Kinetic simulations of ignited mode cesium vapor thermionic converters
Cesium vapor thermionic converters are an attractive method of converting high-temperature heat directly to electricity, but theoretical descriptions of the systems have been difficult due to the multi-step ionization of Cs through inelastic electron–neutral collisions. This work presents particle-in-cell simulations of these converters, using a direct simulation Monte Carlo collision model to track 52 excited states of Cs. Here, these simulations show the dominant role of multi-step ionization, which also varies significantly based on both the applied voltage bias and pressure. The electron energy distribution functions are shown to be highly non-Maxwellian in the cases analyzed here. A comparison with previous approaches is presented, and large differences are found in ionization rates due especially to the fact that previous approaches have assumed Maxwellian electron distributions. Finally, an open question regarding the nature of the plasma sheaths in the obstructed regime is discussed. The one-dimensional simulations did not produce stable obstructed regime operation and thereby do not support the double-sheath hypothesis.