Missed me? Probably not, but that's beside the point. :P
This last month has been very insightful and I've really enjoyed working on this project.
The core idea of this is to create a free piston Stirling engine with a controlled piston motion profile. This frees the engine from having space-taking, clunky mechanical linkages and instead allows for greater efficiency, smaller size, and lighter weight. It operates solely on a temperature gradient produced by a heating source on one end of the piston chamber and cooling fins on the other end.
My favorite part about this design is that it can take on a vast variety of sizes, ranging from the size of a refrigerator, to the size of a pen. Incredibly, it also appears to become even more efficient (in the ideal case) with a decrease in size, due to the increase in surface area to volume ratio. Of course, this probably has exceptions and is not always true, but it's still very exciting! It also is extraordinarily versatile with respect to the types of heat sources it may utilize. All it needs is a temperature gradient, whether it be created by electric heaters (current experimental design), natural gas, or even solar heat (<-- very exciting, since it is often significantly more efficient than most solar cells).
I'm absolutely looking forward to what can be done next to accelerate the progress of this project. I've had the opportunity to work with both SolidWorks and Simulink in the lab, and soon we will have the parts needed to extract power from the engine using a small electric motor whose motion will be driven by the engine.
The next one is coming up soon.