In my post about mercury arc rectifiers used to charge early electric vehicles, I alluded to the competition between gasoline, electricity and steam in the early days of the automobile. Reader Ryoku75 asked “What happened to steam-driven cars?” It’s my task to cover the oddball engine desk here at TTAC and we will be having a report on new engine technologies on display at the SAE World Congress soon enough once I clear some work from my day job off the to-do list, but to answer Ryoku75’s question, it just so happens that there is timely news about steam power. They weren’t at the SAE congress this year, but in recent years a startup called Cyclone Power has displayed their “Rankine Cycle heat regenerative external combustion” engine at the engineers’ convention. If Rankine Cycle heat regenerative external combustion engine is a bit of a mouthful, try “steam engine”.
Cyclone is on the fifth generation of their engine, which has a patented steam generator and is protected, Cyclone Power says, by 28 other patents as well. The company has made some technology agreements, most recently with China’s Great Wall Alternative Power Systems. In addition to promoting their engine as a transportation alternative, Cyclone is also selling waste heat recovery generators. You can see their latest prototype running on a test stand. Cyclone hasn’t yet, though, shown their engine actually powering a car. That’s about to change in a big way. Cyclone founder, inventor Harry Schoell, is backing Team Steam, an American effort to set a new Land Speed Record for steam powered vehicles. The current record, set in 2009 (which itself broke a mark over a century old) is 148.166 MPH (some sources say 148.308 MPH), set by a British team.
The Cyclone vehicle will based on Speed Demon, a 436 MPH Bonneville-proven streamliner designed and built by respected speed enthusiasts George Poteet and Ron Main. Speed Demon has an almost unheard of for a ground vehicle drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.08. The Gen V Cyclone engine is a six cylinder design claimed to put out 100 HP at 3,600 RPM, which isn’t bad for a 250 lb engine that will run on almost any liquid fuel. With the right aerodynamics and low enough weight, 100 horsepower is probably enough to get up to 150 MPH and break the record. The Cyclone LSR car, though, will likely accelerate more briskly than one would expect from just a hundred horsepower. Cyclone claims that their engine also produces 850lbs-ft of torque at stall, unheard of from an engine that lightweight. All of that torque will be available from a dead stop and it will be a smooth ride because with all their torque steam powered cars don’t use gearboxes.
No word yet on when they hope to make their first effort at breaking the record. So far they have put together a technical team and right now they’re gathering up sponsors and technical/promotional partners.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS