DS Stirling History Page
The History of the Stirling Engine
Stirling engines were invented at the beginning of the steam age. At first they were clunky, no more than toys really, until a Scottish Clergyman named Robert Stirling invented the Regenerator. This single improvement, which allowed heat to be stored and reused inside the engine, propelled the stirling into a race with the steam engine.
Steam engines at this time were both inefficient and dangerous. The copper boilers used at the time could blow up at any time, stirlings were a safe alternative. One of Robert Stirlings engines even powered an entire foundry. The materials at the time were the demise of the stirling though because steel and other high strength materials needed for a compact pressurized stirling did not exist.
After stirling time there were a few commercial stirling made though. Some science was even advanced. An American inventor, Erricson, even invented a new type of stirling, the Alpha, but the time for the stirling was not yet come.
In the early thirties help came from an unexpected direction. An electronic and industrial company, named Phillips, needed a small portable and quiet generator for their tube radio transmitters. After reviewing engines of the time Phillips decided that the stirling held the most promise. After years of research Phillips brought stirling science up to its present level. They built hundreds of stirlings and even produced one to be used by Ford in their automobiles. This success could not last forever though, the invention of the transistor effectively killed the development of the stirling because it used much less power than the tube transmitters. By this time though Phillips had created compact stirling of up to 200 hp and over 30% efficiency.
Today several companies are trying to revive the stirling as a commercial powerplant. The stirling unique properties makes it ideally suited to solar and geothermal power.
Interesting Note: The largest use of stirlings today is on submarines. The quietness and efficiency has led to their development for attack submarine powerplants.
Visit this site in Japan by Koichi Hirata.
Swedish Submarines that use Stirlings for their propulsion (Check the Gotland class description)
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