That's a clever combination. Sort of like a 2 stroke ICE meets steam engine. I guess normally you'd do the heat exchange externally and inject the steam to drive the piston. Is there greater efficiency in doing the heat exchange within the cylinder?
Worth exploring due to the similarity between the engine and existing ICE engines. That would allow, presumably, car part manufacturers to turn their spare capacity to making power generators.
22nd November, 2012 @ 4:47 p.m. (California Time)
Even if it is more efficient than using a Sterling Cycle engine the additional complication of the mechanisms make it less practical.
22nd November, 2012 @ 6:54 p.m. (California Time)
From your description, that's no longer a combustion engine, as there is no ignition and burning of the oil.
23rd November, 2012 @ 12:10 a.m. (California Time)
@Slowburn - it is Stirling, not Sterling. Also, I doubt it will be more efficient than a Stirling or Ericsson cycle engine. The only major problem with Stirling engines is their low power density, but that is a non-issue for stationary power plants.
23rd November, 2012 @ 1:26 a.m. (California Time)
@Scion: generating the steam where it is needed follows the KISS parameters;
@slowburn: although the concept is novel, the 2-stroke ICE fits like goldylocks to implement it;
@matthew: the article says "internal Clean engine";
@flame_can AND slowburn: no matter the current efficiency, if this thing runs without fossil fuel then it is a blessing.
23rd November, 2012 @ 3:31 a.m. (California Time)
What will happen at night when there is no sun?
23rd November, 2012 @ 6:33 a.m. (California Time)
Since there is a waste heat in ICE, why not combining 2+2 (or any other combo)
2 cylinders work on fossil fuels, 2 on steam/oil
ICE develops much higher temperatures then those from
solar collectors and thus more efficiency (more water at once, more steam)
23rd November, 2012 @ 8:03 a.m. (California Time)
This won't go anywhere. What benefit does it have over electrical energy storage systems.
23rd November, 2012 @ 8:06 a.m. (California Time)
Wondering: Why not the water meats up with air heated well above 212 deg F? Why oil?If air not hot enough, would not heat of compression be the ticket?
23rd November, 2012 @ 8:33 a.m. (California Time)
No particular reason why it should not work but it's going to take a really big solar panel or multiples to get enough hot oil to run more than just a few minutes at a time.
23rd November, 2012 @ 8:58 a.m. (California Time)
Why not just make it a steam engine, with closed system that uses water, oil, graphite, and gunk to make the steam and a rotary valve as the injector.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:41 a.m. (California Time)
It would nice if the person writing the article knew the difference between a driveshaft and a crankshaft.
While this is pretty interesting I'm wondering if the temperature range of the heated oil would sustain during the night. No much use if it doesn't though I guess an auxiliary heat source could be used as a backup.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:43 a.m. (California Time)
air is not dense enough to carry a significant amount of heat. and even if it was, it doesn't work to expend energy on the upstroke just to drive the downstroke. that's called a spring, and that's not how an engine works.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:45 a.m. (California Time)
This reminds me of the Skinner Uniflow engine, except it didn't have oil injection. I've thought of similar concepts in the past, but was always stymied by the age-old steam engine problem; namely oil separation in the returns. In this case where the oil and water/steam are both injected, and boiling occurs in the cylinder, complete sparation is not as big an issue. It seems like a good idea. Dark hours operation could be accomplished through a traditional combustion system, or as mentioned earlier battery storage.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:51 a.m. (California Time)
Come on, Gizmag.. this is not a combustion engine.. or Stirling Cycle.. it is a Rankine cycle engine... commonly known as a steam engine... the oil is merely a heat transfer medium.. not sure why they use oil at all, as the system could run without it.. perhaps it is to help lubicate the pistons and maybe have a smoother running solar collector .. a boiling collector can be tricky because of pressure surges, like popping popcorn.
23rd November, 2012 @ 10:03 a.m. (California Time)
You hit the nail on the head. Oil-water separation is perhaps the biggest practical difficulty that this concept would have to overcome. Also, if they are to run it with any sort of reasonable efficiency (and power density), there will be condensation inside the cylinder.
I wonder, too, if they've thought at all about where the steam blow-by goes? Directly into the lubrication sump, it looks like.
Interesting concept, but there's some nasty difficulties with this particular design.
23rd November, 2012 @ 10:41 a.m. (California Time)
Henry Darwin Franken and Mike Siesel: If it feeds batteries (for stored electricity) I don't understand why the lack of constant sunlight would be a deal killer.
Come on everyone, who hasn't wondered how we could harness focused/magnified sunlight to multiply its potential power? These guys seem to have finally figured it out!
Please keep us informed on this one, gizmag.
23rd November, 2012 @ 11:31 a.m. (California Time)
Another failed hairbrained idea. It's been proven that the sterling engine is far superior to any steam engine for these solar collectors.
23rd November, 2012 @ 11:31 a.m. (California Time)
In order to condense the steam and separate the oil in a closed loop system there will surely be a need for either a very long or large loop or a source of cool water to extract heat from the system.
