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Infininia's J.D. Sitton stands in front of one of his company's Stirling engine solar prototypes. Mr. Sitton is looking to take over the production that the auto industry in abandoning, producing solar generators that are far more efficient than today's best commercial solar panels.  (Source: Ledner)
Retooling auto engine lines to Stirling Engine lines could create a booming new economy

For better or worse, the domestic automakers in the U.S. are in decline for the time being, as are their foreign competitors.  Now the question arises of what to do with all of the production facilities that these companies and their suppliers are dumping off or repurposing.  Among these facilities are engine factories.  Engine-making is a complex process, and retooling these facilities for an entirely new task would be far more expensive than it is worth, in most cases.

That's where J.D. Sitton CEO of Infinia, a Stirling engine solar firm, comes in to play.  After years of struggling to find a home, Mr. Sitton has helped his company enter a renaissance of funding and become a phoenix rising from the ashes of the recession-stricken auto industry.

Infinia has been around for a long time now.  In 1985, the company was founded by six University of Washington professors who hoped to commercialize a Stirling engine-powered heart pump, which never needed a replacement battery.  Unfortunately, the heat source -- a medically save tiny chunk of Plutonium-238 -- turned out to be the project's undoing, as the government feared terrorists kidnapping people to gain access the radioactive material.

Next the organization went through a string of other lackluster projects, including a contract to build the power source for the NASA deep-space exploration probe, a project which has never finished.  Ultimately the company was struggling for lack of direction, despite having some dynamite technology.

That all changed in 2002 with the recruitment of CEO Sitton, who has righted the ship.  In 2005, he demoed a solar dish/Stirling engine setup that converted 24 percent of the energy striking a solar dish to power, more than most commercially available solar cells.  Thanks to that demo, the company secured over $70M USD in venture capital.

In order to make a production-quality version of its solar generators, it has contracted two top-tier Detroit automotive suppliers -- Autoliv and Cosma -- to make the dish and engine.  These companies can now, with minimal retooling, keep their engine facilities thriving at a time when others are closing and face an indefinite future.  In total the company is contracting 60 other domestic engineering companies to design and build the components it needs.

Gary Gereffi, a professor at Duke University and solar industry expert praised the Infinia's progress and growth.  He states, "All this technology is made up of regular parts that manufacturing companies are making all the time.  The difference between our economy and a green economy is not as substantial as people think."

Gregg Clevenger, Infinia's CFO believes that his company will soon produce solar power that's cost equivalent to coal without subsidies, in certain areas.  He adds, "Companies that wouldn't take our calls a couple of years ago are now pursuing us aggressively.  They want to focus on a growth industry rather than a shrinking industry.  We can get to where we look attractive relative to the cost of coal plants.  When that happens, there's no limit to the number of solar systems we can sell."

If his company can succeed at that, they might not just create a solar revolution, but they might save one of the vital manufacturing sectors of the United States -- the Detroit manufacturing industry. 

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Article needs more elaboration
By TA152H on 3/25/2009 11:30:24 AM , Rating: 2
I read this, and I'm pretty disappointed in the writing.

Some effort should have been made to explain what this solar panel/Sterling engine is. Why does a solar panel need an engine? What type of applications is it used for?

It's not common knowledge, and a short paragraph explaining what it is, or giving an example or two of where it would be used, would be very helpful.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Goty on 3/25/2009 11:36:41 AM , Rating: 2
A Stirling engine is a heat engine (the only true, workable heat engine, actually), which means it uses heat to do work.

The solar panel doesn't need an engine, the engine uses the light reflected by the solar panel (really more of a mirror in this case) to run, and I assume that the engine would then be used to run a generator.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By hduser on 3/25/2009 2:36:50 PM , Rating: 2
To be exact, a Stirling engine works off of heat differential. It's using the sun's energy to create heat on one source of the engine and the ambient temperature as the other source.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By kattanna on 3/25/2009 11:37:34 AM , Rating: 3
there is no "solar panel" on this thing. the "dish" on this simply collects and focuses the sun onto a stirling engine that turns a turbine to generate electricity.

thats a basic overview of what a stirling engine is.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By TA152H on 3/25/2009 11:48:35 AM , Rating: 4
Thanks to both of you, but my point is, don't you think this should have been part of the article?

