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STIRLING ENGINE

The Stirling engine is one of my favorites. It was invented in 1816 by Rev. Robert Stirling of Scotland. The Stirling is a very simple engine, and was often billed as a safe alternative to steam, since theres no ris of a boiler e!plosion. It en"oyed some s#ccess in ind#strial applications, and also in small appliances li e fans and water p#mps, b#t it was eclipsed by the advent of ine!pensive electric motors. $owever, beca#se it can r#n on any so#rce of heat, it now holds promise for alternative f#el engines, solar power, geothermal power, etc. Stirling engines feat#re a completely closed system in which the wor ing gas %#s#ally air b#t sometimes heli#m or hydrogen& is alternately heated and cooled by shifting the gas to different temperat#re locations within the system. In the two'cylinder %or alpha config#red& Stirling, one cylinder is ept hot while the other is ept cool. In this ill#stration, the lower'left cylinder is heated by b#rning f#el. The other cylinder is ept cool by air circ#lating thro#gh a heat sin %a. .a. cooling fins&. The Stirling cycle can be tho#ght of as fo#r different phases( e!pansion, transfer, contraction, and transfer. )!pansion. *t this point, most of the gas in the system has "#st been driven into the hot cylinder. The gas heats and e!pands driving both pistons inward.

Transfer. *t this point, the gas has e!panded %abo#t + times in this e!ample&. ,ost of the gas %abo#t -.+rds& is still located in the hot cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran shaft the ne!t 01 degrees, transferring the b#l of the gas to the cool cylinder.

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3ontraction. 4ow the ma"ority of the e!panded gas has been shifted to the cool cylinder. It cools and contracts, drawing both pistons o#tward.

Transfer. The now contracted gas is still located in the cool cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran another 01 degrees, transferring the gas to bac to the hot cylinder to complete the cycle.

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555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555 Stirling engines feat#re a completely closed system in which the wor ing gas %#s#ally air b#t sometimes heli#m or hydrogen& is alternately heated and cooled by shifting the gas to different temperat#re locations within the system. In the two'cylinder %or alpha configured+& Stirling, one cylinder is ept hot while the other is ept cool. In this ill#stration, the lower'left cylinder is heated by b#rning f#el. The other cylinder is ept cool by air circ#lating thro#gh a heat sin %a. .a. cooling fins&. The Stirling cycle can be tho#ght of as fo#r different phases( e!pansion, transfer, contraction, and transfer.

Expansion
,ost of the gas in the system has "#st been driven into the hot cylinder. The gas heats and e!pands driving both pistons inward.

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Transfer
The gas has e!panded %abo#t + times in this e!ample&. ,ost of the gas %abo#t -.+& is still located in the hot cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran shaft the ne!t 01 degrees, transferring the b#l of the gas to the cool cylinder.

Contraction
The ma"ority of the e!panded gas has shifted to the cool cylinder. It cools and contracts, drawing both pistons o#tward.

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Transfer
The contracted gas is still located in the cool cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran another 01 degrees, transferring the gas to bac to the hot cylinder to complete the cycle. This engine also feat#res a regenerator, ill#strated by the chamber containing the green hatch lines. The regenerator is constr#cted of material that readily cond#cts heat and has a high s#rface area, typically a mesh of closely spaced, thin metal plates. 7hen hot gas is transferred to the cool cylinder, it is first driven thro#gh the regenerator, where a portion of the heat is deposited. 7hen the cool gas is transferred bac , this heat is reclaimed8 th#s the regenerator 9pre heats: and 9pre cools: the wor ing gas, dramatically improving efficiency.

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Single Cylinder Stirling Engine


This type of Stirling engine, nown as the beta configuration, + feat#res "#st one cylinder with a hot end and a cool end. The wor ing gas is transferred from one end of the cylinder to the other by a device called a displacer %ill#strated in bl#e&. The displacer resembles a large piston, e!cept that it has a smaller diameter than the cylinder, th#s its motion does not change the volume of gas in the cylinder<it merely transfers the gas aro#nd within the cylinder. The same fo#r phases of the Stirling cycle are at wor in this engine(

Expansion
,ost of the gas in the system has "#st been driven to the hot end of the cylinder. The gas heats and e!pands, driving the piston o#tward.

