Until now, thermodynamic engines that use compressible working fluids have generally been mechanical devices. These devices have inherent difficulties in achieving high compression ratios and in achieving the near constant temperature compression and expansion processes needed to approximate Carnot equivalent cycles. Solid-state thermoelectric converters that utilize semiconductor materials have only been able to achieve single digit conversion efficiency. Extensive resources have been applied toward Alkali Metal Thermoelectric Converters (AMTEC), which operate on a modified Rankine cycle and on the Stirling engine. However, because of inherent limitations, these systems have not achieved envisioned performance levels.

The JTEC is an all solid-state engine that operates on the Ericsson cycle. Equivalent to Carnot, the Ericsson cycle offers the maximum theoretical efficiency available from an engine operating between two temperatures. The JTEC system utilizes the electro-chemical potential of hydrogen pressure applied across a proton conductive membrane (PCM). The membrane and a pair of electrodes form a Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) similar to those used in fuel cells. On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons. The pressure differential forces protons through the membrane causing the electrodes to conduct electrons through an external load. On the low-pressure side, the protons are reduced with the electrons to reform hydrogen gas. This process can also operate in reverse. If current is passed through the MEA a low-pressure gas can be “pumped” to a higher pressure.

The JTEC uses two membrane electrode assembly (MEA) stacks. One stack is coupled to a high temperature heat source and the other to a low temperature heat sink. Hydrogen circulates within the engine between the two MEA stacks via a counter flow regenerative heat exchanger. The engine does not require oxygen or a continuous fuel supply, only heat. Like a gas turbine engine, the low temperature MEA stack is the compressor stage and the high temperature MEA is the power stage. The MEA stacks will be designed for sufficient heat transfer with the heat source and sink to allow near constant temperature expansion and compression processes. This feature coupled with the use of a regenerative counter flow heat exchanger will allow the engine to approximate the Ericsson cycle.

The engine is scaleable and has applications ranging from supplying power for Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to power for large-scale applications such as fixed power plants. The technology is applicable to skid mounted, field generators, land vehicles, air vehicles and spacecraft. The JTEC could utilize heat from fuel combustion, solar, low grade industrial waste heat or waste heat from other power generation systems including fuel cells, internal combustion engines and combustion turbines. As a heat pump, the JTEC system could be used as a drop in replacement for existing HVAC equipment in residential, commercial, or industrial settings.