Since you both were able to explain it lucidly in a short paragraph, I think it should have been in there.

By Chernobyl68 on 3/25/2009 12:33:55 PM , Rating: 1
Or it could be that they knew that already, as evidenced by their explanation...

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By kattanna on 3/25/2009 2:54:30 PM , Rating: 3
more often then not, when you see "Jason Mick" as the poster of the article, you can count on a simple cut and paste of the news article from other sources.

dont make the mistake of calling him the "author" of an article, just someone posting what was printed elsewhere here.

thats not to say he CAN'T author articles on his own, which i've seen him do, but those are rare. shame.

now if micheal asher had posted it, it would have been filled with more detail. speaking of which.. where has he been lately. havent seen anything by him in a while.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By wordsworm on 3/25/09, Rating: 0
By William Gaatjes on 3/28/2009 4:27:30 PM , Rating: 2
At least Michael Asher is honest when it comes to comparisons with respect too efficiëncy versus energy production. Nothing at the moment available can beat nuclear electricity production.

I do hope he is doing research on the recession cycle of the earth, the many cycles of the sun, the local destructive effects of human industry, the planet alignments in our solar system, the way the earth magnetic field is influenced by planet alignment and solar activity
and energetic cosmic particals influencing the build up and breakdown of the various spheres surrounding the earth. This all highly effects the life on our planet with changing weather patterns, elevated cosmic radiation levels(evolution speed ups ?) the acidity, temperature, oxygen levels and current of the ocean's.

I tried to say it out loud in one breath, it is possible :).

In my own opinion, i do agree that other forms of electricity production must be explored to be put to use in more unfriendly parts of the world. At least then there is an electrical infrastructure to lay the foundation for creating economic growth. When there is economic growth, people are less willing to give up what they have gained.

However it is sure nice to see some other forms of solar energy harvesting. I believe more of this solar focussing should be done. Not just for stirling engines but also like this :

It is entirely possible to build a natural freefall water tower this way. This water is evaporated and stored in the top of a tower. It is then electronically controlled to flow down a turbine and generate electricity. The trick is to evaporate a bit larger volume of water then you need to drive the turbine. This to create a buffer. You do not need to use water, any fluid (preferable with better qualities will do) With focused solar light and an ingenius tower design this is entirely possible. It is the same principle as an hydro electric dam. Put a lot of these structures together and there we go. I am sure the efficiëncy is higher then a solar cell as well. Something Michael is right about too. Solar cells are a hype . Only when all current state of the art solar technology are combined it get's interesting. But that will never happen because every seperate company want's the contract and there will not be any collaboration.

Use different ways too harvest solar energy. And the most promising way is focussed sunlight. A cheap way to increase the energy output.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By acase on 3/25/2009 6:32:39 PM , Rating: 2
speaking of which.. where has he been lately. havent seen anything by him in a while.

was just wondering the same thing. at least he didn't get rated down when he called mick out on his pitiful work.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By rudy on 3/26/2009 9:34:25 AM , Rating: 2
No but if you come back in a week Mick will have deleted the post as he did with mine.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By omnicronx on 3/25/2009 4:39:45 PM , Rating: 2
Hmmmmm that page should come with a warning or something.
I guess we know what the maker of this implementation was thinking. ;)

By William Gaatjes on 3/28/2009 4:32:24 PM , Rating: 2
Pervert. :)

There is a saying (at least where i live) : What the mouth speaks, the heart desires...

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Murloc on 3/25/2009 11:50:06 AM , Rating: 2
wikipedia or google.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By barrychuck on 3/25/2009 12:10:09 PM , Rating: 1
Did you ever take physics class in high school? Sterling engines have been around forever. They were and still are used in third world countries. The idea of hooking them up to a solar reflector (not panel) is not new. I read a book (in my library) almost 23 years ago about solar power telling how to build one. The point is that many small companies that produce auto parts are looking for new industries to build precision parts for. It just so happens that these tiny engines require very tight tolerance and machine finish to achieve high efficiency. The Sterling engine was developed in 1816, but due to the high tolerances required, was not popular, as higher powered engines using steam, diesel, and gasoline could be built and still work with looser tolerances. Almost perfect seal is required.

