Ph.D. Dissertation Defense by Nathan Weiland
Monday, July 26, 2004

(Dr. Ben Zinn, Chair)

"Feasibility Analysis of an Open Cycle Thermoacoustic Engine with Internal Pulse Combustion"


Thermoacoustic engines convert thermal energy into acoustic energy with few or no moving parts, thus they require little maintenance, are highly reliable, and are inexpensive to produce. These traits make them attractive for applications in remote or portable power generation, where a linear alternator is used to convert the acoustic power into electric power. Their primary application, however, is in driving thermoacoustic refrigerators, which use acoustic power to provide cooling at potentially cryogenic temperatures, also without moving parts.

This dissertation examines the feasibility of a new type of thermoacoustic engine, where mean flow and an internal pulse combustion process replace the hot heat exchanger in a traditional closed cycle thermoacoustic engine, thereby eliminating the heat exchanger’s cost, inefficiency, and thermal expansion stresses. The theory developed in this work reveals that a large temperature difference must exist between the hot face of the regenerator and the hot combustion products flowing into it, and that much of the convective thermal energy input from the combustion process is converted into conductive and thermoacoustic losses in the regenerator. The development of the Thermoacoustic Pulse Combustion Engine, as described in this study, is designed to recover most of this lost thermal energy by routing the inlet pipes through the regenerator to preheat the combustion reactants. Further, the developed theory shows that the pulse combustion process has the potential to add up to 7% to the engine’s acoustic power output for an acoustic pressure ratio of 10%, with linearly increasing contributions for increasing acoustic pressure ratios.

Computational modeling and optimization of the Thermoacoustic Pulse Combustion Engine yield thermal efficiencies of about 20% for atmospheric mean operating pressures, though higher mean engine pressures increase this efficiency considerably by increasing the acoustic power density relative to the thermal losses. However, permissible mean engine pressures are limited by the need to avoid fouling the regenerator with condensation of water vapor out of the cold combustion products. Despite lower acoustic power densities, the Thermoacoustic Pulse Combustion Engine is shown to be well suited to portable refrigeration and power generation applications, due to its reasonable efficiency and inherent simplicity and compactness.