In the two-cylinder (or alpha configured3) Stirling, one cylinder is kept hot while the other is kept cool. In this illustration, the lower-left cylinder is heated by burning fuel. The other cylinder is kept cool by air circulating through a heat sink (a.k.a. cooling fins).
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The Stirling is a very simple engine, and was often billed as a safe alternative to steam, since there’s no risk of a boiler explosion. It enjoyed some success in industrial applications, and also in small appliances like fans and water pumps, but it was eclipsed by the advent of inexpensive electric motors.3 However, because it can run on any source of heat, it now holds promise for alternative fuel engines, solar power, geothermal power, etc.
Stirling engines feature a completely closed system in which the working gas (usually air but sometimes helium or hydrogen) is alternately heated and cooled by shifting the gas to different temperature locations within the system.
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