THE NEXT GREAT THING by Mark Shelton

THE NEXT GREAT THING

The Sun, the Stirling Engine, and the Drive to Change the World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The story of the hoped-for use of the sun to fill the world's energy needs by way of Stirling engines that convert heat into power and send it out over the already existing grid of power lines. Shelton wrote 1989's lively Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon. The romance of engineering has never been more intriguingly presented than in Shelton's survey of the engineer-idealists who, battling scientific inertia and the deaf ears turned toward their ideas, are determined to save the world by harnessing the sun's power. The guiding genius behind Sunpower, Inc.--one of a handful of rival research-and-development groups bent on making the laws of thermodynamics work for all humankind--is benign monomaniac William T. Beale, whose White Whale is the sun. Beale heads his R&D group in tiny Athens, Ohio, where Shelton followed him around for two years. Two of Beale's main jobs, among many, are to attract funding and to translate theories into hardware. He must also leap over hardware already in place and powered by oil, big dams, and so on. It's not easy to persuade the United States to build a 170-square- mile complex of Stirling engines in the Arizona desert that, Beale contends, would satisfy the entire country's power needs. Nor is it easy to make people believe that every appliance in every household can be powered by a simple box in the cellar. Stirling engines could potentially eliminate the burning of fossil fuels, save the ozone layer, and shrink the greenhouse effect, among many other ecological goods. What is a Stirling engine? It is an adaptable device that, unlike the internal combustion engine, turns external heat from a continuous heat source into mechanical energy. Intellectually ravishing, while raising the question of whether the fantasy of a solar-powered world will resolve into a future fact. (Photos--not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03619-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994




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