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February 16, 2013

Converting Municipal Waste to Energy at industrial and personal scales

Problem: Global annual production of municipal solid waste (MSW) is expected to grow from 1.3 billion tonnes today to 9.8 billion tonnes in 2050. That waste represents 4-5 billion barrels of oil, about 2/3 of the oil the United States uses annually.

Solution: Imagine a box that you put on a landfill where you pump in municipal solid waste on one side and energy and valuable resources comes out the other. Sound crazy? Jeff's already built such a system.



Breakthrough technology that might make it possible: The system uses plasma gas to super heat waste, turning organic materials into synthetic gas which can be harvested and used as a fuel and inorganic materials into a construction product.

More at SolveforX.com!



Using drones to help with trade and other positive goals

Problem: What if war could be fought using technology that's more humane and could achieve political or tactical goals without killing civilians?

Solution: Targeted military force could do limited harm or potentially do good instead of the drone missle strikes that are used today.

Technology: Natalie proposes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be used in new, creative ways.

More at SolveforX.com.



A New Google SolveforX looks to replace plastics with biodegradable plastics

Problem: Plastics are useful and inexpensive but are manufactured out of fossil fuels, used once and then thrown away and create systemic health and environmental health risks.

Solution: Develop biodegradable plastics that are less expensive than petrochemicals while having similar or better material properties.



Breakthrough technology that makes it possible: Bacteria eat methane gas from landfills to create polyhydroxyalkalate (PHA) - a polymer that can replace polypropylene, one of the most commonly used petrochemical plastics.

More at SolveforX.com




Comparing the Russian Meteor to Tunguska and Yesterdays Near Miss Asteroid



February 15, 2013

Meteor Hits Russia with force of 20 Hiroshima bombs

A meteorite streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.

This is a reminder of the need for an Asteroid shield like that proposed by the Lifeboat foundation and other groups.

People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt the shock wave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.

The fireball, travelling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail that could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away.

NY Times has coverage



February 14, 2013

Synthesizing DNA 10,000 times cheaper and making a synthetic biology revolution

Problem: Synthetic biology has the potential to create new organisms that could do an infinite number of things. But the cost of synthesizing DNA is currently prohibitively expensive.

Solution: Austen has developed a new technique to synthesize DNA 10,000 times cheaper than existing technology.

1. DNA microarray
2. Microbeads capture DNA - separates the sequences
3. Beads copy the single strand many times
4. Attach beads to glass and read out the sequences for quality control and create a quality score
5. Use laser to recover the DNA (Laser pulse catapulting)
Print up to 100 strands per second


Technology: One of the big challenges with DNA synthesis is error correction during fabrication, fabricating the correct sequence of A, T, G and Cs. Austen solves this problem by fabricating billions of strands at once, quickly (and cheaply) optically sequencing them and then selecting the correct DNA sequences using a fast moving laser.

More on SolveforX.com.



All Optical Nanoparticle Computing

Problem: Moore's law won't continue forever. Transistors are now so small that they have reached the quantum scale and it will simply not be physically possible to make them smaller.

Solution: Many people have proposed optical computing as the next technology to continue Moore's Law because photons move several orders of magnitude faster than electrons, do not lose energy while moving. Prashant Jain and his colleagues have developed an optical transistor - a device that could serve as the underlying logic gate for optical computing.


3 or 4 charges in a nanoparticle or quantum dot can convert it from a semiconductor to a metal antenna. Nanoparticle antenna for communication and semiconductor for the computation.

Technology that might make it possible: The optical transistor is built using doped metal nanoparticles that absorb and emit photons at specific frequencies of light when a voltage potential is applied.

More at SolveforX.com.




Rethinking Solar to get it cheaper than natural gas

Problem: The price of solar electricity is still higher than electricity from coal or natural gas. Price parity or perhaps making solar cheaper than fossil fuel is required for widespread adoption of solar.

Solution: Bill outlines several ideas that could reduce the material, labor and maintenance costs of solar thermal electricity.

1. Rethink Storage - integrated rock storage right in the tower
2. Rethink Engine - Low temperature stirling engine
3. Rethink Actuation
4. Rethink Installation




Wind is the Enemy of Solar 0 Solar has heavy frames to resist strong wind

Cover the solar when winds are strong, so solar setup can be cheap and lightweight

Technology that might make it possible: Energy storage using rocks, higher efficiency (~30%) sterling engine, low-weight mirror structures including a retractable wind covers, wire drive mirrior actuation and automated construction and installation of the mirrors.

