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A.H. Ibrahim1*, M. Emam1, Hosny Omar1, Karim Addas1 and Ehab AbdelRahman1, 2+

The American University in Cairo, School of Sciences and Engineering, Department of Physics, 11835 New Cairo, Egypt. 2 The American University in Cairo, School of Sciences and Engineering, Youssef Jameel Science and Technology Research Center (YJSTRC), 11835 New Cairo, Egypt. *On Leave from Mechanical Power Department, Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, Giza, Egypt. + Author for correspondence (e-mail: ehab_ab@aucegypt.edu) An advantage of thermoacoustic engines is the utilization of environmentally friendly gases. In this work, guidelines for the selection of a working gas are presented and discussed. Subsequently, the effect of using different gases as working fluid and different stack porosities on the engines performance was evaluated. In each case, the onset temperature difference, the generated acoustic power, working frequency and the excitation of higher harmonics are quantified and used as performance indicators. These working gases scan a range of sonic speeds from 374 m/s to 1101 m/s, a range of Prandtl number from 0.40 to 0.67, a range of density of 0.48 kg/m3 to 0.99 kg/m3 and a range of thermal conductivity from 0.030 W/m K to 0.091 W/m K. It is shown that it is not possible to achieve the best values for the performance indicators simultaneously, such as low onset temperature and reduced viscous losses. The results indicate that when operating at low mean pressures, the mixture density plays a role as important as the sonic speed or the Prandtl number. It is shown that for low pressure ratios, the square of the dynamic pressure amplitude of the fundamental is proportional to the input heat power. The proportionality constant depends on the sonic speed, the mixture density and the Prandtl number. On the other hand, the dynamic pressure amplitude of the first harmonic is proportional to the square of that of the fundamental mode throughout the full studied pressure range. Remarkably, the proportionality constant is quite the same for all gas mixtures and stack porosities used. Analysis of the transient profiles shows that the transient overshoot in the dynamic pressure as well as the size of the dynamic pressure-temperature hysteresis loop may be correlated to the thermal conductivity of the gas.



Thermoacoustic engines (TAEs) operate by converting heat into acoustic power using the complex interactions between thermodynamics and acoustics. The working gas in a standing-wave thermoacoustic engine undergoes a Brayton cycle through the proper phasing between the dynamic
ICSV19, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012 pressure and the gas parcel velocity, allowing the energy conversion from thermal form into acoustic form to take place without moving parts or sliding seals. Detailed description of thermoacoustic engines can be found in [1-3]. Prototypes of these engines have demonstrated first and second law efficiencies of 18% and 30%, respectively [4,5]. Operation with solar energy as well as waste heat was demonstrated [6,7]. The performance of thermoacoustic engines usually is characterized through several indicators as follows: - The first law efficiency, defined as the ratio of the acoustic power generated to the heat input power supplied to the engine. The former is evaluated as half the dot product of the dynamic pressure of the generated wave times the gas parcel velocity - The second law efficiency, defined as the ratio of the first law efficiency to that of a Carnot cycle operating between the same temperature limits - The onset temperature difference, defined as the minimum temperature difference across the sides of the stack at which the dynamic pressure is generated - The frequency of the resultant pressure wave, since this frequency should match the resonance frequency required by the load device, either a thermoacoustic refrigerator/heat pump or a linear alternator - The degree of harmonic distortion, indicating the ratio of higher harmonics to the fundamental mode in the resulting dynamic pressure wave - The variation of the resultant wave frequency with the TAE operating temperature The objectives of this work are: 1- to highlight the factors affecting the selection of a working gas and 2- to experimentally quantify the effects of the selection on the overall engine performance. Thermoacoustic engines employ non-toxic, non ozone-depleting or global warming gases making them immune from global warming environmental legislations. These are usually inert gases or mixtures of inert gases. The selection of the proper working gas or gas mixture has to take into consideration several factors. An ideal working gas should [1] have high speed of sound, a, since the power density of the device is proportional to the speed of sound [8]. It should be noted that for fixed engine geometry and operating conditions, the working frequency is proportional to the square root of the sound speed of the working gas; [2] have low thermal conductivity, k, to reduce the heat transfer from the hot side of the stack to the cold side across the working gas. A large thermal conductivity, however, increases the thermal penetration depth (defined as (2k/cp), where is the gas density, cp is the isobaric specific heat and is the angular frequency), which facilitates the manufacturing of the stack; [3] have a specific-heat ratio close to one, because the numerical results of Belcher et al. [9] showed that if all losses outside the stack are negligible (in the heat exchangers and resonator), then this condition leads to a minimum onset temperature; [4] have low Prandtl number, to allow thick thermal penetration depth (to increase the thermal interactions between the gas and the stack) together with a thin viscous penetration depth (to reduce viscous losses by viscous shear in the viscous penetration depth). However, numerical results [9] showed that large Prandtl numbers are preferred for low onset temperatures although they cause large viscous losses; [5] be leak tight. Light gases are more difficult to seal than heavy gases and this difficulty increases as the mean pressure increases and should not be underestimated in the design and assembly of the different resonator modules, or during the welding of heat exchangers or flanges or thorough the fittings of the engine accessories. Several arrangements of effective flange sealing are presented by Jens et al [10]. These contradicting requirements indicate that the optimum mixture of gases in a thermoacoustic engine should be selected according to the particular design objective with careful consideration of the temperature of the available heat source. Helium, for example, enjoys large sonic speed but its high specific-heat ratio requires large onset temperature difference which eliminates several potential heat sources, its high thermal conductivity increases the conduction heat losses and makes it more difficult to maintain the temperature gradient across the stack, its small molecule is harder to seal than other inert gases and 2

