By on August 30, 2012

cyclone_engine image courtesy of Cyclone Power Technologies

The Obama administration, through the EPA and the DOT, on Tuesday released new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that mandate a national fleet average of 54.5 MPG by the year 2025. That figure was the result of negotiations with automakers, state officials and environmental activists. Despite the industry’s apparent support, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign called them “extreme”. President Obama responded by implying that Romney was some kind of 19th century Luddite, suggesting that the former Massachusetts prefers steam engines.

“My opponent called my position on fuel efficiency standards extreme. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem extreme to me to want to have more fuel efficient cars. Maybe the steam engine is more his speed.”

The problem with that remark is that steam engines may indeed play an important role in America’s energy efficiency. Even curiouser, Mr. Obama’s own administration is funding steam engine research. For the past few years, Cyclone Power Technologies of Pompano Beach, Florida has been developing what they call “a Rankine Cycle heat regenerative external combustion” otherwise known as a steam engine, that can run on just about any liquid or solid fuel, or even waste heat from industrial processes or internal combustion engines. As a matter of fact, Mr. Obama’s own Department of Defense has been funding Cyclone’s development of a steam engine to power a 10KW generator for military vehicles. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also looking into using the Cyclone engine as a power source for battlefield robots that could live off the land and refuel themselves by foraging for biomass to burn. Cyclone says that their engine can run on “virtually any fuel (or combination of fuels) including today’s promising new bio fuels, while emitting far fewer pollutants than traditional gas or diesel powered internal combustion engines.”

To be honest, though Cyclone has been pitching their engine to possibly replace the internal combustion engine as a motive force for automobiles, it seems that another application of Cyclone’s engine will likely find a market first. A Rankine cycle engine uses external sources of heat for power, which means that as long there are enough BTU available, you can use just about any heat source. That means “waste heat” can be used to run the engine. What is waste heat? Well, to give you an example, a typical gasoline engine might have a thermal efficiency of 25%. That means that 75% of the energy is wasted as heat, mostly in the form of hot exhaust gases. No process is 100% efficient so that kind of waste heat is generated in a wide variety of industrial processes. Nowadays industrial “smokestacks” aren’t really emitting much smoke, i.e. particulates and harmful gases. Environmental laws ensure that exhaust has been scrubbed fairly clean. Most of those plumes of “smoke” are really just steam, which condenses as it hits the cooler atmospheric air. That steam contains waste heat. Cyclone Power claims that their Waste Heat Engine (WHE) can run on heat as low as 500 degrees F. That means that it can recover energy, spin a dynamo and generate electricity from a variety of sources, like industrial ovens and furnaces, landfill, refinery and other industrial waste gas flares, biomass combustion, and even the exhaust of internal combustion engines, both stationary and those used to power vehicles. BMW has already more or less proven that automotive concept with their “Turbo Steamer“, a test bed that uses a Rankine engine running off exhaust and coolant heat to assist the combustion engine, claiming 10-15% improvements in fuel efficiency and power. Even if Cyclone’s steam engine proves to be impractical as an automotive power plant, wide scale use of waste heat engines could significantly improve the energy efficiency of American industry.

After Pres. Obama reacted to the Romney campaign’s criticism by dissing Romney and steam engines, I asked Cyclone Power Technologies for their reaction. Cyclone is in an interesting position. They’d love to leverage Obama’s comments into more publicity for their company and engine and they certainly want to rebut the notion that steam engines are archaic, but since they indeed have government contracts, I’m sure they’re not eager to be seen as criticizing the president. Getting in the middle of a political campaign is not always a great idea for a business.

Chris Nelson, Cyclone’s president sent TTAC this response:

“We are a small U.S. business, employing talented American workers who are developing a 21st Century steam engine that is powerful, clean, fully fuel-flexible and efficient enough to beat these new CAFE standards.  We are working with the U.S. military to make their power supplies more efficient, and developing other ways to turn waste into energy using our steam technology. Furthermore, we are currently building the car and engine that will attempt to break the land speed record for steam powered vehicles.  We hope that President Obama and Governor Romney recognize the incredible possibilities that Cyclone’s modern steam technology present to advance our independence from foreign oil and protect our environment, while supporting American jobs.”

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

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64 Comments on “Pres. Obama Says ‘Maybe the steam engine is more Romney’s speed’ While His Own Administration Funds Steam Engine Development Thru Cyclone Power Technologies...”


