Ph. D. Visiting Consultant Institute of Engineering Thermophysics Chinese Academy of


The Chinese Society of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and Chinese Society of Engineering Thermophysics


ABSTRACT Modern Stirling engines have high thermal efficiencies even using hot air as a working medium. The efficiency of a properly optimized Stirling engine is independent of the working gas. Although the introduction of lighter gasses can increase the power density. With their multifuel capability, they can utilize other abundant energy sources such as coal, biomass, and solar to substitute for precious liquid petroleum. With its many possible forms and its flexible demand on working pressure, technology, and material, the Stirling engine is an ideal appropriate technology most adaptable to the widely varying conditions in China. In their most simple form, they are low cost alternatives to the diesel engines to mechanize the Chinese countryside. In the free piston configuration, they are the only high efficiency, portable, self contained methane gas liquefiers suitable for the small user with methane as a fuel. They can do all the above utilizing any locally available energy sources at high thermal efficiencies of 30% or more. Finally, in the large, low speed coal burning version, the Stirling engine in the 0.5 to 5 MW power range can be substantially more efficient than turbines and non condensing multiple expansion reciprocating steam engines and be reasonably simple and compact. They are foreseen as applications for marine propulsion, stationary power, railway locomotives and heavy, off-highway vehicles used in mining, agriculture, construction, and forestry. Modern high density, high efficiency Solar Stirling engines in large number clusters are green energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil power plants. One day Solar powered high speed surface effect ships will replace commercial airliners as cost effective ocean transports crossing the Pacific and Atlantic ocean.


* Visiting consultant, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Engineering Thermophysics


INTRODUCTION Stirling engines are externally continuous burning engines as opposed to internal combustion engines with synchronized intermittent ignition. Stirling engines operate on a closed thermodynamic regenerative cycle with a gaseous working medium. Air is a preferred working fluid for low speed engines because of its availability, although higher power density and higher speed can be obtained through the use of lighter gases such as helium and hydrogen. The working fluid is cyclically compressed and expanded at different temperature levels so there is a net conversion of heat to work. Any source of external heat may be utilized as substitutes for the precious and dwindling liquid petroleum. During the early 1900’s, thousands of very low efficiency Stirling engines were working in Europe. Today, modern Stirling engines are made with typically very high thermal efficiencies. The Stirling engine was originally conceived by Robert Stirling, in its early form incorporating the thermal regenerator in 1815. Although Stirling was never extensively involved in its commercialization, thousands of hot air Stirling engines were built during the early 1900’s for all manners of pumping and similarly rural applications. [Ref. 1] However, the advent of the cheap petroleum era in the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in the internal combustion engine and brought an untimely pause in Stirling engine refinement and development, but not for long. Due to a sudden realization of the world’s depleting petroleum resources brought on by the oil crisis during the 1970’s, the Stirling engine is beckoning s more sophisticated and energy conscious world. It’s most noteworthy virtue is the ability to utilize any kind of external heat source as power, with our without combustion. Thus, its source of power can include biomass, solar, waste heat, gas, as well as liquid fuel, to name some commonly available sources. Other Stirling engine virtues worthy of note are: High thermal efficiency of 30 to 40% by current technology is achieved. Temperature and pressure design requirements are flexible for different applications because power does not come from synchronized combustion, but from a continuous heat source. The working medium stays clean without direct contact with the heat source. There is low pollution due to continuous burning characteristics when liquid fossil fuels are used. In the free piston configuration, with linear generator combination, the total package can be hermetically sealed to be free of outside environmental contamination. In short, the modern Stirling engine is highly efficient, omnivorous, adaptable to different levels of technology, amenable to long life and easy maintenance design, independent of outside environmental contamination, and low polluting to the outside environment. In this world of constant evolution, there is much to be said about the humble traits of flexible and adaptable species, be they biological or mechanical. Today, there are firm convictions among informed scientific and engineering circles in the West that; ‘whereas


