by comparing with an analytically solvable case, giving good agreement. With further improvement of the code, one will be able to quickly and cheaply analyze space charge effects, and seek designs that mitigate the space charge effect, allowing TECs to become more efficient and cost-effective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number023510
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


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