I suppose that in theory one could take the condensed side just below the steam point just before re-entry into the cylinder but the ability to control steam and pressure has always been a very thorny problem that resisted good solutions. Maybe they have some technology involved that is not being mentioned.
That is why when we see steam engines they tend to be open rather than closed loop systems.
23rd November, 2012 @ 11:35 a.m. (California Time)
i didn't see any proof. and why not divert the hot oil right to the cylinder.
23rd November, 2012 @ 11:52 a.m. (California Time)
Who's job is it to keep the mirrors clean ? I know how about a water powered dehumidifier, distilled water works great for cleaning mirrors or was it oil from the oil separator ? although the oily film on the water will will keep the mosquito's from hatching that's a plus.
23rd November, 2012 @ 2:21 p.m. (California Time)
Gosh, I remember Popular Mechanics magazine back in the mid-1960's with an article on how to build a solar-powered piston engine using only air heated by a solar collector.
23rd November, 2012 @ 5:14 p.m. (California Time)
The energy density of a Stirling Cycle engine can be increased by putting it in a pressurized environment.
23rd November, 2012 @ 5:47 p.m. (California Time)
PV prices have dropped drastically to a quarter of what they were 4 years ago. They have no moving parts and will last 25+ years, if this is to produce an equivalent amount of energy of +/- 16% efficiency, but with the additional maintenance and consumable costs, I do not see the attraction. I am working on a similar concept, with far less moving parts and related losses, the efficiency target is North of 30%.
23rd November, 2012 @ 8:45 p.m. (California Time)
First of all, heartiest congratulations for making it possible. You have perhaps opened up a great opportunity for the energy sector incidentally proving that solar is the answer for future.
I have been eagerly waiting for something of this kind for my own house under construction. BUT, I am not sure as to how long it would take for the technology to reach India.
I would appreciate it very much if you could guide me to a few contacts for making it faster, please.
Congrats once again.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:24 p.m. (California Time)
I can see the principle working, but a drop of water seems too little to provide enough power. Moreover, the engine has to work with other types of fuel as well. Reason being the fact that sun doesn't always shine. Furthermore, the oil would have to circulate constantly while keeping the engine fully operational under all weather.
And all that assuming the end design won't include a ridiculously huge parabolic mirror. That's because it would be impractical. I'd prefer if there was no need for a parabolic mirror, but this isn't how physics would have it.
My opinion on solar energy?
Engineers are approaching from the wrong angle. They are trying to harvest the sun's energy directly. This is bound to be impossible or impractical. The only way engineers can harvest the sun's energy without doing the impossible or the impractical, would be to avoid conventional or straight-forward methods. Thinking like an engineer is really working against them.
23rd November, 2012 @ 9:51 p.m. (California Time)
It'd work... I don't see why not but I struggle to think of a single thing this concept could do that some other proven technology can't do better.
24th November, 2012 @ 1:16 a.m. (California Time)
Danger, superheated water coming from the solar collector is subject to explosion upon loss of pressure.
24th November, 2012 @ 5:25 a.m. (California Time)
Hey folks, thanks for all of your comments and for checking out our project! I was asked to put together an FAQ to answer many of the questions and concerns brought up here, check out our blog hydroice.wordpress.com for some more reading. Thanks, -Matt
24th November, 2012 @ 2:09 p.m. (California Time)
I'm curious as to how this would be superior to using a turbine. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply heat water using an oil/water heat exchanger into steam and spinning a highly efficient turbine, which can of course then generate electricity. Given that this technology is ubiquitous and highly refined it would seem difficult to achieve higher efficiency with the inherently far less mechanically efficient reciprocating motion of the proposed solution.
Of course existing solar thermal plants work in exactly this way. Substituting a high temperature molten salt for the oil can also provide for a considerable amount of thermal storage, allowing operation during hours of darkness etc. (net efficiency is lower but load factor is much improved, on the whole it is net even sans any heat loss).
25th November, 2012 @ 11:53 a.m. (California Time)
I have read their FAQ, as I too wondered what the advantage would be compared to say a Stirling heat engine powered by solar. I think the answer might simply be that the equipment could be cheaper on a per installed watt basis. They are shooting for 30% efficiency so that is not too far off from a good Stirling at 40%. There are conceivably a number of mass produced 2-stroke engines that could be readily adapted to make this, or possible even a 4-stroke engine could be adapted using a modified or replacement head. Whereas a Stirling engine is just too different from a common combustion engine, it has to be purpose built from the ground up. I have never seen a Stirling made from standard comubstion engine parts.
I have often wondered if there weren't some way that a home mechanic or engine shop could build some kind of solar generator using standard engine, mechanical, electrical, plumbing components, rather than more exotic solid state solar cells which have to be made in elaborate factories. Realize that you can build a very simple and effective solar hot water and space heating system using little more than pumps and plumbing and insulated tanks. But when it comes to solar electrical, you need fairly exotic parts. With this concept, it's conceivable someone could take standard readily available parts like an old engine, mirrors, oil and water reservoirs and pumps, and make something very practical. It could be reasonably simple, safe, reliable, long lasting, and generate significant power. Possibly you could run it on daytime solar and natural gas at night . . . Or store hot oil in insulated tanks . . . It potentially could be much cheaper than solar cells with storage batteries which though cheaper now, remain fairly expensive and exotic. It's really very interesting from that point of view.