  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Politician uses rhetoric that, taken literally, does not fully reflect reality. Story at 11.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Website that gets paid via advertising encounters slow news day, runs story about highly divisive person to make sure traffic doesn’t fall off. Story at 11.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      +1, Astig and Chicago

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve written about Cyclone Power before. I don’t know if today was a slow news day or not, since I was busy helping my daughter and a friend of mine playing chauffeur. I wrote 90% of the piece last night, called Cyclone for a response, spoke to their president and had to wait for him and their PR people to put together an official response, which came after noon.

        I’ve been interested in steam power since Bill Lear’s attempt to build a modern steam engine powered car was covered frequently in Popular Science in the late 1960s. I recently posted video of firing up a Stanley Steamer at the Concours of America over on Cars In Depth. I have a pdf of a report from GM about two steam engine powered prototypes they worked on around the same time that Lear was working on his. I also sort of wear the “oddball new engine” hat around here, having written about Ecomotors, Doyle, Pinnacle and other novel engines. I’ve talked to Mr. Schoell and other Cyclone personnel at the SAE congress. So it’s not like I just decided to write something about the presidential campaign.

        When I saw Mr. Obama’s remarks, I said to myself, what about Cyclone? When I found out that the current administration is funding some of Cyclone’s work via the Pentagon, well, that’s an irony that couldn’t be ignored.

        As for taking political rhetoric literally, it that was the case I would have asked the Romney campaign for his views on steam power.

    • 0 avatar

      Anyone watch the convention last night?

      I thought it was open mic at THE LAUGH FACTORY – all those stupid one liners.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Making a speech that makes sense makes no sense. Making a speech that makes no sense makes sense. In the former case it’s hard as hell to produce nice soundbites, in the latter case it’s easy. Everybody wants to nail that “I’m metaphorically from Berlin” line or at least seem smart for 30 seconds on TV. The guys in front of the stage will applaud everything and anything, so what they think doesn’t matter.

      • 0 avatar

        They sure didn’t care for Condi’s “compassionate immigration” reforms.

        No one was complaining when everyone had a mexican nanny or a mexican gardener. As soon as their credit cards were turned off and their wallets emptied, all the sudden it became a problem.

        Funny that Condi (CAREFULLY) brought up segregation when she was a kid. Segregation didn’t start till AFTER slavery was abolished. Up until then slaves lived IN THE HOUSE with their masters. All the sudden – segregation was necessary.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        DailyKos is to your left. Please exit the building.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        “Funny that Condi (CAREFULLY) brought up segregation when she was a kid. Segregation didn’t start till AFTER slavery was abolished. Up until then slaves lived IN THE HOUSE with their masters. All the sudden – segregation was necessary.”

        Talk about a “LAUGH FACTORY.” What’s hilarious is hearing the guy who DEMANDS that the cars he “reviews” have navigation systems accuse Republicans of being elitist snobs. Perhaps if you used MORE ALL CAPS, your postings might start resembling coherent, intelligent thought.

      • 0 avatar

        fromabuick

        #1 having the technology package increases the car’s residual value.

        #2 With a navigation system built into the vehicle, I don’t have to OBSCURE MY VIEW with attachment nav systems or cellphones. Cellular coverage isn’t available everywhere, but inertial navigation works well enough – even in tunnels.

        #3 I can afford it.

        I won’t argue your “elitist snob” remark because I’m a registered Republican. I registered BEFORE George W – that big spending government R.I.N.O got into office and my views align more with Ron Paul’s.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        Oh, so you’re one of those guys whose going to back a Libertarian and help Obama win because you’re upset about RINOs?

        I’d think more of you if you actually were a Democrat.

      • 0 avatar

        fromabuick

        Romney is a congenital liar and his record is at least as liberal as Obama’s You know what he did to gun rights and healthcare in his state? Just cause he did it on a state level doesn’t make it right.

        Like other true fiscal conservatives, many will be sitting this election out.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Somebody needs to tell them about the sterling (stirliing?) engine.

    Had one run for over 40 minutes on a cup of coffee in a classroom setting.

    What will we do for entertainment after November?

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      What will we do for entertainment after November?

      Just like we did before….listen to the next guy..Nothings different.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a reason why Stirling engines aren’t used much. They are very low specific energy engines, just not really powerful enough for practical use. During a heat wave I asked a friend of mine who is a physicist why we can’t use the heat delta between ground water and the air temp to run a Stirling engine with a generator. His response was you might be able to power a couple of lightbulbs.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Stirling engines are pretty good in submarines and other applications where sound is mighty important, otherwise, pretty useless. I saw some advertisement for sterling powered aux. generators a couple of years ago and thought I’d check them out, 800w power 4,8kw heat for $10k, not quite competitive.

