Picturing engines and solar energy together make us think of a car with photovoltaic cells covering the entire body of the vehicle. Missouri-based inventors Matt Bellue and Ben Cooper have thought of something entirely different. The duo has taken an internal combustion engine and has made to run it on water and oil heated using solar energy. The engine can then be attached to a generator to produce renewable electricity.
Dubbed HydroICE, short for Hydro Internal Clean Energy, the process starts with mirrored parabolic solar collectors that heat up oil to a temperature of about 371 degrees Celsius. Heated oil is then injected into the engine cylinder just like gasoline. A few microdroplets of water are added to the mix, which instantly turn to steam upon contact with oil.
Steam rapidly expands in the cylinder and does the same thing that the gas explosion does in a conventional engine, driving the piston downwards and turning the driveshaft. Once the piston reaches the bottom, the spent steam and oil are made to enter the oil/steam separator, for re-use. The team has already converted a 31cc 2-stroke engine to run on the HydroICE setup and have partnered with Missouri State University and the Missouri University of Science and Technology to develop the necessary hardware to test the engine. The team is claiming an efficiency of 15 percent, but also hints that the setup would cost a quarter of what an equivalent photovoltaic system does.