More at SolveforX.com!



Graphene Supercapacitor

The video shows how easy it now is to produce graphene and discusses how a supercapacitor made from graphene could be a huge deal.



Producing Terawatts of Economical Energy Storage in the next two decades

Problem: Wind and solar energy sources simply can't produce power at all times. Energy storage is needed to store energy from the sun and wind when it's produced for use later. No economical, widespread energy storage method currently exists that would allow a substantial portion of the electrical grid's electricty to be supplied by these renewable sources.

Solution: An inexpensive, compressed air energy storage system with 60-70% efficiency could be widely scaled, hopefully enabling terawatts of grid energy storage in the next two decades.

Technology that might make it possible: Water is used to cool air temperature during compression and increase temperature during expansion, making the system more efficient.

This solution is well thought out and considers the response of the fossil fuel markets and companies. A large expansion of renewables will just cause fossil fuel prices to go down to the cost of extraction and processing. Reducing emissions down to 20% of current levels is sustainable. Fossil fuels could only be used for high value purposes,

More at SolveforX.com



Tricking CMOS to generate Terahertz frequencies for cheap THz communication, imaging and medical applications

Problem: The terahertz range (300 GHz to 3 THz) is the last part of the electromagnetic spectrum that does not have an inexpensive, accessible technology to emit and detect the light.

Solution: Use a number of inexpensive and small CMOS chips that can work together to emit terahertz light above 1mW, enough to use for many interesting applications in medicine, imaging and communications.



Breakthrough technology that might make it possible: Ehsan and his team at Cornell use several technical tricks to trick CMOS chips to produce electromagnetic waves in the terahertz range.

More at SolveforX.com!



George Miley 10 kw LENR nanoparticle cold fusion proposal did well in voting for ARPA-E Ultralight future energy project funding

George Miley 10 KW LENR cold fusion project won the right at a ARPA-E sanctioned pitchfest on Feb 25, 2013.

George Miley is a well respected professor of nuclear fusion researcher and ran the University of Illinois Fusion Lab.

LENR Power Units use pressurized hydrogen –nickel nanoparticles undergoing low energy nuclear reactions to create a very high energy density heat source configured for co-generation power for home or industrial distributed power

Short description of the technology

The recent discovery of practical applications of low energy nuclear reactions has created much activity and interest worldwide. Several companies, including LENUCO, have entered this business. Our approach using hydrogen loaded nanoparticles to produce heat that is converted to electrical output offers many advantages. Lenuco was founded to commercialize this technology and has a two-pronged business model. One prong is to manufacture small to medium range distributed power sources for home and industrial use. The second prong is to provide develop the technology for use by in Army bases, both homeland and in forward facilities, for a main power source. Both uses capitalize on the high power density and low maintenance, radiation free, long lifetime characteristics of LENR power cells.




Planetary Resources Describes New Designs and Advances for Making Satellite Imaging ten times cheaper and three times better and plans for asteroid mining

Problem: If humanity is to move off Earth and become an interplanetary species, it will need an economic reason to do so.

Solution: Near-earth asteroids contain (literally) trillions of dollars worth of resources and materials that could be harvested and brought back to Earth. A number of them are also energetically easier to get to than the surface of the Moon. That tremendous bounty creates a huge incentive for the private sector to create the requisite detection, propulsion and harvesting technology to capture these precious metals and minerals.


Technology: Planetary resources led by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson is developing the technology and spacecraft to detect, harvest, capture and bring back these resources from Near-Earth asteroids.

More on SolveforX.com.




Rodney Brook re-imagines manufacturing with localized production with robotics and 3d printing

Problem: Modern, global manufacturing utilizes low-cost wage labor and mass production seperating the designers & innovators from the fabrication of their products.

Solution: What if innovators had the tools to design, print and assemble their own hardware products?

Technology: Advances in robotics, like Rodney's Baxter robot, 3D printing, such as Form Labs desktop stereolithography machine, and CAD tools will help individuals make real products.

More on SolveforX.com.



