Back to the Future

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Wider yesterday presented a radical new technology to the yachting world at the Superyacht Design Festival in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Wider president Marcello Maggi said the yacht builder is using thermionic converters in a new 180-foot build.

Thermionic converters are solid-state devices that convert heat directly into electricity with no moving parts, consisting of two metal plates separated by a vacuum gap. When one metal plate is heated to high temperatures, the surface will emit electrons across the vacuum gap to the cold metal plate, resulting in usable electrical energy. This technology has been used to power satellites because these compact devices require almost no maintenance.

The technology is being developed by Fintel Energia Group, a company that creates new technologies for the electricity and natural gas sector. The group is currently working on power plants that run on renewable sources. Maggi told the designers and builders at the conference that the Fintel technology will be exclusive to its yachts.

2 Lead thermionic_2

“For many years, the drawback of TCs was a low conversion efficiency of only 4 percent, and the need for extremely high temperatures,” Maggi said. “By revolutionizing the materials used and developing new system architectures, efficiency has been increased by more than 20 times, and the activation temperature has been dramatically lowered.”

Maggi said the technology will be compatible for thousands of applications. “It’s the world’s first cost-effective combined heat and power solution,” Maggi said.

The advantage of thermionic converters is that they are small, lightweight and can fit inside any source of heat to convert to electricity. They also have no moving parts and require almost no maintenance. They are also the most power-dense heat-to-electricity devices known.

Maggi told the assembly that he is “proud” of the technology. “It will bring us closer to 100 percent electric propulsion,” he said. “Today in the nautical sector, which is a luxury niche, it is inconceivable not to place emphasis on the environmental sustainability that involves us all.”

Maggi said Wider’s 150 and 165 models, which do not have the new technology, already comply with Norwegian Law 488/2012, which will allow only vessels with electric propulsion to navigate through Norwegian fjords in 2025. “As we know, the laws surrounding the reduction of pollution are increasingly tightening, and this applies to the superyacht industry, as well as shipping,” he said.

Wider plans to use thermionic converters on all future builds, including its new 180 and 135 models. “The energy produced by the thermionic converters will be stored in the batteries to satisfy the house load,” Maggi said.

The first Wider 180 begins production this month and will be finished in two years.


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