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Evolution of the Stirling Engine

Evolution of the Stirling Engine

The Dr Revered Stirling invented the Stirling Engine in 1880 in Stirling, Scotland. Over the next 100 years it found applications in space, medical, transport and burning methane from waste sites. Minor changes happened, but nothing new from a design prospective.

Then in the 1980s the microprocessor came on the market and added precise control to the Stirling Engine (i.e. 0.001 per degree steps). The Stirling Engine is a thermal engine and therefore about 80 to 90% efficient. Also the basic engine consists of 2 cylinders with a heat exchanger in the middle. So by heating one cylinder, the other one goes cold because of the heat exchanger in the middle. Kockums Marine AB, Malmo, Sweden launched a submarine in 1978 with 1000 hours on Stirling power in its first year.

This was a big step forward with multiple cylinders and other technology. This engine was then used in submarines throughout the Western World. Also during this time NASA used it for space experiments, since the engine is almost silent when running. At this time a US company was formed to build the US Stirling Engines, with the name Stirling Engine Inc and claimed intellectual property rights, when the copyright had expired in 1930. This is something that US organisations seem to do under the threat of legal action.

In July 1992 the magazine Electronics World + Wireless World had an article titled “Electricity out of Magnetism” what Dr Harold Aspden and John Scott Strachan had produced was a solid state Stirling Engine. This made me declare that this form of Stirling Engine would be more environmentally friendly than any of the proposed fuel cells and more efficient. This caused a lot of upset with the fuel cell researchers.

The next evolution step was in the late 1990s with Nanotechnology Stirling Engines, that could be implanted into human parts and connected to their nervous system and get their hands or legs moving again. So from driving a push bike to its current position, the Stirling Engine has moved through a number of evolutionary steps. Its also a true model of the engineering principle “keep it simple and stupid (KISS).”

Combined with Solar Powered Cells it could make the electric car of the right weight a viable product.
With the applications it has already been applied to there is no real limit to where it might be applied next. Its inventor would be totally overcome with its current position.