We’ve had a great response to our project and as a result have fielded many questions from inquisitive minds! Here are the answers to several of those questions. I’ll leave this article on the homepage for a while before moving it over to the FAQ page. If you have any other questions please feel free comment at the bottom of this post or email us! firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequently Asked Questions
1) How does your engine compare to Stirling engines and steam turbines?
This is the question we get asked most often so we’ll answer it first! While all 3 methods have the ability to generate electricity from solar power, they each go about it in a slightly different way. As a result, each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Both steam turbines and Stirling engines are known to be quite efficient, typically falling around the 40% efficiency range. We won’t know exactly where our HydroICE technology will fall until testing is complete, but we’ll be able to reach at least 15% efficiency with projections falling closer to 30%.
Manufacturing and cost:
Both steam turbines and stirling engines are extremely precise machines and as a result, we see that reflected in the high price that it costs to manufacture and purchase one. This makes them economically feasible only for large industrial scale applications.
In the end, it all boils down to the cost-per-watt of electricity generated. Even if you had an engine that was 90% efficient, it would not be a wise investment if the installed system cost you $1,000/Watt. Of course that is an absurd scenario, but it makes the issue very clear. Cost is what has prevented solar from becoming widely implemented and this is where HydroICE triumphs. Because we can take a very cheap engine and operate it for a low cost, we are able to make up for our lower efficiencies and provide a cost-effective way to generate electricity from solar power.
People often overlook this factor, but safety is A MAJOR problem associated with steam turbines and engines. Each of these devices require high-pressure steam that must be created outside of the system in a boiler before being injected into the device. Steam can be extremely deadly at these pressures and the slightest problem or leak could result in fatalities. This is an acceptable hazard when utilized at the utility level by trained professionals, but NOT among homes, business, and communities. Using the HydroICE method, the required steam is generated inside the engine where the work is being done. This eliminates the extreme hazard and makes it safe for use anywhere.
2) How is this any different from a standard piston steam engine?
Modern steam engines face the same safety issue that we mentioned in the previous question: They require externally produced steam and this greatly increases the potential for failure or a problem.
3) Why bother using the oil? Why not just heat the engine and make steam that way?
People have actually done that in the past, but problems with contamination and engine durability arise. Steam is the gas form of water, and water accelerates oxidation (rust). With the introduction of oil as the heat carrier, not only is this problem solved, but so is the problem of keeping the engine well oiled and operational!
4) Can you further explain the oil/steam separation process?
Believe it or not, the ability to separate steam from oil or water from oil has been around for a very long time. The oil industry has to deal with this problem on a daily basis. Granted, our specific application is different, but the principles remain the same.
Something very important that must be clarified: We will not be separating WATER and oil, we will be separating STEAM and oil. Yes, it does make a difference. Because steam is a gas and oil is a liquid, separating the two is made much easier by the fact that they are in different phases. This makes it an issue of distillation, one that has been solved already.
This is achieved through a baffle system. As the steam/oil mixture passes through the baffles, the oil will have the tendency to adhere to the surface of the baffle and drop to the bottom of the separator column while the steam, being a gas, will merely pass through the baffles and up to the top of the column, leaving the oil behind.
Not only does the oil industry have this problem solved, but the early Stanely Steamer cars also used an oil/steam separator to keep the oil from contaminating the steam supply. That’s a technology that has been available to us for over 100 years!
5) If your passion is making this technology available to everybody, why the patent?
It’s no secret that progressive technologies have been stuck on a shelf and hidden because they have the disruptive power to change the path of the market. We realize that, and we want to avoid having that happen. We didn’t patent this to protect our greed and collect every penny possible from our innovation, we patented this to protect the technology. With the patent we have ultimate control in making sure that it DOES reach the marketplace and ultimately your hands.
6) What happens at night when the sun goes down?
This is a common question of all solar products and we’re no exception. Possibilities include: battery storage, thermal storage (storing excess hot oil to continue running at night, probably not very cost-effective for home applications), or a secondary heating capacity (heat the oil using a natural gas, wood, or other similar burner). We’ll continue this exploration as we further develop the system.
7) Can you run a car or motorcycle with this technology?
This is a bit further down the road but it’s definitely possible!
8) Would you mind explaining what steam turbines and Stirling engines are?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the working principle behind each device, scroll down to the bottom of this page for quick explanation on each one.
a) Standard steam engine
This machine works by creating steam in a boiler and then injecting high-pressure steam into the engine cylinder, moving the piston. A special valve is then moved, allowing for the high-pressure steam to push on the back side of the cylinder, returning it to it’s original position and exhausting the used steam out into the air. This is why old steam engines needed to fill up with water at the station!
b) Stirling engines
Created by Robert Stirling, this is a closed-cycle air engine that is currently being used in some industrial solar applications. It operates by heating a gas inside of cylinder and as it expands, the piston is moved. There is no combustion that takes place.
c) Steam turbines
88% of The United States’ electricity is generated using modern steam turbines, they can be found in both coal and nuclear power plants. Very simply put, these work with a “waterwheel” principle. Steam is injected into the blades of the turbine which causes it to turn, much like you would see happening with a water wheel down on the stream.