As to the why today, the engine would spin a generator to produce electricity. The idea is that less area (panel size) is required to produce the same amount of electricity. The cost should also be much less as well as long term operating costs. Sterling engines are not much more complicated than a two stroke model RC engine. Considering the scale of mass production, the engine capable of almost 1 or 2 hp shouldn't cost more than $1k. Right now, you can't buy a solar panel that puts out the equivalent 745watts=1hp for for less than $3k and more like $5k with a quick Google search. It never ceases to amaze me that some 1800s technology is brought back to life, because modern processes can fix faults in the original production of the "lost" technology.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By barrychuck on 3/25/2009 12:37:34 PM , Rating: 3
Anybody remember this?

MSI’s Air Power Cooler uses the heat generated from the motherboard chipset to power its fan, using Robert Stirling’s Heat Economiser technology.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Myrandex on 3/25/2009 1:06:16 PM , Rating: 2
this was just what I was thinking about when I was reading this article. I never heard anything else about that though :-/ I thought it was pretty neat.


RE: Article needs more elaboration
By kontorotsui on 3/25/2009 4:02:42 PM , Rating: 1
Considering the scale of mass production, the engine capable of almost 1 or 2 hp shouldn't cost more than $1k. Right now, you can't buy a solar panel that puts out the equivalent 745watts=1hp for for less than $3k and more like $5k with a quick Google search.

You forget the maintenance. A solar panel is maintenance free, what about the sterling engine? Can it be left for 20 years exposed to any weather and still work? I doubt it does, with moving parts.

So the 1800 echnology based on moving parts is indeed beaten by modern solid state technology.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By barrychuck on 3/25/2009 4:13:05 PM , Rating: 2
In theory the solar panels require no maintenance, but they are fragile, moisture can and does corrode the connections, they are hard to transport without damage. Solid state does not always win. I think you will find the 20 year exposure on the solar panels has a high failure rate. Hail storm equals total loss with the solar panels. Even if you had to replace/rebuild the sterling engine, it's still cheaper than the solar panel.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Doormat on 3/25/2009 5:52:36 PM , Rating: 3
A long term study of panels from Japan shows a 0.2%/yr panel degradation.

Also, my solar panels have been through a few hailstorms (up to nickel-sized hail) and had no replacements due to weather.

But yea, keep talking about stuff you don't have any experience with...

By William Gaatjes on 3/28/2009 5:09:53 PM , Rating: 2
What is the efficiëncy of these panels ?

i will bet you that as the efficiëncy goes up, the maintenance free years go down. Nothing wrong with timed inspections tho.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By FITCamaro on 3/25/2009 4:29:32 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah because mirrors are maintenance free and unbreakable.

Solar technology of any kind is not maintenance free.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Solandri on 3/25/2009 5:01:29 PM , Rating: 3
Solar energy collected via biofuels are. The plants or algae are pretty maintenance-free (maintaining them improves their efficiency, but is not necessary). This article brings up something I've been wondering about for a while - why is everyone so obsessed with collecting solar energy via panels which converts them to electricity? Plants already convert solar energy into chemical energy. And a Stirling engine will convert it into mechanical energy.

Both, especially the plants, seem like a much cheaper, cleaner, and long-lived method to collect solar energy than manufacturing PV cells. Plants are even self-replicating so can have zero manufacturing costs. And people don't complain if you cover up a football field-sized area with plants, like they would if you covered them with PV panels or mirrors.

By FITCamaro on 3/25/2009 9:36:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'm all for biodiesel created with algae. You still know what I meant.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Smilin on 3/26/2009 6:01:06 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. It could run 20 years without maintenance. It's a completely sealed engine and it's not an ICE either. It's a stirling and they don't exactly crank at 3000rpm for 20 years.

Solar panels are pretty low maintenance but they degrade over time as well.

Regardless, if this thing can even run 10 years then need a full replacement it will still be cheaper than a solar panel over 20 years.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By TA152H on 3/25/2009 4:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
Did you ever take a journalism class in high school? If you did, you wouldn't expect people to remember everything from a high school class, when they haven't used it since. Yes, you can look it up, but then that takes people away from your site.

