I think the latest announcement by Dean Kamen
concerning his IT project amounts to minor damage control. After all, who
ever expected Drudge to reference the original Inside.com article, lighting
up the internet like a roman candle? And we have to admit that some of the
rampant speculation is powered by the fringe culture itself, leading to
everything from anti-gravity hovercraft to secret Tesla or Scalar devices.
Sooner or later someone will probably state with authority that the aliens
provided us with this technology. Such is the Net.
However, taken out of context or not, the comments attributed
to Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr were not trifling. Sure they had
their doubts, but they were also very impressed with what they saw. They
realized it wasn't just a new bike they were looking at. And they might have
gotten a little carried away. Great minds see great visions of the future,
and Kamen had just given them some new toys.
I still believe a new propulsion system is the underlying
technology of the IT. Here is some additional background
information on the Acoustic Sterling Engine. (I tried
linking to the URL listed as the source in the article, but it has expired.
I've copied the web page rather than just reference it, just in case it
disappears too. This article can be found
New Acoustic Sterling Engine
Two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory
have developed a low-tech engine that performs work using simple sound waves
and has no moving parts. Scott Backhaus and Gregory Swift believe it has
the potential to provide alternative energy, significantly save energy supplies
and reduce global pollution.
They said in their study published Thursday in the journal Nature that the
revolutionary engine, which is as efficient as a typical car engine, might
be used to cool refrigerators or to cryogenically recover a form of natural
gas wasted and burned off in oil production.
They already have developed a working collaboration with Denver-based Cryenco
Co. to produce a machine for liquefying the natural gas usually burned off
or "flared" in oil production.
"We expect our engine to find many additional uses throughout the global
power-production environment, ranging from the separation of air into nitrogen
and oxygen, to the generation of electricity," they said in their report.
Swift suggested in a statement issued by the lab Wednesday that "small low-cost
engines like this could be used in homes for (electrical) cogeneration. That
is, they could be used to generate electricity while at the same time to
produce heat for warming the home or for hot-water heating."
Their "thermo acoustic Stirling engine" is a long, steel, baseball-bat-shaped
resonator with an oval handle on the lower end, which is filled with compressed
helium. Electronic devices generate sound waves, which stimulate the gas
to alternately expand and contract.
The engine's operation is based on the Stirling principle, named for the
Scottish 19th century scientist Robert Stirling, who showed that a confined
volume of gas expands at high pressure and contracts at low pressure, creating
an alternating cycle that can do work when the gas is heated or cooled through
In a separate article published in the same issue of Nature, the research
is praised for its ingenuity and environmentally favorable qualities by Steven
L. Garrett of the acoustics program at Pennsylvania State University. Garrett
expresses admiration for the invention's simplicity, efficiency and lack
of environmental intrusiveness.
"The working fluid is pressurized helium, an inert gas, which neither depletes
stratospheric ozone nor contributes to global warming," he said.
Garrett said the Los Alamos researchers provide "elegant acoustic solutions"
to problems that have vexed acoustic-engine researchers for decades. Researchers,
he adds, will soon "exploit this technology for applications that need mechanical
or electrical energy."
An obvious drawback of the new thermo acoustic engines is that acoustic
amplitudes can reach levels of 190 decibels. That, Garrett said, is "about
10 million times as intense as the front-row levels at a rock concert and
300 times the intensity required to ignite human hair." Fortunately, he said,
the sound is produced inside a rigid pressurized vessel, and because the
engines only radiate a "single-frequency tone," any escaping sound waves
are easily canceled by a complimentary frequency or tone.
Lawrence Spohn writes for The Tribune in Albuquerque, N.M.
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Copyright © 1999 Scripps McClatchy Western