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March 2016

Modernizing a Technology From the Vacuum Tube Era To Generate Cheap Power


Foundry users Daniel Riley and Jared Schwede hope to take thermionics, an all-but-forgotten technology, and develop it into a clean, compact, and efficient source of power. Working with Molecular Foundry staff scientist, Andreas Schmid, would allow their research to take a big shortcut, providing them with unprecedented insight into the inner workings of thermionic devices.

“It turns out, by almost fortuitous coincidence, that a microscope we have is supremely sensitive to a material property these guys were after,” said Schmid. “Once we had that conversation, it dawned on us, this is a match made in heaven.”

Riley and Schwede’s thermionics collaboration was recently awarded $3.8 million from the Department of Energy’s Advance Research Projects Agency­–Energy (ARPA-E), which they will share with Schmid, as well as with collaborators from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. Their goal is to develop an entirely new type of generator that can produce clean power from any fuel source at high efficiency, all in a quiet and scalable package.

“It’s very difficult to produce electricity in the same place you’re consuming it,” Riley said. “This is a huge problem in countries where they don’t have an electric grid in place. Our long-term vision is to give people an opportunity to generate power in places where they don’t have a massive infrastructure.”

Read the full press release.