Friday, August 12, 2005

Izzy Urieli Gets Me to Read About Solar-Powered Sterling Engines

A few years back, Israel Urieli -- Dr. Iz -- showed up at our local, klezmer jam with his harmonica. Izzy turns out to be a good musician, a nice fellow, and a very interesting guy. He and his wife were visiting from Athens, Ohio, where he teaches thermodynamics, at the University.

Izzy's technical interest is Sterling engines, which are external combustion engines. You heat them from some external source, like a wood fire, and they generate power.

His true love is recumbent bicycles. He brought one recumbent, which he'd designed and built, that fit in a rucksack. It was carry-on baggage.

I hadn't been on a bicycle since I was a kid, but he got me out there on one of his recumbents. Encouraged by that, I bought a bike and biked all over, until a bicycle accident sent me to surgery and crippled me for about a year. Izzy himself had had an accident, early on, test-driving one of his creations. "That's what graduate students are for," his colleagues explained.

At one point, he entertained us both by explaining that he was designing a hybrid, touring recumbant that would be powered by a Sterling engine, which is an external combustion engine. "Hybrid" bikes are power-assisted bikes, that help you up hills with a power boost of some kind. They let normal people cycle for very long distances because they keep your body from exceeding some sort of elastic limit.

In his case, the power assist would be electric. The batteries were to be charged by a little, portable Sterling engine. Putting it all together, you'd get on your bike, cycle down the road for a while, then stop to eat. You'd get out your camp stove, heat both your dinner and the Sterling engine with it, at the same time, and then recharge your batteries as the engine recharged your bicycle's.

I thought of Izzy when I saw this article, which describes plans to build a huge solar array, to power Sterling engines. The folks doing it think they can make money generating energy without a bunch of subsidies.

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