The Orion Project

Thermal Exchange Motors

This is a class of motors that employ various forms of vapor technology heat transfer, a version of which is found in nearly every home in America in the form of either a heat pump (used to both cool and heat) or a refrigerator. These all use the principle that a pump can transfer heat at rates greater than the energy needed to run the pump through a combination of compression, expansion, and absorption from or release of heat to the environment. It basically concentrates solar heat contained in the air for heating and uses essentially a reverse process for transferring heat for the cooling process. Because heat does not have to be created (through a combustion process, for example), but only concentrated from solar heated air or the ground (in the case of geothermal heat pumps), a great gain in efficiency is achieved.

Conceptual diagram of a closed cycle vapor energy system (Fig. 6, Williams, 1979.
US Patent 4,170,116).

In fact it is calculated that a normal heat pump has a COP (Coefficient of Performance) of between 3-5. This means that 3-5 times as much heat can be moved about than the electrical power needed to move the heat. Beene (1999) presents a mathematical analysis of heat transfer technology with the following example. With present technology the rate of heat transfer using a heat pump compressor is about 12,000 BTU per horsepower. The electrical energy used to drive a one horsepower motor compressor is equivalent to about 2545.6 BTU. This is a ratio of about 4.7 times more heat transferred than is required to make the transfer, which explains the observed COP. He also calculates that a 15 HP heat pump running at 60% efficiency would be able to supply the equivalent of 27.4 HP to run a generator, which with a 90% efficient generator would be about 18kW of electrical power, more than adequate to run an average home.

Now if this transferred heat can be used to drive an efficient "engine", through compression, rapid expansion and heating from the environment, then these observed heat pump efficiencies could be used to our advantage. A generator coupled to the engine, would produce more electricity than required to run the compressor pumps, and the system would run utilizing only the heat from the environment. The problem is that most of today's engines work on large thermal gradients, i.e. car engines, gas turbines, steam engines, etc. In order to utilize the above-described heat engine efficiencies, an engine technology utilizing low thermal gradients (a small delta T) has to be developed. We are presently working with several groups that are addressing this problem. If it can be solved, then we will have developed a generator system that produces useful amounts of power by utilizing the simple energy source of "environmental heat" found in the air, water and ground all around us.