Design and Testing of a Thermoacoustic Power Converter

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Telesz, Mark P.
Zinn, Ben T.
Lieuwen, Timothy C.
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Thermoacoustic engines convert heat into acoustic pressure waves with no moving parts; this inherently results in high reliability, low maintenance and low manufacturing costs. Significant increases in the performance of these devices have enabled rivalry with more mature energy conversion methods in both efficiency and power output. This optimal production of acoustic power can be ultimately used to achieve cryogenic temperatures in thermoacoustic refrigerators, or can be interfaced with reciprocating electro-acoustic power transducers to generate electricity. This thesis describes the design, fabrication and testing of a Thermoacoustic Power Converter. The system interfaces a thermoacoustic-Stirling heat engine with a pair of linear alternators to produce 100 watts of electricity from a heat input. It operates with helium at 450 psig internal pressure and a hot side temperature of 1200F. Through thermoacoustic phenomena, these conditions sustain a powerful pressure wave at a system specific 100 Hz. This pressure wave is used to drive the two opposed linear alternators in equal and opposite directions to produce a single phase AC electrical output at that same system frequency. The opposing motion of the two alternators enables a vibration-balanced system. The engine has created 110 watts of acoustic power and the complete Thermoacoustic Power Converter system has produced 70 watts of AC electricity. Compensating for some heat leaks, the converter reaches 26.3% heat to acoustic power efficiency and 16.8% heat to electric efficiency when those maximum values are achieved. This conversion of heat to acoustic power is 40% of the Carnot thermodynamic efficiency limit.
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