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DC Thermal (Thermionic) Generators

A thermal generator is a solid state device that will transform heat directly into DC electricity. It is the thermal equivalent of a solar panel, using heat as the energy source instead of solar radiation. It's principal of operation is very simple, keep one side of the generator hot, the other side cold, and electricity will flow.

In the space industry these types of devices are known as thermionic generators, developed decades ago as power plants for deep space probes. These space age generators used the heat from nuclear radiation to power onboard DC electronics. Manufactured using specialized materials, DC thermal generators are capable of long and reliable service lives since they have no moving parts.

In the modern day we can use DC thermal generators to help supply the power needs of a modern off grid homestead. The best candidates for thermal generators are folks who live in northern climates who like to burn wood. These folks tend to have lower power generating capability from wind and solar during the Winter months, however the wood burning stove has plenty of surplus heat available for electrical generation. In this sense, then, a thermal generator can be the perfect complement to a northern hybrid off grid energy installation.

The trick to running an effective thermal generator is maintaining the largest practical temperature difference. The larger the temperature difference, the more electricity that can be generated. The hot side of the generator will be coupled to a heat source, such as a wood burning stove. The cold side of the generator must reject heat as efficiently as possible, either with an air cooled heat sink or a water cooled manifold. The thermal generator design from MicroGrid Industries uses a combination air cooled heat sink with water ports to provide maximum versatility.

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