Accelerating Intelligence and technology is powerful but persistent stupidity has proven to last for the ages

Steve Jurvetson (super-venture capitalist) addresses Peter Thiel (billionaire investor) argument that there is no Moore's Law of exponential technologies. Steve point is that there are exponential technologies and they do generate accelerating benefits and returns but that it is creating winner take all in each of the markets.

Legendary CEO of GE Jack Welch indicated that company should be either #1 or #2 in a particular industry, or else leave it completely. Welch's strategy was later adopted by other CEOs across corporate America. This is because all of the profits flow to the the #1 or #2 in a particular industry.

As a consumer, you are usually not going to have a reason to look for products and services from the #3 to #n player (unless they define a niche where they are #1 or #2.)

Steve then muses on whether the Bill Gates model of having two modes would be a solution. One mode build the wealth, then in the second mode give it away in a way that helps humanity. He also notes the difference in thinking between the billionaires who think they had quite a bit of luck in getting superwealthy versus those who became wealthy over a longer period of time and attribute it more to hard work and skill.

He also notes that China and other developing countries have been able to raise per capita income and wealth and that there have clearly been technological benefits to all people with things like smartphones.

There needs to be a system where there are still incentives and feedback systems to develop the new technologies as quickly and efficiently as possible but there also needs to be mechanisms and policies to broaden the distribution of gains or enhance the participation.

There are 3 billion people in the developing world joining into global economic competition and contributing to the idea network. However, there are also too many people who are disconnected from the technologies and changes that are driving the new world. The drumbeat of civilization and national change used to be in centuries. Countries (like in Africa or Asia for many years before some catch up) could miss the industrial revolution for a century and then end up ten times poorer by staying static as others moved ahead. Now shifts are happening in decades or every 5 years, where those who fall off the leading edge pay a price. Nokia and other mobile phone companies missed or grossly mishandled the smartphone shift and go from winners to losers in 5 years.

There are other major reasons why great technologies vastly undershoot the societal impact that is feasible. Nuclear fission should have been enough to give a world of clean energy that is 5 to ten times cheaper than it is today. However, irrational fears, bad policies and stagnation of development derailed what should have been. The development of modular reactors should have happened in the 1970s. There were small reactors going into submarines and aircraft carriers. There should have been deep burn reactors by the 1980s. The first commercial reactors were staffed by dozens to a couple of hundred people and were operated safely other Chernobyl. The rigid policies and regulation also enabled Fukushima. A dynamic and rational regulation system would have had rapid fixes to known design flaws. 80% of the cost of the reactors is from the build costs and financing which are made larger by policies that multiply the build times and costs without increasing real safety. Electricity costs should be in the 1 to 2 cent per kwh range and it should be without air pollution (which kills 2 million per year) and the nuclear fission fuel cycle should be closed.

There are many other examples of vastly superior technology and systems losing out or not getting more deployment. Another example is inflatable space stations and space launch systems. This did not have to stagnate for over 40 years.



February 13, 2013

New Google Solve for X - Inflatable Robots and cars

Problem: Actuators in robots are heavy & clunky and limit mobility, dexterity and speed.

Solution: Create materials and actuators that are soft - that act more like muscles and tissues found in nature that can exert tremendous forces while being flexible and low weight.

First inflatable rideable robot

Breakthrough technology that makes this possible: Saul and other researchers utilize differential air pressure within flexible materials in order to create large inflatable robots and actuators unlike anything you've seen before.

More at SolveforX.com



New Google Solve for X - Lockheed Skunkworks Working on Compact 100 MW Nuclear Fusion and targets 2018 for full scale prototype and 2023 for Commercial system

Problem: Energy access & climate change

* world power use is projected to double and a lot of it will come from coal
* 1.3 billion people have no electricity

Solution: A 100MW compact fusion reactor that runs on plentiful and cheap deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen).

Instead of the large tokomaks which will take until the mid-2040s or 2050s for the first one and which will be large (30,000 tons) and expensive have one that fit on a truck. Build on a production line like jet engines.


Breakthrough technology: Charles Chase and his team at Lockheed have developed a High Beta configuration, which allows a compact reactor design and speedier development timeline (5 years instead of 30).

