Review of low-temperature vapour power cycle engines with quasi-isothermal expansion

Opubo N. Igobo, Philip A. Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External combustion heat cycle engines convert thermal energy into useful work. Thermal energy resources include solar, geothermal, bioenergy, and waste heat. To harness these and maximize work output, there has been a renaissance of interest in the investigation of vapour power cycles for quasi-isothermal (near constant temperature) instead of adiabatic expansion. Quasi-isothermal expansion has the advantage of bringing the cycle efficiency closer to the ideal Carnot efficiency, but it requires heat to be transferred to the working fluid as it expands. This paper reviews various low-temperature vapour power cycle heat engines with quasi-isothermal expansion, including the methods employed to realize the heat transfer. The heat engines take the form of the Rankine cycle with continuous heat addition during the expansion process, or the Stirling cycle with a condensable vapour as working fluid. Compared to more standard Stirling engines using gas, the specific work output is higher. Cryogenic heat engines based on the Rankine cycle have also been enhanced with quasi-isothermal expansion. Liquid flooded expansion and expander surface heating are the two main heat transfer methods employed. Liquid flooded expansion has been applied mainly in rotary expanders, including scroll turbines; whereas surface heating has been applied mainly in reciprocating expanders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-34
Number of pages13
Early online date30 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Energy. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Igobo, ON & Davies, PA, 'Review of low-temperature vapour power cycle engines with quasi-isothermal expansion' Energy, vol 70 (2014) DOI


  • vapour power cycle
  • quasi-isothermal expansion
  • renewable energy
  • waste heat utilisation


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