SUPERENGINE® | Practical thermodynamics
                             by Karl Obermoser

SUPERENGINE ®  | Difference between temperatures and thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is certainly a complex area of physics, but in order to understand what a combined heat and power (CHP) machine should be able to do and what in principle it is incapable of doing, no knowledge of thermodynamics is required whatsoever. Heat is effectively present everywhere and prevails at a variety of temperature levels.

Here are three examples:

the temperature at the sun’s surface

the ambient temperature in which we live

the temperature of the night sky

Wherever there is a difference between two adjacent temperatures, heat flows toward the area at the lower temperature – unless steps are taken to prevent this, for instance by reflection or insulation. And wherever such a difference in temperature exists, useful work can be extracted from the heat flow.

But how much?


SUPERENGINE® | In water or in heat: flow is always flow!
                             by Karl Obermoser

Let us assume that we are living by a mountain stream about 300 metres above sea level (which represents the night sky and is so far away as to be out of reach). With sufficient effort, we could dam the river so that its level rose by, say, 500 metres, and the water level was then 800 metres above sea level. If we installed a hydroelectric generating plant at the original altitude of 300 metres, the energy potential it would be able to extract from the water, even at 100 % efficiency, would be ‘only’ (800-300)/800 =62.5% .

If one replaces the altitudes in the above equation with the absolute temperatures (in kelvins) between which a CHP machine is to operate, the result obtained is the Carnot efficiency value which no CHP machine can exceed.

The altitude of the water reservoir is equivalent to the expansion work and the upper temperature level; the altitude of the generating station above sea level is equivalent to the compression work and the lower temperature level in an ideal CHP machine.

And while we’re on the subject of water: height (altitude), water, energy and power are expressed in handy hydraulic units: one kilojoule (kJ) is the energy needed to raise 10 litres of water 10 metres; one watt (W) is the power needed to raise 36 litres of water 10 metres per hour.

For the designer of CHP machines, the only consideration must be to come as close as possible to achieving this ideal with a minimum of effort and expense. The following pages describe two methods with a potential that has been disregarded in conventional mechanical engineering.

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