* The magnetic field increases the farther that you go out, which pushes the plasma back in.
* It also has very few open field lines (very few paths for the plasma to leak out)
* Very good arch curvature of the field lines
* The Lockheed system has a beta of about 1.
* This system is DT (deuterium - tritium)







Nanostructured nanowires appears to solve loss of superconductivity in very strong magnetic fields

Researchers have discovered a way to efficiently stabilize tiny magnetic vortices that interfere with superconductivity—a problem that has plagued scientists trying to engineer real-world applications for decades. The discovery could remove one of the most significant roadblocks to advances in superconductor technology.

When magnetic fields reach a certain strength, they cause a superconductor to lose its superconductivity. But there is a type of superconductor—known as “Type II”—which is better at surviving in relatively high magnetic fields. In these superconductors, magnetic fields create tiny whirlpools or “vortices.” Superconducting current continues to travel around these vortices to a point, but eventually, as the magnetic field strengthens, the vortices begin to move about and interfere with the material’s superconductivity, introducing resistance.

“These vortices dissipate the energy when moving under applied currents and bury all hopes for a technological revolution—unless we find ways to efficiently pin them,” said Argonne Distinguished Fellow Valerii Vinokur, who co-authored the study.

Scientists have spent a lot of time and effort over the past few decades trying to immobilize these vortices, but until now, the results have been mixed. They found ways to pin down the vortices, but these only worked in a restricted range of low temperatures and magnetic fields.

Vinokur and his colleagues, however, discovered a surprise. They began with very thin superconducting wires—just 50 nanometers in diameter. (A stack of 2,000 of these wires would equal the height of a sheet of paper.) These thin wires can accommodate only one row of vortices. When they applied a high magnetic field, the vortices crowded together in long clusters and stopped moving. Increasing the magnetic field restored the material’s superconductivity, instead of destroying it.

Next, the team carved superconducting film into an array of holes so that only a few vortices could squeeze between the holes, where they stayed, unable to interfere with current.

The resistance of the superconductor dropped dramatically—at temperatures and magnetic fields where no one has been able to pin vortices before. “The results were quite striking,” Vinokur said.

The team has only experimented with low-temperature superconductors so far, Vinokur said, “but there is no reason why the approach we used should be restricted to just low-temperature superconductors.”


This mosaic represents the distribution of superconductivity around holes (white) in a thin sheet of superconducting film. Green indicates strong superconductivity. Further away from the holes, the superconductivity decreases (yellow, red and finally black, where the material is densely populated with vortices that interfere with superconductivity.

Carbon nanotube sheets for solar sails for 5.6% of lightspeed

Multiwall carbon nanotube sheets have been made with a mass of ~27 milligrams per square metre and about the strength of kevlar. Adam Crowl of Crowlspace examines this a bit more. Nextbigfuture covered the dry spinning of carbon nanotubes into sheets back in 2007.

The self-supporting MWNT sheets initially form as a highly anisotropic aerogel that can be densfied into strong sheets that are as thin as 50 nm. The areal density of the sheet is 30 mg/m and there is no fundamental limit on
sheet width or length. The measured gravimetric strength of orthogonally oriented sheet arrays exceeds that of the highest strength steel sheet.

In theory that means a suitably steered solar-sail made of CNT sheet could send itself away from Earth’s orbit and reach a final speed of 42*sqrt(57-1) km/s ~ 315 km/s. If it swooped past Jupiter then swung in hard for the Sun, scooting past at 0.019 AU, then it would recede at ~2,200 km/s (0.73 % of lightspeed).

A spaced out grid of carbon nanotubes with doping to have 100% reflectivity could achieve 5.6% of lightspeed.

Atomic layer deposition for solar sails almost as good as carbon nanotubes

Beneq has successfully scaled up its proprietary continuous ALD (atomic layer deposition) process to a 500 mm (half of meter. 20 inches) wide web using the R2R (roll to roll) manufacturing method.

The material developed for the proposed Drexler solar sail was a thin aluminum film with a baseline thickness of 0.1 micrometres (100 nanometers), to be fabricated by vapor deposition in a space-based system. Drexler used a similar process to prepare films on the ground. As anticipated, these films demonstrated adequate strength and robustness for handling in the laboratory and for use in space, but not for folding, launch, and deployment. Vapor deposition aluminum at 100 nanometer thickness would mass less than 0.1 grams/meter.

