Dutch on the road to a pollution-free engine

| July/August 1970

  • Stirling engine

  • Stirling engine

'Reprinted from the January 10, 1970, issue of Business Week by special permission. Copyrighted (c) 1970 by McGraw-Hill, Inc.'

We thank Mr. Paul B. Finney, Managing Editor for kind permission to use this article in our Gas Engine Magazine. Our appreciation also to Mr. Denis McCormack, 404 West Timonium Road, Timonium, Baltimore Co., Maryland 21093, for his efforts in acquiring this article and permission to use same.

One of these days, a Dutch engineer named R. J. Meijer expects to step out of his lab in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and tool off in a revolutionary new car powered by a silent, vibration-less, pollution-free engine that will run on anything from alcohol to salad oil.

That day, he admits, is still down the pike. But Meijer's employer, the giant Dutch electronics company Philips' Lamp Works, has made a 30-year wager that the Stirling cycle engine Meijer has been puttering with for 22 years will eventually do to the diesel what the gasoline engine did to the horse and buggy. By 1975, backers predict, the Stirling will be operating in buses, boats, ships, submarines, trucks, and even locomotives. A nuclear-fueled Stirling for space travel is not too far beyond that, nor is Meijer's hot rod. In fact, he already has a cabin cruiser outfitted with a Stirling.

Less noise.

The idea Philips is betting on is a thermodynamic phenomenon discovered over 140 years ago by a Scottish clergyman named Robert Stirling. His own 'air engine' proved too bulky and inefficient compared with steam and internal combustion engines, and did not gain widespread use. Like the internal combustion engine, the Stirling relies on the principle that gas expands when heated, and this expansion can do work. However, instead of drawing in gas with air and exploding it inside a cylinder to drive a piston, the Stirling engine is completely closed. Gas--helium or hydrogen in Philips' versions-is heated in a chamber surrounding the cylinder, and never mixes with the atmosphere. The heated gas drives a piston in a leak-proof cycle.

The result is an engine free of rattling valves and noisy explosions. Fuel is not consumed inside the cylinder, so many of the complications of reducing noxious pollutants are eliminated.