Thermoelectrics Revisited

There is a tantalizing hope that someday someone will come up with a real breakthrough in direct heat-to-electricity conversion. No moving parts, “solid-state”, self-contained, scalable, and so on. Such miracles do exist, but they are costly and inefficient, and can find use only in specialized niche applications like satellite power, IC chip cooling, novelty items like picnic coolers, and most recently as comfort conditioning in automobiles.

The sought-after breakthrough would be in performance and cost, for example, to “make the internal combustion engine obsolete” and do many other marvelous things. As one example, cold climate utilities have attempted unsuccessfully to use thermoelectic generation to develop self-powered home heating systems which could continue to operate during power outages.

The fundamental underlying processes have been known for a long time, e.g., Thermoelectric (TE) (Seebeck, Peltier), Thermionic, ThermoPhotoVoltaic, etc. NASA, for one, has spent decades fine tuning these for use in space, and a hardy band of scientific, engineering and business people continue the quest. Some companies actually earn a decent living at making and selling such devices, but it is strictly a matter of small niches. Note that TE can be used reversibly to either provide cooling (heat pump) or generate electricity (heat engine).

There are some interesting stirrings of late. For a number of years, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have focused on nanostructures which create one and two dimensional worlds for electrons (known as “quantum wells”), which theoretically should yield higher efficiencies. Experimental results are slow in coming. Last October, the Research Triangle Institute published a major paper in Nature claiming dramatic improvements (in the lab) in TE performance, based on nanolayers of traditional TE materials. Most research in the field has focused on trying to find new bulk materials that have better properties, so this layering approach caught people by surprise. Prior claims to boost “ZT” (the figure of merit for TE) much above 0.7 – 1 haven’t held up, but RTI seems really to have a ZT of 2.4. Such a doubling or tripling of “ZT” could hugely expand the range of applications for both cooling and power — assuming of course that the cost is low enough.

RTI is putting on a conference Oct 28-30 in Dallas:
“Next Generation Thermal Management Materials and Systems – for Cooling and Power Conversion”
Full agenda at:

* The latest advances in thermal management materials and systems, and how recent developments can spur commercialization.
* Market trends and opportunities for new thermal management technologies in cooling and power conversion – in wide ranging applications – from micro electronics to refrigeration.
* The status of commercial applications – impact on enabling new markets and displacing current markets.

One of the speakers has recently given a paper at a recent TE conference*. (I have the papers if anyone is interested.) A clever way** of arranging an array of TE modules more than doubles the overall system efficiency for cooling. A commercial product using this technique already is in use, cooling seats of luxury cars. (

(The TE conference* was the ICT2002, held August 26-29, Long Beach, CA. This is an annual meeting of the worldwide thermoelectric R&D community. For a brief account of the conference, see the Sept 30 “ZTSpam” at Cronin Vining’s website:
Cronin is a renowned expert in TE, and a good friend and colleague of UFTO.)

Besides TE, thermionic and TPV continue to get attention. (In thermionic conversion, electrons boil off a heated surface and are collected on another electrode. In TPV, the heated surface sends out photons of a particular variety which go to a specialized PV cell. It’s PV with its own built-in custom light source, which is heat-driven.) Some of the most promising new developments use nanoscale approaches to overcome traditional obstacles to cost and performance. The “Nano-TPV” work is being done at Draper Laboratory, and involves reducing the spacing between the heated emitter and PV receiver to nanoscale dimensions. Experiments confirm a dramatic increase in the photo current. In another development, Eneco in Salt Lake City continues to make progress on its nanoscale method which they say combines thermionic and TE effects. (See UFTO Note 28 Nov 2001.)

** As explained in the papers, the configuration involves (as I describe it) a counterflow heat exchanger where a number of parallel heat pumps push heat from the cold side to the hot side. Each heat pump sees a temperature difference that is only half of the “delta-T” that the overall system provides, leading to higher overall efficiency. Whether this would be practical in a larger system using compressors is hard to say.

Eneco Announces Direct Heat-to-Electricity Device

ENECO, a small company in Salt Lake City that we’ve known for over 5 years, has kept a very low profile until this week, when it burst into the news with an announcement, jointly with MIT, of a solid state device that converts heat directly to electricity at higher efficiency than thermoelectric devices. With considerable luck, they landed a feature article in Tuesday’s NY Times weekly Technology section:

They had given the NY Times a 24 hour head start before issuing a major press release, to coincide with one from MIT:

The company’s own materials released Tuesday can be found at their website:

A technical paper was presented at a poster session Materials Research Society’s fall meeting in Boston this week, but copies, and preprints of other papers submitted to major technical journals, won’t be available the publications release them.

