Originally Posted by Dockhead
The Whispergen factory in New Zealand
was destroyed in the earthquake some years ago. When they rebuilt, the manufacturer did not choose to resume production of the marine
versions of the Whispergen CHP unit.
What a shame. I know the first generation of this thing had its problems, but with some further development would surely be a killer app for those of us in cold climates. Nearly a kilowatt of free electrical
power produced as a byproduct of production of about, IIRC, 7kW of heat.
Anybody know if there are any plans to resume production?
I just ran into Jan, from
Off grid energy - Home
who has already been mentioned (I just did a search) on this forum, at
He worked for Whispergen in Christchurch right to the last.
He confirmed what I suspected, namely that the DC product for the marine market was already either withdrawn at the time of the earthquake, or that decision had been made (I didn't think to clarify which)
because the shareholders had their eyes on the much bigger market for an AC grid-connected version.
Which was commercial
suicide, because that exposed them to the blowtorch of dealing with residual development issues, having acquired multiple thousands of customers and multiple distribution chains.
The marine market was an ideal
niche: boat owners have to burn fuel
locally for heat, not having the option of hooking up to a power plant hundreds of miles away*
And, as Dockhead points out, the high-grade electrical energy comes for "free"
(Not if you amortise the eyewatering purchase price
- but, as Jan pointed out to me, anyone who does that will never have bought a boat in the first place !)
The earthquake put paid to the entire development process, not just for the marine version - see below - because the demolition of Christchurch's business district was a case of molehills having to take the back seat to mountains.
The development building was not damaged to the point of unusability, but so many were, that it was urgently required by the owners for other purposes.
So ... all the hand-built, specialised (and presumably, heavily instrumented) development engines had to be unceremoniously shifted out to the carpark, (from where they disappeared without trace) and the development historical data was all discarded.
This sounds tragic, but you have to remember the scale of the destruction: the entire CBD was (necessarily) cordonned off at that time for all but army and rescue
personnel. Some areas have still
not been reopened to the public, over three years later, although the focus now is on reconstruction.
The issues with bearings and with lubrication had pretty much been solved
technically, but affordability remained problematic: to last the necessary 50,000 hours for a commodity-grade product, the bearings had to be ceramic and the grease had to cost $200 for a small tube.
With ten months of the earthquake, the parent Whispertech company was no more.
Which is tragic; that sort of breakthrough, permitting devolution of energy production to the local level, and capturing the waste heat at the same time, seems like a necessary transitional phase to wean us off fossil fuel
- - - -
* which, regrettably, involves using high grade energy (electricity) for heating
, wasting about 70% of the thermodynamic energy potential of the fuel used to generate that energy.
(unless a heatpump is used to recover some of that 70% from the local environment) has been likened to washing
the floors with champagne.
- - - - - -
The above-linked website can still provide a limited quantity of spares for the marine gensets, if anyone is trying to keep one running.
PS: I was wrong in my post at the end of the other thread advertising a used Whispergen, but as it is archived, I cannot correct my mistake there.
The 'variable displacement' capability of the wobble-yoke was exploited earlier in the development process, when I was watching from an interested distance, having been a colleague of the inventor
However over time they developed simpler ways to modulate the output, so the commercial
product had a fixed-displacement, simpler yoke arrangement.
There's a great sectional view through the engine
Elegant it is, simple it ain't.
(But then, what IC engine is?
Yes, I know this is external combustion, but the competition is IC)