the 19th century belonged to the steam engine, and the 20th century to the internal combustion engine, the 21st century will belong to the Stirling engine.’ [Ref 1] In view of China’s goals of four modernizations and of quadrupling its industrial and agricultural production by 2000 [Ref. 2], the need to improve all energy utilization efficiency across the nation and to use coal as petroleum substitute is very compelling. These needs, to conserve energy by science and technology, and to consider alternate fuels, have been eloquently discussed by many influential Chinese including Wu [Ref. 3]. Although the broad based interest in Stirling engines is yet to materialize, the future of Stirling engines in China is bright because of its many inherent virtues and the above compelling needs. Presently, many leading Stirling advocates in the West, including Beale [Ref. 4], believe that the Stirling engine is particularly suited for wide spread use as an “appropriate technology” in the third world. The term, “appropriate technology”, is an apt description for the Stirling engine here because it is able to use locally available forms of energy, can be manufactured and maintained by indigenous technology, comes in small and medium sizes to suit rural needs, and still maintains high thermal efficiency. [Ref. 5] If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, China will no doubt play an important role in the world development of the Stirling engine applications in the near future. Additionally, considering China’s relatively advanced machine building capability, the availability of vast manpower and materials, and the need for science and technology to serve the economy, [Ref. 6] it can be predicted with reasonable certainty that China will become one of the major world Stirling engine manufacturing centers. Considering the large third world market, China needs to stay ahead in all phases of Stirling engine technology so as to not loose this important export market to another advanced or third world country. RECENT IMPORTANT STIRLING ENGINE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WEST Stirling engines come in many configurations, mechanical arrangements, and sizes. Within the scope and intent of the present paper, it is not possible to go into an unnecessarily lengthy description of the principles and developments of the whole spectrum of existing Stirling engines. Instead, the reader is referred to the 1980 book by Walker [Ref. 7] on the many splendid past accomplishments. Any mention of Stirling engine development in the West must necessarily include the unrelenting and impressive developmental efforts by Phillips of Holland to increase its efficiency and power density. These increases were accomplished through the increase of mean working pressure, better designed regenerator, and switching from air to helium as a working medium. The recent flourishing of world wide Stirling engine efforts was brought on by the 1973 oil crisis to seek energy alternatives. Despite the considerable efforts and its many inherent virtues, the modern, high efficiency Stirling engine has yet to live up to its potential. In retrospect, the belated coming of the new Stirling engine age is due mainly to the inappropriate market development emphasis by the West in the recent past. [Ref. 8] Instead of seeking the vast territory of appropriate technology where the internal


combustion engine, with many of its limitation , cannot tread, major efforts have been spent on applications to dislodge the competition from established turf. Examples of appropriate technology applications, excluding the internal combustion engine, include the following. Free piston Stirling engines with thermal efficiencies of 30 to 40% can use multifuels [Ref. 9]. Low technology, hot air engines with overall 20% or better thermal efficiency utilizing biomass fuel, can be simple to construct and easy to maintain. [Ref10] Duplex Stirling engines can liquefy two parts of methane gas by consuming only one part methane gas as heat energy. [Ref. 11, 12, 13] Large bored hot air engines with a thermal efficiency in the range of 25 to 30% can use coal directly for transportation in coal-rich developing countries. One of the outstanding examples of disproportionate marketing emphasis is the considerable (and many independent) in the U.S. to transfer European technology to the U.S. for automobile applications resulting in oil-fired, highly efficient and sophisticated Stirling engines using helium, instead of air as a working medium. [Ref. 14] Because of this classical case of disregard of vested interest, economics, human psychology, and unnecessary technological overkill, this expensive project is not likely to lead to any success soon. Although the technology transferred to the U.S. is not totally in vain, the advent of the useful Stirling age, with broad benefits to mankind, is delayed by at least ten years. On the other hand, if the same efforts were directed towards Stirling engine Applications in easily implemented, appropriate technologies, the world would be now benefiting from the efforts, and many advantages of the Stirling engine would be clearly demonstrated to the world and to China especially.

