Friday, August 07, 2009

Story of a Scotsman's Invention Re-incarnated


A Series Outlining
The Re-Incarnation
Robert Stirling's 1818 Engine

It was a Scotsman that gave us TV and another Scotsman gave us one of the most fundamental laws of electro-magnetism; yet another Scotsman gave us an engine, which is experiencing a re-birth in a new incarnation after more than 100 years in mothballs.

I recoloured this photo of Robert Stirling to give it new life

Robert Stirling was born in Perthshire in Scotland. Like his father, he had an interest in engineering. However, much of his energies went in a very different direction for part of his life. He studied divinity and became a minister of the Church of Scotland with a parish at the Laigh Kirk of Kilmarnock in 1816.

The engineering ducas was in the blood nevertheless and would not remain buried for long in sermons and parish work. The Stirling ducas was duly passed on to at least two of his seven children who became locomotive engineers. They were Patrick Stirling and James Stirling.

Robert Stirling died in Galston, East Ayrshire in 1878. He left us quite an engineering legacy, his technology is being re-born in this post industrial age, it is even being considered and talked about using one of his engines on the moon!!

The Stirling Engine

Robert Stirling invented what he called the Heat Economiser also called the regenerator. He filed a patent for the economiser and an engine that utilised the principle in 1816.

An Original Prototype made by Robert Stirling

His engine had several major advantages: 1. It could not explode, because of its lower working pressure, 2. It would not cause steam burns and 3. It was very efficient and economical. It also had a few disadvantages which is why the industrial revolution left it behind. In 1818 he built the first practical version of his engine, used to pump water from a quarry.

In the next week or so, I will take a look at the development of the stirling heat engine, and then detail it's newest manifestations and uses.


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