Environment

HydroICE project developing a solar-powered combustion engine

HydroICE project developing a ...
A cut-away view of the prototype HydroICE engine, with cotton batten indicating how steam would be used to drive the piston down
A cut-away view of the prototype HydroICE engine, with cotton batten indicating how steam would be used to drive the piston down
View 4 Images
Hot oil would be injected into the cylinder (Fig 1/Port A), water droplets would then be introduced to that oil (Fig 2/Port B), then the resulting steam would force the piston down (Fig 3)
1/4
Hot oil would be injected into the cylinder (Fig 1/Port A), water droplets would then be introduced to that oil (Fig 2/Port B), then the resulting steam would force the piston down (Fig 3)
A cut-away view of the prototype HydroICE engine, with cotton batten indicating how steam would be used to drive the piston down
2/4
A cut-away view of the prototype HydroICE engine, with cotton batten indicating how steam would be used to drive the piston down
The prototype HydroICE engine
3/4
The prototype HydroICE engine
4/4

OK, first things first – stop picturing a car with solar panels connected to its engine. What Missouri-based inventors Matt Bellue and Ben Cooper are working on is something a little different than that. They want to take an internal combustion engine, and run it on water and solar-heated oil instead of gasoline. That engine could then be hooked up to a generator, to provide clean electricity. While that may sound a little iffy to some, Bellue and Cooper have already built a small-scale prototype.

The duo have labelled the system HydroICE, which is short for Hydro Internal Clean Engine. Here’s how they envision it working ...

To begin, mirrored parabolic solar collectors would be used to heat oil to a temperature of at least 400 to 700ºF (204 to 371ºC). This hot oil would then be injected into the cylinder chamber of the engine, just like gasoline ordinarily is. A few microdroplets of water would then also be introduced, which would turn to steam immediately upon contact with the hot oil.

The rapidly-expanding steam would serve the same purpose as exploding gas, driving the piston downward and turning the driveshaft. As the piston reached the bottom of its stroke, the spent steam and oil would exit the cylinder and be run through an oil/steam separator. They could then each be returned to their respective reservoirs, for re-use within the closed-loop system.

Hot oil would be injected into the cylinder (Fig 1/Port A), water droplets would then be introduced to that oil (Fig 2/Port B), then the resulting steam would force the piston down (Fig 3)
Hot oil would be injected into the cylinder (Fig 1/Port A), water droplets would then be introduced to that oil (Fig 2/Port B), then the resulting steam would force the piston down (Fig 3)

In order to test the technology, Bellue and Cooper have converted a 31cc 2-stroke gas engine to run as a HydroICE engine. While it isn’t clear if they’ve actually had the thing running yet, they have partnered with Missouri State University and the Missouri University of Science and Technology to develop all the necessary peripheral hardware (such as the solar collectors), and to test the engine’s efficiency.

That efficiency is currently estimated at being at least 15 percent – about the same as the maximum efficiency of existing photovoltaic panels. The technology's big advantage, however, would be price. They’re projecting that a HydroICE system would cost about a quarter of what an equivalent-output photovoltaic system would go for ... obviously, though, that’s still looking some distance down the road.

For now, they’re trying to raise research and development funds via Indiegogo. More information is available in their pitch video below.

Source: HydroICE

43 comments
Scion
That's a clever combination. Sort of like a 2 stroke ICE meets steam engine. I guess normally you'd do the heat exchange externally and inject the steam to drive the piston. Is there greater efficiency in doing the heat exchange within the cylinder? Worth exploring due to the similarity between the engine and existing ICE engines. That would allow, presumably, car part manufacturers to turn their spare capacity to making power generators.
Slowburn
Even if it is more efficient than using a Sterling Cycle engine the additional complication of the mechanisms make it less practical.
Matthew Harrison
From your description, that's no longer a combustion engine, as there is no ignition and burning of the oil.
flame_can
@Slowburn - it is Stirling, not Sterling. Also, I doubt it will be more efficient than a Stirling or Ericsson cycle engine. The only major problem with Stirling engines is their low power density, but that is a non-issue for stationary power plants.
Eron Silva
@Scion: generating the steam where it is needed follows the KISS parameters; @slowburn: although the concept is novel, the 2-stroke ICE fits like goldylocks to implement it; @matthew: the article says "internal Clean engine"; @flame_can AND slowburn: no matter the current efficiency, if this thing runs without fossil fuel then it is a blessing.
Henry Franken
What will happen at night when there is no sun?
Wolf War
Since there is a waste heat in ICE, why not combining 2+2 (or any other combo) 2 cylinders work on fossil fuels, 2 on steam/oil ICE develops much higher temperatures then those from solar collectors and thus more efficiency (more water at once, more steam)
Siegfried Gust
This won't go anywhere. What benefit does it have over electrical energy storage systems.
acorn
Wondering: Why not the water meats up with air heated well above 212 deg F? Why oil?If air not hot enough, would not heat of compression be the ticket?
Lee Bell
No particular reason why it should not work but it's going to take a really big solar panel or multiples to get enough hot oil to run more than just a few minutes at a time.