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Texas Space Grant Consortium Advanced Design Project - Spring 1997 - Solar Power From Space

Stirling Engine

Texas Christian University

By: Tanya Hardy David Meek Nathan Moser Majin Sierra Winyu Vongstapanalert Greg White Aaron Williams

28 April 1997

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0.0 Abstract

The seven-member team at Texas Christian University has been working on the Stirling engine contribution to the Texas Space Grant Consortium’s Advanced Design Project. We hope to demonstrate how a Stirling engine in conjunction with a parabolic mirror can be an efficient way of obtaining solar power from space. We are approaching this project as a one-hour, one-semester junior research class. This semester’s activities consist of studying the feasibility of using Stirling engines for space power generation. We have begun to study how a Stirling engine and reflective dish will work together in order to utilize the sun's heat to produce energy. In order to better understand how this type of system will perform, we have purchased a model engine with a solar concentrator. Along with the purchased motor, we have fabricated our own engine. We also purchased an alternator and used it in conjunction with our purchased model engine in order to convert the mechanical power into electrical power. We then ran tests on our system to see how much energy we could get out of the system. Our objective this semester was to see if a Stirling engine/dish system can be used instead of photovoltaic cells. The Stirling engine/dish system is both more efficient and less expensive. We gave a good starting point for those who will continue this project and many of the aspects that need to be considered are discussed in this paper.

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Table of Contents

0.0

Abstract

pg.

1

1.0

Mission Overview

pg.

3

2.0

The Stirling Engine

pgs.

3-5

2.1 The Stirling Cycle

2.2 Model Stirling Engine

2.3 Fabricated Stirling Engine

2.4 Working Stirling Engines

3.0

Gathering the Sun’s Rays: Parabolic Mirrors

pgs.5-6

3.1 Temperature Effects

3.2 Collar Design

3.3 Alternative Solutions

4.0

Rocket Choice

pg.

6

4.1

Titan IV

5.0

Space Effects

pgs.

6-9

5.1 Elements of Space Flight

5.2 Vacuum Environment

5.3 States of Matter and Orbital Debris

5.4 Radiation and Space Welding

5.5 Other Space Effect Considerations

6.0

Energy Conversion

pgs.

8-9

6.1 Shaft Rotational Torques

6.2 Converting Into an Oscillating Form

6.3 Specifications and Considerations

7.0

Benefits Over Solar Cells

pg.

9

8.0

Conclusion

pg.

9

9.0

Appendix

pgs.

10-16

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9.1

Appendix A

9.2 Appendix B - Engine Drawings (see jpeg image files)

9.3 Appendix C (biographies)

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1.0

Mission Overview

During the 1970's there was an increased awareness of the limited energy resources available on earth. Oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy are currently the fuels of choice; however, society is becoming increasingly aware of the damage to the environment caused by fossil fuels, yet no one wants a nuclear reactor in the backyard. A possible solution to this dilemma is an almost infinite energy source waiting to exercise its full potential: THE SUN! An alternative means of solar power collection, besides photovoltaic cells, is the use of a Stirling motor-solar concentrator system. The solar concentrator consists of a parabolic mirror focusing the sun’s energy on a receiver which then powers the Stirling motor. The motor produces mechanical power. This power is converted to electrical power which in turn is transmitted through microwaves to earth. It will be a clean and effective way to get energy without depleting the earth of any of its natural resources and without the pollution.

2.0 Stirling Engines

The Stirling engine is one of the most efficient devices for converting heat into mechanical work; however, it requires relatively high temperatures. With a solar collector, the high temperatures necessary for efficient power production can be achieved, thus making the Stirling engine an ideal candidate for harnessing the power from the sun. The high temperatures we are dealing with will not affect any of the electrical or other materials because they will be behind the mirror and thus protected. As the temperature that drives the Stirling motor increases, the efficiency of the system increases. The temperature at the receiver is dependent upon the size and curvature of the concentrator. The melting point temperature of the receiver is a limiting factor. Stirling engines generally operate at the thermal limits of the material used for their construction. Typical temperatures range from 650 to 800