THE MOST PROMISING STIRLING ENGINE APPLICATIONS IN CHINA Appropriate Stirling engine applications can only be limited by one’s own imagination. The Stirling cycle lends itself to a multitude of physical forms, some of which are simple and effective, and thus are strong candidates to help China by using locally available fuels. Examples of the most likely applications for China, in order of likelihood of success are: 1) Simple, low pressure, modern hot air Stirling engines in the 5 – 20 kw range [Ref. 10] 2) Free-piston Stirling engines with linear electric generators in the 1 – 15 kw range [Ref. 9] 3) Portable duplex Stirling methane gas liquefiers with 1 4 kw refrigerating capacities [Ref. 11, 12, 13] 4) Large bored, low speed, coal burning Stirling engines in the 0.5 – 5 MW range [Ref. 15, 16] In the following, we shall discuss each of the above examples in terms of technical features, engineering merits, and specific appropriate applications.



SIMPLE, MODERN, HOT AIR STIRLING ENGINES In reference 14 a modern low pressure hot air Stirling engine producing 4 kw of shaft power is designed for the Asia foundation and funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development. The objective of the project is to design a rice husk fired engine that can be produced by low technology applications utilizing locally available biomass fuel, but not requiring high power density, a modern Stirling engine can be simple, efficient, and easy to maintain. The efficiency of properly optimized Stirling engines and independent of working gas. Although the introduction of lighter gases allows higher operating speed thus results in higher power density. [Ref 14] In the Chinese countryside, where the call to modernize is urgent, and the availability of scarce petroleum fuel is almost nonexistent for the average farmer, the development of simple modern Stirling engines cannot afford not to be mandatory. [Ref. 17] The main specifications of the 4 kw Asia Foundation Stirling engine are: moderate efficiency (15%) relatively large displacement (7 litres), low speed (720 rpm), and low mean cycle pressure (4.5 bar). For the benefit of the technologically unsophisticated countryside, this engine is designed to be dry lubricated. Thus, it does not require periodic oil changes. In addition, being a Stirling engine, it requires neither the electronic ignition system for the carburetion system. Therefore, it is extremely adaptable to severe cold or hot climates. Also, in remote cold areas, where diesel fuel is not readily available and where biomass cannot produce methane gas, this is the best candidate for mechanization. Besides using locally available biomass fuel, modern simple Stirling engines do not require sophisticated training to operate and maintain. The thermal energy to run the engines can come from specially designed or modified indigenous furnaces familiar to the natives on the farm. The objective is: “If one can cook with a stove, one can also operate a simple Stirling engine.” Of course, China may eventually use high efficiency Stirling engines to mechanize the vast countryside. The fuel utilization efficiency can also be further improved if the furnace heat is also used to perform other low temperature heating, drying, or cooking processes besides running the Stirling engine in a combined, efficient, total energy system. However, the simple Stirling engine with moderate efficiency of 20% or better is economical, has a short developmental time, and can be easily manufactured by small rural industries. The improvement towards more expensive high efficiency rural Stirling engines can be introduced in steps. Early implementation of Stirling engines for farm use can enhance China’s image as a leading exporter of Stirling engine technology to the third world in the future. The need for simple Stirling engines using biomass in the third world is currently even more acute than in China. China is not in a more advanced technological position to supply parts of the third world. She cannot afford to lose these opportunities to earn State revenue through exports now, or in the future. Finally, the existence of the Stirling engine is totally unknown to the vast majority of the Chinese. Early introduction of one form of Stirling engine can pave the way for the successful introduction of many forms of appropriate Stirling engines in the future.


In the penetration of international technological export markets, time is of the essence. Early loss of leadership may never to be regained again in the eyes of the third world. Now is a good time to catch up in all phases of Stirling engine technology while the West is still willing to share. It may become too late soon, as the west is now beginning to cooperate with other third world countries with low labor costs as partners in producing various Stirling engines for export at an affordable price.