It's basic journalism, when you introduce something that isn't known by virtually everyone reading it, you mention quickly what it is, and how it relates to something they can grasp.

That would be like me writing an article on the U and V pipelines of the Pentium, and expecting everyone to know, without any explanation, the difference between the two. I know, shouldn't you? Didn't you ever use a Pentium processor? How can you not know that then?

I'm being facetious, of course, but my point is, you can't expect everyone to know everything (especially from a physics class taken 30+ years ago), and if you did a survey, most people don't know what a Sterling Engine is. It's easy to understand once it's explained, so, there should be a short explanation.

By mindless1 on 3/25/2009 6:13:30 PM , Rating: 3
I for one was not taught about Sterling Engines in high school physics. Reality 101 - there is too much information for everyone to be taught everything, even a brief overview.

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By Fritzr on 3/25/2009 8:21:27 PM , Rating: 2
The dish is a solar concentrator ... think using a magnifying glass to start a fire.

A Stirling Cycle engine is powered by the temperature difference between a heat source (the dish focus) and a heat sink (cooling fins in the shade for instance). The larger the temperature gradient, the larger the power output.

The mechanical power can then be used to drive other equipment such as an electrical generator.

These engines have been around for many long years as curiosities such as the propane fan and a few successful commercial devices such as a water pump in the 1800s and the engine built for NASA that is used in orbit.

A cup of coffee can drive a cooling fan, but to power a home needs a little more heat :)

This is a downsized version of the stadium sized powerplant that was built using a large field of reflectors to fire a steam turbine. It is using a Sterling Cycle engine to replace the steam turbine driving the generator

RE: Article needs more elaboration
By mikepers on 3/25/2009 9:23:35 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree with you. The author should not explain what a sterling engine is. These articles are supposed to be short and sweet, merely bringing things to our attention that may interest us. If they do then a quick search will find plenty of additional information. Just hit up Google, or Wikipedia or the company's web site.

good to see
By kattanna on 3/25/2009 11:31:54 AM , Rating: 2
its good to see they are continuing to move forward.

they have a truly unique product. it has always surprised me how the clean energy people havent played them up more.

RE: good to see
By Chernobyl68 on 3/25/2009 12:36:10 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. And if it keeps the labor force employed, and brings down the cost of renewable energy at the same time, then its win-win to me.

And then the unions...
By SpaceRanger on 3/25/09, Rating: -1
RE: And then the unions...
By Tsuwamono on 3/25/2009 11:04:02 AM , Rating: 4
Wooooo!!!! Hurray for Unions.

Personally i love how useful they are because without them the workers would be working 16 hours a day at 6$/hour with no benefits.


RE: And then the unions...
By bhieb on 3/25/2009 11:23:45 AM , Rating: 2
They do serve a purpose to right a wrong, but the problem is after the injustice is corrected they stick around sucking more and more $$$ out of the parent company to justify their dues.

I have no problem for forming up and fighting for a fair wage, but once that goal is complete dissolve and get back to work.

RE: And then the unions...
By dever on 3/25/2009 11:37:28 AM , Rating: 2
It seems like unions are a big problem... but really it's the government who interfere with union-company relationships. If government had not given unions special privileges over the years, we would not be in this position.

Government, as always, is the problem. You can't inject a power with the legal use of force into otherwise voluntary negotiations and expect a good outcome.

RE: And then the unions...
By Radnor on 3/25/2009 11:57:53 AM , Rating: 2
And then Employers would freeze their wages or take " exceptional Measures " to down them or increase profits.

We people also like to earn money, you know.

RE: And then the unions...
By kellehair on 3/25/2009 12:49:12 PM , Rating: 4
Isn't it amazing that me and millions of other Americans can thrive without the aid of a union? If a union rep came into my office and offered to help unionize our staff, in return for a nice chunk of our paychecks of course, I'd kick him square in the nuts.

