Chapter 6


More than 60 years have passed since the Stirling engine was rescued from oblivion at the Philips Laboratories. It has thus been under modern development for almost exactly the same time as the gas turbine. The latter had already entered military service by the end of the Second World War, and now powers every aircraft with the exception of trainers and light twins. The materials problems and the thermodynamic and fluid flow challenges have much in common with those posed by the Stirling engine. Yet with the exception of a small number of units generating auxiliary power in submarines (Bratt 2000), the Stirling engine, by contrast, remains at the laboratory prototype stage. Is it really so much more daunting a design and development challenge than the gas turbine? Or is the Stirling engine concept fundamentally flawed? Alternatively, is it just that something has not yet fallen into place?

The remainder of this book is dedicated to this last point of view — but there is evidently much explaining to be done. A catalogue of engine types — however, fascinating in its own right — will not serve this purpose. It is necessary instead to face a harsh reality: if an engineering system does not perform to specification, then (a) the design is wrong, or (b) the specification is wrong, or (c) both are wrong.

  • 6.1 Status quo
  • 6.2 What is the Stirling engine design problem?
  • 6.3 Fundamentals of thermal design
  • 6.4 Equivalence conditions
  • 6.5 Reappraisal of the 1818 engine
  • 6.5.1 Basic dimensional data
  • 6.5.2 Operating conditions
  • 6.5.3 Kinematics and volume variations
  • 6.5.4 Temperature ratio
  • 6.6 Some essential basics
  • 6.6.1 Significance of temperature ratio
  • 6.6.2 Dead space ratio
  • 6.6.3 ‘Extra’ dead space
  • 6.7 Summary of fundamentals to date

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