Transfer
The gas has e!panded. ,ost of the gas is still located in the hot end of the cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran shaft the ne!t =#arter t#rn. The b#l of the gas is transferred aro#nd the displacer to the cool end of the cylinder.

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Contraction
The ma"ority of the e!panded gas has shifted to the cool end. The gas cools and contracts, drawing the piston inward.

Transfer
The contracted gas is still located near the cool end of the cylinder. /lywheel moment#m carries the cran another =#arter t#rn, moving the displacer and transferring the b#l of the gas bac to the hot end of the cylinder.

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Stirling Engine with Ross yoke


*ndy Ross, a prominent Stirling engine e!perimenter, developed a Stirling engine #sing the lin age ill#strated here. This engine is identical in operation to the two cylinder Stirling. In this ill#stration, the left cylinder is the hot cylinder. The lin age allows the engine to be more compact, and red#ces side loads on the pistons and connecting rods %beca#se their travel is almost linear&.

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Low Temperature ifferential Stirling Engine


*ll Stirling engines re=#ire that a temperature differential be maintained between the 9hot: and 9cold: parts of the engine. In the 1081s, 2rofessors Ivo ?olin and @ames Senft developed a series of engines e!ploring the minim#m temperat#re differential that co#ld be made to wor . 1+ Ar. Senfts basic design has been widely copied and is now available as a it or completed engine from a n#mber of model engine man#fact#rers. The heat from a c#p of coffee is #s#ally eno#gh to power it. If caref#lly constr#cted, it will even r#n from the warmth of yo#r hand.

The engine is of the split cylinder type or gamma configuration16 %see note below&. The displacer cylinder is =#ite short for its diameter, and encloses a matching short'stro e displacer. The power piston r#ns in a separate, m#ch smaller cylinder, typically mo#nted on the top plate. The displacer cylinder wall is #s#ally made of plastic, which thermally separates the metal plates at the hot and cold ends. *s with all Stirling engines, the cycle has fo#r phases(

Expansion
7e start with the ma"ority of the gas in contact with the warmer plate. The gas heats and e!pands, driving the power piston #pward.

Transfer
/lywheel moment#m carries the displacer downward, transferring the warm gas to the #pper, cool end of the cylinder.

Contraction
4ow the ma"ority of the gas is in contact with the cool plate. The gas cools and contracts, drawing the power piston downward.

Transfer
/lywheel moment#m carries the displacer #p, transferring the cooled gas bac to the lower, hot end of the cylinder.

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/or clarity, this ill#stration shows the power piston connected to the cran shaft by a bell cran . $owever, most of these engines have the power piston located behind the flywheel, where the connecting rod may be attached directly to another cran on that side of the flywheel. Since it operates at s#ch safe temperat#res, many parts of the low temperat#re differential Stirling can be made of transparent plastic or glass. This ma es it a delightf#l and ed#cational demonstration of the Stirling cycle, however, its feeble power ma es it #sef#l for little elseB *s with most Stirling engines, it can be made to r#n in reverse if the bottom is cooled instead of heated. Ar. Senfts P-19 engine developed in 1001 was capable of r#nning with a temperat#re difference of only one half of a 3elsi#s degreeB1+ $is boo , An Introduction to Low Temperature ifferential !tirling "ngines is the best starting point for information on these engines.

Correction
The first version of this page incorrectly stated that this is a beta configured engine. In fact, it is a gamma configuration, since the power cylinder and displacer cylinder are separated.16 The Single 3ylinder Stirling page ill#strates a tr#e beta config#ration in which the power piston and displacer ride in the same cylinder. Ar. Senft himself was ind eno#gh to clear this #p in a recent email. $e also pointed o#t that, owing to its very small power cylinder, this engine approaches the same thermal cycle as the theoretically more efficient beta config#ration, since s#ch a large percentage of the e!panding gas remains in contact with the hot end of the displacer cylinder.

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