By on March 14, 2014
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The verdict is in. After two popular articles on the inner workings of the transmission, it is clear that TTAC loves technical articles about complicated mechanical devices. Always one to try to get into the middle of the latest fad, I thought that maybe I too could use my own hard won technical knowledge to write an informative article. The problem is that the only thing I really know how to work on involves technology that is seldom seen in cars these days: steam.

Many people think the days of steam power has come and gone but the truth is that it is still with us. It’s true that the immense locomotives that once thundered across our great land, pistons pounding wildly as they flung themselves along the rails at speeds that often exceeded 100 mph, have all but disappeared, but the reasons for their demise have little to do with the efficiency of their power plants. No, the steam locomotive was undone by the fact that most of them were one-off creations, each one of which required specially constructed parts and that, when General Motors finally began to apply the miracle of standardized parts and the production line to the creation of diesel engines, the great beasts were finally driven to extinction. No, steam simply retreated to places where it could be used to its best advantage and where it still works with such efficiency that it is utterly unremarkable.

The power of steam comes from its expansion. To people accustomed to thinking about the automobile, the way steam works can easily be compared to the combustion of gasoline which takes power from a liquid fuel, gasoline or diesel, and then ignites it into a gas which forces a piston to travel downward in a power stroke. In the case of steam power, water is heated under pressure in a boiler until it turns to vapor and is taken from the drum via a series of pipes, scrubbed of its moisture and sometimes superheated, before being released through a nozzle or inlet valve into an area where it can fully expand. That expansion can be used to cause a piston to move through its stroke or a turbine to spin. Of course, this is a simplistic explanation but just to give you an idea of the power available, just understand that water expands into steam at a rate of 1700 to 1, meaning that one square foot of water heated to 366 degrees F at 150psi will expand to 1700 feet of water vapor at Zero psi.

Image courtesy of atdlines.com

Image courtesy of atdlines.com

The big, high pressure marine power plants I used to work with were giant systems. The boilers themselves were several stories high, had a firebox big enough for several people to walk around in and thousands of water filled tubes leading into an immense steam and water drum. The steam and water drum mounted several pieces of equipment, including several that were intended to dry the steam so that water droplets could not move through the system and impact sensitive parts downstream, and a superheater to give the steam one last burst of energy prior to its release into a high pressure steam turbine. Once the steam had gone through its initial expansion in the HP turbine, it would then flow into a low pressure turbine where it expended the rest of its energy and then flow into a condenser, basically a big radiator, to condense the steam back into water. That water was then pumped back up to a preheater which brought it back up to temperature so it could be re-injected back into the boiler.

For the most part, boiler water is recovered by the system and never really allowed to cool much below the boiling point. Once the system is up and running the energy demands are not really outrageous considering the amount of power generated and the good news is that the boiler will run on the worst kinds of fuel so long as it is liquid enough to inject into the firebox and burns well enough to make heat.

Of course, a ship’s engine room has a lot of other things going on to support the process I’ve just described. Some parts of the steam are siphoned off to run the high speed, high pressure feed pumps required to inject the feed water into the boiler at the beginning of the process and still more is taken to run other systems like the fuel heating systems and the evaporators that ships use to turn sea water into fresh water. The result is a space crammed full of machinery and a maze of pipes, many of which that are hot enough to burn you right through your boiler suit should you happen to brush up against them in the wrong place.

The steam and water cycle of a steam piston engine is much the same as what I have described above for the steam turbine. Water is heated in the boiler, run through the pipes and recovered in the form of condensate the exact same way. The difference is the where it is allowed to expand and how the energy is drawn from it, this time into a piston rather than a turbine.

Most steam piston engines are two strokes, meaning that they only have power and exhaust strokes because the gas being used does not require and induction or compression stroke. Steam is released into the chamber where it expands and forces the piston to the bottom of the stroke. The exhaust stroke is completed by injecting live steam on the bottom of the piston through a second set of intake valves and forcing it back to the top of its stroke, in what is called a “double action.” The advantage to this system is that every time the piston moves it is making power. That power is put to the ship’s propshaft or the locomotive’s wheels by a transmission in much the same way it would be with a gas or diesel engine. The exhausted steam is then recaptured in the form of condensate and then reintroduced to the boiler where it can repeat the process.

The most famous application of the steam engine to the automotive world is the Stanley Steamer. That vehicle, which was for a time the fastest in the world, utilized a simple boiler and a steam piston engine that featured two cylinders. Produced in various sizes for almost 25 years the design was a great success. The engines were rated by their steaming capacity at 10, 20 and 30 horsepower but had they been rated at their actual numbers produced at their cranks the 20 hp variant would have produced a solid 125 horses.

Image courtesy of stanleymotorcarriage.com

Image courtesy of stanleymotorcarriage.com

Although it is easy today to look back at the Stanley Steamer as some sort of quaint attempt to marry the newly developing modern age with the Victorian era, the truth is that these were well built, high powered cars that were well regarded in their era. The technology was and is solid and, were it not for the lengthy start-up times due to the need to bring the boiler up to temperature in order to initiate the process, I think it would still do well on the road today.

In the years since the Stanley Steamer left the road and steam locomotives left the rails, marine steam powerplants continued to develop and some of the problems that the early boilers faced were eventually overcome by technology. Things like automated feedwater controls, devices that ensure the boiler water isn’t over or under filled, and reliable relief valves, valves that activate in emergencies to release pressure and prevent boiler explosions, have made the highest pressure boilers safe and easy to use and it seems to me that, today, given the willingness of people to plug their car into a wall socket, that the steam car could make a quick comeback by using electricity to maintain the boiler temp while the car isn’t in use.

