A Stirling engine is a heat engine that operates by cyclic compression and expansion of air or other gas, the working fluid, at different temperature levels such that there is a net conversion of heat energy to mechanical work.
The engine is like a steam engine in that all of the engine's heat flows in and out through the engine wall. This is traditionally known as an external combustion engine in contrast to an internal combustion engine where the heat input is by combustion of a fuel within the body of the working fluid. Unlike the steam engine's use of water in both its liquid and gaseous phases as the working fluid, the Stirling engine encloses a fixed quantity of permanently gaseous fluid such as air or helium. As in all heat engines, the general cycle consists of compressing cool gas, heating the gas, expanding the hot gas, and finally cooling the gas before repeating the cycle.
Originally conceived in 1816 as an industrial prime mover to rival the steam engine, its practical use was largely confined to low-power domestic applications for over a century.The Stirling engine is noted for its high efficiency, quiet operation, and the ease with which it can utilize almost any heat source. This compatibility with alternative and renewable energy sources has become increasingly significant as the price of conventional fuels rises, and also in light of concerns such as peak oil and climate change. This engine is currently exciting interest as the core component of micro combined heat and power (CHP) units, in which it is more efficient and safer than a comparable steam engine. Widespread adoption of CHP could have a significant effect upon worldwide energy utilization