Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Stirling engine from Collins English Dictionary

n

1 an external-combustion engine that uses air or an inert gas as the working fluid operating on a highly efficient thermodynamic cycle (the Stirling cycle)

[named after Robert Stirling (1790–1878), Scottish minister who invented it]


Summary Article: Stirling engine from The Columbia Encyclopedia

an external combustion reciprocating engine having an enclosed working fluid that is alternately compressed and expanded to operate a piston, thus converting heat from a variety of sources into mechanical energy. A Stirling engine can use any type of fuel as well as solar energy and heat from the waters of a hot spring. The engine was invented in 1816 by a Scottish minister, Robert Stirling, before the gasoline and diesel engines appeared. Stirling engines are unique heat engines because their theoretical efficiency is nearly equal to their theoretical maximum efficiency, known as the Carnot cycle efficiency.

Stirling engines have two pistons that create a 90° phase angle and two different temperature spaces, and the working fluid is sealed within the engine. The engines can be classified as two pistons type or displacer type. The two pistons type engine has two power pistons, and the displacer type has one power piston and a displacer piston, which serves to control when the gas chamber is heated and when it is cooled. When the fluid in the cylinder is heated it expands, forcing the power piston to move and transfer the fluid to a cold region for cooling. It is then recompressed and transferred to the hot region to start the cycle again.

Because the fluids used inside a Stirling engine never leave the engine, and because the engine is not powered by explosive combustion, as in a gasoline or diesel engine, there are no exhaust valves that vent high-pressure fluids. As a result, Stirling engines are very quiet and can be used in specialized applications, such as submarines or auxiliary power generators, where quiet operation is important.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Stirling engine
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A heat engine invented by Robert Stirling (1790-1878), a Scottish Presbyterian minister, and his brother in 1816. It is an external...

Full text Article Robert Stirling (1790–1878)
Contemporary World Issues: Renewable and Alternative Energy Resources: A Reference Handbook

Robert Stirling was a Scottish clergyman and inventor of the Stirling engine, which is used in solar dish designs. Although a minister by...

Full text Article Stirling, Robert
Chambers Biographical Dictionary

1790-1878 Scottish clergyman and inventor Born in Cloag, Perthshire, and educated for the ministry at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, he w

See more from Credo