FREE PISTON STIRLING ENGINES WITH LINEAR ELECTRIC GENERATION The last ten years saw a great upsurge of Stirling engine research and development effort as evidenced by the number of papers published yearly in the proceedings of the Intersociety Energy Conversion Engineering Conference (IECEC). Of these publications, an increasingly larger percentage is being directed toward the free piston Stirling engine. This is due to its absence of critical seals and mechanical simplicity, making it a favored form for many applications including rural electric generation. Small free piston Stirling engines with linear generators in the 1 – 5 kw ranges have been built in the U.S. with thermal efficiencies ranging 30 – 35%. [Ref. 9] When optimized for production, thermal efficiencies are expected to reach 40%. Some of these small generators, suitable for space or remote area applications, are designed to be powered by solar collection. In this free piston form, the Stirling engine generator has additional advantages to the rural user unmatched by conventional internal combustion engines. These special advantages are: - can have a long life with only three moving parts - absence of lateral mechanical forces so gas bearing can be used throughout - portable because of the high power density and integral design - free of any accessories because there is no need for lubrication, carburetion, and ignition systems - the whole apparatus, including the generator can be hermetically sealed to be independent of environment and avoid unskilled tampering. Because of the above advantages, the free piston Stirling engine generator is ideal for the countryside where it can get into unskilled hands, be subjected to hostile environmental conditions such as heavy dust and moisture, be expected to work long and hard, and yet the only maintenance routine is more likely than not to be the famous kick so often employed to revive a neglected machine. So, in this form, the Stirling engine can come close to a permanently sealed, maintenance free, life long package. In operation, the farmer need only attend to his biomass furnace which is by habit more in his domain. In the opposite spectrum, paradoxically, all the above niceties plus the dead silent operation feature, the free piston engine generation also as a most sophisticated military portable generator. [Ref. 18]


PORTABLE DUPLEX STIRLING METHANE GAS LIQUEFIER Biomass, including firewood, farm residues, and secretions by humans and animals, is an abundant supply of rural energy in China [Ref. 3]. Conversion of biomass to methane gas is an efficient way of utilization without the attending polluting effect of direct burning. This is because methane gas is the cleanest fuel humans can devise, as well as being produced by nature. Additionally, by converting biomass to methane, one also eliminates the waste disposal problem and yields improved fertilizer simultaneously. Furthermore, in the industrially advanced countries, liquefied methane is also now used as a high grade fuel, substituting for liquid petroleum for vehicular use. Modified vehicle carburetors and insulated storage tanks for this conversion are now available off the shelf. If methane from biomass can be liquefied on the farm efficiently by portable and self contained liquefier for ease of storage and transportation then its use can be significantly more widespread in China. Liquefaction will encourage not only larger and more production wells, but also increased production during the warm seasons. Because liquefied methane, besides used for heating and cooking, can find wider uses such as running farm vehicles and machines. It can also be traded and transported to where it is most needed. Waste is eliminated. This can herald the beginning of true rural energy independence. Thus the development of a portable, self contained, rural methane liquefier which does not require electricity or liquid petroleum to run, is an important and urgent task. Current state of the art technology suggests the ideal solution to be in the form of a Duplex Stirling Cycle machine. Since the Stirling Cycle is reversible, it can produce power when heat is added, and can refrigerate when work is applied. This duplex configuration is a small, free-piston mover coupled directly to a small, free-piston Stirling liquefier. It is compact, self-starting, requires no electronic or carburetion system accessories. It is simple to operate with only three or four moving parts. It can be hermetically sealed to be free of maintenance or any adjustments. The technology of small, free-piston Stirling cycle cryocoolers to liquefy nitrogen or helium is well established in the West for the defense industry. In the U.S., they are produced by the thousands as the key dependable components for night vision and infra-red guidance sensor cooling. Stirling cryocoolers for methane liquefaction is a relatively simple application. Preliminary design study shows that they can be made in wide ranging sizes from a few liter per hour liquefaction capacity to a capacity handling as much as any farm methane well. Conservatively calculated liquefaction efficiencies for units with 4 to 200 liter/hour capacities are 200%. In other words, only one-third of the methane gas would be consumed in combustion to liquefy the remaining two-thirds. As a liquefaction process to produce petroleum fuel substitute, this 200% efficiency is unsurpassed by large scale industrial plants.