RE: And then the unions...
By TheSpaniard on 3/25/2009 1:35:51 PM , Rating: 1
whoever needs the other more is who needs the union

when people couldnt move around as much/data traveled slower, workers needed unions to level the playing field with the sometimes sole job provider of the town (in this case unions are needed)

no that people and information travel rapidly around the country, where as a building cant get up and move too fast, the companies are forced to compete with each other for the most qualified candidates (in this case unions are not needed)

of course both of these scenarios avoid the more common problem of the jobs moving overseas, which is something neither situation can solve.

RE: And then the unions...
By meatless on 3/25/2009 5:04:32 PM , Rating: 3
Of course you don't need a union. There is likely competition in your field.

Even in a down market my employer would have trouble replacing my particular skillset, and may even engage in bidding to retain valued employees.

When the "skill" is operating a machine that stamps stuff out, and there are fifteen thousand people qualified to run that same machine in the same area, that's when unions kick in.

A union's sole purpose is to tip the scale back to the worker when supply and demand would force wages below subsistence.

RE: And then the unions...
By hackedtwice on 3/25/2009 12:04:33 PM , Rating: 2
That was one of the most clear and concise evaluations of unions I've heard. Most people are either very pro or very con unions. I agree they do serve a purpose when the workforce is mistreated, but then can become a burden on both that same workforce and the employer with the unionized workers. Unfortunately most folks just focus on one issue or the other, now I just have to figure out how to rate you up.

RE: And then the unions...
By smackababy on 3/25/2009 11:09:09 AM , Rating: 2
As useful as unions were in the past, these days anyone with a cell phone can take pictures of their workplace and post it on youtube. Now days, they do more harm than good it would seem.

Other than that, I like the idea of retooling the plant and I like the idea solar engines.

RE: And then the unions...
By Radnor on 3/25/2009 11:18:19 AM , Rating: 2
Posters in Daily tech vs The unions.

Unions are a socialist idea that at the same time are top of capitalist thinking. You want our product (labor) you will have to negotiate and pay for it.

RE: And then the unions...
By bhieb on 3/25/2009 11:26:51 AM , Rating: 3
You want our product (labor) you will have to negotiate and pay for it.

If it were that simple sure, but the tactics that put these unions in power were not capitalistic. When a scab will work for less money, and has to be threatened into not doing so your labor price is not market value. Obviously the market would have worked for less if they were non in fear of doing so.

RE: And then the unions...
By JediJeb on 3/25/2009 3:25:40 PM , Rating: 2
A friend of mine's company was in a trade show in Chicago a while back. Their booth was shut down for 2 hours because one of their salesmen stepped up on a ladder to straighten a banner. Apparently that was a job that only the union workers at the convention center was qualified to do. Later they needed a 220v extension cord plugged into an outlet, have to call the union workers, wait an hour for them to show up, then get charged an hours labor for two of them to plug in an extension cord. The cord was already laid out to the outlet, just couldnt plug it in' if they plugged it in them selves then their booth would again be shut down.

Unions did have a place in the past, but this kinds of stuff is evidence of how they have gotten completely out of hand. No wonder so many jobs are being sent overseas.

RE: And then the unions...
By GlassHouse69 on 3/25/2009 12:30:00 PM , Rating: 1
employee cost for Chrysler is 6% of its budget.

take off 10 dollars an hour from a worker and your down to 4.5%

a savings of 1.5% for a company almost bankrupt!

uh yeah. the companies are run like shit. its not the unions here. Other places like transit and civil service jobs, yes the unions are destroying themselves along with their mindless mass of low IQ workers.

RE: And then the unions...
By acronos on 3/25/2009 4:50:22 PM , Rating: 1
6% is gross not net. Real profit margins for auto makers would typically be 5-10% gross sales. A 1.5% increase in labor costs would be a 36% decrease in profit at a 7% profit margin. GM is currently running about -30% profit margins.

RE: And then the unions...
By GlassHouse69 on 3/26/2009 12:16:28 AM , Rating: 2
funny thing with MATH is that any adjustment varies at the same percentage!


you found a new thing!

RE: And then the unions...
By FITCamaro on 3/25/2009 4:27:08 PM , Rating: 2
Not really since it'll probably be largely paid for with tax payer money due to the huge subsidies.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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