o C (1200 to 1470 o F), resulting in an engine efficiency of around 30% to 40%. Hydrogen and helium are commonly used as the working gas for the engine because of their high heat-transfer capabilities. Hydrogen, thermodynamically, is a better choice. This gas generally results in more efficient engines than those with helium. However, helium has fewer material compatibility problems and is safer to work with, being a Noble gas. Engines typically operate at high pressures for maximized power, ranging from 5 to 20 MPa (725 to 2900 psi). Operations at these high pressures make sealing between components difficult. To make space environment systems economical, a system lifetime of at least 20 years with minimum maintenance is generally required. However, a major overhaul of engines, including replacement of seals and bearings, may be necessary within the 40,000 to 60,000-hour (4.56 to 6.84- yrs.) lifetime, which adds to the operating cost. A major challenge, therefore, in the design of Stirling engines is to reduce the potential for wear in critical components or create novel ways for them to perform their tasks.

2.1 The Stirling Cycle

For our purposes, the Stirling cycle can be described as a heat engine cycle in which heat is accepted at a high temperature and rejected at a lower temperature, an action which will produce net

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work or power. The two main types of Stirling engines are the kinematic and free-piston Stirling engines. Both types operate on the same thermodynamic cycle. For convenience, the free-piston set-up will be used to

illustrate the cycle. The free-piston Stirling engine consists of a single cylinder, a displacer, a piston, and

a heater. The displacer fits inside the cylinder loosely so that air can flow past it as it moves back and

forth. The piston is sealed against the cylinder walls much like a piston in a car’s engine. The piston is able to move up and down the shaft the displacer is connected to. (See Appendix A, Figure 1) The working gas contained in the engine is alternately heated and cooled, over and over again. When the gas is heated, its pressure rises, and it “pushes” against and moves the piston, thereby doing work. After the piston has been pushed as far as it will go, the gas is then cooled and its pressure drops, “sucking” the power piston back to its starting position at which point the heating cycle begins again. This cycle repeats very rapidly, sometimes as fast as fifty times a second. This is done by having one part of the engine at a constant, high temperature (the heater end, heated by the sun) and another part at

a constant low temperature, and moving the gas back and forth between them. The thermodynamic cycle is a four step process. The cycle starts with isothermal compression. The displacer is at the hot portion of the cylinder and the working gas is at the cool portion. As the gas cools a partial vacuum occurs, drawing the piston into the cylinder. The displacer is then moved back to meet the piston, displacing the cooled gas, forcing it past the displacer into the hot end where it begins to heat up. Here a constant volume heating process occurs. As the gas heats up, its pressure increases driving the piston back toward the opposite end of the cylinder in an isothermal expansion. In the final step, the displacer is then returned to the hot end, transferring the gas to the cool portion of the cylinder in a constant pressure cooling process. The cycle then repeats.

2.2 Model Stirling Engine

A model Stirling engine, the Sun Runner, was purchased from Solar Engines, a division of P.M. Research Inc. (See Appendix A, Figure 2) Attached to the motor is a parabolic mirror used to focus the sun’s rays on the receiver. The heat is converted to rotary motion by the expansion and compression of the working fluid. The specifications of the model are as follows:

Engine:

 

Speed:

2000 RPM and up

Height: 8.5 inch Diameter:

Receiver:

3 inch .75 in

Flywheel:

3.5 in

Material:

Metallic Precision castings

Mirror:

 

Diameter:

18 inches

Material:

All aluminum polished reflector

2.3 Fabricated Stirling Engine

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The machine shop at Texas Christian University and subcontracted help from Nathan Widner have fabricated a working Stirling engine. This engine is based on previously tested and working motors. However, some modifications were made, such as material and the addition of a pressure release in the piston (See Appendix B).

2.4 Working Stirling Engines

On earth the Stirling motor is not a new device. The basic design was conceived and implemented in the early nineteenth century, years before the invention of the internal combustion engine. The idea

for using this motor to create electricity is not new; in 1984, a Stirling engine with a concentrating system

was fabricated and implemented.

