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Publication numberUS20060266043 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/237,119
Publication dateNov 30, 2006
Filing dateSep 28, 2005
Priority dateSep 28, 2004
Publication number11237119, 237119, US 2006/0266043 A1, US 2006/266043 A1, US 20060266043 A1, US 20060266043A1, US 2006266043 A1, US 2006266043A1, US-A1-20060266043, US-A1-2006266043, US2006/0266043A1, US2006/266043A1, US20060266043 A1, US20060266043A1, US2006266043 A1, US2006266043A1
InventorsAllan Jerome
Original AssigneeAllan Jerome
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Power generation system
US 20060266043 A1
Abstract
A thermal plasma generator may be used in conjunction with at least one thermal to electric converter, such as a solid state thermal to electric energy to electric converter. A micropipe heat pump extracts heat from the at least one thermal to electric energy device, which in turn may convert the heat into electrical power. The power generation system may be disposed within a vehicle, and provide electrical power for propelling the vehicle.
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Claims(32)
1. An apparatus for generating electrical energy from a thermal energy source comprising:
at least one thermal to electric converter operable to directly convert at least a portion of a thermal energy of said thermal energy source to electrical energy; and
a micro-pipe heat sink thermally coupled with said thermal to electric energy converter.
2. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising a hydrogen source, wherein said thermal energy source comprises a hydrogen plasma generator coupled with said hydrogen source.
3. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein:
said hydrogen plasma generator comprises a chemically assisted hydrogen plasma generator that includes a reaction vessel;
said at least one thermal to electric converter comprises a plurality of solid state thermal to electric converters, each having a hot side thermally coupled with said reaction vessel; and
said apparatus further comprises an electrical circuit current coupled with said plurality of solid state thermal to electric converters to power a load.
4. The apparatus of claim 3 wherein said hydrogen source comprises a water-derived hydrogen source.
5. The apparatus of claim 3 wherein said at least one thermal to electric converter comprises a superlattice thermoelectric device.
6. The apparatus of claim 3 wherein said at least one thermal to electric converter comprises a quantum thermotunneling thermionic device.
7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said micro-pipe heat sink comprises a plurality of hollow fluidly sealed ligaments.
8. The apparatus of claim 7 wherein said micro-pipe heat sink comprises a heat transfer coefficient of at least about 100 W/m*K.
9. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising:
a thermal energy storage subsystem;
a thermal energy transfer means coupling said thermal energy storage subsystem with said thermal energy source; and
at least one additional thermal to electric converter coupled with said thermal energy storage subsystem.
10. The apparatus of claim 9 wherein said thermal energy storage subsystem comprises a phase-change thermal energy storage subsystem.
11. The apparatus of claim 9 further comprising an electronic controller in control communication with said at least one additional thermal to electric converter and configured to vary an input current thereto responsively to a power demand input signal.
12. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said thermal energy storage subsystem further comprises a micro-pipe heat pump including a heat sink having a thermal transfer coefficient of at least about 100 W/m*K.
13. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein:
said hydrogen plasma generator comprises a housing; and
said at least one thermal to electric converter comprises a structural component of said housing.
14. An electrical propulsion system comprising:
a thermal energy source; and
at least one thermal to electric converter operable to directly convert at least a portion of a thermal energy of said thermal energy source to electrical energy;
a micro-pipe heat sink thermally coupled with said thermal to electric converter; and
at least one electric propulsion motor coupled with said at least one thermal to electric converter.
15. The electrical propulsion system of claim 14 further comprising:
a housing; and
a hydrogen source;
wherein said thermal energy source comprises a hydrogen plasma generator in said housing which includes a reaction vessel, said hydrogen plasma generator coupled with said hydrogen source; and
wherein said at least one thermal to electric converter comprises a plurality of solid state thermal to electric converters thermally coupled with said reaction vessel.
16. The electrical propulsion system of claim 15 wherein said hydrogen source comprises a water splitting apparatus.
17. The electrical propulsion system of claim 16 wherein said water splitting apparatus comprises a catalytic water splitting apparatus including an aluminum-based catalyst.
18. The electrical propulsion system of claim 16 wherein said hydrogen source comprises a low current plasma electrolysis apparatus coupled with said reaction vessel.
19. The electrical propulsion system of claim 15 further comprising at least one of, a thermal energy storage device and an electrical energy storage device.
20. The electrical propulsion system of claim 15 comprising a diamond film heat sink having a heat transfer coefficient greater than about 2800 W/m*K.
21. A method of producing electrical power from a thermal energy source comprising the steps of:
thermally coupling at least one thermal to electric converter with the thermal energy source;
directly converting at least a portion of thermal energy from said thermal energy source into electrical energy via the at least one thermal to electric converter; and
removing heat from the at least one thermal to electric converter at least in part via a micro-pipe heat sink.
22. The method of claim 21 wherein the removing step further comprises removing heat in part via a fluid disposed within hollow ligaments of the micro-pipe heat sink, and in part via another fluid disposed outside the hollow ligaments.
23. The method of claim 22 wherein the thermal energy source is a hydrogen thermal plasma generator, the method further comprising the step of supplying hydrogen to the hydrogen thermal plasma generator at least in part via a catalytic water splitting reaction.
24. The method of claim 22 wherein the step of supplying hydrogen to the hydrogen thermal plasma generator comprises supplying hydrogen via a low current plasma water splitting reaction.
25. The method of claim 23 further comprising the step of selectively separating hydrogen and oxygen produced via the supplying step at least in part via a gas-selective membrane.
26. A power generation apparatus comprising:
a thermal energy source; and
a micro-pipe heat sink thermally coupled with said thermal energy source.
27. The power generation apparatus of claim 26 wherein said thermal energy source comprises a chemically assisted hydrogen thermal plasma generator.
28. The power generation apparatus of claim 27 further comprising at least one solid state thermal to electric converter coupled with said micro-pipe heat sink and disposed between said micro-pipe heat sink and said thermal energy source.
29. The power generation apparatus of claim 28 wherein said at least one solid state thermal to electric converter is configured to generate electrical power.
30. The power generation apparatus of claim 28 wherein said micro-pipe heat sink comprises a heat storage/transfer medium, said power generation apparatus comprising another heat sink thermally coupled with said micro-pipe heat sink and comprising another heat storage/transfer medium.
31. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said micro-pipe heat sink comprises a first micro-pipe heat sink and said thermal energy source comprises at least one chemically assisted hydrogen plasma generator, said apparatus further comprising:
a catalytic water splitting hydrogen source coupled with said at least one chemically assisted hydrogen plasma generator;
a plasma heat pump that includes a second micro-pipe heat sink coupled with said at least one chemically assisted hydrogen thermal plasma generator;
a working fluid moving means operable to circulate a working fluid to said first and second micro-pipe heat sinks;
an electrical energy storage subsystem coupled with said at least one thermal to electric energy converter;
a thermal energy storage subsystem in thermal communication with said at least one chemically assisted hydrogen plasma generator, said thermal energy storage subsystem comprising at least one other thermal to electric energy converter configured to transfer thermal energy responsively to an input current thereto and at least a third micro-pipe heat sink;
at least one of a boost converter and a buck converter coupled with said at least one thermal to electric energy converter;
a signal conditioning means coupled with said at least one of a buck converter and a boost converter; and
an electronic control system that includes an electronic controller operably coupled with said catalytic water splitting hydrogen source, said at least one chemically assisted hydrogen thermal plasma generator, said plasma heat pump, said thermal energy storage subsystem, said electrical energy storage subsystem, and said at least one of a boost converter and a buck converter.
32. A residential or industrial appliance including the apparatus of claim 31.
Description

This application claims the benefit of the filing date of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/613,921, Filed Sep. 28, 2004.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present disclosure relates generally to power generation systems and thermal management in power generation systems, and relates more particularly to a thermal and electrical power generation core component incorporating a hydrogen plasma engine, suitable for use in a wide range of applications. The present disclosure still further relates to a unique heat pump for use in a hydrogen plasma engine power generation system, and for thermal management in various other devices and processes.

