U.S. Patent number: 6,294,858
Date: Sept. 25, 2001
Sandia Corporation (Albuquerque, NM)
King; Donald B. (Albuquerque, NM);
Sadwick; Laurence P. (Salt Lake City, UT);
Wernsman; Bernard R. (Clairton, PA)
Microminiature thermionic converts (MTCs) having high energy-conversion efficiencies and variable operating temperatures. Methods of manufacturing those converters using semiconductor integrated circuit fabrication and micromachine manufacturing techniques are also disclosed. The MTCs of the invention incorporate cathode to anode spacing of about 1 micron or less and use cathode and anode materials having work functions ranging from about 1 eV to about 3 eV. Existing prior art thermionic converter technology has energy conversion efficiencies ranging from 5-15%. The MTCs of the present invention have maximum efficiencies of just under 30%, and thousands of the devices can be fabricated at modest costs.