Engine: United Stirling 4-95 MKII by McDonnell Douglas Concentrator: Vanguard I by Advanco This system holds the world record of converting 29.4% of the collected solar energy into electricity producing 27.1 kW. The mass of the engine weighed 330 kg, and the concentrator was 10 meter in aperture diameter giving it a reflective surface of 91.4 m 2 (See Appendix A, Figure 7). The mass to power ratio for this system was 12.2 kg/kW.

The system consisted of two main components:

3.0 Gathering the Sun's Rays : Parabolic Mirrors

Everyday billions of dollars in solar energy passes by our planet and into the rest of the galaxy. As mentioned previously, this energy could be harnessed to drive a Stirling motor; this "free" energy could then be transferred back to earth through microwaves. The mirror system can be one large mirror or a series of small individual mirrors focusing the sun’s energy on the engine’s receiver. (See figure 3 in Appendix A for pictures of types of mirrors) In this system we expect a 25 to 30% efficiency with a lifetime goal of 60,000 hours. The system will have a sun tracking system that rotates the solar concentrator about two axes in order to keep it pointed directly to the sun.

3.1 Temperature Effects

The temperature at the focal point of the mirror needs to be high enough to drive the Stirling motor efficiently, yet not so high as to destroy the engine by exceeding its mechanical limits. This temperature is based on the materials used in fabricating the heater and the motor. A type of Incolin metallic material, with high thermal conductivity, an extremely high melting point, and able to operate and maintain mechanical properties above 700 o C should be used. The temperature is a result of the size of the mirror, the shape, and the material from which it is fabricated. A glass mirror with a silvered back is highly reflective, but not durable and extremely fragile. A highly polished metal mirror would probably be very effective being relatively reflective and extremely durable. Also, the feasibility of inflatable mirrors needs to be investigated further before a decision is made. A thin reflective material could also be used. The size of the mirror is limited by the payload of current transportation system’s capacity

3.2 Collar Design

Means by which the motor and mirror are placed in orbit are addressed in section 4.0. For

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compatibility, the parabolic mirror might be designed as a collar surrounding the heater located at the mirror's focal point (See Appendix A, Figure B), similar to the Sun Runner configuration. This provides for maximum surface area exposed to the sun’s rays, without the interference of shadows. Also, for the same reasons, the entire system should be maintenance free. A possibility is to have the mirror shape act as a governor, limiting the speed of the motor. It may be more effective to limit the rpm internally. To limit the size of the mirror during transportation, a reflective film mounted on an umbrella type structure could keep the mirror compact during flight. Upon reaching the desired orbit, the “umbrella” will disengage exposing the reflective surface to the sun and power the motor (See Appendix A, Figure

6).

3.3 Alternative Solutions For Creating the Temperature Gradient

Solar panels: A solar panel could be used to power an electric heating device to heat the motor's receiver. However, by using a solar array, the same previous problems arise, the low efficiency of a solar array, the size, the bulkiness, the fragility, etc. Optical lenses : This idea has not been addressed or studied at all. However, a lens can be used to focus the sun's energy on the heater, very much like a magnifying glass. However, maintaining a proper orientation would be a bigger concern.

4.0 Rocket Choice

In choosing the rocket, several things must be taken into consideration. The payload fairing capacity of the rocket must be large enough for the engine and mirror to fit inside the cargo bay. The success rate, availability, and cost must also be taken into consideration.

4.1 Titan IV Centaur

The Titan IV has been chosen as the launch vehicle. It was chosen, based on the fact that it is the largest unmanned rocket and the mass of the design is yet to be chosen. The Titan IV has the following characteristics:

Payload Length: 15.7 m Payload Diameter: 4.57 m Payload Mass: 18,144 kg (for LEO) Cost: $1000/lbm.

5.0 Space Effects

There are several aspects that need to be touched upon when the satellite is placed in orbit. An important factor is how the engine will be affected in a zero gravity, vacuum environment. Will it still operate properly? How will the radiant heat from the sun effect it? Will it need some sort of shield or rotational device to create a "barbecue roll" effect? It is also necessary to choose materials according to their coefficient of thermal expansion. Due to the temperature differences, there will be high amounts of internal stresses developed due to the thermal gradient. Therefore, low coefficients are ultimately desired.