        This thing is a nifty toy thou http://www.manufactum.de/stirling-automobil-p1458862/

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      We use air for energy transfer not because it’s very efficient but because it’s abundant and free. We use water for the same reason, though its high thermal mass and inertia is an efficiency bonus over air as the working fluid – and while not entirely free, the additional cost is negligible. All the Stirling engines I have seen compare unfavorably to everything except radiometers when it comes to actually doing work, while live steam is awe inspiring for the amount of work it can perform. An image search with the terms 4-6-6-4 or 4-8-8-4 will yield the most powerful prime movers ever used in land transport.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Those big locomotives are pretty damn cool, but a modern coal or nuclear power plant has much bigger steam engines. They’re turbines with a closed loop and a condenser, but they are modern steam engines and they power a lot of what we do in our society.

        I wish that operating them didnt have the environmental and climate side effects, but their value and awesomeness is real too. And steam power is doing just fine these days – they’re just too damn big to be portable.

  • avatar
    indyb6

    Recover energy from landfill!!!??

    Finally! The day has come!
    Now if we could just get the Flux Capacitor Fluxing ;)

    I sure hope future vehicles equipped with this engine will be able to do 88mph :)

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      I was hoping someone would mention the Mr. Fusion device that I have handly powering my car. I get 30 miles to a couple of eggshells, some Miller High Life, and some coffee grounds per hour.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      I was hoping someone would mention the Mr. Fusion device prodcuing 1.71 jiggowatts that I have powering my car. I get 30 miles to a couple of eggshells, some Miller High Life, and some coffee grounds per hour.

      Roads?! Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    The idea of using waste heat for power assist is very interesting.

    But it will have to carry a good amount of water in addition to having a fairly large radiator/condenser to condense the steam back into liquid form.

    I see this technology as being more suitable for a stationary engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      So all the Navy’s Ships should be parked? Welded to the pier?

      Be aware that most navy ships use some variant of steam engines, including Nuclear powered steam engines, and excluding gas turbines, and piston-engine small boats. They do require large condensors, but they have the ability to move thousands of miles, for decades, using steam.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Some scary 1200 PSI steam at that. I think icemilkcoffee was referring to something like a generator in a plant. Boilers get lit pier-side, the ship gets underway, and the snipes work in the pit keeping the boilers lit. Water goes to the boilers 1st, then the crew.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Many modern warships are powered by gas turbines and, per Wikipedia, some have combined cycle setups, where waste heat from the gast turbine makes steam for a secondary turbine and more power.

    • 0 avatar
      Ron B.

      Abner Doble built busses for the Auckland City Council,New Zealand ,which used a large condensor to recycle the water back to the water containment tank .These ran very efficiently up to World war two. They were introduced into service around 1928.
      There is nothing new under the sun and politicians like to use things like enforced MPG figures to garner votes from those who do not realize that the Steam principle hasn’t changed one jot since Roman times and the otto cycle is into it’s second century.
      All Otto cycle engines do exactly the same thing, they just look different. Until an actually new way of producing motive force without the use of combustible fuels is invented (created by magic as it were) ,we are stuck with what we have.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The irony is delicious. The best part is of course Barry assumes his ‘new tech’ ideas are superior to ‘old tech’ such as a steam engine (forgetting of course ‘new tech’ such as nuclear power generation is coupled to steam). Sometimes new isn’t better.

    • 0 avatar
      ehsteve

      I think the reference to 18th-century technology has more to do with making fun of Romney for being old-fashioned and out of touch. Then again, he might have also been referring to how Romney also resembles the shape you get when you plot the Carnot cycle on a temperature vs. entropy diagram. But that’s ridiculous, I mean he’s probably assuming the ideal gas law is valid at pressures higher than P! Who does he think he is, anyway??!?

      • 0 avatar

        I’d be willing to bet my left testicle that the president doesn’t have the first clue what the ideal gas law is. If you mentioned “ideal gas law” without saying that it has something to do with science, my guess is that he’d think it was some kind of legislation to mandate an ethanol blend. Most of the smart kids in my high school that were planning to be lawyers avoided math and science like the plague. You can’t debate a math problem into a different correct answer.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        @Ronnie Schreiber

        Where you also betting your Seven Tour de France titles?

      • 0 avatar

        MeaCulpa,

        I couldn’t come in last in the Tour or any other bike race. Besides, I’m not sure Lance lost his left one or his right one.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Despite the industry’s apparent support…..”