Today, almost a century after the car settled into the recognizable form that it has taken today, the need for greater efficiency is driving new innovation. New types of cars are being developed every day and in our rush to embrace the alternative technologies of future I think the potential of steam power deserves a second look as a well. With so many new manufacturers looking to capitalize on bygone glories, perhaps one day soon we’ll have a new version of the Stanley Steamer back on the road.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself

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148 Comments on “Alternative Technologies: The Power Of Steam...”


  • avatar
    Windy

    When I was a kid my best friend’s Dad worked on the day steamers to Nantucket island in the 50′s the triple expansion on the SS Nobska and then later in the 60s on the skinner uniflow engine of the SS Nantucket I wonder how many reciprocating steam marine engines are still in service (outside of historic preserved vessels of course) I would bet not many and I would further guess that those that are still in money making service are likely to be of the Skinner Uniflow design and not triple expansion shown in your diagram. I build working models of live steam engines up to 2inch bore and stroke simple compound that I built for a friends day boat for fishing on lakes so I do enjoy them.

    I think that even in marine service aside from the big nuclear carriers steam has been replaced by the giant marine Diesel engines from folks like MAN that are over 120,000 hp at about 120rpm. Is this not the case? The giant container ships are single screw Diesel for the most part are they not?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The SS. Badger is still in service on the Great Lakes; driven by a Skinner uniflow engine. The EPA tried to shut it down for dumping coal ash into the lake; but it is still running for the time being.

      There are still a few steamboats in tourist service; just like the various steam locomotives still pulling tourist trains. The Liberty ships Jeremiah O’Brien and John W. Brown and the paddle steamer Waverley are ocean-going examples, and the largest still running. I believe the last of the Great Lakes cement and ore carriers are no longer operational; though some may still be around. There are literally thousands of private steam boats and launches still in private hands.

      Most of the steamships in the Merchant Marine “ghost fleet” are scrapped or awaiting to be scrapped; there may be a few non-nuclear steamships left in the U.S. Navy; but not very many. There are also a few others eking out their existence in other navies around the world.

      The last holdout for non-nuclear steam power were the LNG carriers, because the gas that was vented en route could be burned in the ship’s boilers. But now, there are new diesel engines that burn the off-gas as well; so the lives of the few that remain are numbered.

      The biggest problem with steam power is the boiler. You have to expend energy to raise the water temperature to make steam before you can go, and of course that takes time as well. Not all of the heat energy gets transferred through the boiler tubes to the water; so there is energy loss there as well. But most importantly, the boiler heating surfaces erode over time and have to replaced; just as your BBQ pit rusts and rots out completely after a few years. That is a major overhaul every time it is done; although on a steam car it is about the equivalent of an engine or transmission swap.

      The biggest advantage of steam power is also the boiler…you can burn anything to make steam. The last holdouts for steam power around the world have plentiful coal and alternate fuels to burn, labor is still relatively cheap, and off-the-shelf parts are still expensive. There are a few parts of the third world were steam locomotives were dumped and replaced by diesels, only to have the diesels dumped when repair costs were too high; only to be revived and the steam engines dumped, and so on. The solution some countries came up with was to sell all of the old steam infrastructure for scrap to they couldn’t go back; some of them have no railroad at all.

      While the Stanley’s are worthy of mention; one must also mention the Doble steam car. They were more advance than the Stanley steamers – they had a conventional radiator to condense the steam and reuse it; something the Stanley steamers did not have. Their cars were very well made; and some at least until very recently were still be driven by their original owners.

      When Doble went out of business, the Doble steam plant was bought by the Besler Brothers. They tried to market for the steam plant for use in buses, railcars, and steamboats. As a publicity stunt, they fitted a Doble engine in a Travel Air 2000 biplane and flew it; it was very quiet and you could reverse the propeller by reversing the engine; but it was only flown on 12 April 1933 at Oakland Municipal Airport, California and disappeared after that; it is rumored to Japan.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doble_steam_car

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Steam power in the US Navy is no more.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Mkirk;

          Is the hospital ship Mercy still in service? That is the last non-nuclear steamship I could think of that might still be around.

        • 0 avatar
          sproc

          Not true. The first seven WASP class amphibious assault ships will be around for easily another 15-20 years, and the youngest ones probably 30. They have the largest boilers ever used in US Navy service, two Combustion Engineering V2M “D” type, 600 psi class. Magnificent machines!

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        “While the Stanley’s are worthy of mention; one must also mention the Doble steam car. They were more advance than the Stanley steamers – they had a conventional radiator to condense the steam and reuse it; something the Stanley steamers did not have.”

        The last generation of Stanleys had radiators to condense the water and reuse it as well. They had one on display at the Stanley museum in Maine when I visited.

    • 0 avatar

      The Sea-Land ships I sailed on in the early 90s were steam turbine and I believe they are still in use with Maersk today. I’m not sure if they are building many new steam ships, but that’s mostly because of the costs. High speed turbines and high pressure boilers are a major investment and I’m not sure if any efficiency they garner over diesel (if any) would be enough over the life of ship o pay for the additional costs.

      These days, other than nuclear, I think a lot of military ships are powered by gas turbines. they have the advantage of being able to spin up more quickly in emergency situations. Raising steam can take hours with a boiler, which is really the main reason they’ve never been suitable for cars. I think a steam electric setup with a tiny boiler that routes steam through a generator to charge a standard battery pack would be the best set up.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        http://www.emma-maersk.com/engine/Wartsila_Sulzer_RTA96-C.htm

        http://www.gizmag.com/go/3263/

        • 0 avatar

          Here is one of the ships I worked on back in the day. http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/details/ships/366629000/vessel:HORIZON_SPIRIT

          It started life as a LASH ship and then underwent a conversion to containers in the early 90s. I served on the crew that brought it back from Japan after its conversion was complete and then made a couple of trans-Pacific trips on it after that. It’s still in service and many others I worked on are still at work as well.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Thomas Kreutzer
            A lot of military ships run gas turbine engines.

