BOSTON — A Utah-based research company unveiled technology that could pave the way for a new generation of significantly more fuel efficient and quieter automobiles, generators and power plants.

At the spring meeting of the Materials Research Society held in Boston, researchers at privately-held Eneco Corp. released their research regarding the development of a device that they claim can greatly boost energy efficiency without generating any additional pollutants.

The device, called a thermionics converter, allows for the recapture and conversion of the excess heat generated by traditional power sources into additional energy.

Although the thermionics converter could conceivably become a stand-alone technology in the future, Salt Lake City-based Eneco sees that device as initially being used to augment existing power devices, such as traditional turbines.

“We think a better utilization is to augment rather than replace them,” said Eneco's Chief Executive Officer Lew Brown. “The earliest adaptations will be from the standpoint of not just burning additional fuel but gaining additional energy efficiency.”

Eneco's device, which resembles a semiconductor wafer, contains no moving parts, thereby making it quieter and less prone to breakage than traditional power generation devices.

Roughly 1 mm-by 1 mm in size, and about ½-mm in thickness, the device was developed by Eneco scientist Yan Kucherov and MIT researcher Peter Hagelstein.

The U.S. Department of Defense is particularly interested in the device, Brown said. Because it increases fuel efficiency by up to 20%, the thermionics converter would allow troops to carry less fuel with them on maneuvers. Also, because it produces almost no detectable noise or electrical pollution, the device would aid covert operations.

“It would be a ‘stealth’ generator,” Brown said.

As a result, the U.S. Defense Department has provided up to 10% of Eneco's research funding, roughly $500,000 over the past two years, said Eneco marketing director Leroy Becker. The remainder of the financing is from private investors.

Eneco officials said a plausible near-term application of their technology would be in the automotive industry. Although the device does not directly reduce fuel emissions, it does significantly increase fuel efficiency without producing any additional heat. It could eventually replace traditional car alternators and compressors, a company spokesperson said.

But Eneco management knows that it will have to be able to make the device (still in the laboratory stage), at a lower price point than its current $1,000 per kilowatt price tag to make it more attractive to Detroit automakers.

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