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5.1

Elements of Space Flight

Regardless of the nature of space flight, all spacecraft must contain basic elements.

1. An electrical power system (EPS) to power the payload and other power

subsystems

2. A thermal control system (TCS) to keep the temperature of the craft from

exceeding limits.

3. An Attitude Determination and Control system (ADC) is needed in order to point

the craft in the proper direction

4. A propulsion system to place it in the proper orbit and change its orientation if

necessary

5. A physical structure that will accommodate the system and payload

5.2 Vacuum Environment and Orbital Debris

Due to the vacuum of space, a limit is placed on the type of materials that may be used and the thermal control system that can be implemented. Many materials will undergo a process known as out gassing. Here, volatile materials escape the surface and are released to the surroundings. These gasses may be deposited on other surfaces and cause damage (1). Also, there can be problems with debris build up on solar panels. This is similar to debris build up on eye glasses. In Low Earth Orbit (LEO), there are enough stray, neutral atoms to cause problems such as 'dings' in the surfaces of the spacecraft, and drag. When working with mirrors, these dings and haze that builds up will lower the efficiencies of power transfer. That can be detrimental to a program over a period of time. Orbital debris may seem to be of little concern to the uninformed reader. However, it is of great concern due to the high rate of speed and subsequent high kinetic energy (½ Mass*Velocity 2 ). As an example, during a shuttle flight a few years back, there was severe damage done to the front windshield of the shuttle. The cause of this problem was determined to be a paint flake that was only 2 mm thick. The reason that this paint flake was able to crack the window was the speed at which it was traveling. A picture of this damage can be seen as figure 4 in Appendix A. Figure 5 in Appendix A also demonstrates effects of orbital debris.

5.3 States of Matter

Another factor in determining the effects of the space of environment is the difference in the four states of matter that are possible. The main difference is the available thermal energy. If you heat a liquid, you produce a gas. If you heat a gas, a plasma is formed. Each on of these states increases in thermal energy. Over 99% of the universe is plasma, but we happen to live in the 1% that is not. Most orbital debris that surrounds the Earth is in a plasma form. A craft that comes in contact with plasma may become highly electrically charged because of the high thermal energy that must be absorbed from the collision. Due to differences in surface conductivity, conductors and dielectrics will charge to different potentials. This voltage difference will reach a point where the charged particles will contain enough internal energy that they will 'jump' to lower electric potential, causing electrical arcing. This arcing can cause severe problems with instrumentation, communication systems, and most importantly,

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the durability of the vehicle chassis. What effect this might have on the performance of the engine is unknown at this time.

5.4 Radiation and Space Welding

Radiation can have a serious effect on several aspects of the spacecraft. It may "decrease the power output of solar arrays, create spurious signals in focal planes, or may create memory errors in spacecraft avionics."[1] Space welding can also be a problem, especially when dealing with moving, mechanical parts. Due to the lack of air in space, materials that are touching one another will tend to bond tightly together, producing a welding effect.

5.5 Other Space Effect Considerations

Another concern is the need to dissipate heat created by the operation of the engine. Also, life expectancy and efficiency are going to be affected by the space environment. Other concerns are maintenance on a design that is in LEO. Other concerns are how all the pieces will fit together, how much power output can be obtained, how many parts are needed, and the mass of the full design. The space environment has a significant impact on a spacecraft's ability to execute its mission; depending on the severity of the problems that the space environment can create, other options may have to be considered.

6.0 Energy Conversion

As discussed before, a Stirling Engine is a mechanical device that converts the sun's thermal energy into a form of mechanical energy. This internal process is detailed in Section 2. The piston assembly produces energy in an AC mechanical form.

6.1 Shaft Rotational Torque

Energy can be gathered by several means. One such method involves shaft rotational torque. This type of power is transferred using worm gears and other screw-type cogs interlocked to a shaft that extends from the engine. This shaft is connected perpendicular to the piston's movement. An example of this would be the crankshaft of an automobile engine. The shaft is connected to the transmission which transmits the power to the wheels using a complex system of worm gears.