New synthetic biology circuits that combine memory and logic

MIT engineers have created genetic circuits in bacterial cells that not only perform logic functions, but also remember the results, which are encoded in the cell’s DNA and passed on for dozens of generations. The circuits could be used as long-term environmental sensors, efficient controls for biomanufacturing, or to program stem cells to differentiate into other cell types.



Integrated logic and memory devices.

Nature Biotechnology - Synthetic circuits integrating logic and memory in living cells

February 12, 2013

Navy saves money to build aircraft carriers by not moving them - Multibillion dollar scare crows

Faced with big budget cuts, the Navy made a big choice. It opted in the last few months to preserve most of its multi-year shipbuilding programs — at the expense of ship deployments and what’s called “Operations and Maintenance” (O&M) accounts. They will keep building ships but they will not deploy or operate many of them.

The Navy isn’t scrapping its aircraft carriers, the number-one symbol of American global power. In fact, last June, with the budget storm brewing, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly swore the U.S. would remain an 11-carrier Navy. But last week, the Navy took the drastic step of canceling the deployment of the USS Harry Truman, which was scheduled to head for the Middle East; and delaying the years-long refueling of the USS Abraham Lincoln. The fleet was already down one carrier, with the December decommissioning of the USS Enterprise.

New F35 exceeds every required spec - By repeatedly reducing every required spec

The F35 was initially developed based on extending US air superiority for decades. If the F35 is no longer superior what is the justification for the $1.1 trillion program ?

America’s latest stealth fighter just got heavier, slower and more sluggish. For the second time in a year, the Pentagon has eased the performance requirements of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The reduced specs — including a slower acceleration and turning rate — lower the bar for the troubled trillion-dollar JSF program, allowing it to proceed toward full-rate production despite ongoing problems with the plane’s complex design. Under the old specs, the stealth fighter, due to enter service in 2018 or 2019, probably wouldn’t pass its Pentagon-mandated final exams.

At the same time, newly identified safety problems could force F-35-smith Lockheed Martin to add fire-suppression gear that will only increase the plane’s weight and further decrease its maneuverability. The JSF is meant to be a jack of all trades, equally capable of dropping bombs and fighting other aircraft — the latter requiring extreme nimbleness in the air.

For the pilots who will eventually take the F-35 into combat, the JSF’s reduced performance means they might not be able to outfly and outfight the latest Russian- and Chinese-made fighters. Even before the downgrades, some analysts questioned the F-35′s ability to defeat newer Sukhoi and Shenyang jets. Despite the JSF’s lower specs, Lockheed bizarrely claims its new plane is now more maneuverable than every other fighters in the world except the company’s own F-22.

Reduced F35 Specs

The latest bad news came in mid-January the form of the annual weapons-testing report (.pdf) overseen by J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. The report revealed that the government’s F-35 program office had changed performance specs for all three JSF variants: the Air Force’s F-35A; the vertical-landing Marine Corps F-35B; and the carrier-launched F-35C flown mainly by the Navy.

* reducing turn performance from 5.3 to 4.6 sustained g’s
* extending the time for acceleration from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach by eight seconds
* F-35B and F-35C also had their turn rates and acceleration time eased. The B-model jet’s max turn went from 5.0 to 4.5 g’s and its acceleration time to Mach 1.2 was extended by 16 seconds. The F-35C lost 0.1 g off its turn spec and added a whopping 43 seconds to its acceleration.


Controversial EEStor Re-emerges reports Pilot Plant Production of its 73.9 Watt hour per liter Ultracapacitor Material

EEStor reported the materials science context for their work and preliminary (pre-certification) results from energy storage layers built in its pilot production facility during early final tuning. The preliminary results show EEStor's patented and unique composition modified barium titanate (CMBT) powder delivers the benefits of solid-state energy storage when used as a fundamental constituent in a paraelectric dielectric.

EEstor are showing 73.9 watt hours per liter in their ultracapacitor material in a Pilot Plant. This is less than some earlier claims but they are finally producing some material in a pilot facility and it is better than other ultracapacitors.