    The industry “supported” it, and apparent is the key word, because they wanted to cut their losses and thought that this 54.5 MPG standard may be possible with a wing and a prayer as opposed to their real fear manifesting itself which was how far new draconian regulations could really go with this administration.

    I would bet that the auto industry (transplants too) will work to delay or modify the full implementation of this standard just like they did in 1974 when they collectively told the EPA they couldn’t make the CO on NO2 standards mandated by the Clean Air Act of 1970 for the 1975 model year. It’s high stakes poker; what will the EPA do, shut down the entire industry and throw all of those jobs into jeopardy? Unlikely.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Agreed, rpol.

      Considering that this administration is the same one that stood nearly alone to prevent the “shutdown of the entire industry” — against the public, published opposition of the individual who’s now running against the current president, and specifically for the avowed purpose of saving all those jobs– yes, it most certainly is unlikely that this administration’s EPA would shut down the entire industry and jeopardize all those jobs.

      Beyond that, “how far could new draconian regulations really go with this administration”? Not very far, considering the other party controls the House of Representatives and has blown up absolutely every initiative the administration has tried for the last 2 years with the explicit, stated goal of denying said administration any achievement at all that it could point to.

      Note that these aren’t partisan opinions; every one of them is a verifiable, published fact.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      I’m pretty sure Honda wasn’t part of that collective. If anything, they pissed off the other automakers because the other automakers insisted that a catalytic converter was a neccesity and Honda said no it’s not.

      Look up CVCC engine.

      From http://www.economicexpert.com/a/CVCC.html

      “CVCC is a trademark by the Honda Motor Company for a device used to reduce automotive emissions called a Compound Vortex Combustion Chamber, and it allowed Honda’s cars to meet the 1970s US Emission requirements without a catalytic converter. It is a form of Stratified charge engine.”

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The domestic Big 3 had always opposed every CAFE standard update before the 2010 change. They only saw the light after the 2008 meltdown. The fact that they all support this change (13 automakers in all who supported this change) means that it’s technologically doable and financially feasible.

  • avatar
    carve

    Traditional ICE engines can be set up to recover more of this heat, too. In fact, that’s just what the Atkinson cycle does. Going further, the exhaust could passs through ever bigger pistons until cool air is the only thing that’s emitted. The problem is that it’s low quality thermal energy- a small delta-T. This means the engine has to be BIG to extract useful work out of this gradient. Big engines are heavy. Engines that are big and heavy for their output are not good for efficient automobiles. I think BMW’s steam system was like 170 pounds on was only good for a few extra horsepower.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      In other words that “free” lunch will cost me $8.42 in “processing charges”, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Theophilus138

      Is there any indication of the power-to-weight ratio of the Cyclone steam engine? Obviously it’s a new technology, so it won’t be anything close to that of an LSx motor, but if it’s competitive with an electric hybrid system, that wouldn’t be too bad. But I suspect its power-to-weight may more closely resemble the hydraulic hybrid system UPS was testing a few years ago. It was too big and heavy to be useful in anything smaller.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Following a few links reveals their 100hp engine weighs 250 lbs, which is heavier than the average gasoline ICE today per unit horsepower, but its 850 ft-lbs of torque shames modern diesels when comparing its output per unit of engine weight. If their claims of eliminating the transmission hold up, that’s a total weight savings which puts the Cyclone far ahead of today’s automotive ICE powertrains.

        Woo, they’re working with Poteet and Main for the LSR attempt. I’ll go so far as to say success is guaranteed, especially since those two were behind the world’s fastest flathead (Flatfire LSR streamliner) in addition to numerous other projects since then.

    • 0 avatar
      CarnotCycle

      Exhaust passing over bigger pistons in an ICE is analogous to the triple-expander steamers.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    If the waste heat from the election could be harnessed, we’d have no energy problems.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Add the amount of money pissed away on bad advertising, debates, primaries, and conventions (funny, I thought the deficit was REALLY important, but none of the billions went to that) gslippy and you got yourself a deal.

      Check please!

    • 0 avatar
      JK43123

      If the hurricane had hit Tampa it would have immediately jumped to a Cat 5 from the hot air!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I get this vaguely, by some remote stretch deals with “cars” but if I want political discussion I’ll go to FoxNews, NewsMax or the former MSNBC depending on which slant I want.

    I really, really, REALLY don’t want to be reading about politics on TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Even though I sometimes feel compelled to answer some of the wingnuttier comments here, I agree.

      When I’ve had my fill of political discussion, I’d much rather go here INSTEAD of reading about politics. Maybe we can’t stop some of the posters from injecting venom into everything, but the site management doesn’t have to start it.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      +1000

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      TTAC is about cars. Car is about politics. Without politics, there won’t be GM and Chrysler today.

