Stealth subs: China’s new ultra-quiet engine breaks power record

Chinese scientists have made a big advancement in creating a powerful thermoacoustic Stirling generator, a type of alternative energy technology, SCMP reported.
The super-efficient generator works really well using heat, and it runs quietly. This is great for places where being quiet is super important, like in submarines and airplanes, the report said.
In a recent test, the prototype produced an impressive 102 kilowatts of power using a heat source of 530 degrees Celsius (986 Fahrenheit).According to SCMP, this achievement is significant because it’s the first time a generator of this kind has surpassed the 100kW mark.
NASA has a similar idea in its LEW-TOPS-80 patent, suggesting a thermoacoustic engine paired with an alternator to generate electricity in space, but they haven’t revealed any prototypes or specific performance details yet.
The team behind this development is from the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry (TIPC) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The generator they built is about 2 meters (6½ feet) long and has a shape resembling a dumbbell.
This technology is very efficient, SCMP quoted Professor Hu Jianying from TIPC as explaining.
“The current thermoelectric conversion efficiency is about 28 per cent; with a hotter 600 degree thermal fluid, efficiency could reach 34 per cent,” he said.
Professor Luo Ercang of the TIPC highlighted the generator’s reliability, simple design, few moving parts and compatibility with various heat sources.
“It operates quietly and efficiently, and can use different types of heat, including solar energy, waste heat and biomass,” a CAS statement quoted Lou as saying.
The innovative system comprises a thermoacoustic Stirling engine and a linear motor encased in a rigid shell. The engine converts heat into sound waves that resonate to form a stable sound field. These waves then drive a piston, which in turn generates electricity.
“High-pressure helium at 15 megapascals serves as the working medium, and the absence of mechanical parts needing lubrication means the generator could exceed a decade of lifespan,” Hu said.
Hu noted that the motor’s design avoided harmful vibrations and maintained an airtight seal within the mechanism.
“The linear motor, consisting of a piston driven by sound waves, permanent magnets and coils, contributes to the high conversion efficiency. Its symmetrical design also eliminates some harmful vibrations,” he said.
“The linear motor keeps a very tiny space, about the thickness of a human hair, between the piston and cylinder. This prevents the parts from touching while maintaining the internal airtight environment.”
“It is a promising new generation technology for solar thermal, biomass power generation, and distributed energy systems,” Hu said.


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