            I’m not so sure about the merchant fleet.

            Those Wartsila engines are very efficient for an internal combustion engine. I do think diesel car engines will be up their in the near future.

            There are already diesel vehicles that pollute less than comparable EVs.

            I’m a big believer in nuclear energy. It’s clean and probably the best green energy source available at the moment.

          • 0 avatar

            @Al, I think one of the reasons we still have steamships on the ocean is because of the high investment costs of replacing old ships. They’ll just run them until they get so full of holes that the water comes in faster than they can pump it out.

            I understand that in some cases they even take old ships, cut the power plants and the reduction gears out of them and then build new ships around them.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Thomas;

            The combined high price of oil and the high prices scrap metal commands nowdays has sent a lot of steamships to Alang and other breakers yards to die.

            Someone told me that even a steamship with up-to-date controls cost 3-4 times as much to run as a motor ship. With fuel prices like they are, and what you can get for scrap metal, and the result is predictable.

            Back when I was maintaining my “Surviving World Steamship” database, it felt like a death watch; as I recieved more news of steamships going to the breakers than I did new discoveries. The S.S. Norway (France) and host of smaller remaining ocean liners, the last steam oil tankers (including the world’s largest ship, the Seawise Giant (Jahre Viking, etc.); which was broken up in 2009:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seawise_Giant

            The last of the steam navy, etc.

          • 0 avatar

            @Hef – did your database show the SS Constitution? She was the first ship I ever sailed on. It was a grand trans Atlantic steamer back in the day, famous because it carried Grace Kelly to Monaco for her marriage to Prince Rainier.

            When I trod her decks she was in sorry shape, painted up in 100 layers of white paint with garish flowers on her stacks as she and her sister, The Independence, sailed for American Hawaii Cruises from the base of the Aloha Tower.

            Eventually, I hear, they went to scrap her but while they were towing her across the Pacific she broke loose from her tow vessel and went to the bottom. It’s strange to think of a place I once walked and lived lost to the abyss but I think it’s a nobler fate than becoming razor blades. She deserved it.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            @Thomas;

            I started working on the Surviving World Steam Locomotive database, which was the starting point of my Surviving World Steam Project, in 1995. I started the Surviving World Steamship database in about 2002; she had already sunk by then, so I did not include it.

            It did include the Independence; which was one of the remaining steam powered ocean liners which joined the Norway at Alang; it was scrapped in 2009.

            Another ship with a strange fate on it’s way to a new gig was the SS America. It parted its tow line during a storm in 1994 and ended up grounded on the west coast of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. There it remained, to be gradually broken up by the sea until now, its remains are barely visible at high tide.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_America_(1940)

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Thomas Kreutzer
            I saw a documentary on the scrapping of ships near Chittagong in Bangledesh.

            The ships are beached on the river bank and stripped by hand!

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            I just dusted off my Surviving World Steam Database, and your ship was listed. Built in Avondale Shipyards in 1980; builder’s number 2307. I still listed it as operational with Horizon Lines Inc.

          • 0 avatar
            HerrKaLeun

            All nuclear driven submarines and Carriers drive on steam. Well, indirectly, steam drives the generators that run the E-motors ( at least in subs, not sure if carriers have direct steam-driven propellers).

            but ya know, unless you built a car the size of a carrier and with the same number of maintenance and operating staff, steam is not very practical

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          “I saw a documentary on the scrapping of ships near Chittagong in Bangledesh.

          The ships are beached on the river bank and stripped by hand!”

          Yep; that is Alang. During the time I was maintaining my database, 20 ships were sent there; plus lots of vessels I did not about. Ocean liners Norway after it’s boiler explosion and NTSB investigation, Independence, Empress of Canada, Transvaal, Sylvania, Fedor Shalyapin, Brazil (Universe Explorer), Kenya Castle, Maxim Gorkiy, Dolphin IV to name a few; tankers Sunwise Giant, Hellespont Grand, Atlantic Blue, and others; various warships.

          Their beaches there are slopped to where they can run them up or drag them up at high tide; then dismantle them starting at bow when the tide goes out. They drag them up further during a later high tide and repeat the process until they are finished.

          Dangerous work by very poor people, environmentally hazardous, and so on. The US Government refuses to send the ships from the Ghost fleet there, and sends them to Brownsville TX and other breaking yards instead. They sank the Texas Clipper (whose engine room I got to tour when it was a training ship at Texas A&M in about 1987), LSD Spiegel Grove, carrier U.S.S. Oriskany, a missile tracking ship, Tuskegee Victory, Furman Victory as artificial reefs.

          Altogether, 227 ships were scrapped, 26 sank as artificial reefs, 40 sank as targets, and four sank on their way to the breakers out of 2860 total. It got very depressing to update at times.

    • 0 avatar

      This sad story of a great old ship and its steam boiler rupture might give some idea as to why steam isn’t more popular:

      http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/fulltext/MAB0703.htm

      End result: Lovely historic ship was sold for scrap.

      D

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        I just skimmed the NTSB report cited by Dennis; I had no idea that steam boilers were so complicated (10 hour shutdown period?!?). Now I have a better idea why steam power is rarely used anymore.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that the only reason for the demise of steam engines is the ability to mass-produce a diesel-electric. Why could a reciprocating steam engine not be mass-produced if it made sense to prefer it over a diesel-electric unit? Certainly coal is cheaper and more plentiful than diesel.

    Also, I think it’s telling that if a fossil fuel can be burnt in a engine instead of a boiler, the engine used is usually either a 4-cycle or a turbine, even in larger applications; you don’t see new natural-gas power plants running steam, do you (I’m not sure)? (Although you do see steam in coal plants converting over to NG.)

