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The Control of Small Propane Burners for Stirling Engines

The Control of Small Propane Burners for Stirling Engines
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A 160 watt dual-opposed Stirling engine power system has been developed for the U.S. Army
for remote power and battery charging applications. The Stirling engines were developed under a Phase II
NASA SBIR by Sunpower Inc. The propane burner was developed by Precision Combustion Inc. under a
DARPA SBIR program.
Earlier papers have dealt with a number of aspects of the 160 watt power system development program.
This paper takes a look at the challenge of controlling small propane burners for a range of Stirling engines.
This paper will discuss the bring up algorithm and the closed loop digital control of the engine acceptor
temperature in the presence of load disturbances and inherent system non-linearity.
The combustor of these small burners are catalytic and use a fine structure catalyst known as Microlith® to
reduce the ignition time while maximizing the surface area. The challenge of the control system is to bring
the engine head up to temperature , and maintain that temperature, without damaging the catalyst structure.
Strategically placed temperature sensors measure the catalyst, flame, and engine acceptor temperatures.
These measurements are used as process variables by the bring up and digital closed loop control
algorithms to engender a temperature response at the acceptor that is acceptable in terms of response time,
overshoot, and stability in the presence of changes in the dynamic behavior of the engine resulting from
load changes.

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