A Stirling engine, not on April 1st

By Jeffrey the Barak

Usually, when a Stirling engine makes the headlines, it’s April Fool’s Day. Not this time, although once again it is so far only talk and no engine.

In 1816 Robert Stirling obtained a patent for his Stirling engine, which (very) basically uses the temperature difference outside and inside a closed cylinder to move the piston up and down and therefore act as an engine.

Stirling engines have been successfully used for this and that since 1816, but with the fossil fuel problems of today, they are enjoying more consideration than usual.

Enter one Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway. The Segway is quite remarkable, but due to the enormous anticipation that preceded it’s launch and the high price tag, it has always been widely regarded as a disappointing anticlimax, hardly worth adapting.

But here comes Dean again, in November 2008, with a plan to put a Stirling engine in a car. This time, it will not be used to power the car, but instead it will be placed in the trunk to power auxiliaries such as heating, air-conditioning and electrical accessories on a battery-driven sub-compact that uses parts and tooling from the old Think car that was mothballed in 2000.

Remember this is a Stirling engine, and it burns nothing and emits nothing.

But since the Stirling can be used to help charge the batteries, then under the right circumstances, this car could conceivably be a free energy machine requiring just a small input of energy, such as from a temperature difference caused by sunshine, to get it started in the production of more energy.

Dean Kamen himself is not touting the car as anything particularly amazing, but he cleverly states, “If we can demonstrate the utility of the Stirling engine by putting it in a car … it will leave me with an engine that I can use to supply electricity to the world.”

I say forget the car, put a black water pipe on a sunny roof and add a Stirling engine to run a generator to power a home. Then your car can be any plug-in electric, and the source of the power will have been hours old, or day-old sunshine.

Whatever happens, the Stirling engine might eventually have it’s long overdue day in the sun as an integral part of a pollution-free energy system.


  1. Great story and info…I would love a pollution-free environment…and a cheap effective way to warm-up a cold apartment.
    Please give a little more on Think car..(this is the first time I hear about that).

    I met a man here in Netanya who rides on a Segway, and when I ask him to relate some experiences, he replies he “has no stories to tell.”

    Louis the scooterer.

  2. If the “Big Three” automakers had vehicles with this type of engine perfected and in the show rooms, I doubt they would be in as dire straights the are right now. They would have gone one step beyond the gas/electric hybrids that are doing so well today. If only they could go back in time and change their ways. sigh

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