Isobaric expansion (IE) engines are a very uncommon type of heat-to-mechanical-power converters, radically different from all well-known heat engines. Useful work is extracted during an isobaric expansion process, i.e., without a polytropic gas/vapour expansion accompanied by a pressure decrease typical of state-of-the-art piston engines, turbines, etc. This distinctive feature permits isobaric expansion machines to serve as very simple and inexpensive heat-driven pumps and compressors as well as heat-to-shaft-power converters with desired speed/torque. Commercial application of such machines, however, is scarce, mainly due to a low efficiency. This article aims to revive the long-known concept by proposing important modifications to make IE machines competitive and cost-effective alternatives to state-of-the-art heat conversion technologies. Experimental and theoretical results supporting the isobaric expansion technology are presented and promising potential applications, including emerging power generation methods, are discussed. It is shown that dense working fluids with high thermal expansion at high process temperature and low compressibility at low temperature make it possible to operate with reasonable thermal efficiencies at ultra-low heat source temperatures (70–100 °C). Regeneration/recuperation of heat can increase the efficiency notably and extend the area of application of these machines to higher heat source temperatures. For heat source temperatures of 200–600 °C, the efficiency of these machines can reach 20–50% thus making them a flexible, economical and energy efficient alternative to many today’s power generation technologies, first of all organic Rankine cycle (ORC).
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited