Beyond ‘Super Soaker’: Johnson Thermo-electrochemical
Converter system earns honors. Called JTEC.
Exerpted from an article by Bo Emerson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, October 27, 2008
Lonnie Johnson has some impressive hard science credentials.
He’s worked for the Strategic Air Command and for NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, outfitting missions to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. He holds about
100 patents, many of them in that arcane spot where chemistry, electricity
and physics cross into the marketplace. And his latest invention appears to
do the impossible: generating electricity with no fuel and no moving parts.
Even among the geniuses who gathered to honor him and his new thermo-
electrochemical converter at a “Breakthrough Awards” banquet in Manhattan
this month, the Atlanta scientist’s new invention was ignored when his most
famous device was revealed.
“What?” they cried. “You invented the Super Soaker?”
He’s still known as Mr. Squirt Gun.
Johnson’s share (he licensed the Soaker’s design to Larami, later bought by
Hasbro) won him the financial independence to pursue his own ideas, which
is how the Johnson Thermo-electrochemical Converter system —
- JTEC for short —- was born.
“This is a whole new family of technology,” said the NSF’s Paul Werbos.
“It’s like discovering a new continent. You don’t know what’s there, but
you sure want to explore it to find out.”
Johnson’s device can potentially work with even modest temperature
differentials —- say, between body heat and ambient air —- to power implanted
medical devices such as pacemakers. If successful, at high heat it would
generate Con Edison-scale output. It also would run backward for refrigeration
purposes: put in electricity to generate heat loss for, say, wearable air
Paired with a parabolic solar array to generate heat, it could create virtually
limitless emission-free power.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Most electricity is generated using heat to power a mechanical device,
such as a piston or a turbine. The JTEC uses heat to force ions through
a special membrane. “It’s a totally new way of generating electricity
from heat,” Paul Werbos told Popular Mechanics. The JTEC includes
two closed hydrogen cells or “stacks” attached to pairs of electrodes.
One is a low-temperature stack, the other is high-temperature. Current
compresses hydrogen in the low-temperature stack, ionizing the
hydrogen and forcing its protons through the membrane to the high-
temperature stack, where the hydrogen expands. Current is generated
as electrons are freed. The high-temperature end generates more
power than the low-temperature end uses —- creating an excess that
can cool beer or run TVs and washing machines. Hydrogen is neither
burned nor added, and emissions are zero.
Born: Oct. 6, 1949, Mobile
Residence: Ansley Park
Education: Tuskegee University, with degrees in mechanical engineering
and nuclear engineering
Career: Research engineer with Oak Ridge National Laboratories; engineer
at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; nuclear safety engineer with U.S. Air
Force; officer with the Strategic Air Command; flight test engineer Edward’s
Air Force Base.
Businesses: Johnson Research and Development, Johnson Electro-Mechanical
Systems, Excellatron Solid State LLC