The technology is said to combine both the thermoelectric effect and the thermionic effect into one device. Electrons boil off the emitter layer on the hot side, adding to the current from the thermoelectric effect. Instead of a vacuum gap, as in standard thermionic devices, there is a semiconductor layer thermally isolating the hot side from the cold side.

They claim to have already demonstrated efficiencies of 17%, compared with 10% which is the best thermoelectrics can do, and at 250-300 C, not the 1100 C that thermionics converters require.

The company very recently hired a new CEO, a veteran of the semiconductor industry. They expect to do a new private offering in the first quarter of 2002.

I have a small investment in the company, and am well acquainted with the principals. If you would like to make contact I would be pleased to make a personal introduction.

Cold Fusion Quietly Continues

In one of the most balanced and thorough discussions I’ve seen, the new issue Wired Magazine has a feature article this month (November, 1998, “6.11”) that reviews the history and current events of cold fusion research. “What If Cold Fusion Is Real?”, by Charles Platt, looks into the continuing work and tantalizing experimental evidence from all around the world.

A decade ago, after a brief wild explosion of world excitement, the scientific establishment was very quick to label it a fraud after numerous big labs were unable to reproduce any effect.

Today, a few hardy souls still continue the work. Many have seen excess heat and other indications of new phenomena. The difficulty is that no-one has quite figured out what makes it work sometimes and not others, a serious impediment for the reproduceability that the scientific method relies on so heavily.

The situation is complicated by the presence of a number of quacks and new agers, and a new fascination with nuclear transformation (“the end of rad waste!!”) that has divided the already small worldwide community. Still, there are respected bonafide scientists who’ve seen results and take them seriously, even if explanations are in short supply. Interestingly, it’s mostly older people who persist–younger scientists would do real damage to their professional careers by mentioning the subject. And, there’s little or no funding.

The article does a nice job of explaining the corner that cold fusion’s been painted into. Since nearly all scientific journals categorically refuse to publish anything on the subject, it’s difficult for good research on the subject to get heard. The hundreds of reported experimental observations make no difference. They are just dismissed with little or no honest scrutiny.

The best hope seems to be in the hands of a few venture-investor backed small companies, who apparently will be taken seriously only when they can put a commercial device on the market. The trouble is, there’s a lot of basic science to do first, and the very limited resources might not be able to go the whole way from lab to commercial device.

One such firm is discussed in the article, CETI, who dramatically demonstrated a device in public at the PowerGen conference in 1995. Since then, they’ve had trouble getting the same performance. They say only that their first batch of material worked, but not later ones, and they don’t know why.

Notably absent from the article is the high profile Blacklight Power (, which reportedly refuses all interviews, but claims to have an entirely new physics as a basis for its cold fusion process. Also missing is Eneco, the Salt Lake City firm that UFTO relies on for help in tracking developments in the field. Eneco prefers to stay out of the press, and is working quietly on its own approach.

Eneco actually helped Mr. Platt, and arranged for him to attend the ICCF-7 (7th Annual International Conference on Cold Fusion) in Vancouver, April 1998. The proceedings for this conference are now available for $50 a copy. Contact ICCF-7 c/o Eneco, 801-583-2000, fax 801-583-6245,

New News on “New Energy” (aka “Cold Fusion”)

Subject: UFTO Note – New News on “New Energy” (aka “Cold Fusion”)
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 1997
From: Ed Beardsworth

| ** UFTO ** Edward Beardsworth ** Consultant
| 951 Lincoln Ave. tel 415-328-5670
| Palo Alto CA 94301-3041 fax 415-328-5675

New News on “New Energy” (aka “Cold Fusion”)

Dr. Randell Mills, BlackLight Power Company, of Malvern, PA, is making some remarkable claims, and has attracted some prominent backers with his “Unified Theory” and devices which generate large amounts of excess “anomalous” heat.

Mills says his theory is consistent with and an extension of Maxwell’s Equations, Newton’s Laws, and Einstein’s Theories of Special and General Relativity. Whether it represents an overthrow or an extension of quantum mechanics and other aspects of modern physics will probably be hotly debated for some time to come. (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

Mills believes that his theory explains how his devices generate excess heat, and is pursuing an aggressive business development plan. Dr. Mills and his company, formerly called HydroCatalysis Power Corporation, have been known in the cold fusion community for some time, but his story is now attracting a great deal more attention (a situation not unlike what happened two years ago with Clean Energy Technology, or CETI, with their Patterson Cells–which story also continues to unfold).

