July 15, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Science And Technology

Space Power Solutions: A novel thermoacoustic generator is being developed

A group of researchers led by Professor Guoyao Yu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a novel hybrid thermoacoustic electric generator (HTAEG) incorporating a gas spring positioned on a pole, marking a significant advance for small- and micro-scale power systems. This innovation promises ultra-high output power and remarkable efficiency, particularly suitable for space nuclear power applications. The breakthrough, achieved in collaboration with Dr Yanyan Chen, Mr Yuanhang Chen, Dr Jing Luo, Dr Yanlei Sun, Professor Ercang Luo from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dr Shunmin Zhu from Durham University, marks a major milestone in thermoacoustic technology. Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

Professor Yu’s team proposed and tested a hybrid thermoacoustic electric generator with a gas spring placed after the displacer. This strategic positioning was crucial to overcome the limitations of conventional designs, which typically struggle to maintain high levels of power and efficiency at the same time. The new design achieved exceptional electrical power and high efficiency, demonstrating the potential for significant energy production.

Thermoacoustic electric generators (TAEGs) convert thermal energy into acoustic energy, which is then transformed into electricity. The hybrid version, which incorporates a solid mass to tune the internal acoustic field, offers superior power density and thermal-electrical efficiency. However, scaling up to higher power levels has been a formidable challenge due to the limitations of spring-force mechanisms.

The novel approach of using a post-positioned gas spring effectively addresses these challenges. Unlike traditional flat springs, gas springs provide higher levels of stiffness, which is crucial to supporting the increased mass and size of the displacer in high-capacity HTAEGs. Additionally, this design minimizes dead volume and flow friction loss, improving overall system efficiency.

Professor Yu explained the significance of this innovation: “The gas spring-on-post design significantly reduces the structural complexity and flow friction loss in the compression gap, resulting in higher efficiency and power output. This design has enormous potential for various applications, especially in space power systems where reliability and efficiency are paramount.”

Experimental evaluations confirmed the outstanding performance of the prototype. The prototype achieved maximum electrical power and high efficiency at various input heating powers, demonstrating the versatility and robustness of the design.

These results represent the highest power level reported for a single-piston HTAEG and indicate significant potential for future developments. The researchers plan to further explore the operational characteristics of this design, including the possibility of developing an opposed system with two such HTAEGs to mitigate system vibrations.

The innovative approach by Professor Yu and his colleagues not only advances the field of thermoacoustic technology, but also opens new avenues for its application in space and other demanding environments. As the global demand for efficient and reliable energy solutions continues to grow, this breakthrough offers a promising solution to meet these needs.

Journal reference

Chen, Yuanhang, Guoyao Yu, Yanyan Chen, Shunmin Zhu, Jing Luo, Yanlei Sun, and Ercang Luo. “Post-positioned gas spring enables ultrahigh output power of hybrid thermoacoustic electric generators.” Cell Reports Physical Science, 2024. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrp.2024.101835

About the authors

Yuanhang Chen Yuanhang Chen (chenyuanhang20@mails.ucas.ac.cn) received his bachelor's degree from Beijing Institute of Technology in 2020. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on thermoacoustic and Stirling systems, especially the hybrid thermoacoustic electric generator.

Guoyao Yu He obtained his bachelor's degree from Zhejiang University in 2003 and completed his PhD degree from the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2008. Currently, he is a full professor at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry. His research mainly focuses on thermoacoustic and Stirling systems, covering refrigeration and electric power generation based on advanced thermoacoustic and Stirling technologies. Guoyao Yu (gyyu@mail.ipc.ac.cn)

Yanyan Chen Yanyan Chen (yychen@mail.ipc.ac.cn) received his BS degree from Xi'an Jiaotong University in 2003 and his PhD degree from the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2008. He specializes in complex fluid and heat transfer analysis, engineering design and applications such as thermoacoustic heat engines, thermoacoustic-driven bidirectional turbines, high-power free-piston Stirling technology, and the development of a low-temperature thermostat for temperature reference.

Dr. Shunmin Zhu Dr Zhu is a Marie Curie Fellow in the Department of Engineering at Durham University. He is also a Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute. Dr Zhu received his PhD from the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2020. His research interests include free-piston internal/external combustion and free-piston Stirling engines, thermoacoustic power generation technologies, and hybrid renewable energy systems. Shunmin Zhu (shunmin.zhu@durham.ac.uk)

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