    And modern steam engines are generally turbines, not reciprocating units. I would imagine there is nothing magic about steam turbines that lends them to scaled-down, mass-produced automotive use, that does not apply to gas turbines, yet those aren’t even considered any more.

    Lastly, any steam-powered car would probably have to have a decent-sized electric motor and battery pack to provide acceptable throttle response; you can’t exactly speed up a steam engine instantly by adding more fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The biggest problem with steam locomotives is that they only spent about 50% of their operational lives in actual use. The rest of the time they were boiling up waiting to be used, having their firebox cleaned and fuel and water added, or being overhauled by gang of blacksmiths and machinests.

      The old sage was “it took five hours to figure out what was wrong with a diesel and five minutes to fix it; it took five minutes to figure out what was wrong with a steam locomotive and five hours to fix it.” It took a huge backshop gang of boilermakers, machinest, hosilers and others to do the work; and a massive backshop to do it in. Along with the water tanks and coal silos; they all went away when the diesels came in.

      Also, if you had more than one locomotive in a train, each steam locomotive required an engineer and fireman; but a single engineer in the lead locomotive can operate an entire train with say three locomotives in the front and one in the back; using remote control. That is why huge locomotives like the Big Boy were built; nowdays, you just connect two or more smaller diesels together, and operate them as a single unit.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @jhefner
        Maintenance downtime was the killer for steam locomotives. I read an interesting article on the demise of steam motive force.

        Running large fleets of anything mechanical requires a lot of data to be collected.

        In the aviation industry as any industry a maintenance stagger must be organised (most of the time it gets corrupted) to maximise assets usage.

        Steam trains would have incurred a significant amount of unscheduled maintenance in comparison to diesel or diesel-electric. This would have been a nightmare to manage.

        • 0 avatar

          I understand that the main reason why the commercial aviation industry switched to jets was that turbines require a lot less maintenance than piston engines.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Absolutely! The DC-7c and Lockheed Constellation were the penultimate piston airliners. Both were powered by the Wright turbo-compound radial engine. They were the most complicated piston aircraft engines ever built; and engine problems were commonplace.

            Turbo- props are also un-affected by altitude, so they had a higher ceiling and faster cruise speed.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            These monsters:

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_R-3350-30W

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Ronnie Schreiber
            Those old compound engines were great. We had the Wright R3350s from the P-2 Neptune. The Neptune also ran J-34 turbo jets outboard of Wrights radials.

            We had both the R3350 and J-34 and I was taught about engine inspection techniques and NDT.

            You are correct the radial engines are extremely maintenance intensive. Jet engines nowadays can go for a couple thousand of hours in between major component overhauls.

            An engine could stay in an airframe for quite a few thousand hours.

            Turbine engines have a very high power to weight ratio as well.

            The engines we have weigh about 2 000lbs and produce 16 000lbs of thrust. To achieve that they are consuming a little over 1 US gallon per second.

            To drive the HPT requires about 10 000hp and the LPT I’m not sure of but I wouldn’t think it would be more than a few thousand hp.

            Approximately 60% of the power a turbine engine generates is used to drive the compressors, so you can see you only end up with 40% either driving the props or going out of the ass of the engine for thrust.

            Lifing of engine components is variable on the amount of heat they are exposed to.

            So, the next time you take a flight there is a lot of data that is collected on the aircraft you are in. Just an engine requires a considerable data base.

            You just can’t park on a cloud and call roadside assist.

          • 0 avatar

            > I understand that the main reason why the commercial aviation industry switched to jets was that turbines require a lot less maintenance than piston engines.

            Maintenance is just one factor out of many. The main physical difference is pistons imply propellers which are aerodynamically dissimilar to jets.

            Earlier turbojets held advantages in greater thrust per weight; they burned more fuel due to inherent thermo disadvantages but fuel was cheap. To address this esp as those costs increased, the turbines gradually added internal propellers so ironically modern engines evolved back to functioning mostly as turbofans.

            Generally modern turbines engines trade off for fewer/lighter but more expensive parts vs piston counterparts. Since airplanes can’t rely on buoyancy or the ground to counteract gravity, this is a good compromise.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Another interesting article.

    Somehow I don’t think steam power will be efficient enough to use in a car.

    A good idea would be to develop miniature nuclear steam generators for cars and trucks.

    • 0 avatar

      > Somehow I don’t think steam power will be efficient enough to use in a car.

      LOL, “engineer”.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @agenthex
        WTF? Again you are a jerkoff.

        To prove a point you tend to pick out a phrase and neglect the rest of a statement.

        So, genius, explain and expand on how you would make a steam powered car efficient?

        This tells me you are limited in debate, intelligence and fact.

        So, what can we do to make an efficient, cost effective steam powered vehicle?

        I bet you don’t respond.

        • 0 avatar

          > Somehow I don’t think steam power will be efficient enough to use in a car.

          LOL:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_cycle

          vs.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rankine_cycle

          “engineer”, hahahahaha

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            The answer in the electric utlity world is the combined cycle power plant — a gas (jet) turbine driving a generator has it’s exhaust connected to a boiler (HRSG); which generates steam which in turn drives another steam turbine generator. Overall system efficiency brand new is 58%.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_cycle

            While nuclear and coal fired plants will continue to be used for base loading; these combined cycle units are replacing most of the older natural gas fired conventional generating units in load following; seasonal, and peaking service.

            (And yes, I do have a BSME.)

          • 0 avatar

            > The answer in the electric utlity world is the combined cycle power plant — a gas (jet) turbine driving a generator has it’s exhaust connected to a boiler (HRSG);

            What does this have to do with anything? Are you planning on pulling a power plant with your car or vice versa?

