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Athens-based Sunpower shoots for the stars with super-efficient engine technology

Athens-based Sunpower soon could see its super-efficient engine technology blast into the heavens though a partnership with NASA.

Sunpower founder William Beale, a former Ohio University professor, developed Sunpower's signature Stirling engine a free-piston Stirling engine that will run for 100,000 hours without stopping that's been the basis for the company's cryo-coolers, engines and compressors. Beale developed the technology in the 1970s, but it's been refined over decades.

Sunpower's cryocoolers have long cooled down highly sensitive sensors, including medical devices, nuclear material detection devices and their engines have been developed for solar, biomass, diesel, and natural gas generators. But recently the company has set its sights higher, into space to be exact, through a partnership with NASA that will launch Sunpower technology into deep space.

"When we started, this technology had just been invented, now we have commercial cryocoolers products and engines designed for space applications," company CEO and president Mark Schweizer said. "Our engineering services today are all around NASA. Going forward we're developing engines for terrestrial applications (solar power generation and critical remote power) for commercial customers."

Under the joint sponsorship of NASA and the Department of Energy, Sunpower is helping developed a high-efficiency Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (or ASRG) for future NASA Space Science and Exploration missions.

Sunpower is developing two Advanced Stirling Convertors (ASCs), operating at a hot-end temperature of 650 degrees Celsius for the ASRG. It's a joint project, along with Lockheed Martin and the NASA Glenn Research Center  of Cleveland.

The company's work with NASA has fueled expansion. Sunpower has grown 32 percent in the last two years, and now employs 71. Many of the employees are engineers and technicians, many who have been recruited from Ohio University and nearby Hocking College respectively.

Source: Mark Schweizer, Sunpower
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

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