      You might as well go watch the food network if you want less politics.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      I guess you missed Bertel’s memo this morning. Since your hot air so frequently interferes with your reading comprehension, I’ll do you a favor and repost it:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/faqs/

      “No ‘what not to write’ requests: We appreciate suggestions of what to cover, we do not appreciate suggestions of what to ignore. The decision of what to select as TTAC content is solely that of TTAC editors.”

  • avatar
    86SN2001

    This just adds to the MASSIVE stack of evidence showing that we need to kick this fool out in November.

    CAFE standards were put on that stack yesterday.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This pretty well illustrates that when you begin with an inane, sophomoric comment (Romney wants to go back to the steam age), everything runs downhill from there (metaphorically speaking, of course). Really, Team O, if this is the best rejoinder your people can come up with, then maybe you better find some new people for the team.

    I believe Dr. Diesel’s engine (which, as originally designed, ran on coal dust) gained acceptance because it generated more power out of a pound of coal than did a steam engine.

    This gadget, appears to have two potential advantages: (1) like all external combustion engines, it can burn just about anything that burns, so, theoretically you could put it in a vehicle and go along foraging and burning just about anything that you could scrounge (General Sherman would have loved it!) and (2) as long as you can achieve enough of a temperature gradient from the waste heat to boil water, you can run it on waste heat.

    • 0 avatar
      nickeled&dimed

      “Waste Heat Engine (WHE) can run on heat as low as 500 degrees F.”

      Don’t get me wrong here, but on (2) I think we’re talking much higher temperature gradients here than what you need to boil water. The thing is – the “minimum” temperature heat that they give doesn’t come with a corresponding ambient temperature, the delta being what’s really important here.

      Exhaust gas still has to be a certain temperature for certain catalysts to work correctly, especially in diesel aftertreatment systems, and after the cat I’d be surprised if exhaust temperatures were still hot enough to create this type of differential. After all, it’d be a safety danger since there are many flammable items that you can park on top of (grass) that will ignite over about 500F.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        the Cyclone uses super-critical steam and thus requires higher than boiling water temps.. that steam is essentially friction less, that increases efficiency.

        Very little pollution emitted from a Cyclone due to the slow combustion, in practice a car would not need a catalytic converter… or a transmission, the torque is high enough to drive the wheels directly. Lots of advantages to a Cyclone, if they can make the numbers work. Take a their steam land speed record attempt to get an idea how big the engine is, not very.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This will somehow result in an ICE/Steam/Electric powered car? I can envision it coming with water cans for the steam, rakes for more biomass, and an extension cord for the batteries.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    I want to be part of the new land speed record! :-)

    I thought ‘we’ (the market) made this choice oh, about 110 years ago when steam and gas and batteries were all running around. I love new or revived technologies but two of those three didn’t make it for cars after 1920 or so… and they still aren’t viable today without some government support.

    Now, whether the support is good or bad may be for another site, but I think talking about the technologies themselves are meant for this one.

    Besides, isn’t it cool just saying “external combustion engine”?

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    Any chance we can get a link to a TTAC that excludes political rants? I am interested in cars, if I want politics I’ll go read the Economist or Crooked Timber…

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    It is interesting how connected the current politiclowns slathering for the top job are to cars.

    You’ve got Barry Clown, who ‘saved’ GM (like how the dude ‘saves’ his kid in Pet Cemetery) and pushed CAFE to the point where Ford is going to build an aluminium truck.

    I remember in the Donkey Primaries when B-Clown got outed as driving a guzzler Chrysler 300 with a Hemi. So, like fellow pond slime John Edwards, Clown was forced to acquire a car that reflected the political markets to which he pandered. Hence it had to be UAW-built and somehow green. That left one vehicle: Ford Escape Hybrid. Sad.

    Between that and B-Clown’s ‘why does a Honda Civic get same mileage as a Model T?’ quip I’ve never taken him credibly on anything technical.

    Then you’ve got Mormon Michigan Mittens. Daddy ran AMC…’nuff said.

  • avatar
    redav

    The example of the typical gas engine losing 75% of the available chemical energy as waste heat is not quite right. Much of the energy loss is in the form of enthalpy (think of it as the energy of the exaust going out the tail pipe), not just heat.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    *yawn* and i heard he doesn’t say the pledge allegiance to the flag and that he hates America. what a bunch of gooberish nonsense.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I think that having “Obama” and “Romney” in the title forced me to read an article about a steam engine.

    And I came for the POLITICS… tsk tsk.


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