On Dec. 28, 2012, EEStor's President Richard Weir hosted Dr. Rick Ulrich , Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas, for a review of and conversation regarding EEStor's work in pursuing a paraelectric dielectric path for high density energy storage applications. In particular Dr. Ulrich was provided access to data and materials related to EEStor's CMBT powder.

"Dielectrics with the properties shown here would provide unprecedented amounts of capacitance per area. The possibility of obtaining ferroelectric-sized permittivities with the stability of a paraelectric material is very exciting. A dielectric with a permittivity of 1000 is considered high in current capacitor technology, so materials with the permittivities reported here would be an important breakthrough."

New Energy and Fuel has some of the specific test results.




February 11, 2013

Carnival of Space 288

The Carnival of Space 288 is up at Dear Astronomer

Astronomers estimate 4.5 billion ‘Earth-like’ planets in our galaxy

Stem cell breakthrough could lead to new bone repair therapies

Scientists at the University of Southampton have created a new method to generate bone cells which could lead to revolutionary bone repair therapies for people with bone fractures or those who need hip replacement surgery due to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

The research, carried out by Dr Emmajayne Kingham at the University of Southampton in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and published in the journal Small, cultured human embryonic stem cells on to the surface of plastic materials and assessed their ability to change.

Scientists were able to use the nanotopographical patterns on the biomedical plastic to manipulate human embryonic stem cells towards bone cells. This was done without any chemical enhancement.

The materials, including the biomedical implantable material polycarbonate plastic, which is a versatile plastic used in things from bullet proof windows to CDs, offer an accessible and cheaper way of culturing human embryonic stem cells and presents new opportunities for future medical research in this area.

Research Progress against Brain Cancer and other hard to treat Cancers

Nature - Small-molecule drug drives cancer cells to suicide

Cancer researchers have pinned down a molecule that can kick-start the body’s own tumour-destroying systems, triggering cell death in cancerous but not healthy tissue in mice.

The molecule, TIC10, activates the gene for a protein called TRAIL (tumour-necrosis-factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), which has long been a target for cancer researchers looking for drugs that would avoid the debilitating effects of conventional therapies.

“TRAIL is a part of our immune system: all of us with functional immune systems use this molecule to keep tumours from forming or spreading, so boosting this will not be as toxic as chemotherapy,” says Wafik El-Deiry, an oncologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey and lead author of the study.

Experiments showed that TIC10 had potent effects against a variety of tumours, including breast, lymphatic, colon and lung cancer. It was especially effective at triggering cell suicide in glioblastoma, a kind of brain tumour that is notoriously difficult to treat2. Mice with glioblastomas that were treated with TIC10 in combination with bevacizumab — a drug used against diseases including brain tumours, and sold under the name Avastin — survived three times as long as untreated mice. Even mice treated with TIC-10 alone still had better survival rates (6% longer) than those treated with bevacizumab alone.

February 10, 2013

Breakthrough for superefficient conversion of heat to electricity could boost coal plant efficiency to 54% from 30-45% and concentrated solar power to 40%

Arxiv - Thermionics (electronics for converting heat to electricity) previously had efficiency limitations due to “space current” – build-ups of electrons mutually repelling each other and choking the flow of current – so the new system uses external electric or magnetic fields to get the electrons going in the right direction. The system promises a high fraction of the Carnot Limit can be converted directly into electrical power.


54% Efficient Coal Plants for one third less coal for the same power
The new thermoelectronic approach promises efficiencies in the high 40-50% range, achieving the latter by acting as a “topping cycle” to a lower temperature steam system. For example a coal furnace burns at ~1500 C (1773 K), but a steam turbine runs at 700 C (973 K) and outputs at 200 C (473 K). Thus there’s significant loss due to the mismatch between furnace and steam power-cycle. A thermoelectronic converter covering the 1773-973 K range will add significantly to the overall power extracted by the power-plant pushing its efficiency above 50%. In this case a 45% efficient coal plant can be pushed to 54%, thus increasing the power output for no additional fuel costs and NO MOVING PARTS.

40% efficient concentrated solar power
Switching to solar-power applications, imagine a thermoelectronic converter at the centre of a concentrator system which focuses sunlight to 500 times its normal intensity (temp ~1900 K.) By using a Photon Enhanced Thermionic Emission (a cousin of the Photoelectric effect) the system can convert raw sunlight to electrical power at over 40% efficiency