BACKGROUND

Power generation and availability are integral to the functioning of modern society, touching virtually every aspect of daily life. With the continuing depletion of fossil fuel resources, and the increased economic and environmental costs of their use, recent decades have seen an intensification of the search for viable alternative energy sources. While such sources as wind, solar, tidal and nuclear energies are often presented as potential means for meeting society's energy needs, the implementation and commercialization of such technologies has been slow. Alternative energy sources have failed to yet develop on a large scale due largely to the fact that they are economically unviable, or for various safety and other reasons.

One relatively new energy generation system relates to the production of thermal energy from hydrogen, via a chemically assisted thermal plasma generation scheme. U.S. Pat. No. 6,024,935 to Mills et al. is directed to one known method of releasing thermal energy from hydrogen. Mills utilizes a chemically assisted process whereby the electrons of hydrogen atoms are stimulated via a catalyst to relax to a lower quantum state. The relaxation process is stated to result in the release of thermal energy, which may then be harnessed for a variety of uses, one of which is production of electrical power. While Mills represents one potential means for producing electrical energy from plasma-derived thermal energy, there remains room for improvement. In particular, Mills requires the use of a steam-driven generator system. Not only is the generator system relatively complex and unwieldy, such systems tend to be quite large and are typically suitable only for large-scale power generation facilities or vehicles.

Another known thermal to electric energy device, in the context of an automobile, is set forth in U.S. Pat. No. 6,651,760 to Cox et al. Cox provides a combustion chamber, coupled with a thermionic device, adapted to provide electricity to an electric motor. While Cox presents one potential application of thermal-derived electric power, it relies upon an internal combustion engine to provide the thermal energy. Accordingly, Cox suffers from many of the same problems associated with conventional power generation systems, namely, scarcity of resources required to operate the device and potentially undesirable emissions.

Still further concepts in the field of thermal to electric energy conversion are known from U.S. Pat. No. 6,229,083 to Edleson. While Edelson presents a design showing promise in certain narrow applications, the concepts disclosed therein are not capable of meeting the multiplicity of demands required of large scale, efficient and commercially viable power generation technologies. In other words, while certain known systems present important steps toward achieving society's energy goals, most if not all still fall short of the mark.

Yet another thermoelectric concept is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,625,245 to Bass. Bass provides a thermoelectric generator for producing electric power for a motor vehicle from the heat of exhaust gases produced by the engine. The exhaust gases are stated to pass through a thin heat transfer support structure, from which the thermal energy can be transferred to a thermoelectric device. While Bass provides some promise in the narrow application of recovering energy from exhaust gases, the heat transfer capabilities of the thin heat transfer support structure inherently limit the system's efficiency.

Still another thermoelectric power system is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,148,192 to Cummings. In Cummings, thermoelectric semi-conductors are arranged such that they are heated by the waste heat of an internal combustion engine. While Cummings represents one early, and perhaps somewhat effective example of a thermoelectric drive system in a motor vehicle, it is not without its own inherent problems, particularly with respect to efficiency and lack of simplicity.

One problem in particular in providing a thermoelectric power generation system that can potentially solve society's energy needs relates to energy losses in the transformation of thermal energy to electrical energy, and poor efficiency in moving thermal energy within a power generation system. Developing high efficiency in creation and transfer of heat within a power generation system has also been a challenge.

Still other impediments to commercially viable thermoelectric power generation include the often high cost of the thermal fuel source itself, and harmful emissions which may be produced when generating heat therefrom. Still further, engineers have found development of compact and efficient thermal to electric converters a continuing challenge.

These and related problems are not limited merely to power generation technologies. Therefore, there is a compelling need for improvements in thermal transfer and thermal management not only in the context of power generation, but in many other areas of technology.

The present disclosure is directed to overcoming one or more of the problems or shortcomings set forth above.

SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSURE

It is an object of the present disclosure to provide a power generation system whereby thermal energy may be converted to electrical energy in an efficient and practicable manner.

It is another object of the invention to provide an apparatus and method for producing thermal energy and electrical energy.

It is still another object of the present disclosure to provide a thermal energy based propulsion system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a micro-pipe heat pump device capable of use in a hydrogen thermal plasma power generation system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a micro-pipe heat pump device capable of thermal management in a wide variety of applications.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to store electrical energy received from the target application or generated by the hydrogen thermal plasma power generation system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transfer/transmit electrical energy generated by the hydrogen thermal plasma power generation system to the target application.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to deliver stored electrical energy when needed on demand by the target application.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transmit and store electrical energy using room temperature or cryogenic electrical superconductor technology for later use by the target application.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to store thermal energy from the hydrogen thermal plasma power generation system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to reduce losses in thermal energy storage devices by insulating the thermal storage unit with a super insulator to minimize heat loss.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transmit thermal energy via a near lossless superconducting thermal medium via a micro-pipe heat pump disposed remotely from the heat source and connected to the hydrogen thermal plasma power generation system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to increase the thermal energy density of the heat transfer fluid within the hydrogen thermal plasma generation system.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transform voltage levels for use by the target application, via either or both of a boost converter and buck converter.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a converter having a signal conditioning means incorporated to transfer a DC voltage to an AC voltage, or other waveform to power the target system or plasma engine itself.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to dissociate fuel source water into its constituent components using a low power plasma electrolysis method.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to dissociate fuel source water into a hydrogen fuel using a catalytic means.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to dissociate fuel source water into oxygen for use by the target application.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transfer heat generated in the hydrogen thermal plasma generator via a hydrogen thermal plasma generator heat pump to another medium.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a means to transfer thermal energy from one medium to one or more other mediums using a circulated fluid-containing foam matrix heat sink via a solid state thermoelectric or thermionic device.

It is still a further object of the present disclosure to provide a control system including means for controlling components such as plasma generators, thermal to electrical converters, thermal to thermal heat pumps, sensors, thermal and electrical energy storage devices, hydrogen plasma heat pumps, water splitting apparatuses, and a target application.

In furtherance of the above and other objects of the present disclosure, in one aspect an energy efficient, environmentally friendly power source for a target application is provided.

In another aspect, an apparatus for generating electrical energy from a thermal energy source is provided. The apparatus includes at least one thermal to electric converter operable to directly convert at least a portion of a thermal energy of the thermal energy source to electrical energy, the at least one thermal to electric converter being coupled with a micro-pipe heat sink to facilitate the extraction of heat therefrom.

In still another aspect, a micro-pipe heat pump is provided, which may include a ligament based heat transfer foam coupled with at least one thermal to electric converter.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side diagrammatic view of a vehicle having a propulsion system according to the present disclosure;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a power generation system according to one embodiment of the present disclosure;

FIG. 3 is a sectioned side view of a portion of a power generation system according to the present disclosure;

FIG. 4 is a diagrammatic view of a proportion of a power generation system according to the present disclosure;

FIG. 5 a is a diagrammatic view of a portion of a heat pump system according to the present disclosure;

FIG. 5 b is a diagrammatic perspective view of a portion of the system of FIG. 5 a; and

FIG. 5 c is an end view of a portion of the system of FIG. 5 a and 5 b;

FIG. 5 d is a cut-away view of a portion of the system of FIGS. 5 a-c;

FIG. 6 is a side diagrammatic view of a micro-pipe heat pump attached to a semi-conduction package, according to the present disclosure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to FIG. 1, there is shown a vehicle 10 having a propulsion system 20 housed within a vehicle body 11, according to the present disclosure. Propulsion system 20 may include a “hydrogen plasma engine”, described below. Vehicle 10 is shown in the context of a marine vessel having a propeller 15, such as a shaft-driven or podded propeller; however, it should be appreciated that the present disclosure is not thereby limited, and is equally applicable to virtually all-mobile vehicles requiring a propulsion system. In further embodiments, applications of the power generation and storage components of system 20, e.g. part or all of the “hydrogen plasma engine” described below, are illustrated in the context of machines other than mobile vehicles. Thus, it will be appreciated that the embodiments of the present disclosure will have a very wide range of application in environments where power generation is necessary.