            > Overall system efficiency brand new is 58%.

            If you are, please explain to Big Al that 58 is a bigger number than ~37. This is harder than it might first appear.

            > (And yes, I do have a BSME.)

            Just like wmba. You guys should get together sometime to compare who knows elementary thermo better.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agenthex
            Elementary thermo? WTF is that?

            I think I’ll start to educate you in some basics.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_entropy

          • 0 avatar

            > Elementary thermo? WTF is that?

            You should go ask jhefner, he’s an engineer too I hear.

            I also offered $100 if he can teach you why electric motors have more power from a standstill, but honestly between him figuring it out and you learning anything that money’s pretty safe.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agenthex
            So, what is elementary thermo? Still unable to answer a simple question?

            Hmmm……seems to me you are full of $hit.

            Not much or anything are you.

  • avatar
    Toad

    In railroad use diesel replaced steam because it was far less expensive to operate diesel locomotives vs. steam. The railroads did not scrap tens of millions of dollars worth of (paid for) steam locomotives because they were bored with them. The changeover happened quickly because the operating economics were so compelling; it had nothing to do with how steam vs. diesels were built.

    Diesels require much less maintenance, are more energy efficient, and do not require multiple crews when you tie locomotives together. Steam locomotives also required water and coal every 100 miles or so (requiring thousands of facilities to be maintained); diesels could run thousands of miles on a tank of fuel.

    Pity the people who made their living using hand held wire brushes to clean the boiler tubes inside a steam locomotive firebox.

    For a much more detailed explanation of the switch from steam to diesel: http://www.railway-technical.com/st-vs-de.shtml

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      Very true the vast majority of successful steam locomotives were just as mass produced as any other successful large machine in the last half of the 19th century or the first half of the 20th you can find lots of YouTube videos of the Baldwin and other loco builders they were shot on their assembly lines…

      It was the reduction in maintaince costs as well as the for seen reduction in manning costs as well as things like reduced dammage to the rail road it self due to the reciprocating mass effect of steam locos far fewer line side fires as well as a huge reduction in time tabling due to no longer needing frequent water and fuel stops. And don’t forget the adoption of electric lines outside of the cities that took off at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        TL

        Also the HUGE reduction in startup times. A diesel-electric engine starts like any other good size diesel engine. It’s not instant, but doesn’t take hours. That isn’t the case with steam. Here’s a nice description of what it takes to “boot” a steam locomotive:

        http://www.spikesys.com/Trains/loco_bot.html

    • 0 avatar

      > For a much more detailed explanation of the switch from steam to diesel: http://www.railway-technical.com/st-vs-de.shtml

      I didn’t read it but tl;dr: Electric pulls with full power from 0 and therefore far more effective at lower speeds and doesn’t require extra clutches or whatever to start.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @agenthex
        “Electric pulls with full power from 0″

        If you were as smart as you think you are there is a single word to decribe your phrase.

        The word is ‘torque’.

        • 0 avatar

          > If you were as smart as you think you are there is a single word to decribe your phrase. The word is ‘torque’.

          No, by power I meant power given an electric motor has full power at low speed where gas motors build power as speed increases.

          Note I’m not writing this as mere mockery of someone who pretends to be an engineer since I doubt anyone believe that anyway, but but because this is a common misconception many non-engineers have.

          • 0 avatar
            wmba

            @agenthex, you say:

            ” No, by power I meant power given an electric motor has full power at low speed where gas motors build power as speed increases.”

            Well that is an idiotic statement to make. It is incorrect. To make such an elementary error shows me the extent of your true logic and understanding.

          • 0 avatar

            > Well that is an idiotic statement to make. It is incorrect. To make such an elementary error shows me the extent of your true logic and understanding.

            Can you please try to read what’s already been written (more than once) on this point, including the recommendation to read Toad’s link (and my comment on it) which everyone was replying to. Here it is again for those who’re confused what a link is:

            http://www.railway-technical.com/st-vs-de.shtml

            (Note these are DC traction motors)

            If you believe what’s contained within is wrong, maybe go argue with that author because I’m not really interested in discussing the finer points of what “engineers” are confused by.

          • 0 avatar
            wmba

            @ agenthex.

            ” No, by power I meant power given an electric motor has full power at low speed where gas motors build power as speed increases.”

            Nope, you’re not weaseling out of this one by pretending it’s a mere triviality to your superbrain and accusing me of not reading, you twit. Misdirection does not work. You made a fundamentally incorrect assertion.

            http://lancet.mit.edu/motors/motors3.html

            I particularly recommend a close perusal of Section 3.2: POWER/TORQUE and POWER/SPEED CURVES.

            Ahahahahahahaaaa.

            Of course, if you have the time to spare between bouts of self-preening adoration, you might learn something by reading the whole text. But I doubt it. The general know-it-all usually doesn’t fundamentally understand work/power relationships, and you obviously don’t.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s really a mystery what all these almost willful attempts to miss the point are supposed to grant. It doesn’t work out for Big Al nor jhefner, so it’s unclear what you guys see in it.

            Maybe it makes it easier to dissonate the reality that anything beyond the first law of anything is too hard to grasp:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/#comment-2900681

            Similarly in this case, apparently you figured out how to google for “dc motor” when that was adequately spoon-fed, but regardless I’m glad you figured out how to do at least that. Whether you failed to recognize the “traction” part was relevant or just copy/pasted wrong doesn’t matter, because I’m going to introduce you to this great resource called wikipedia where clueless engineers can go to learn a bit about things they don’t understand:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_locomotive#Diesel-electric

            From the previous failure to read the other link I know words can be hard, so here’s a picture of how these kind of motors work:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3000hp_curve_ver2.jpg

            This is a bit more complicated than hitting “I’m Feeling Lucky”, but out of the lot of “engineers” I’m pulling for you to get it first.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        “Electric pulls with full power from 0 and therefore far more effective at lower speeds and doesn’t require extra clutches or whatever to start.”