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012 its low density makes the power density very low unless operating at high mean gas pressure. In this work, a mixture of air and helium at a mean pressure of 1 bar is studied and the interplay between these factors is highlighted. The estimation of thermodynamic and transport properties for selected binary gas mixtures is presented by several authors [11,12]. It was estimated that a Prandtl number of 0.12 can be obtained at a helium/xenon composition of a xenon molar fraction of 0.975[12]. However, because of its low abundance, xenon is much more expensive than other light noble gases. To avoid the high cost of Xenon, another alternative occurs with a mixture of Helium and Nitrogen with a Nitrogen molar fraction of 0.76 that leads to a Prandtl number of 0.48. In all mixtures, it should be noted that the larger the molecular mass of the heavier gas the smaller the amount needed to decrease the Prandtl number [9]. Figure 1 shows how a gas mixture of two gases (air and helium in this case) enjoys a wide range of speeds of sound, thermal conductivity, density and a minimum Prandtl number at a certain mixture composition. The bottom part of the figure shows the onset temperature and acoustic power for the mixtures used.

Figure 1: Upper part: Density, speed of sound, Prandtl number and thermal conductivity for air/helium gas mixtures. Bottom part: Onset temperature difference and generated acoustic power as a function of the helium molar fraction increases


Experimental Setup

The experimental setup was described in details in [13,14]. Only additional information related to this work is stated here. To fill the engine with gases other than air, the atmospheric air is first pumped out using a vacuum pump, and then the required gas or gas mixture is filled using helium or argon cylinders (of purity 99.99 % and 99.0 %, respectively). The gases then are purged using the vacuum pump and fresh helium/argon gas is refilled again. The purging process is repeated three times to fully remove the air traces inside the engine and then the required gas mixture finally is introduced in the engine.



The captured pressure wave is decomposed into a fundamental mode and higher harmonics, according to the form 3

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012 ! ! = !! !"#(!" !! ! + !! ) + !! !"#(!" !! ! + !! ) + !! !"#(!" !! ! + !! ) + !! !"#(!" !! ! + !! ) This decomposition is performed using non-linear best fitting to reduce the sum of squareddeviations between the measured signal and the above numerical form. This form fits the signal reasonably with a typical R2 value of 0.99 or higher [14]. The use of this form allows determination of the pressure magnitudes of the fundamental mode and the first three harmonics (P0, P1, P2, and P3) and their corresponding phases (0, 1, 2 and 3). In turn, this allows estimation of the average acoustic power between any two microphones using the two-microphone method [15] for the fundamental mode and the first harmonic. First, it is beneficial to analyse the data shown in figure 1 above. As the helium molar fraction increases from zero to 20%, the onset temperature is reduced, from 515 K to 481 K, due to the increase of the specific heat ratio from 1.4 to 1.435. The increase of the sonic speed from 375 m/s to 417 m/s causes an increase in the generated acoustic power from 3.97 W to 4.24 W. Further increase in molar helium concentration from 40% to 60%, however, does not bring additional benefits and quickly cause deterioration in the acoustic power due to the drop in density (from 0.653 kg/m3 at a molar helium concentration of 40% to 0.48 kg/m3 at molar helium concentration of 60%). The onset temperature increases from 537 K at 40% to 643 K at 60% and the acoustic power decreases from 4.11 W at 40% to 0.21 W at 60%. Certain features for the best gas mixture above (80% air, 20% helium, 1 bar mean pressure) are analysed in figures 2 and 3 before the same features are compared amongst all gas mixtures. The properties of all mixtures used are summarized in Table 1. Table1: Gas mixture properties and corresponding engine performance
Acoustic power output at 150 Volt Frequency, Hz Thermal conductivity, W/m K Onset temperature difference, C Isobaric specific Heat, J/kg K Molecular Weight, Kg/Kmol

Specificheat ratio

Prandtl Number

Density, kg/m3

Laurett number

Gas mixture

80 % air, 20 % He, 400 CPSI 90 % air, 10 % He, 400 CPSI 100 % air, 400 CPSI 60 % air, 40 % He, 400 CPSI 70 % air, 30 % He, 600 CPSI 100 % air, 600 CPSI 40% air, 60% He, 400 CSPI 100 % air, 200 CPSI 4

24 26.5 29 19 21.5 29 14 29

0.52 0.59 0.69 0.43 0.47 0.69 0.40 0.69

0.82 0.046 0.91 0.038 0.99 0.030 0.65 0.066 0.74 0.055 0.99 0.030 0.48 0.091 0.99 0.030