In certain contemplated embodiments propulsion system 20 will utilize water as a primary fuel source. Thus, the present disclosure provides a propulsion system for any vehicle capable of carrying or accessing a water source. In other contemplated embodiments, hydrogen will be used as a primary fuel source, and the propulsion system of the present disclosure will be applicable also to such vehicles as are capable of carrying or accessing a hydrogen source. A variety of suitable hydrogen sources are contemplated to be useful in the context of the present disclosure. These include bottled hydrogen and chemically derived hydrogen, for example via electrolysis or water splitting, as well as hydrogen derived from various hydrogen storage materials, such as certain metal-based products capable of storing relatively large quantities of hydrogen via absorption/adsorption. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,193,929, incorporated by reference herein, discloses a suitable hydrogen storage alloy for applications where water-derived hydrogen is not readily available. Similarly, U.S. Pat. No. 6,589,312, also incorporated by reference herein, discloses nanoparticles for hydrogen storage, transportation and distribution, which are suitable for use in conjunction with the present disclosure to provide a hydrogen fuel source for a hydrogen plasma engine which powers a vehicle or a stationary device, or simply generates electrical power.

Thus, those skilled in the art will further appreciate that rather than a marine vessel, having a propulsion device such as a propeller 15 as shown in FIG. 1, the present disclosure could be applied to a wide variety of over the road and off road vehicles, airplanes, and even devices such as underwater vehicles and walk behind or riding lawnmowers. An underpinning operating concept of power generation and vehicular aspects of the present disclosure relates to the production/transformation of electrical or thermal energy from a thermal energy source. “Transformation” of electrical or thermal energy should be understood to mean the conversion of electrical or thermal energy in one medium to another medium, for example from one thermal storage medium such as a first fluid, to another thermal storage medium such as a second fluid. The novel heat pump devices described below make efficient and economically practicable movement of heat within a system possible.

Given a source of thermal energy the present disclosure also provides a pioneering means for converting the thermal energy into electrical energy. In addition, the present disclosure provides means for storing the thermal energy, and selectively converting the stored thermal energy into electrical energy or usable thermal energy of a different thermal medium than a source medium. For example, thermal energy derived from the plasma reaction described herein may be “moved” to a different medium such as a gas, fluid, mixed phase or solid medium.

Propulsion system 20 may include a thermal energy source 40, such as a hydrogen thermal plasma generator as described herein, and a thermal to electric converter 60, in turn operable to electrically power an output shaft 23 coupled with propulsion device/propeller 15. For certain types of thermal to electric converters, a power converter stage may be necessary. As mentioned above, in the context of a marine vessel, the need for an actual drive shaft to propeller 15 can be dispensed with, utilizing electrically powered, rotatable podded propellers, for instance superconducting electric motor propellers. Further, for land vehicle applications electric wheel motors may be used rather than propellers.

While it is contemplated that a hydrogen plasma generator may be well suited as the thermal energy source for vehicles and power generation systems in the present disclosure, it is not thereby limited. For example, rather than a hydrogen plasma generator, a conventional internal combustion engine or a nuclear fission or fusion reactor could be used as the thermal energy source, though none of these devices may be preferred due to the many well-known shortcomings of each. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that a hydrogen plasma engine according to the present disclosure might utilize waste heat from any source to provide thermal or electrical power, as well as utilizing heat from a reaction or source dedicated solely to power generation.

In the case of a hydrogen-powered vehicle, utilizing a hydrogen plasma engine, the propulsion system may further include a water splitting apparatus 22, for example an electrolysis apparatus that may be coupled with a water source via a supply passage 21. The use of a water splitting apparatus will allow continuous, controlled hydrogen fuel generation. In addition, for stationary power generation apparatuses, electrolysis or another form of water splitting may be used to provide hydrogen fuel for power generation. Thus, it will be apparent that propulsion system 20 is particularly well suited to marine vessels, including submersibles, wherein the vehicle is actually disposed within the primary fuel source, water.

The advantages of utilizing the actual medium through which the vehicle travels as the fuel source are readily apparent. For submersible applications, the use of water as the fuel source obviates the need for refueling at the surface. In addition, where water splitting is utilized to provide hydrogen as an end fuel, oxygen liberated in the electrolysis process may be used for onboard life support or other purposes. Accordingly, the ultimate range of marine vessels will be essentially limited only by the capacity of the vessel to carry food and any other life support essentials. It is contemplated that submarines in particular will benefit through this particular application of the present disclosure. Submarines utilizing the propulsion and power generation systems of the present disclosure may be capable of remaining submerged for many months at a time, as expensive, bulky and even dangerous conventional oxygen generation and storage systems will not be needed, nor fuel storage.

As alluded to above, in embodiments where a source of bottled or other hydrogen is available or its use otherwise desired, onboard hydrogen storage may provide the necessary end fuel for the production of electrical energy (or thermal energy if desired). In such an embodiment, supply passage 21 may provide hydrogen directly, and water splitting apparatus 22 may be unnecessary. Certain aircraft, for example, may utilize stored hydrogen rather than stored water to provide fuel for their respective power generation systems.

While the present disclosure is discussed largely in the context of mobile vehicles, as alluded to above, in certain contemplated embodiments power generation components similar to those of propulsion system 20 will be applicable to various stationary and non-mobile devices. For instance, home heating and cooling systems, various appliances, and even stand alone electrical and thermal power generators lie within the scope of the present disclosure. It is further contemplated that certain embodiments will provide a ready supply of oxygen, in addition to generating power as described herein.

A clothing washing machine or dishwasher, for example, might be both powered by a power generation system of the present disclosure employing a hydrogen plasma engine, and supplied with oxygen for enhanced bleaching/cleaning action that is liberated during the water splitting process. Oxygen may also be converted to ozone via an ozone conversion apparatus, the ozone then being injected into a washing vessel for enhanced bleaching/cleaning action. In still further embodiments, both electrical and thermal power may be generated to perform various tasks. Within the context of a washing machine or dishwasher, but not thereby limited, a power generation apparatus according to the present disclosure might provide electrical energy for powering an electric motor to move the agitating or rotating components, oxygen or ozone for enhanced bleaching/cleaning power of the washing liquor, and thermal energy for heating the washing water. Further still, as described herein water splitting may provide the oxygen as well as hydrogen for generating heat, electricity and cleaning means. Particularly preferred, but not limiting, oxygen separating membranes for separating the oxygen produced via electrolysis or another water splitting process are those described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,544,404 to Mazanec et al., incorporated by reference herein.

In a related vein, hydrogen selective membranes may be used to separate hydrogen produced during water splitting for fueling the thermal energy source. In such designs, the hydrogen-selective membranes and processes set forth in U.S. Pat. No. 5,451,386 to Collins et al. and U.S. Pat. No. 6,569,226 to Dorris et al., hereby incorporated by reference, may be used. Dorris '226 may be particularly preferred in certain embodiments due to its suitability for operation at relatively low temperatures and pressures, increased permeability with increased moisture content of the hydrogen-laden reaction product stream, and resistance to carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide poisoning. Further suitable hydrogen selective membranes are available from Noritake Co. and Chuden Electric Co. of Chubu, Japan.

A residential or industrial forced air furnace/air conditioner might also be designed in accordance with the present disclosure, utilizing water as the power source for example, supplying thermal energy to heat air, electrical energy to cool air and run the airflow components, and even oxygen to enhance the oxygen content of the air and/or sanitize the same. The present disclosure may further include applications to clothes dryers, vacuums, refrigerators, etc. A hot water heater, for example, or water cooler might also be designed in accordance with the present disclosure, utilizing water as the power source and supplying heat for water heating via heat pumps of the apparatus or removing heat from the water via “micro-pipe heat pumps”, as described below. Oxygen produced via a water splitting apparatus may be fed into a ozone converter apparatus and injected into the water with an ozone injection apparatus to purify the water. In short, the present disclosure includes embodiments contemplated to be applicable in virtually any scenario wherein thermal energy or electrical energy may be used.

In still further mobile vehicle embodiments, such as an automobile, the present disclosure may provide advantages in vehicle heating and cooling over conventional designs. A portion of thermal energy from a thermal energy source such as energy source 40 of FIG. 1 might be diverted to heat air for warming the vehicle interior, for example. Similarly, thermal energy might be used to heat vehicle seats or de-ice portions of the vehicle interior or exterior. Additionally, cooling may be achieved via micro-pipe heat pumps as described herein.

From the foregoing description, it is apparent that the present disclosure provides a power generation system that is virtually unlimited in its applications. Vehicles, appliances, industrial processes, HVAC applications, and electrical power generation may all fall within the present disclosure, and may utilize the core components described herein. Having described various, but not all of the applications of the present disclosure, an exemplary embodiment of the hydrogen plasma engine will be described.

Turning to FIG. 2, there is shown a power generation system 21 consisting of various components suitable for use in propulsion system 20 of FIG. 1. System 21 comprises a “hydrogen plasma engine”, which is a suitable core component for all vehicular and stand alone machines of the present disclosure requiring electrical energy, thermal energy or both for operation. Power generation system 21 will thus be applicable to vehicles such as vehicle 10, but also may be a stand alone power generation system or a core component of various thermally or electrically powered devices. Moreover, it should be appreciated that not all the components of power generation system 21 will be necessary to power a vehicle such as vehicle 10 or another device, and FIG. 2 is thus illustrative only. As will be apparent from the following description, various systems might be developed using only discrete components of system 21 which will still fall within the scope of the present disclosure.

Power generation system 21 will typically include at least one energy conversion apparatus, for example two such apparatuses 130 a and 130 b. As described herein, the term “energy conversion apparatus” should be understood to mean an apparatus capable of converting thermal energy to electrical energy, electrical to thermal energy, or converting thermal energy from one thermal medium to another thermal medium. A thermal energy source 140 or “thermal body” will typically be thermally coupled with each of the energy conversion apparatuses 130 a and 130 b.

Each of thermal energy sources 140 may be a hydrogen thermal plasma energy source such as the type taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,024,935 to Mills et al., hereby incorporated by reference herein. It should be appreciated, however, that rather than a hydrogen thermal plasma energy source, any other suitable thermal energy source such as an internal combustion engine, a gas turbine engine, a geothermal energy source, a hydrogen fusion or fission reactor, etc., might be substituted for the plasma generators of system 21 without departing from the intended scope of the present disclosure. One suitable alternative thermal energy source is disclosed in the article entitled: “Towards Advanced Fuel Fusion: Electron, ion energy>100 keV in a dense plasma” by Eric J. Lerner, of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, 9 Tower Place, Lawrenceville, N.J., 08648 published at PAC Ref: 52.55.Ez.

A first energy conversion apparatus 130 a may be used to generate electrical energy from thermal energy for powering an external load, or for charging an electrical energy storage device 147. Electrical energy produced at energy conversion apparatus 130 a may also be used to power components of system 21 itself, facilitating operation in a continuous loop fashion. Apparatus 130 a will typically utilize a novel electrical power generating system that incorporates at least one thermal to electric converter 151, such as a thermoelectric or thermionic device, described herein. The term “thermal to electric converter” should be understood to broadly refer to devices such as a solid state device capable of directly converting thermal energy to electrical energy, or electrical energy to thermal energy, as discussed in more detail below. Alternative suitable thermal to electric converters may include plasmadynamic and magnetohydrodynamic converters such as the type taught in WO 02/087291 to Mills. Many different suitable designs are familiar to those skilled in the electrical arts, although certain preferred technologies are described herein. Problems in efficiency and feasibility which have plagued designers utilizing such devices for power generation and thermal management systems may be overcome by following the teachings of the present disclosure.

First energy conversion apparatus 130 a may include a heat sink 150 thermally coupled with the at least one thermal to electric converter 151. Together, heat sink 150 and thermal to electric converter 151 and a moving means (not shown) to circulate a heat transfer fluid, may be understood to comprise a heat pump. In other words, heat applied to a “hot” side of thermal to electric converter 151 is transferred across the device and extracted via heat sink 150. Thus, like a conventional heat pump, the combination of thermal to electric converter 151 and heat sink 150 can move heat within system 21. The transfer of thermal energy across thermal to electric converter 151 generates an electrical current in a well-known manner. Where a micro-pipe heat sink, described herein, is used for heat sink 150, the coupled heat sink and thermal to electric converter together comprise a “micro-pipe heat pump” having substantially better efficiency, and practicability than many earlier designs. The novel combination of a micro-pipe heat sink with a thermal to electric converter has many applications other than that described in the context of FIG. 2, several of which are discussed below along with other particulars of the micro-pipe heat pump's construction.

The reaction rate and thus thermal energy production of thermal body 140 may be controlled such that overheating of thermal to electric converter 151 is avoided. Moreover, the reaction rate may be controlled to adjust the amount of electrical energy that is produced by thermal to electric converter 15 1.

While the described configuration is contemplated to provide a particularly efficient and effective means of generating electricity via transferring heat to thermal to electric converter 151 and extracting heat therefrom, other designs are possible. For example, embodiments are also contemplated wherein thermal to electric converter 151 is sandwiched between two micro-pipe heat sinks. In such an embodiment, heat may be delivered (via any means) from a remote heat source to a first micro-pipe heat sink, transferred to the hot side of a thermal to electric converter, then extracted from the other side of the thermal to electric converter via another micro-pipe heat sink. Nevertheless, it is contemplated that positioning heat sink 150 and thermal to electric converter 151 adjacent one another, with thermal to electric converter 151 adjacent or near thermal body 140, will provide a means for minimizing energy losses from thermal energy transfer, and a convenient, compact package design.

As stated above, heat sink(s) 150 may in certain embodiments be any suitable heat sink known in the art, such as a finned aluminum or copper heat sink. Other examples of suitable heat sinks would be open cell metal foams, micro-honeycombs, and other advanced heat sink materials. It is contemplated, however, that the “micro-pipe” heat sinks mentioned above will provide a practical implementation strategy, and in most embodiments, one or more micro-pipe heat sink structures will be used.

Turning to the structure of the preferred heat sinks themselves, “micro-pipe” heat sinks will typically consist of a metallic foam comprising a matrix of hollow, partially fluid-filled pipes. A working fluid is passed about the pipes to conduct thermal energy between the micro-pipes and the working fluid. In this manner, thermal energy from thermal to electric converter 151 that is not converted to electrical energy may be carried away or “extracted” from the thermal to electric energy converter. The advanced efficiency of the micro-pipe heat sinks will allow more efficient electrical power generation by the thermal to electric converters than was possible in earlier designs.

It is contemplated that the working “fluid” will typically be a material that is liquid at room temperature, however, it should be appreciated that other materials such as gases, liquids, solids, or combinations of material phases might be used without departing from the scope of the present disclosure. Moreover, different working fluids or even different heat sinks altogether may be used in different parts of the apparatus.

Many thermal to electric converters are relatively sensitive to overheating and, thus, the use of high efficiency micro-pipe heat sinks further allows their temperature to be carefully controlled if necessary, while optimizing the amount of thermal energy that is converted to electrical power. Moreover, by varying the flow rate and working fluid type passed through micro-pipe heat sink 150, further control over the thermal state of thermal to electric converter 151 may be achieved. As described above, however, the primary means for controlling the thermal energy managed by each thermal to electric converter and thus converted to electrical power will typically be via control over the reaction process in thermal body 140 itself.

Suitable materials and processes for constructing the micro-pipe heat sinks of the present disclosure are known from United States Patent Application Publication No. 20040123980 to Queheillalt et al., hereby incorporated by reference. Another particular method of manufacturing a foam hollow ligament matrix disclosed in Queheillalt '980 is taught in the publication entitled “Electron Beam-Directed Vapor Deposition of Multifunctional Structures”, published in Mat. Res. Soc. Symp. Proc. Vol. 672, 2001, Materials Research Society, also hereby incorporated by reference herein. Because the preferred heat sinks are “multi-functional” structures, combining load-bearing support with functional heat transfer characteristics, they are well suited to providing a compact heat pump package when used in combination with solid state thermal to electric converters. As further discussed below, micro-pipe heat pumps have broad applicability beyond their described use in the hydrogen plasma engine embodied in system 21.