        Steam engines can also pull with full power from 0 and require no clutches, since the piston rod from the steam engine directly drives the wheels through the connecting rods. Until the advent of the AC diesel-electric locomotive; it used to be that a steam locomotive could start a train that it could not pull at full steam, but a diesel-electric could not start a train it could pull at full speed because it would burn out it’s DC traction motors.

        Conversely, a steam locomotive could start a large train; but would literally run out of steam at some speed depending on the steaming capacity of the boiler and the weight of the train. The Kitson-Still and few Russian designs tried to combine the two in a single locomotive to get the benefits of both; with added complexity.

        AC traction motors in the past few decades have made that no longer an issue.

        • 0 avatar

          > Steam engines can also pull with full power from 0 and require no clutches, since the piston rod from the steam engine directly drives the wheels through the connecting rods. Until the advent of the AC diesel-electric locomotive; it used to be that a steam locomotive could start a train that it could not pull at full steam, but a diesel-electric could not start a train it could pull at full speed because it would burn out it’s DC traction motors.

          Consider reading Toad’s link which is frankly overwrought for such a basic concept but OTOH some need the help. I’m also offering a $100 prize for anyone who can explain it to Big Al, *successfully*.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @agenthex
        Since you seem to think you’re clever.

        Is AC or DC the most efficient at producing TORQUE at zero rpms?

        If you answer DC. Why is it that DC and not AC can provide that advantage?

        Can steam provide torque similar to a DC motor from zero rpms?

        Why?

        Is steam more efficient in a turbine or piston engine?

        Which will produce more torque, a turbine or piston engine?

        From zero rpm which produces better torque a steam driven piston or steam driven turbine engine?

        Is a steam engine internal or external combustion.

        Why is internal combustion favoured over internal combustion?

        What is the expansion rate advantage of gasoline over steam?

        I will wait a day or two for you to come up with the answers.

        • 0 avatar

          > Since you seem to think you’re clever. Is AC or DC the most efficient at producing TORQUE at zero rpms?

          I assure you being clever has more to do with figuring out the point and nothing to do reciting similar looking words out of a book you found.

          At this rate people who’ve never taken a college class ever are going to be far more clever than our “engineer” here.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agnethex
            You seem to be full of smartass retorts, but very little substance.

            Start proving your worth.

            You seem in many instance incapable of providing a worthwhile response to many of your ‘smartass’ retorts.

            So, I would like to see some responses from you to justify your air of arrogance you purvey.

            So, what it appears to be is you are a nothing. Maybe a troll.

          • 0 avatar

            > You seem to be full of smartass retorts, but very little substance.

            How exactly do you recognize the substance of a point you simply can’t grasp? How is that even possible? Maybe by proxy like average word size? Length of exposition? Claims to be an “engineer”?

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Agenthex;

            Stop. Just stop. You are blowing lots of smoke and steam; but nothing inside works.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agenthex
            I’m actually a turbine specialist.

          • 0 avatar

            > Stop. Just stop. You are blowing lots of smoke and steam; but nothing inside works.

            Before you head down this path, consider reading this thread first:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/

            Learn from others’ mistakes, or at least Big Al’s if you’re similarly not sure what’s going on.

          • 0 avatar

            > I’m actually a turbine specialist.

            Really goes to show how sad this is.

            I’m pretty sure those guys in the thread above thought they were specialists, too. Except they actually kind of know their stuff compared to whatever the hell it is you do.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agenthex
            So, a tenth grader like yourself only knows what on google?

            What about educational qualifications?

            I doubt you have any.

            So, when are you going to start answering my above questions?

            You seem to deflect any question posed when you don’t have answer.

            Again, this leads me to believe you are a nothing, very little substance.

          • 0 avatar

            > So, a tenth grader like yourself only knows what on google?

            As a “turbine specialist” you should read Toad’s link above, and tell us what you don’t understand about high power at low speed.

            Flaunting credentials only makes it worse for the monumentally clueless, but perhaps apropos given they can’t recognize this.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Agenthex;

            I counter your stupid Porsche steam link with this one:

            http://www.steamcar.co.uk/

            Obviously those LeMans guys knew more about steam than you do; but less than the Brits. You still haven’t answered my questions either; just proved what an idiot you are.

          • 0 avatar

            > I counter your stupid Porsche steam link with this one: Obviously those LeMans guys knew more about steam than you do; but less than the Brits. You still haven’t answered my questions either; just proved what an idiot you are.

            Can you be more specific? I didn’t see any questions, just some pedantic truisms not really worth replying to but now that you ask I will.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            Power is the product of torque and speed.

            Some engines are convenient or pleasant to use because of their high torque at low speeds, but that still doesn’t mean they have all that much power at those low speeds — because one of the factors of the multiplication is low. (Guess which one?)

            At this rate people who may well have taken some college class are going to be more clever than our “agent” here.

          • 0 avatar

            > Some engines are convenient or pleasant to use because of their high torque at low speeds, but that still doesn’t mean they have all that much power at those low speeds — because one of the factors of the multiplication is low. (Guess which one?)

            I’ll let you in on a little secret which a smarter version of yourself should’ve already figured by now:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/#comment-2961393

            Presenting info at a level slightly above that of the audience isn’t just a good way to encourage thinking but naturally divides the thinkers from the dummies. The former are willing to reach and expand the conversation, whereas it’s obvious why the latter are stuck where they stand.

