Today’s Solutions: October 26, 2021

Greg T. Spielberg | October 2010 issue
A Stirling engine uses internal gas that’s alternately heated and cooled to produce energy. Hydrogen, for instance, is sealed in a chamber connected to a series of pistons. When the hydrogen is heated, it expands, driving the pistons through the chamber. When the hydrogen is cooled, it contracts, creating space for the next expansion. When attached to a flywheel or crankshaft, the pistons produce mechanical power, which can be used to generate electricity or pump water.
In the 19th century, Stirlings were powered mostly by kerosene, coal or wood. At its peak, the Rider-Ericsson Engine Company produced up to 40,000 engines, exporting them as far as Egypt and Australia. At one point, John Ericsson even designed a Stirling-powered ship, which made a round trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., but sank soon after in a storm in New York harbor.
Today’s SunCatcher Stirlings use solar rays to heat hydrogen. At the end of the SunCatcher’s stamen is a power conversion unit, which includes a four-cylinder Stirling engine filled with hydrogen gas and a radiator for cooling. The enormous silver dish reflects sunlight into an eight-inch (20-centimeter) aperture, which collects and transfers the heat onto the Stirling’s hydrogen chamber. The expansion and contraction of the hydrogen powers the pistons that generate the electrical power. “All of us who like the engines and collect the engines are just waiting for the day they become commercially successful again,” says Stirling fan Brent Rowell.

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

6 Foods for eye health that aren’t carrots

These days, many of us spend a lot of time straining our eyes by staring at screens. Unfortunately, cutting back on screen time may be difficult, especially if work demands that we work on our ... Read More

This wooden steak knife is three times stronger than steel

Scientists from the University of Maryland may have discovered a more eco-friendly alternative to ceramics and stainless steel for our knives and nails by figuring out how to chemically alter wood so that it can ... Read More

Newly discovered properties of cannabis could help prevent seizures

Cannabis has been used to battle against disease throughout history, with the component cannabidiol (CBD) becoming an accepted treatment for many disorders including epilepsy, anxiety, and more. However, cannabis contains many other cannabinoids which have ... Read More

Candy to costumes: 6 ways to make your Halloween more sustainable

Halloween is just around the corner, and many families are excited to celebrate the holiday in full force for the first time in two years. Last year we shared how to sustainably dispose of post-holiday ... Read More

These crafty activists flock together and stitch canaries for climate change

Over the past few months, residents in the UK would have had the chance to spot more than 70 “flocks” of UK crafters that have been gathering across the nation as a way to encourage ... Read More

The future of eco-friendly laundry detergent is in dissolvable sheets

While laundry pods are supposed to be biodegradable, wastewater treatment plants often don’t have the capacity to create the necessary conditions to dissolve them. As a result, the material in question (polyvinyl alcohol) typically ends ... Read More