BlackLight Power’s story is explained in considerable detail at the company’s web site, at:

Meanwhile, ENECO* in Salt Lake City has a very different approach, and has kept a very low profile. Their device is actually quite similar to the BlackLight Power cell–a hot hydrogen gas cell that does not require electrical input and can be operated at high temperature (a fundamental limitation of liquid-based systems).

ENECO’s theory of how the cell operates, however, is very different. Dr. Mills revolutionary theory predicts a new lower energy state for the Hydrogen atom, which he calls the hydrino, and it is a transition to this state, that he says accounts for the release of energy. The subsequent formation of a molecule of two hydrinos (mass 4) is also hypothesized.

ENECO’s explanation involves a form of low energy-induced slow nuclear fission in a lattice, which produces heat, helium, and very small amounts of infra-red and ultraviolet emissions. This explanation for the observed phenomena conforms to all known scientific principles, and it also can consistently explain why the many attempts by others to replicate Pons and Fleischman’s results may or may not have been successful.

Neither company believes that the phenomena first announced in 1989 by Pons and Fleischman, and the subject of such intense controversy ever since, are due to “fusion”. Instead, each has developed an explanation involving different new and controversial scientific concepts.

Both companies have filed for patents for their devices, based on their respective theories. Both are seeking investment capital to fund their respective attempts to scale up and build a several kilowatt device within the next year. The company with the correct theory will probably be more successful. The race is on.

*ENECO prepared a proprietary Review of State of the Art of Cold Fusion, offered for sale last year–with discount for UFTO members–see UFTO Note Sept. 20, 1996.

ENECO is also the sister company of Thermodyne, which is developing a new type of thermal to electric energy converter — see UFTO Note March 21, 1997.


Fred Jaeger, ENECO
Salt Lake City, UT 801-583-2000,

Randell Mills, BlackLight Power, Inc.
Malvern, PA 610 651-4938,

Cold Fusion Survey Offered

Subject: UFTO NOTE — Cold Fusion Survey Offered
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1996 13:55:58 -0700
From: Ed Beardsworth

| *** UFTO *** Edward Beardsworth * Consultant
| 951 Lincoln Ave. tel 415-328-5670
| Palo Alto CA 94301-3041 fax 415-328-5675

ENECO Offers Survey of Cold Fusion

ENECO has completed a comprehensive review of the entire field of cold fusion, with emphasis on the current status of technical and commercial developments worldwide.

Sections of the report include:
– Summary of the history of cold fusion, with key dates and chronology
– Overview of the field
– Technological Approaches, covering more than a dozen major categories of devices,
phenomenology and theory.
– Review of Key Players and Institutions
– Overview of Intellectual Property
– Recommendations and Proposal for Pooled Research Program

The intent of the survey is to raise the information level of utilities and other interested corportations to the point where they can intelligently decide whether to participate in ENECO’s ’97 Pooled Research Program. This program takes a very practical approach to use pooled funds to provide each participating organization with early, direct, hands-on experience with leading candidates for commercial applications. It will fund specific experiments and tests to confirm or deny key technical and scientific claims, thus positioning participants to establish their own business approaches and strategies with the benefit of superior information.

Price: $10,500 (Reduced to $9,500 for UFTO members, by special arrangement.)

Price includes three bound copies of the complete confidential report for the same organization.

Also included is an update/supplement to report on developments at the very important Cold Fusion conference, October ’96 in Japan.

A more detailed description of the Survey and ENECO are available on request.
Contact ENECO at 801-583-2000, and ask for the Cold Fusion Survey Information Package. (Identify yourself as an UFTO member.)

CONFIDENTIAL Alert: CETI/Patterson Cell


CETI/Patterson Cell publicity surge expected soon

April 17, 1996


As you know, the Patterson “new hydrogen energy” Cell was featured on ABC TV news and the Wall Street Journal back in early February, and their basic U.S. patent (No. 5,494,559) was awarded Feburary 27.

(UFTO provided copies of videotapes and a general information package on cold fusion to those who wanted them — see UFTO Bulletin #18, February 2, 1996, and the UFTO Comment “Advances in Cold Fusion.”)

Another blitz of publicity is expected to occur at the end of April, so you may want to be prepared to respond to inquiries. We don’t have any insights about what new developments if any that the anticipated news stories will talk about.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that CETI’s unorthodox business style is making it very difficult for other organizations to come to any kind of terms with them. Also, there are now reports that the calorimetry may not have been done with sufficient care and attention to details, even in the independent university tests, so claims of “over unity” energy production are yet to be solidly confirmed.


In another week or two, Eneco expects to have a more specific proposal for their “Survey of the State of the Art” review of cold fusion, along the lines of their outline I sent you with the March Bulletin. I will give Eneco your names and addresses so they can contact you about it, but otherwise this will be a matter between you and them.