            In this case, someone more clued in might’ve seen something like this: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/alternative-technologies-the-power-of-steam/#comment-2957970, and deduced that someone replying to an article about the benefits of constant power motors by pointing to a diagram of how they work should realize how linear equations work and that ~0*X~=0.

            Perhaps it’s worth noting that electromechanical design of more advanced motors is not trivial due to spacial EM/flux calcs more than the electronics. There’s perhaps more complex stuff in that domain like waveguides/antennas/optics or such that bridge the A/D divide but it’s about as sciency as EE guys probably get to play with.

            So let me guess, you’re also an “engineer” or similar, and thus quite proud of making an effort to remember a few more technical facts than the general public: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/alternative-technologies-the-power-of-steam/#comment-2959465. Just be aware that the totality of a fact collection doesn’t necessarily make for a complete understanding of the greater reality.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            @agwnthex: “I’ll let you in on a little secret which a smarter version of yourself should’ve already figured by now:”

            Oh, how impressive. Snide, condescending, AND superior, all in one! Bravo!

            “Presenting info at a level slightly above that of the audience isn’t just a good way to encourage thinking…” Well, sometimes, but not always: We obviously failed totally with you.

            “…and deduced that [agenthex] should realize how linear equations work and that ~0*X~=0.” Yeah, that’s what I would have thought, too — so why *didn’t* you realize that?

            “Perhaps it’s worth noting that electromechanical design of more advanced motors is not trivial due to spacial EM/flux calcs more than the electronics. There’s perhaps more complex stuff in that domain like waveguides/antennas/optics or such that bridge the A/D divide but it’s about as sciency as EE guys probably get to play with.” Blither, blather… Yes, I’ll admit I *don’t* actually know all that stuff (because that’s what adults do, they admit when they don’t know something or otherwise fuck up, in stead of trying to hide it under a lot of blather.) But, does any of that blather that I don’t quite understand mean that electrical motors develop a lot of power near zero RPM, or just a lot of torque?

            Yeah, that’s what I thought.

            “So let me guess, you’re also an “engineer” or similar, and thus quite proud of making an effort to remember a few more technical facts than the general public: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/alternative-technologies-the-power-of-steam/#comment-2959465. Just be aware that the totality of a fact collection doesn’t necessarily make for a complete understanding of the greater reality.”

            No, just someone who’s been on the internet for a long time, and had lots of discussions with cocky little snot-noses who could never admit when they’re wrong. (Look up “Usenet” on Wikipedia or Google or something.)

            Heck, I used to be one myself! (That was before[*] the Internet, though.) So I can sympathize… But please *do* hurry up and grow up enough to just simply admit it when you’re wrong, wouldya?

            Thank you.


            [*]: No, not before DARPANet; before the WWW. See, I *knew* you’d try that one!

          • 0 avatar

            This sort of worthless shiitposting was already addressed here:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/#comment-2964977

            The only thing worth adding is there’s some expectation here for someone to provide a free lesson a la Cunningham’s Law, yet it’s also clear the forceful refusal to learn anything no matter how simple. We shall call this the CRConrad-paradox.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            So, DID any of that blather that I don’t quite understand mean that electrical motors develop a lot of power near zero RPM — or just a lot of torque?

            Thought so.

            “Worthless shitposting” — or was that shiite? — indeed.

          • 0 avatar

            > So, DID any of that blather that I don’t quite understand mean that electrical motors develop a lot of power near zero RPM — or just a lot of torque?

            With an inverted torque curve they develop as much power as limited by the nature of the math and the current limit of wires.

            The consequence of this compared to pistons was thoroughly though tediously explained in the topic link that apparently nobody could be bothered to read, yet still mouth off about anyway.

            It’s the stereotypical internet forum scene which you complete with the veteran-ignoramus trope.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            >> So, DID any of that blather that I don’t quite understand mean that electrical motors develop a lot of power near zero RPM — or just a lot of torque?

            > [Blither, blather, I\'m a veteran-ignoramus]

            I’ll take that as “torque”, then.

        • 0 avatar

          > I’ll take that as “torque”, then.

          If power were replaced with torque then the statement would be conceptually wrong and pointless since piston engines can also have “full” torque. It’s meant to convey an idea, not a semantic game.

      • 0 avatar
        carve

        Only if you want to use the word “power” in a colloquial sense. Since power in a rotating engine is the product of torque and rotational speed, power of any engine is necessarily zero at zero rpm. Electric can generate maximum torque at zero rpm though.

        • 0 avatar
          CRConrad

          No no, you’re clearly wrong.

          Just ask Agenthex.

          • 0 avatar

            I do wonder if there’s something in the world you understand to some degree, which you then try to explain to someone who doesn’t know anything (relatively speaking). Except instead of trying to rub some cells together they just give lip yet expect the world in return because it’s what got them there.

            Someone who’s been on the internet with its boundless ignorance has no doubt seen this, so it should be easy to spot with introspection.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            I’ll take that, too, as a “torque”, then.

          • 0 avatar
            carve

            I think he just knows how to multiply by zero

          • 0 avatar

            > how to multiply by zero

            Can you provide some detailed instructions for this? I hear that’s what you need to be an engineer, along with mouthing off about links I can’t read. Thanks. So fortunate there’s many ambassadors of that discipline to use for guidance here.

          • 0 avatar
            carve

            Sure: anything multiplied by zero is zero. 5 x 0 = counting to 5 zero times. Zero.

          • 0 avatar

            > Sure: anything multiplied by zero is zero. 5 x 0 = counting to 5 zero times. Zero.

            Haha you must think you’re some kinda fields metal mathematician.

            What causes pressure?

            Is steam a gas or liquid?

            What is reaction?

            Imma turbine specialist/mechanics engimaneer/internet expert.

