Stirling Engine - How it Works





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Published on May 14, 2011

An animation showing how a Stirling engine works. A stirling engine operates by transferring air from one side of the engine to the other, this is done by the displacer. This air then works upon the power piston which in turn rotates the crankshaft which moves the displacer and on and on it goes until a heat source runs out or the engine reaches equilibrium

What is a Stirling Engine?

A Stirling Engine is an external combustion engine. Most engines that people see and use everyday are internal combustion engines. Internal combustion engines require a specific fuel ie. a four stroke engine need petrol/gasoline, a diesel engine requires diesel fuel, a jet engine requires kerosene etc.
A stirling engine however can run on almost any fuel source, some of them can actually run in reverse on a cold source of energy as opposed to a hot source of energy.

There are several types of stirling engine. The one i find most interesting is the Gamma type. They can be made to run on the heat of your hand, or in reverse on the cold of an ice cube, engines like these are called low temperature differential stirling engine (LTD Stirlings).

The original stirling was invented in 1816 by Robert Stirling. At that time steam engines were just in their infancy and the metals of the time were not as strong or reliable as they are nowadays, as a result many people lost their lives due to steam engine boiler explosions. Robert Stirling took it upon himself to design a low pressure engine and came up with the stirling cycle engine.

Unfortunately, while the engine was very quiet and used less fuel than steam engines of the time, it lacked the power to be widely used during the industrial revolution or for any transport purposes. Even to this day no major use has been found for the stirling engine in all their forms. Modern diesel engines are now more efficient than the most efficient Stirling engine ever built, although stirling engines do not have anywhere near s much money or resources pumped into their development as diesel engines would.

In the 1970s, Ford, GM and the American Motor Company spent millions of dollars developing a family sized car powered by a stirling engine. The reason it did not sell is because unlike most other engines, a stirling engine needs to be heated up for a short while before it will run, obviously people do not want to have to start a fire underneath their cars every morning before they go to work.


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