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Stirling engine

Ce site appartient au réseau de sites relatifs aux moteurs à air chaud

The current and past applications
of Stirling engines

At the moment, Stirling engine is unknown by the public. It is seldom used. However, one can quote, in a nonexhaustive way, the following scopes of application:

Research and university world:


Stirling engine is the subject of theoretical studies and practical works in order to better know it, to improve its output and to increase its competitiveness facing other energy sources. This works enable the modelization of this engine, i.e. to put in equations the heat transfers, the flows of the fluids, to simulate certain configurations without having to build an engine...
When one studies something at school or university, this promotes its introduction in everyday life. No doubt that will happen for the Stirling engine.

Military uses:


If weapons dissuade countries from going to war (we can dream !), then we can be delighted by introduction of Stirling engines into the military field.
- an attack submarine of Swedish army is equipped with Stirling engines for its auxiliary electrical production in order to provide the vital functions in the event of unavailability of the main source. Its silence of operation is a major asset in this application. In the same context, the Australian navy has also adopted it for a 3000 tons displacement submarine.
- some military ships also use this technology : corvettes or boats for mine detection or acoustic monitoring.

Spatial domain:


Some satellites get energy through a Stirling engine. The efficiency is particularly high considering the great differences in temperature. The hot source consists of radioactive isotopes. The use of radioactive elements is not very ecological, it presents risks at the time of the take-off of the rocket. The justification comes owing to the fact that solar panels can be dirtied or be destroyed in certain zones of space, as near Mars.

Solar applications:

Reflective dish

When one takes advantage of energy from the Sun, one uses a reflective dish which concentrates the sunbeams in only one point: the focus of the dish where you install the Stirling engine.
In the United States, great reflective dishes were installed in the desert with Stirling engines to generate electricity without buying fuel!
(NB: photovoltaic panels have a poor performance, about 15%. Therefore, at equal power, their surface is larger than reflectors of a Stirling engine).

Research and oceanographical exploitation :


SAGA (Submarine Assistance Great Autonomy), which became operational in the 1990 years, allowed to cover more than 150 nautical miles away, for a campaign of 10 days per 300 m deep. It was driven by two Stirling engines supplied with diesel and liquid oxygen. For more information, see page SAGA.

Cryogénic domain :


The reversibility of the Stirling engine is used in order to produce cold in an industrial way. Its efficiency is then excellent. In this type of operation, described on this site in the page “Stirling coolers", we provide mechanical energy to the engine. In fact, we transfer calories from the cold source the hot source, like in a domestic refrigerator. This mode of operation is so efficient that we use this type of installation to liquefy certain gas.
Paradox : use sun for generating electricity by a Stirling engine, then this electricity drives a Stirling engine for making cold. How to make ice under a blazing sun, and thanks to him!

Domestic uses:


Small installations were developed in order to function in cogeneration: electricity supply and dwelling heating. One chooses fuel (oil, wood, wood pellets…) to make electricity and to heat a house. During certain periods, it is possible to sell excess electricity if one is connected to the grid.
Some pleasure boats are equipped like that.

Automobile motorization :


During the years 1940-1980, Philips company studied various applications of the Stirling engine. One of them consisted in equipping a Ford Torino, but this test was not a success and this project was stopped. Now, is hybrid electric automobile a new luck for Stirling engine ?

Leisures :

Small-scale model of a boat

Some fans have made beautiful small-scale models which are moved by a Stirling engine. To get an idea of the talent of these manufacturers, see the page "achievements" on this site.

Generators :


After the second world war, Philips developed and marketed the generator which one sees the photograph opposite. This group had a power of approximately 150 Watts. Click on the image to see various views of this Stirling engine.

As one can see it above, the spectrum of the Stirling engines begins with the micro engine, satisfied with 1° C of temperature difference, and finishes with the engine for an industrial use. As for the primary energy, it may be the sun, oil, wood, gas ...

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This site was created and is maintained by Pierre Gras. Thank you with all the people who contributed their shares: articles, photographs, vidéos, worksheets… The author is opened with any suggestion allowing to improve this site for happiness of everybody. Finally, a big thank you to Robert Stirling !

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