While the heat exchange foams of Queheillalt et al. are contemplated to provide one particularly well-suited material to be used in constructing micro-pipe heat pumps according to the present disclosure, others are available. For example, rather than hollow, fluid-filled ligaments in a heat exchange foam, other heat conductive materials such as solid heat conducting polymer ligaments known in the art might be used without departing from the scope of the present disclosure. In addition, “heat spreaders” may be bonded to the micro-pipe foams to more uniformly extract/transfer heat from thermal to electric converter 151.

Suitable ligaments for use in the micro-pipe heat sinks should be understood to include such ligament materials and/or structures as are capable of imparting a heat transfer coefficient of at least about 10 watts per meter Kelvin (10 W/M*K) where a gaseous working fluid is used, and approximately at least about 100 W/M*K where a liquid external working fluid is used.

In still further embodiments, a diamond coating based heat transfer material may be used instead of, or supplementary to, the heat exchange foams to provide a heat transfer coefficient on the order of about 2800 W/M*K, or even about 3000 W/M*K. Suitable diamond-based heat transfer coatings are taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,582,513 to Linares, hereby incorporated by reference herein.

The operating principles of micro-pipe heat sinks are similar to those of larger, more conventional heat sinks, though the structure is markedly different. Referring briefly to FIG. 5 c, there is illustrated a cross section of a ligament 186 suitable for use in heat sink 150. Each ligament may include a hollow interior having a working fluid therein. Heat transfer capabilities of the working fluid may be further enhanced by using deionized water, ethylene glycol, or oil within which nano-crystalline particles of substances such as copper, copper oxide, aluminum oxide, nano diamonds, or the like are dispersed. Certain suitable materials are taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,221,275 to Choi et al. The function of the hollow ligaments may be understood as similar to the compressor and condenser of a conventional heat pump. In particular, fluid within each ligament 186 will typically vaporize when sufficient heat is conducted from an exterior of each ligament. Vaporized fluid, i.e. gas, may then flow toward one end of each respective ligament. The vaporized fluid will then tend to condense proximate an end of each ligament, then flow via corners 188 of each ligament 186. This vaporization and condensation process causes the liquid-vapor interface inside the ligaments to change continually along the pipe and results in a flow of the working fluid through the ligaments. Various high performance thermal materials may be used to coat the heat sink matrix material using electron beam directed vapor deposition techniques. Exemplary materials may include copper, aluminum, silicon carbide, diamond, etc. During manufacturing, fluid may be introduced into the ligaments while open, and then sealed therein. A working fluid, isolated from the fluid in the interior of ligaments 186 is passed about the matrix of the ligaments to transfer thermal energy therebetween.

Thermal to electric converter 151 may be any of a wide variety of known devices and will typically comprise a device known in the art as a thermoelectric device or a thermionic device. Thermoelectrics and thermionics are well known in the thermal management arts which are capable of generating electricity when a thermal gradient is applied thereto. Many, if not most, thermoelectrics and thermionics, may be operated in more than one mode, for instance generating electricity when a thermal gradient is applied thereto, or generating a thermal gradient when a current is applied thereto. Thermoelectrics operated to generate electrical power via an applied thermal gradient are often said to be operated in “Seebeck” mode. One suitable thermoelectric device is available from Nextreme Thermal Solutions of 3040 Cornwallis Road Research Triangle Park, N.C. Other suitable thermoelectric devices are thin film superlattice thermoelectrics. Thin film superlattice devices may be fabricated using conventional semiconductor wafer fabrication techniques. Film sizes are typically customizable to the cooling area requirements of the application.

Another well-suited thermal to electric converter is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,300,150 to Venkatasubramanian, hereby incorporated by reference herein. Still other known means of converting thermal energy to electrical energy, utilizing thermionic devices are known from U.S. Pat. No. 6,229,083 to Edelson and U.S. Pat. No. 6,651,760 to Cox et al., both hereby incorporated by reference herein. Particularly preferred thermionic devices are those known in the art as quantum tunneling thermionic devices. Another preferred thermionic is a diamond thermionic device as taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,762,543, hereby incorporated by reference herein.

Referring also briefly to FIG. 3, there is shown a cross sectional view of a portion of system 21 including energy conversion apparatus 130 a. Apparatus 130 a will be thermally coupled with thermal body 140, which may be a hydrogen plasma generator as described herein. Thermal body 140 includes a reaction chamber 141 and at least one thermal to electric converter, for example an array of thermal to electric converters 151 thermally coupled therewith at “hot” sides thereof. A micropipe heat sink 150 may be disposed about and thermally coupled with a “cold” side of the thermal to electric converter(s) 151. It should be appreciated that the design of apparatus 130 a of FIG. 3 is schematic only, and should not be construed to limit the scope of the present disclosure. For instance, rather than a coaxial, circular arrangement about reaction chamber 141, thermal to electric converter 151 might comprise a plurality of units disposed radially about all or a portion of reaction chamber 141. Similarly, rather than a cylindrical reaction chamber 141, a different shape might be used, calling for a still further variation in the arrangement of the various components.

During operation of system 130 a intense heat will be generated in reaction chamber 141. At least a portion of this heat will be transferred via conduction through a wall of reaction chamber 141 to thermal to electric converters 151. Thermal energy may thenceforth be converted to electrical energy via thermal to electric converter 151. Heat may thenceforth be extracted from thermal to electric converter 151 via micropipe heat sink 150. It should still further be appreciated that thermal to electric converter 151 might be positioned remotely from reaction chamber 141 but in thermal communication therewith, depending upon the application.

Returning to system 21 of FIG. 1, the second of the energy conversion devices 130 b is best understood as a heat pump, for instance, a “plasma heat pump” also including or thermally coupled with another thermal energy source 140. Plasma heat pump 130 b will typically include a heat sink 150 such as a micro-pipe heat sink, described herein, and may be used to “pump” heat to an external device or to thermal energy storage subsystem 145, for example. Thus, in the broadest sense, plasma heat pump 130 b will include a micro-pipe heat sink thermally coupled with a thermal energy source 140, which may be a hydrogen thermal plasma generator as described herein or some other thermal energy source. A pump or fan will move a working fluid through the heat sink to transfer thermal energy to a target or another thermal medium. It should be appreciated that both of energy conversion apparatuses 130 a and 130 b need not be included in system 21, and each represents an independently new and useful concept. Moreover, while each is shown coupled with a separate thermal energy source 140, it should be appreciated that a single thermal energy source might instead be used and coupled with each of apparatuses 130 a and 130 b. In specific contemplated embodiments, the entire power generation apparatus may be a mobile power generation apparatus, mounted for instance to a semi-truck.

Where a hydrogen plasma generator is used as thermal energy source 140, it is contemplated that a supply of hydrogen will be required to fuel the device. To this end, power generation system 21 may further include a water splitting apparatus 122 operable to supply hydrogen to each of plasma generators 140 via a pair of hydrogen gas supply lines 124. A water input 121 may be provided for supplying water to apparatus 122. An oxygen conduit 125 may be connected with apparatus 122, for diverting at least a portion of oxygen produced via electrolysis for a particular use, such as life support or cleaning/sanitation, or to storage. An oxygen separation membrane, as described above, may be used to supply relatively pure oxygen to conduit 125 from apparatus 122.

A wide variety of water splitting apparatuses and methods may be used, including but not limited to proton exchange membrane electrolysis, photoelectrolysis, photo-biological electrolysis, high temperature electrolysis of steam, high temperature electrolysis of water, thermo-chemical cycles, photo-electro-chemical cleavage, water thermolysis, water radiolysis, water photolysis and other suitable thermal plasma, solar and radiation electrolysis processes. Furthermore, conventional water electrolysis may be used.

