Some enthusiasts of the latest high technology, especially the younger ones among us, have never developed an appreciation for engines of the past, perhaps because they've never been exposed to them. Some of us, though, have long loved exposed rocker arms and flywheels and smile at the simplicity of stirling engines and vacuum motors and if you look around a bit, you'll find some companies producing beautiful functional examples you can put on your desk. When the world seems to be moving just a tad too fast, light one of these up and listen to the chugga chugga sound as it goes about its business.
These are external combustion heat engines and a small difference in temperature creates a pressure differential that makes the engine run.
The examples here are from a German company, Böhm Stirling-Technik, and, from what I've seen, their work is right up there with the best of them. Their website is well worth looking over, lots of sounds from the various engines and the videos throughout are neat to watch.
Yes, you can find all sorts of other companies making them, too, but the ones from Böhm look like they are really well made and would last a long time, bringing more than a few smiles and moments of contemplation. Watch the video below, especially the later part where he throttles it way back near the end.
They also have some multi-cylinder stirling engines with all sorts of rockers and connecting rods, real eye candy.
Just thought I would toss this out there after talking about electric motorcycles. When everyone is whizzing around on their whining machines, it will be nice to listen to something that looks mechanical and sounds really old school.
Link: Böhm Stirling-Technik
UPDATE: Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and a whole lot of other neat technologies, is currently working on a stirling engine based electric generator called the Beacon 10. He's working with NRG Energy to commercialize the 10KW generators and getting them into high end houses with hopes of bringing down the cost. He's been running a smaller 2.5KW version in his own house for several years.
The stirling engines use natural gas for the external heat source. They're quieter than regular generators and more efficient, but they are large. Kamen sees them as a way to generate electricity for home use, especially as a backup, or even a replacement, for solar panels, and as a way to economically heat large amounts of water for businesses like a laundry or restaurant.
It's a very cool update of old technology with new high tech materials and techniques.