An efficient and environmentally-friendly rotary engine which runs on natural gas could be used to power homes across Europe following the development of a working prototype this year.
UK engineer Laurie Archer, who took 10 years to develop the rotary internal combustion engine, has received backing from a Dutch consortium, which has assigned the project a multi-million euro budget to produce a prototype.
The consortium, which includes Dutch distributed power company ICCU, hopes to be able to generate 400kW of power from the prototype, and prove it can be used to power up to 1,000 homes.
The move towards local, or distributed power generation is expected to reduce energy bills and improve efficiency, as piping natural gas to local sites is cheaper than transmitting electricity via the national grid. via the high voltage pylon network.
A significant amount of the electricity is wasted as heat as it passes through the national grid.
Rotary engines, which consist of a cylinder shaped like a triangle within the combustion chamber housing, have fewer moving parts than standard four-stroke piston engines. This, according to Archer, means operation is smoother and quieter, with less likelihood of a breakdown.
In Archer’s engine the natural gas is drawn into the cylinder, which then turns to compress the space in which the gas is held.
A spark plug combusts the gas, which produces power to turn the cylinder, and the compressed burning gas is released through the exhaust.
The engine is computer controlled, to ensure the timing of the four stages – intake,compression, combustion and exhaust – is exact.
Water is also injected into the system to recover as steam the heat normally lost in exhaust gases. This can be used for heating houses.
Archer has received support from Dr David Reynolds, European technology adviser at the East of England Innovation Relay Centre (IRC), one of a number of European technology transfer organisations. ‘The engine is at an early stage of development, with minimal control electronics,’ said Reynolds. ‘More work has to be done on this, but they have proof that in principle it works. It could even beat the micro turbine in efficiency and environmental factors.’
Reynolds helped Archer to patent the engine in the UK, Europe, Japan and the US, and to draft a technology offer, which was sent out to the network of 68 IRCs across Europe, attracting the Dutch investment.