6.2 Converting Into an Oscillating Form

Another way to correct the energy to an AC signal is to directly convert the energy into an oscillating form that is directly proportional to the location of the piston as it travels throughout its cycle within the cylinder. This AC signal can then be converted to DC via a power electronic circuit.

6.3 Specifications and Considerations

The specifications require the production of constant electrical energy into DC form. A major factor in component selection is cost. Durability must be taken into account as well. Since this system will be in space orbit, it should require little or no maintenance and be able to withstand long term use.

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Otherwise, there is no reason to spend extra money on a system that is going to fail after only one year of operation. These and other factors must be considered.

6.4 Chosen Form Of Energy Conversion

The rotational power of the engine will be converted to electrical power by using a gear system that will drive an alternator. This alternator will then generate a steady current from the rotation of its shaft. The specifics in the selections will depend on the efficiencies of each component and the corresponding overall internal losses. These must be minimized in order to produce the highest efficiency

7.0 Benefits Over Solar Cells

There are many benefits that this type of system has over photovoltaic cells. A comparison is given below.

 

Photovoltaic Cells

Stirling/Dish System

Cost of Power

25 to 50 cents/kW

7 cents/kW

Power per Area Ratio

205.5

W/m 2

835

W/m 2

Sunlight Conversion Efficiency

15%

30%

8.0 Conclusion

Compared to photovoltaic cells, the Stirling motor is superior in its solar conversion efficiency, power per area ratio, and cost per kilowatt. However, the photovoltaic cell has been tested and proven reliable.

If this project is to become a reality, the Stirling motor must be analyzed more in depth, to insure the best possible design. The main drawback of this design is the gas retention problem in a vacuum

environment. with the system.

However, this problem seems to be minor compared to the overall benefits associated

The terrestrial Stirling motor is an outstanding thermodynamic accomplishment. However, it is still unknown how it will behave in a space environment. Could there be problems associated with the spinning parts and rotational inertia? Could this problem be solved with small thrusters that will already be in place for alignment and getting the system into the proper orbit? How can the life expectancy be improved? What precautions must be taken to protect the system from the known, adverse effect of the space environment? Will the efficiency remain the same when the system is in a space environment? What will be the mass of a dish/Stirling engine system that will be capable of the required power output? These are all questions that will need to be addressed next semester.

As for this semester, what has been accomplished is an important first step toward designing a Stirling engine based space power system. With this background, the next group should be able to build upon

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what we have accomplished and use it to complete the analysis next semester.

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Figure 1 Alpha configuration of the Stirling cycle. The picture was taken from Internet site:

Figure 1 Alpha configuration of the Stirling cycle. The picture was taken from Internet site:

http://powerweb.lerc.nasa.gov/Stirling/DOC/strlcycl.html

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Appendix A (cont.)

Appendix A (cont.) Written by undergraduate students at: Texas Christian University http://www.tcu.edu/ Figure 2 The Sun

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Figure 2 The Sun Runner

Appendix A (cont.)

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Figure 3 different types of mirrors Appendix A (cont.) Written by undergraduate students at: Texas

Figure 3 different types of mirrors

Appendix A (cont.)

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Figure 4 Surface damage due to MMOD impacts on the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF)

Figure 4 Surface damage due to MMOD impacts on the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) during its 5 years and 9 months in LEO.The photograph is courtesy of NASA.

Appendix A (cont.)

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Figure 5 Damage to shuttle tile resulting from normal incidence impact by a 7/32 inch

Figure 5 Damage to shuttle tile resulting from normal incidence impact by a 7/32 inch diameter aluminum sphere, shown in the lower right, at 7.68 km/s. This photograph is courtesy of Rockwell International.

Appendix A

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Appendix C

Tanya Hardy is a native of Fort Worth where she attended Southwest High School from 1990-1994. She entered Texas Christian University as an engineering major. While attending TCU she was a member of the Horned Frog Marching Band for two years and Symphonic Band for one. Upon graduation in May of 1998, she plans to find employment with NASA or a NASA related contractor and later return to complete a masters and Ph.D. in engineering. Her hobbies include bell choir and roller blading.