In one particularly preferred water splitting method, a low current water electrolysis apparatus may comprise apparatus 122, as set forth in Patent Application Publication No. WO 03096767. A suitable electrolysis method whereby hydrogen is extracted from water, known as a low current plasma electrolysis, is described in the book “The Foundations of Physchemistry of the Micro World,” by Ph. M. Kanarev, Second Edition at Chapter 12, also available at http://book.physchemistry.innoplaza.net.

In other preferred embodiments, an aluminum-assisted water splitting apparatus may be used, such as the type taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,582,676, hereby incorporated by reference herein.

As described above, diatomic hydrogen will be produced at water splitting apparatus 122, and supplied to each thermal energy source 140. It will typically be necessary to separate oxygen also liberated in the water splitting reaction. Molecular oxygen can be separated from the fuel stream by any of a wide variety of known means, for example via the selective membrane described above. The pure or at least relatively pure stream of diatomic hydrogen may then be converted into atomic hydrogen, also by a variety of known means. One known means for converting diatomic hydrogen into atomic hydrogen is known from U.S. Pat. No. 6,024,935 to Mills et al., referenced above. In the '935 patent, a chemical dissociator is used to convert the diatomic hydrogen to atomic hydrogen. Still other means are available for dissociating hydrogen, including a microwave apparatus and process as taught in WO 2004/092058 to Mills, hereby incorporated by reference herein.

Where the process described by Kanarev, referenced above, is used, a portion of plasma generated in thermal energy source 140 may be diverted to hydrogen from water for fuel. A portion of electrical power generated may also be used in operating water splitting apparatus 122. In such an embodiment, it may be necessary to initiate the plasma generation process or the water splitting process by some other means, however, once initiated, plasma produced at thermal energy sources 140 may be used to run an essentially continuous loop energy generation process. In other words, thermal energy source 130 a will produce both plasma and electrical power, a portion of the plasma and electrical power being diverted to generate fuel for system 21 from, for example, water.

Once dissociated hydrogen is produced, it will typically be supplied directly to thermal energy sources 140. As set forth in Mills '935, described above, a catalyst, such as helium, may be used to induce the dissociated hydrogen atoms to relax to lower quantum states. The relaxation of the atomic hydrogen, that is, the lowering of the quantum state of electrons of each hydrogen atom, will result in the release of thermal energy. The release of thermal energy in thermal plasma generators 140 is harnessed according to the present disclosure to either produce electricity or be transferred to a suitable thermal energy storage medium, as described herein. One significant advantage of a power generation system of the present disclosure over earlier designs is the capability of the hydrogen plasma engine to produce electrical and thermal energy, and store either of the same for later use, as well as for operating the system itself. Returning to system 21 of FIG. 2, a micro-pipe heat exchanger 150 may be thermally coupled with each thermal energy source 140. One or both of the micro-pipe heat exchangers 150 may in turn be thermally coupled with thermal energy storage device 145. Thermal energy storage subsystem/device 145 may in turn be coupled with at least one other micro-pipe heat exchanger 150. Thermal energy storage device 145 may be selectively thermally connected with the at least one other micro-pipe heat exchanger 150 to actively control the extraction of stored thermal energy from storage device 145. The micro-pipe heat exchanger coupled with thermal energy storage device 145 may also be coupled with a thermal to electric converter, in turn coupled to yet another micro-pipe heat sink. Thus, thermal energy storage device may be coupled with a micro-pipe heat pump consisting of two micro-pipe heat exchangers with a thermal to electric converter “sandwiched” therebetween. Said thermal to electric converter may be a Peltier mode thermoelectric device, such that an applied current can control extraction of heat from thermal energy storage device 145. Suitable thermionic devices may also be used. Superinsulation panels may be used with thermal energy storage device 145 to facilitate retention of thermal energy therein. For purposes of this patent application, the term “superinsulation panel” is used to refer to insulating material having an R-value per inch (resistance to the transfer of thermal energy) greater than approximately twenty R20/inch). Various types of superinsulation panels may be satisfactorily used with the present invention. Examples of such superinsulation panels which have a high R-value are shown in U.S. Pat. No. 5,090,981 and U.S. Pat. No. 5,094,899, incorporated by reference herein. Such superinsulation panels are commercially available from Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation located in Toledo, Ohio under the tradename “AURA”. Other suitable panels include Glacier Bay's Barrier Ultra-R vacuum superinsulation panel with aerogel core material having R-50 per inch. Nanopore thermal insulation having an R-value of R40/inch are available from NanoPore Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M.

An electronic controller 170 may be provided and in control communication with a moving means (not shown) which can control the flow of the working fluid into and out of the micro-pipe heat pump that is coupled with thermal energy storage device 145 via a flow passage 131. Similarly, electronic controller 170 may be operable to control the flow of the working fluid into and out of each of the other micro-pipe heat pumps of system 21, via additional flow passages 131. An electrical system 175 is further provided in system 21 and controls each of the various components requiring active controls thereof. In addition, electrical system 175 will include at least one electrical output 176 for delivering electrical energy to a load 135. At least one of a boost converter and a buck converter 133, to boost up an output voltage, or reduce an output voltage, respectively, may be coupled with electrical output 176. Most thermal to electric energy converters produce electrical power at relatively low voltages, thus it will typically be necessary to boost up the voltage for powering a target application. Because it is contemplated that certain of the components of system 21 may rely on electrical power produced by system 21 itself to operate, it may in some instances be necessary to include the buck converter to drop the voltage appropriately. Further still, a signal conditioning means may be provided to condition the outputted electrical power appropriately, or to condition electrical power returned to system 21 for operation. Where a low current plasma unit is used to produce the hydrogen fuel from water, for example, a square wave power signal will typically be required.

Superconducting heat transfer media 132, or any suitable heat transfer media may be used to deliver or remove heat between and among any of the thermal energy sources and storage means described herein.

An electrical energy storage subsystem/device 147 may further be coupled with electrical system 175. Electrical energy storage subsystem/device 147 may include any of, a battery, a capacitor, an ultra-capacitor/supercapacitor, or any of a wide variety of magnetic energy storage means. Superconducting magnetic energy storage means may be applied to system 21, for instance, the room temperature superconductors taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,570,224 to Ilyanok. Such superconducting wires as are taught in the '224 patent may be wound into a magnet coil of various types, including but not limited to Brooks coils, thin wall solenoids and thin wall toroids, allowing magnetic field energy to be stored essentially without any energy loss.

Similarly, super high energy density supercapacitors may be used in electrical energy storage subsystem 147. Other methods for storing electrical energy include, low and high speed flywheels, various forms of advanced batteries such as lithium ion, lead acid, hydrino hydride, metal hydride, etc., and cryogenic SMES.

From the foregoing description, it is apparent that system 21 provides a multiplicity of operating modes for generating, storing and delivering electrical or thermal energy. For example, each of thermal energy sources 140 may be used to produce thermal energy via plasma generation. This thermal energy might substantially all be converted into electrical energy by system 21. Alternatively, thermal energy may be stored in thermal energy storage subsystem/device 145, and extracted for later use. Electrical energy may be stored in electrical energy subsystem/device 147 for later use, or to meet the demand placed on system 21 by transients, for example, or even to provide a means for initiating plasma generation and power production of system 21. Electronic controller 170 may serve as a master controller to initiate plasma generation, to terminate or modulate plasma generation, and to control the delivery to and removal of energy from either of thermal energy storage subsystem 145 and electrical energy storage subsystem 147. Where coupled with a propulsion system such as propulsion system 20 of FIG. 1, one or more motor controllers 133 and electric motors 135 may be operably coupled with electronic controller 170 and system 21. Energy conversion apparatuses 130 a and 130 b may also be operably coupled with electronic controller 170, as well as with electrical system 175.

