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A small consumer power plant that requires only a heat source capable of boiling water. The system should be self-contained and in two to four parts.
A boiler that sits on a heat source (stove, hibachi, grill, whatever) and steam engine are basic. A battery to store excess power and an overflow
water tank might be necessary, too.
The boiler and engine are connected with appropriately shielded hoses, say five to ten feet in length. The steam engine generates, well, as much electricity as it can.
Since this is a consumer device, it should be as low maintenance and foolproof as possible. A thermochomatic indicator on the boiler would let people know it was hot, hot enough to generate steam and perhaps blow a whistle to indicate it's too hot. All moving parts should be enclosed. The water should be recycled to the greatest extent possible.
The Stirling Engine
[jonthegeologist, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]
||Reminds me of a Stirling engine concept that Dean Kamen is working on.
||But my stove is electric! Make mine a barbeque-top. Croissant!
||but a Stirling engine works by heating and cooling (expanding and contracting air) via hot water and iced water. [see link]. phoenix's idea has more of a standard steam engine base
||There are a bajillion and one heat engines. Rankine cycle (typical steam engine), Brayton cycle (gas turbine), Stirling Cycle, thermocouples... the list goes on and on and on. Very baked. But I agree that a stovetop Rankine or Stirling engine (with transparent parts, perhaps) would make an excellent educational toy / physics demonstrator.