1144 1067 1004 1356 1238 1004 1722 1004

1.44 1.42 1.40 1.48 1.45 1.40 1.52 1.4

4.70 198 4.37 239 5.00 247 4.17 265 3.37 290 4.33 309 4.23 371 6.88 418

211 189 189

4.2 3.5

4.0 228 4.1 219 191 308 188 4.4 0.7 0.2 2.3

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012

The Rotts linear theory predicts a linear relationship between the square of the pressure amplitude and the input heater power. Because of the linear approximation, this prediction is valid only at low pressure ratios. The measurements presented in figure 2 show this linear trend followed by deviations from linearity as the heater power increases. The deviation from linearity first is observed at about 600 W in all three microphones. This deviation is proportional to the additional heat power in all three microphones. Figure 3 compares the pressure amplitude of the first harmonic to the square of the fundamental. This is indicative of the strength of the harmonic generation. Remarkably, the relationship is linear throughout the whole range of input heat power suggesting that the pressure amplitude of the first harmonics scales with the input heater power to the fourth power. The microphone located closer to the pressure node (e.g., Mic #3) experiences higher harmonic amplitude than those located closer to the pressure antinode (e.g., Mic #1). This is because the pressure antinode of the first harmonic corresponds to the pressure node of the fundamental. It is now suitable to compare the features observed above for a certain gas mixture with the same features in different gases.
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Figure 2: Square of the pressure amplitude of the Figure 3: First harmonic amplitude versus fundamental mode at different axial locations square of fundamental amplitude. Same along the resonator versus the heater power. Data conditions as in Figure 2. for a gas mixture made of 80% air, 20% helium and a 400 CPSI stack. Figure 4 shows the square of the pressure amplitude of the fundamental mode measured by microphone #1 versus the heater power for different gases and different stack porosities. The linear relationship up to a certain input heater power is observed for all gases. The proportionality constant between the square of the pressure amplitude and the input heater power varies according to the gas type or stack CPSI. The largest pressure amplitude for any given input heater power occurs for a mixture of 80% air and 20% helium (400 CPSI). This mixture enjoys relatively large density and low Prandtl number. Higher helium concentrations cause an increase in the speed of sound, a decrease in the Prandtl number but the decrease in density overcomes the benefits of these advantages. The lowest pressure amplitude occurs for helium gas (200 CPSI). The reason is the low density of the working gas at the mean operating pressure of 1 bar. As observed in Figure 5, the amplitude of the first harmonic is proportional to the square of that of the fundamental. This indicates that the generation of the harmonics arises from nonlinear phenomena, usually in the aerodynamics or the thermodynamics. The proportionality constant appears to be quite the same for a broad range of gases or stack CPSIs. The relationship between the temperatures at the stack sides and the dynamic pressure as measured by microphone #1 are plotted during start-up, operation and shutdown in figure 6 for 5

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012 different helium molar fractions in an air-helium mixture using a 600-cpsi stack. The left column shows the dynamic pressure amplitude versus time where the dynamic pressure amplitude increases after the onset and experiences an overshoot before it settles to a lower quasi-steady value. The results indicate that as the helium fraction increases, the overshoot decreases until it disappears at high helium fraction.

Figure 4: Square of the pressure amplitude of Figure 5: First harmonic amplitude versus the fundamental mode measured by Mic#1 square of fundamental amplitude. Both are versus the heater power. Data for different gases normalized by mean pressure. mixtures and stacks. Same legend as in figure 5 The right column in figure 6 shows the hysteresis loop plotted as the variation between the dynamic pressure amplitude versus the temperature difference across the stack. This reflects evidence of hysteresis where the onset temperature difference at start-up is always higher than at shut down, and the size of the hysteresis loop clearly decreases as the helium molar fraction increases.

Figure 6: The relationships between the temperature at the hot and cold stack sides and the dynamic pressure amplitude measured by microphone # 1. Both columns in the figure imply that the dynamic pressure overshoot and the size of the hysteresis loop may be related to the non-uniform temperature distribution inside the stack and are reduced as the gas thermal conductivity increases with the increase in the helium fraction.

19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 8-12, 2012


Summary and conclusions

The selections parameters of a working gas in a thermoacoustic engine are studied. The best values for the performance indicators can not be achieved simultaneously (e.g. lowest onset temperature and very low viscous losses can not be achieved for the same gas or gas mixture). It is shown that high specific heat ratio correspond to high onset temperatures and that at low gas mixture densities, gains obtained by high sonic speeds and low Prandtl numbers can be offset by low mixture densities. The excitation of harmonics is evaluated and quantified for all gases used through the evaluation of the pressure of the fundamental mode and the pressure of the first harmonics. The relationship between these two variables and the input heater power is discussed. The acquired data shows evidence that the overshoot in the dynamic pressure and the size of the hysteresis loop are reduced as the helium fraction in an air/helium mixture increases suggesting that they may be related to the non-uniformity in the stack temperature and the mixture thermal conductivity.

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