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Thermophotovoltaics

By Zuerrnnovahh-Starr Livingstone
http://educate-yourself.org/zsl/zslthermophotovoltaics19sep02.shtml
September 19, 2002

Dear Ken,

I spent today following up on a promise I made to my brother-in-law, John.


Dear John,

I finally went through my old Scientific American magazines and found the article on thermophotovoltaics. It was in the September 1998 issue pp. 90-95, written by T.J. Coutts and M.C. Fitzgerald.

The Consumer Electronics (CE) stove top fan you have appears to be kicking out more juice at lower temperatures than the cells cited in the article. The cells use heat instead of light. The infrared heat has to be at specific frequencies and they have to mated to reflectors and radiators of exotic materials in order to operate efficiently. Your stove top fan for the wood stove at the cabin has a bi-metal strip which cuts contact with the stove surface when the temperature gets too high. The cells in the article operate above 1832 degrees F. Yours appears to be doing the same job at 500 degrees F.

The technology has come out of the same research that produced photocells. Thermophotovoltaics as an idea came about in 1956 by Pierre R. Aigrain in Paris. Money towards development of the technology was fronted by DARPA and a number of researchers have advanced the cells over the past 40 years on military and commercial applications.

"Thermophotovoltaics is about to reach the commercial marketplace. A company in the Pacific Northwest plans to market a thermophotovoltaic generator to run electrical equipment on sailboats Other applications under development include small power units that would supply electricity in remote areas or for roving military troops."

In the article, a picture of a sailboat generator/cabin heater is shown with a high-tech stainless steel 'cone' atop a propane burner.

"JX Crystals in Issaquah Washington, has created a product-Midnight Sun-primarily for use on sailboats. The 14 centimeter wide by 43 centimeter tall cylindrical heater, powered by propane gas, can produce 30 watts of electricity and is targeted as a means of recharging batteries that run navigation and other equipment. The unit not only provides electricity but acts as a co-generator, supplying space heating for the boat cabin. It uses a partially selective radiator made of magnesium aluminate and has gallium antimonide photovoltaic cells connected in series.

Although its current $3,000 price tag makes it more expensive than a conventional diesel generator, Midnight Sun runs silently and is expected to be more reliable, because it lacks any moving parts.

The product may also prove attractive to owners of recreational vehicles or wilderness homes, who could take advantage of a substantially less costly unit than the stainless-steel and brass thermophotovoltaic generator necessary for the marine environment."

On page 95 there is a picture of an experimental car powered by thermophotovoltaic cells created by Western Washington University, Seattle. The propane burners in the back seat area of the car give it a Batmobile appearance.

When I originally read the article four years ago I could see homes in urban areas, not just cabins, unplugging from the electrical grid and deriving electricity from the natural gas furnace as well as regular photovoltaics on the roof. If the thermophotovoltaics could be developed to convert the heat of the sun into electricity then the goals of the Kyoto Agreement would be reached easily. If homes are converted to high efficiency appliances and low wattage full spectrum LED lighting and TVs, then electrical utilities would be shutting down electrical generators. I felt the future had arrived and high voltage power lines were a thing of the past. I raveled in the thought of a clean future environment.

Then I heard absolutely nothing for years. Were there problems with the cells? Were they too expensive? Did the military make it Top Secret? Did the oil companies buy up the patents? Then I saw your stove top fan and I knew that it was slowly making its way into the future marketplace. Consumer Electronics is a large multinational company and if they have developed a small product then other products are probably on the way.

Would not it be great if people generated the current which they needed to power up only that which needed power at that time? The billions of barrels of oil which could be saved is mind boggling. Hopefully it is not a pipe-dream which the greedy ones would make disappear like the 100 miles per gallon carburetor.

Zuerrnnovahh-Starr Livingstone

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