David Meek is a junior electrical engineering major from Fort Worth, Texas. After four years of education at Southwest High School, he went directly to Texas Christian University. After he graduates in May of 1998, he plans to get a haircut and get a real job! Currently his hobbies are fishing and playing any sport he can.

Nathan Moser is a native of Norman, Oklahoma where he graduated from high school in 1994. He is currently attending TCU pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. When he graduates from TCU, he plans to become a forest ranger for the National Forest Service. He enjoys rock climbing, fishing, and biking.

Majin Sierra was born in Metairie Louisiana. He attended Jesuit High School in New Orleans where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1993. He is currently attending TCU where he hopes to receive a B.S. in Engineering and a BA in French. While at TCU he participates in AFW (service fraternity), BUX (Christian fraternity), intramurals, and is also a Resident Assistant. His hobbies include sports (especially soccer) and music. After graduation he hopes to either get a job and get married or go to graduate school in Engineering Management at the University of New Orleans.

Winyu Vongstapanalert is an international student from Thailand. He attended Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, Texas from 1990-1993. He entered Texas Christian University as an Engineering major and Math minor. Since attending TCU, he has been a member of Beta Upsilon Chi (Christian Fraternity) for two years, Alpha Phi Omega (Service Fraternity) for three years, Parabola (Math Organization), and a member of Society of Engineering Students. Upon graduation in May of 1998, he plans to find employment where he can apply his knowledge or further his education in the field of Engineering. His hobbies include tennis and soccer. He is a member of the Fort Worth Soccer Association.

Greg White is from Abilene, Texas where he graduated from Cooper High School in 1994. He is studying to be a mechanical engineer and hopes to get involve in constructional engineering. His hobbies include soccer and studying in trees.

Aaron Williams is a pre-graduate student of engineering with a mechanical emphasis at TCU. He was a top

5% graduate at Crowley High School in 1994. At TCU, he has participated in varsity football, marching band,

jazz band, and concert band.

his plans are to become a successful practicing engineer in mechanical design or modification, and receive an additional degree.

His hobbies include all sports and playing drums in a band. Upon graduation,

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References

(1) Tribble, Alan C., The Space Environment, Implications for Spacecraft Design, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1995

(2) O'Neill, Gerard K., The World's Energy Future Belong in Orbit, www.astro.nwu.edu/lentz/space/ssi/energy.html

(3) Dish/Stirling Systems, www.eren.doe.gov/sunlab/dishes.html

(4) Large Free Piston Stirling Engines, powerweb.lerc.nasa.gov/stirling/DOC/lrgfp.html

(5) Stirling Technology, powerweb.lerc.nasa.gov/stirling/home.html

(6) Nansen, Ralph, Sun Power, Ocean Press, Seattle, Washington, 1995

(7) Solar and Renewable Electricity, gopher.iee.org/usab/Documents/forum/library/positions/renew.html

(8) Component Technology, powerweb.lerc.nasa.gov/stirling/doc/comptech.html

(9) A Compendium of Solar Dish/Stirling Technology,

solstice.crest.org:80/renewables/dish-stirling/chapter1/intro.html

(10) Concentrators, solstice.crest.org:80/renewables/dish-stirling/chapter1/concentrators.html

(11) Receivers, solstice.crest.org:80/renewables/dish-stirling/chapter1/receivers.html

(12) Engines, solstice.crest.org:80/renewables/dish-stirling/chapter1/engines.html

(13) Bean, John R.; Diver, Richard B., Technical Status of the Dish/Stirling Joint Venture Program, Cummins Power Generation

(14) Bean, John R.; Diver, Richard B., Performance of the CPG 7.5 kW Dish-Stirling System, Cummins Power Generation

(15) Let's Build Model Stirling Engines, www.bekkoame.or.jp/-khirata/english/make.html

(16) How Stirling Engines Work, www.fn.net/-brentvan/how_do.html

(17) Lockeed Engineers Solve Key Problems In Stirling Engine,

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www.Imsc.lockeed.com/newsbureau/pressrelease/1992/9206.html

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