Thermionic Energy Conversion

J . M . HOUSTON AND I4 . F . WEBSTER
General Electric Research Laboratory. Schenectady. New York
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Idealized Model of a Thermionic Converter ............................
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A Current-Voltage Characteristics and Power Output ................... 130
B. Efficiency ......................................................
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The Work Function of Various Surfaces ..............................
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A Pure Metals .....................................................
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B Thin Films on Pure Metals .......................................
C Oxide and Carbide Cathodes ......................
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D Evaporation of Cathode Materials .................................
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Vacuum Thermionic Energy Converters ...............................
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A History .......................................................
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B Space Charge Problems ...........................................
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C Surface Physics Problems .........................................
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D Fabrication Problems .............................................
E Experimental Results .............................................
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F Three Electrode Vacuum Converters ...............................
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Cesium Thermionic Energy Converters ...............................
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A Introduction ....................................................
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B Low Pressure Converterg .........................................
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C High Pressure Converters .........................................
Devices Using Auxiliary Discharges ..................................
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Devices Using Fission Fragments for Ion Production ....................
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Applications of Thermionic Converters ................................
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Summary and Future Trends .......................................
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References .........................................................
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I. Introduction

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A . Surface Work Function and the Richardson Equation ................
B. Brief History of Thermionic Conversion ............................

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I . INTRODUCTION

A thermionic converter is a device which converts heat energy into
electrical energy by utilizing the thermionic emission of electrons. As
Fig. 1 shows. it is basically a simple device. consisting of a hot cathode
emitting electrons to a cooler anode. These electrons flow back to the
cathode through an external load resistance where they do useful work .
That almost any thermionic diode can convert heat to electricity with a
very low efficiency has been known for many years . However. in the last
five years the power output and efficiency of such devices have been
greatly improved. now being approximately 5 watt/cm2 at 15yoefficiency.
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