Referring also to FIG. 4, there is shown an illustrative arrangement of components similar to those contemplated for use in system 21, described herein in the context of electrical power generation. The system of FIG. 4 operates in a manner similar to that of system 21 of FIG. 1 to generate electrical power from thermal energy. In particular, an electronic microwave controller 255 (which might be coupled with a master controller such as controller 170 of FIG. 2) is shown coupled with a microwave generator 256. Controller 255 may be used to control the operation of microwave controller 256 to modulate dissociation of hydrogen proximate a hydrogen plasma generator 240. Because plasma generation, and in turn thermal power generation will depend upon dissociation of diatomic hydrogen to atomic hydrogen, electronic controller 255 may be used to start, stop and vary thermal energy production by plasma generator 240.

Arrow “A” indicates a direction of gas flow through plasma generator 240, which gas flow may include hydrogen and an appropriate catalyst if needed. Within plasma generator 240, hydrogen will be converted to plasma, liberating thermal energy. Thermal energy may in turn be transferred across a boundary to a heat sink 231 in a thermal transfer direction shown via arrows “B”, via at least one thermal to electric converter 230.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, a cooling fluid will be passed, arrows “C”, via a moving means such as a blower or pump 232 through heat sink 231. One particularly preferred moving means is of the motorless fan type taught in United States Patent Application No. 20050007726, incorporated by reference herein. As heat is transferred from plasma generator 240 to heat sink 231 via thermal to electric converters 230, an electrical current may be produced thereby. A micro-pipe heat exchanger as described herein may be used to extract heat from device 230.

The relative rate of plasma generation, and thus thermal energy production, may be varied when operating a particular embodiment, or vary among different embodiments. Accordingly, the necessity to remove heat from thermal to electric converters 230 may vary depending upon the application. Generally, thermal to electric converters 230 may be selected based in part on their ability to withstand relatively large temperatures, possibly at or exceeding 3000 degrees Celsius. Therefore, for large scale, continuous plasma generation, heat exchange via the micropipe heat exchanger may need to occur at substantially a maximum effectiveness to protect the thermal to electric converters against degradation or destruction. For relatively smaller scale thermal energy production, it may be possible to simply slow down or turn off plasma generation, allowing thermal to electric converters 230 to cool down. In such instances, the system could rely upon stored thermal or electrical energy to meet output demands.

Returning to the operation of the system of FIG. 4, thermal to electric converters 230 may be understood as directly converting thermal energy from generator 240 to electrical energy. It should be appreciated that although thermal to electric converters 230 are shown adjacent plasma generator 240, this need not be the case, and they might instead be situated remotely from plasma generator 240, yet thermally coupled therewith. Any of a variety of additional heat sinks or heat transfer means may be used to supply thermal to electric converters 230 with the requisite thermal energy from plasma generator 240. In certain contemplated embodiments, a superconducting heat transfer medium such as the type taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,132,823 to Qu et al. may be used to supply heat to thermal to electric converters 230. The superconducting heat transfer capabilities of the materials taught in Qu may be applied elsewhere within system 21.

In addition to the above application to a power generation apparatus, micro-pipe heat sinks in combination with thermoelectric or thermionic devices may be used in thermal management of other apparatuses and devices. In this context, a micro-pipe heat sink thermally coupled with one or more thermoelectric or thermionic devices may be best understood as a micro-pipe heat pump. The construction of micro-pipe heat pumps is similar to the combination of micro-pipe heat sinks with thermoelectric/thermionic devices discussed above, however, the operating modes may differ. Rather than generating electrical power from thermal energy, as described above with respect to system 21, in the thermal management context, electrical power will be used to power the thermoelectric/thermionic devices such that they can heat or cool a target thermal body whose temperature is sought to be regulated.

In general terms, a micro-pipe heat pump will consist of a micro-pipe based heat exchange foam coupled with a thermal to electric converter such as the thermoelectric and thermionic devices, and moving means to transfer heat from the system described herein. In the case of a thermoelectric device, operation wherein heat transfer is controlled by applying an electrical current, the operating mode is known in the art as Peltier mode. Many thermionic devices operate in a similar fashion, with current applied thereto being used to drive thermal transfer across the device. Thermal management of internal combustion engines, electronics, various industrial processes, etc. may all be within the scope of the present disclosure. Thus, virtually any thermal management issue may be addressed through the application of the novel micro-pipe heat pumps disclosed herein.

Two primary micro-pipe heat pump embodiments are contemplated to be practicable. The first of these is termed a “single wall” micro-pipe heat pump, wherein a micro-pipe heat sink is attached or otherwise thermally coupled with a thermoelectric or thermionic device. A target device, object or even a fluid is heated or cooled on the other side of the thermoelectric or thermionic device. Exemplary but not limiting applications may include heated or cooled seats, ice cube makers, integrated circuit heat pumps in a chip cooling system such as integrated circuits themselves, microprocessors, lasers and telecom components such as EDFA optical amplifiers, diode pumped lasers, arrayed wave guides, high speed avalanche photodiodes, etc. Still further electronics applications include optical multi-plexors and variable optical attenuators. Infrared sensor components, hard drives, electronics enclosures and motor cooling applications are also contemplated.

The second primary type of micro-pipe heat pump embodiment is a “dual wall” design. A dual wall design includes a thermal to electric converter “sandwiched” between two micro-pipe heat sinks. Applications for the dual wall embodiments are generally those where heat is transferred from a source medium to a sink medium, the direction of heat transfer being determined by the direction of the electrical potential applied to the thermal to electric converter. Exemplary applications include seat cooling/heating, refrigerators, water heater/coolers such as drinking water dispensers, pools and spas, medical applications such as blood analyzer cooling, industrial heat pumps and chillers.

Superconducting heat transfer media may be used in conjunction with either of the single and dual wall concepts in various applications. Significant energy loss can occur when transferring heat over relatively long distances. Superconducting heat transfer pipes such as the type taught in Qu, referenced above, are capable of transferring heat via a superconducting coating on interior walls of a vacuum pipe. In conjunction with the micro-pipe heat pumps described herein, such pipes can provide for ductless residential or industrial heat pumps, wherein conventional motor/blower and/or fan assemblies are replaced by the superconducting heat transfer pipes. Either of these general structural concepts may also be incorporated into a three-dimensional heat sink structure, encased with structural walls so that a liquid or gas may flow through the same structure for added heat transfer capabilities. A combined washer/dryer device might be designed according to this concept such that in one instance heat is transferred to a liquid passing through a heat exchange structure during a wash cycle, then air blown through the same heat exchange structure during a dry cycle. In such a design, micro-pipe heat pumps according to the present disclosure could be structurally within the walls of a duct serving the described dual purposes.

Referring to FIGS. 5 a-d, there are shown various components of a micro-pipe heat pump 190 shown coupled with a thermal body 140 according to the present disclosure. “Thermal body” should be understood to refer to substantially any device, component, or structure whose thermal state is sought to be regulated or thermal energy extracted therefrom. Thus, thermal body 140 might be a portion of an internal combustion engine, or an exhaust system, for example. It might also be a chemical reactor whose temperature is to be controlled or an electrical device. Moreover, micro-pipe heat pumps of the present disclosure may be used to deliver heat to, or extract heat from, a thermal body to produce electrical energy, or simply to keep the temperature of the thermal body within a desired range. Micro-pipe heat pumps as described herein have been found to provide heat transfer capabilities and efficiencies that are superior in most if not all instances to conventional, finned heat exchangers.

In FIG. 5 a thermal body 140 is illustrated thermally coupled with two micro-pipe heat pumps 190. A single heat pump 190 might be used; however, to illustrate the use of a micro-pipe heat pump directly adjacent a thermal body, as well as one positioned remote from a thermal body, both options are illustrated in FIG. 5 a. Each of heat pumps 190 may consist of a thermal to electric converter 187 sandwiched between two heat exchange foam matrices 181, similar to the dual wall micro-pipe heat pumps described above. Single wall designs might also be used. The innermost foam matrix (closest to thermal body 140), comprising for example hollow ligaments, will conduct heat between thermal body 140 and the thermal to electric converter device 187. The outermost foam matrix may be, but need not be, identical to the innermost foam matrix, and may conduct heat away from the thermal to electric converter device 187.