LARGE BORED, LOW SPEED, COAL BURNING STIRLING ENGINES In an article (to be published in the Transaction of Chinese Society of Internal Combustion Engine), titled “Large Coal-fired Stirling Engines – Speculations for Future Development”, Walker argues convincingly for the future use of large bored Stirling engines in China [Ref. 16]. “The large and increasing cost differential in the price of oil and coal coupled with the relative abundance of coal deposits in China for future development, signals the end of oil as the primary fuel and a return to a coal based economy. The coal may be processed to produce synthetic oil, but direct use of the coal appears preferable.” “For powers in the range of 0.5 to 5 MW, the Stirling engine can be substantially more efficient than turbines and noncondensing multiple expansion reciprocating steam engines, utilize robust components, be comparatively easy and cheap to manufacture, and operate for long periods with nothing more than routine maintenance. It can do this with air as the working fluid and water as the lubricant.” “Typical steam locomotive efficiencies of 8% overall could likely be elevated with Stirling engine locomotives to 20% or better with consequent dramatic decrease in coal consumption.” “Most likely applications for Stirling engines in this power range are for stationary electric power generation, railway locomotives, marine propulsion, and large off-highway vehicles used in mining, forestry, and agriculture. In these applications, the engines use hot air as a working medium. Low grade coal can be used in an atmospheric pressure fluidized bed combustor with two stage sodium heat pipes for thermal transport to the engine cylinder heat.” CONCLUSIONS Stirling engines are appropriate technologies that must be developed by China in her four modernization drive. They can provide mechanical power and electricity by utilizing efficiently any locally available energy sources. They can relieve the farmers of backbreaking labor by serving as a low cost alternative to the diesel engine. They can electrify the remote and inaccessible rural areas without the need of a large scale capital investment and massive user training programs. They can help shape rural energy independence as efficient, self contained, portable methane gas liquefiers. They can enable the Chinese rail and marine transportation to switch to coal base with efficiencies almost three times as high as conventional steam engines. Finally, the Stirling cycle cryocooler is a key component in the most up to date weaponry, and the unique qualities of the free piston Stirling generator make it the near-perfect military portable generator.


REFERENCES 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. Walker, G., Free-Piston Stirling Engines, University of Calgary, 1982 Hu, Y. Create a New Situation in All fields of Socialist Modernization, Report to the 12th National Congress, September 1, 1982 Wu, Z.H., China’s Energy Problem and Its Solution by Science and Technology, First U.S.-China Energy, Resources, and Environment Conference, November 12, 1982 Beale, W., Stirling Engines for Developing Countries, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Energy for Rural Development, 1981 Gordon, T., Free Piston Stirling Engines Increase Solar/Thermal Efficiency, International Power Generation, July, 1979 Zhao, Z., A Strategic Question on Invigorating the Economy, National Science Awards Conference, Oct. 24, 1982 Walker, G., Stirling Engines, Oxford University Press, 1980 Beale, W., Private Communication, October, 1982 Goldwater, B., Current Free-Piston Stirling Engine Technology and Applications, IECEC Conference, 1979 Wood, G., Design of a Low Pressure Air Engine for Third World Use, IECEC Conference, August 1982 Walker, G., Thermally Activated Stirling Cryocooler, International Cryogenic Engineering, May 1982 Berchowitz, D., The Design, Development and Performance of a Duplex Stirling Natural Gas Liquefier, IECEC Conference 1982 Fung, F., Free Piston Methane Gas Liquefier, Presented at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Engineering Thermophysics, August 1982 Martini, W., Stirling Engine Design Manual, Martini Engineering, May 1980 Walker, G., Coal Fired Stirling Engines for Railway Locomotive and Stationary Power Applications, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, England, November 1982 Walker, G., Large Coal Fired Stirling Engines – Speculations for Future Development, Transactions of the Chinese Society for Internal Combustion Engines, November, 1982 Anonymous, Modernization of Rural China, China Daily, November 20, 1982 Marusak, T., Evaluation of Requirements for Militarization of 3-kw Free-Piston Stirling Engine Generator Set, M.T.I., Latham, N.Y. 1982


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.