We ordinarily think of a sound wave in a gas as consisting of coupled pressure and displacement oscillations. However, temperature oscillations always accompany the pressure changes. The combination of all these oscillations, and their interaction with solid boundaries, produces a rich variety of “thermoacoustic” effects. Although these effects as they occur in everyday life are too small to be noticed, one can harness extremely loud sound waves in acoustically sealed chambers to produce powerful heat engines, heat pumps and refrigerators. Whereas typical engines and refrigerators have crankshaft‐coupled pistons or rotating turbines, thermoacoustic engines and refrigerators have at most a single flexing moving part (as in a loudspeaker) with no sliding seals. Thermoacoustic devices may be of practical use where simplicity, reliability or low cost is more important than the highest efficiency (although one cannot say much more about their cost‐competitiveness at this early stage).
On the heels of basic research, commercial developers are harnessing acoustic processes in gases to make reliable, inexpensive engines and cooling devices with no moving parts and a significant fraction of Carnot's efficiency.