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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Power of Sound

Sound waves in "thermoacoustic" engines and refrigerators can replace the pistons and cranks that are typically built into such machinery

Steven Garrett, Scott Backhaus

The Next Competition

Thermoacoustic engines and refrigerators were already being considered a few years ago for specialized applications, where their simplicity, lack of lubrication and sliding seals, and their use of environmentally harmless working fluids were adequate compensation for their lower efficiencies. This latest breakthrough, coupled with other developments in the design of high-power, single-frequency loudspeakers and reciprocating electric generators, suggests that thermoacoustics may soon emerge as an environmentally attractive way to power hybrid electric vehicles, capture solar energy, refrigerate food, air condition buildings, liquefy industrial gases and serve in other capacities that are yet to be imagined.

In 2099, the National Academy of Engineering probably will again convene an expert panel to select the outstanding technological achievements of the 21st century. We hope the machines that our unborn grandchildren see on that list will include thermoacoustic devices, which promise to improve everyone's standard of living while helping to protect the planet. We and a small band of interested physicists and engineers have been working hard over the past two decades to make acoustic engines and refrigerators part of that future. The latest achievements are certainly encouraging, but there is still much left to be done.




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