A 2008 ScienceDaily story was brought to light recently in the Minimalist Airplane Study Group, a Yahoo group dedicated to academic research on small aircraft.
“In an advance toward introduction of an amazing new kind of internal combustion engine, researchers in China are reporting development and use of a new and more accurate computer model to assess performance of the so-called free-piston linear alternator (FPLA).”
Their study of the FPLA, which could provide a low-emission, fuel efficient engine for future hybrid electric vehicles, was published in the August 27, 2008 issue of The American Chemical Society’s Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly, peer-reviewed journal.
Qingfeng Li, Jin Xiao and Zhen Huang explain in their paper that the FPLA has only one moving part and is an engine designed to generate electricity. “In the device, a piston in a cylinder shuttles between two combustion chambers. Permanent magnets on the piston generate electricity by passing through the coils of an alternator centered on the cylinder. The engine can burn a variety of fuels, including natural gas and hydrogen, and seems ideal use in a future world of climate change and possible fossil fuel shortages, they suggest.” This would seem suited to internal and external combustion approaches.
The team was working on an improved computer model to evaluate the performance of their device and to “guide engineers in the construction of the engine.”
Despite a “look” that would suggest (at least to this uninitiated observer) a rough plunging back and forth beween the two ends of the assembly, computer simulations “showed that the FPLA could
accelerate three times faster than other internal combustion engines and burn fuel in ways that minimize air pollution.”
Electricity generated by the alternator could be shared by distributed motors in electric vehicles, including aircraft.
This is of interest because several other developers are coming forward with fuel-driven range extenders for automobiles, and because, serendipitously, Oregon State University researchers are building a series of wave generators to be installed off the Oregon coast, which use a linear system very much like that of the Chinese researcher’s hybrid motor. Imagine the possibilities with a Halbach array as the linear generating source.
An area off the coast of Reedsport, Oregon was found in various studies to have the best combination of waves to generate mass quantities of power for the region. Oregon Iron Works has crafted the first large generators and researchers are in the process of creating the first array of generators. Other similar systems have been or are being installed off the coasts of New Jersey, Hawaii, and Spain.
The self-contained hybrid technology inherent in the engine form is one of many such devices being introduced, and we will look at some of these in upcoming blog entries.