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A brief overview of the research activities at the Thermionic Energy Conversion (TEC) Center is given. The goal is to achieve direct thermal to electric energy conversion with >20% efficiency and >1W/cm2 power density at a hot side temperature of 300–650C. Thermionic emission in both vacuum and solid-state devices is investigated. In the case of solid-state devices, hot electron filtering using heterostructure barriers is used to increase the thermoelectric power factor. In order to study electron transport above the barriers and lateral momentum conservation in thermionic emission process, the current-voltage characteristic of ballistic transistor structures is investigated. Embedded ErAs nanoparticles and metal/semiconductor multilayers are used to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity. Cross-plane thermoelectric properties and the effective ZT of the thin film are analyzed using the transient Harman technique. Integrated circuit fabrication techniques are used to transfer the n- and p-type thin films on AlN substrates and make power generation modules with hundreds of thin film elements. For vacuum devices, nitrogen-doped diamond and carbon nanotubes are studied for emitters. Sb-doped highly oriented diamond and low electron affinity AlGaN are investigated for collectors. Work functions below 1.6eV and vacuum thermionic power generation at temperatures below 700C have been demonstrated.
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