Those skilled in the art will appreciate that each heat pump 190 may be operated to either deliver heat to, or extract heat from, thermal body 140. Further, each heat pump 190 might be operated to generate electrical power from thermal energy if desired. In other words, although a primary application of heat pump 190 will involve regulating the temperature of thermal body 140, excess heat might be used to generate electricity if available. To switch from a thermal management mode to a power generating mode, each heat pump might be operated in a manner similar to the thermal to electric converters described with respect to system 21. Generally, however, thermal to electric converter 187 will typically be operated to “actively” transfer heat between the outermost foam matrix and the innermost foam matrix. As used herein, the term “actively” should be understood to mean that an external controller, such as an electronic controller will be operable to adjust the electrical potential or current across control connections of the respective thermal to electric converters to adjust both the direction and magnitude of their heat transfer aspect.

In this general fashion, temperature control of thermal body 140 may be achieved, or heat may be extracted from thermal body 140 to generate electricity. In the context of a cooling system for electronics, for example, coolant flow rate may be varied in addition to varying of the electrical potential or current across the control connections of the thermal to electric converters 187.

In FIG. 5 b, arrow “H” represents an approximate direction of thermal energy transfer into the matrix of ligaments 186 when heat pump 190 is used as a cooling device or for electrical power generation. Where heat pump 190 is used as a heating device, the direction of arrow H would be generally reversed from that shown in FIG. 5 b. Arrow “F” represents a working fluid cross flow.

As mentioned above, a thermal to electric energy conversion device 181 will be thermally coupled with the heat exchange foam, and typically operable to “pump” heat into or out of the same. In an embodiment wherein heat pump 190 is used to cool thermal body 140, an electrical potential may be applied to device 181 in a first direction, whereas when heat pump 190 is used to heat thermal body 140, an electric potential may be applied to device 181 in an opposite direction.

Referring to FIG. 5 d, there is shown a cut away view of a portion of heat pump 190 of FIG. 5 b. Heat pump 190 may include a heat spreader 302 on a first side of an array of thermoelements 306, 308 of a thermoelectric material. Thermoelements 306 and 308 may comprise a plurality of alternating n-type and p-type devices, such as are described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,300,150, hereby incorporated by reference herein. Another spreader 304 may be applied opposite heat spreader 302.

Referring also to FIG. 6, there is shown an example illustration of a micropipe heat pump package 400 attached to a semiconductor die. Package 400 is mounted to a circuit board 402. Circuit board 402 has a number of connections that may connect with various electronic systems and/or components including voltage lines, ground connections, logic connections, clocks, and processors, microprocessors etc. Circuit board 402 further includes a number of contact regions connecting with a number of interconnects 404 of package 400. The interconnects 404 are shown as “balls” 404, and may include signal balls, thermal balls, power balls, etc., as such are known in the art, which provide thermal and signal connections to circuit board 402. The signal balls further permit external communication with package 400, for instance, thermal balls may provide external thermal information and control, and power balls may provide power to semi-conductor devices and cooling devices within package 400. A substrate 405 is adjacent balls 404. Balls 404 will typically be mounted or formed on a semi-conductor die 406, to provide external connections to devices and components from in and/or on die 406. Semi-conductor die 406 is located or formed on and/or within substrate 405, and may include one or more semiconductor devices. The included semi-conductor devices may include analog and/or digital circuits, analog/digital converters, analog/analog converters, processor units, amplifiers, signal processors, controllers, etc. During operation die 406 will typically generate thermal energy. For optimal functioning, and in some instances for any proper functioning, thermal energy must be dissipated from die 406.

A micropipe heat pump 408, such as heat pump 190 of FIGS. 5 a-d may be mounted on and in thermal communication with die 406. A thermal paste, thermally conductive adhesive, or similar material 407 may be disposed between die 406 and heat pump 408 to enhance thermal conductivity therebetween. The thermal expansion rate of a thermal transfer material is generally required to be matched to that of a semi-conductor substrate to prevent micro-cracking at the interface between the two materials as the device is turned on and off. A thermal interface material suitable for use with package 400 of the present disclosure is an Advanced Thermal Transfer Adhesive (ATTA) for die attachment and having a thermal conductivity of about 750 W/M*K, available from BTech Corp. of Longmont, Colo. When a DC voltage is applied to heat pump 408, thermal energy will be dissipated and moved from a cooling side in contact with die 406 to a top side of heat pump 408. Due to the excellent thermal energy transfer capability of heat pump 408, thermal energy is drawn away from semi-conductor die 406 and dissipated into a working fluid.

Another novel implementation of the system may use an ionic-driven air pump device. Operation of this moving means is described in United States Patent Application No. 2005/0007725 to Schlitz et al., incorporated by reference herein. The ionic-driven air pump can be used to pump air through the micro-pipe heat sink of micro-pipe heat pump 408. The ionic-driven heat pump may be a single layer device or multi-layer 3D device, incorporated directly on the package 100 forming a complete heat pump on a chip cooling system. The ionic-driven air pump may also be mounted next to the package 400. Methods for fabricating a 3D multi-layer device are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,905,557, 6,864,585 and 6,627,531 to Enquist et al., all of which are incorporated by reference herein. Other miniaturized moving means which may form part of the solid state heat pump 408 that are contemplated, include piezoelectric fan elements, and ultrasonic motors driving a pump or fan, etc. One exemplary axial flow piezoelectric fan is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 5,861,703 to Losinski et al. Exemplary ultrasonic motors are available from Physik Instrumente L.P. of Auburn, Mass.

INDUSTRIAL APPLICABILITY

Having described above the general structure of various embodiments which might be constructed within the scope of the present disclosure, the following description sets forth an illustrative process of generating electrical power via system 21 of FIG. 2. Electronic controller 170 will typically initialize upon activation, and determine a state of stored energy in systems 147 and 145, for example. Thenceforth, electronic controller 170 will activate water splitting apparatus 122, which will begin the production of diatomic hydrogen from water, for example. As described above, initiation of hydrogen production at water splitting apparatus 122 may be powered, for example, by stored energy of either of systems 147 and 145.

Hydrogen produced at water splitting apparatus 122 will thenceforth be delivered to each of hydrogen plasma generators 140, typically after being separated from oxygen in a reactant stream via the means described herein. Diatomic hydrogen will thenceforth be converted to atomic hydrogen, and supplied to thermal energy sources/plasma generators 140. Plasma generation at generators 140 will result in the liberation of thermal energy, which will be transferred to thermal to electric converter 151 via a hot side thereof. Thermal energy will thenceforth be transferred from thermal to electric converter 151 to a micro-pipe heat exchanger on the cold side thereof. Electrical current will be produced by each thermal to electric converter, as described herein, to electrical system 175 to power an electrical load. Plasma generation can be increased or decreased to meet the power demands on the system.

By implementing the aforementioned concepts, substantial improvements in the design and operation of power generation, thermal energy management and vehicle propulsion can be realized over other known systems. In particular, the present disclosure provides a virtually unlimited range when used in the context of marine vessels, obviating completely the need for refueling and fuel storage, and fuel delivery costs. Moreover, the size and weight of propulsion systems may be reduced over earlier designs, and negative environmental consequences of operation reduced. In addition, the use of water as a fuel presents substantial safety improvements as compared with earlier designs such as fossil fuel and nuclear propulsion systems.

The present description is for illustrative purposes only, and should not be construed to narrow the breadth of the present disclosure in any fashion. Thus, those skilled in the art will appreciate that various modifications might be made to the presently disclosed embodiments without departing from the intended spirit and scope of the present disclosure. Other aspects, features and advantages will be apparent upon an examination of the attached drawings and appended claims.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification60/651
International ClassificationF01K25/08
Cooperative ClassificationY02B30/52, F01K15/04, Y02B30/123, F02G5/00, Y02T10/166
European ClassificationF01K15/04, F02G5/00