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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: CNN.com/Catherine 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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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.



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