Of course this is very early stage and experimental, but worth keeping an eye on and encouraging.
25th November, 2012 @ 12:51 p.m. (California Time)
Reread the article. It is very hot oil that come from the solar collector. The only high pressure steam is in the cylinder.
25th November, 2012 @ 1:28 p.m. (California Time)
If this was self running, and could charge a battery, maybe i could eliminate my electricity usage here in Dallas?
25th November, 2012 @ 3:30 p.m. (California Time)
I donated a concept a year ago to Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy for a hybrid diesel-steam-Stirling piston engine. Don't know if they are working on the concept.
Details are available at: http://www.ideaconnection.com/innovation-articles/hybrid-diesel-steam-engine-00377.html
26th November, 2012 @ 6:30 a.m. (California Time)
Interesting idea you've got going here, kudos folks! My 2 cents: I know you've considered this, but why must you inject the heated oil directly into the cylinder? Why not simply pump it through a jacket/chamber surrounding the cylinder head (such as current water cooling systems do on an ICE 2-stroker - thinking a 125cc dirtbike, here)? In this way, the cylinder is appropriately heated, you can inject the water as before, but you wouldn't have to be concerned with separating the two again (which, as has been commented here already, will be quite a challenge, particularly when dealing with contaminates resulting from natural engine wear.) Keeping these separated, you will only then have to deal with engine lubrication separately (along with the water that would infiltrate it), for which more conventional systems already exist.
26th November, 2012 @ 7:39 a.m. (California Time)
I love it.
A few people have wondered in the comments section why not just build a steam engine and use water instead of oil?
By using oil they do not have to worry about water converting to steam in the heat collectors or lines.
They could have a heat exchange and keep the oil out of the cylinder (just inject steam), but the oil probably lubricates the cylinder and greatly extends its life.
Its benefit over a sterling engine is they will be using engines that are already mass produced and low cost.
26th November, 2012 @ 12:49 p.m. (California Time)
Diesel/steam hybrids have been used and found wanting; water in the oil is a mess. Matching a Stirling's output with the diesel's would be problematic as well but using a Stirling to drive secondary functions (coolant pump, alternator, and such) Should work well. Steam is an unnecessary complication Stirling works at high temperatures as well.
26th November, 2012 @ 4:45 p.m. (California Time)
Stirling engines are large and expensive to produce for high power output. This is because the higher the power output you want the greater the heat difference you need between the hot and cold parts. The higher the heat, the harder to find a material that doesn't break down. Also you need to keep the hot and cold parts separate so you end up with large machines that are expensive and temperamental when producing decent power.
The arrangement above would reuse existing manufacturing equipment to produce a compact power plant cheaply that could theoretically produce good power per price unit.
I imagine the power output would not be utility scale, but surely useful in smaller applications.
26th November, 2012 @ 7:58 p.m. (California Time)
The material problems of Stirling engines have been solved decades ago.
27th November, 2012 @ 12:37 p.m. (California Time)
@acorn you have it right.. I just calculated that to get a temp of 371 deg Celsius, compression ratio required would only be 14.59 (with plain air) why is then the oil and solar heater required?
1st December, 2012 @ 8:35 a.m. (California Time)
This concept has some potential. Think for a moment about the function. Oil was mentioned but consider a liquid heat transfer medium that has high heat transfer and is more friendly in separating from water. A modest vacuum assist on the return line could deal with the water which will boil off anyway. Check valves will keep the cylinder's high pressure from pressurizing the system. Even though the medium is recycled, it must still retain a lot of heat and they are talking about micro droplets of water. This means the burden on the solar heater is reduced (conserved). The idea is to flash the water which looks to me more like impulse energy driving the piston. You do not want to input any energy except the solar or what's the point, so do not compress any air for heat.
I am confident the University will look at the balance of energy input-output considering solar flux, thermodynamics and masses of the system to arrive at a theoretical potential. The real problem is the mechanical efficiency loss of the crankshaft which is approximately 50%. However, by using a linear piston constant torque mechanism such as the CV Engine they can recover this loss which will double whatever efficiency they can now get (you can Google CV Engine). Remember they are only trying to beat the photovoltaic in kW/dollar which also must include life cycle and maintenance.
2nd December, 2012 @ 6:03 p.m. (California Time)
The last I heard, it's Mixing oil and water that's hard. Separating Oils and water need nothing more technial than a bucket.
4th December, 2012 @ 9:56 a.m. (California Time)
While this system might be made to work, I can't help but think that the technology to convert the suns heat to electrical power can probably be done in a more simple and efficient manner. I'll be watching the news to see if this takes off...
Storing the energy can be done in a variety of ways, which is a whole separate issue.
3rd January, 2013 @ 12:10 p.m. (California Time)