          • 0 avatar

            ^ Btw, TTAC should set up some prizes for these ongoing championships of not getting the point. Lot of strong contenders but I’m rooting for the breakaway pack of engineers.

          • 0 avatar
            carve

            You mean Fields “Medal”? Took me forever to figure out what you meant. Nope- this is just second grade arithimetic, dude.

            How much power is a million foot pounds of torque at zero rpm

            (Yes- I have a mechanical engineering degree, too)

          • 0 avatar

            > (Yes- I have a mechanical engineering degree, too)

            To think with a liberal arts degree you could’ve learned how to read within context.

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/alternative-technologies-the-power-of-steam/#comment-2965081

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3000hp_curve_ver2.jpg

            P.S.:

            2 * 2
            =4

            2 * 200000 > 0. QED.

            Where's your god now?

          • 0 avatar

            MFer. The TTAC content mgmt backend eats html-comment delineated text thus coincidentally turning a funny joke into a mediocre one. Woe is me.

            P.S.:

            2 * 2
            =4

            2 * 200000 > 0. QED.

          • 0 avatar

            Imma gonna freeze-ray whoever designed this POS.

            2 * 2
            =4

            2 * 200000 (more zeros)
            =4000000000

            4000zeros00000 >> 0. QED.

          • 0 avatar
            carve

            What you say makes zero sense. You seriously sound clinically insane, dude. Get help.

          • 0 avatar

            > What you say makes zero sense.

            This is like the engineering clueless olympics, which is akin to the other kind but not as special.

            These must be the guys who write in to complain that a torque curve isn’t technically “flat” as the magazine claimed.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Guess who worked on a steam engine for a car as late as in the seventies . Saab of course! Anyone knows more about that project?

  • avatar

    Check out these people working on steam power.

    http://www.cyclonepower.com/works.html

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/04/updating_the_st.html

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/12/bmw_developing_.html

  • avatar
    Johnnyangel

    I’ll always remember a 1970 Popular Science story (link below) about the (now deceased) Wallace Minto, who reportedly had interested Datsun in producing a batch of steam-powered 510s employing Freon as the operating fluid. According to the article (which has a picture), Minto’s testbed was a VW Bus fitted with an original Stanley Steamer engine.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=QwEAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=Minto+steam+engine&source=bl&ots=v7nOYC4l6D&sig=Xq-WQY1gwCGR_HEe-SKxAZ3hbmA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=I8FDT5zLOOibiAK8-bGEBg&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Minto%20steam%20engine&f=false

    At the time, my main interest was trying to convince my dad that if Datsun was such an environmentally forward-looking company, we should purchase a standard 510 right away. No luck there …

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I think EV are more realistic than steam cars.

    You forgot a few things making steam not really possible for cars:
    - it has huge machines
    - it needs cooling to be efficient – power plants and ships use a lot of water to cool. It would be more feasible to carry batteries than water…
    - efficiency really suffers from short operation or partial load.
    - warmup time of a few hours is not acceptable. Years ago when diesel had 3 second glow-time, people complained about that. How would people accept even minutes warmup time?
    - noise, dirt, maintenance,
    - refilling water etc. Water freezes. People can’t deal with urea tanks to be filled every year, do you think people fill their water tank daily?
    - all ships and locomotives that may not even have the qickstart, weight, space restrictions as cars moved away from steam a long time ago.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the size of the machines could be reduced, which would also reduce the start-up times, but you are dead-on accurate when you say that they wouldn’t do well under a partial load. To me the solution might be to attach them to a generator where they could be run at a constant speed under a steady load for efficiency. But trying to manage a steam turbine (or direct drive piston engine) and burners in normal driving would be a huge hassle, even with computerized controls.

      My thoughts are that you could minimize start-up times by having the car plugged in and keeping the water near boiling all the time. With a turbine, as well, you could use a radiator as a condenser to lower the steam temp just enough to turn back into water which would then mean you use less energy to reheat that water back into steam once it is in the boiler.

      Other problems are the heat that gets generated (Who wants a 200 plus degree heater running in their garage all the time?) and, of course, the boiler chemistry itself, which on ships requires regular testing and an almost pure source of water.

      The systems on a ship are highly complex with a lot of different elements always in play. Likely as not, similar systems in cars wouldn’t be worth the time and trouble but it is fun to think about as a mental exercise, is it not?

      Also, I’m flat shocked at how many people on this site have a similar background – many of you are probably better versed that I am as I have been out of the game a long time and never rose high enough in the ranks to have a major responsibility managing the systems.

      • 0 avatar
        Windy

        that icon of mine is me at the throttle of a 9F steam locomotive one of the last classes of them designed and built for British Rail
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BR_Standard_Class_9F
        it was taken when i was working as a passed engineer for heritage railroads in the UK back in the 90s

        by the way not all stem cars took a lot of time to get started
        Jay Leno has this Doble
        http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/cars/doble/1925-doble-series-e-steam-car/index.shtml#item=83132
        Jay’s Doble has a 4-cylinder compound engine, which heats up two quarts of water in a sealed system, creating 1000 ft.-lb. of torque. Thus, the Doble starts up right away even in freezing weather, as compared to the Stanley, which takes at least 20 minutes to heat 15 gallons of water before driving is possible. Because the system is sealed, it easily passes all current emissions standards, and is ultimately much safer than a Stanley, as there’s little chance of blowing up. The E series could go from 0 to 75 mph in about 10 seconds, and was capable of speeds in excess of 90 mph. With no transmission, no clutch, and no distributor, there was virtually no noticeable engine vibration, and the ride was smooth as silk, and eerily quiet.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      HerrKaLeun;

      While I don’t advocate a return to steam cars; you exaggerate some things, miss-represent some things, leave out some important pluses, and an important minus:

      - it has huge machines

      Take time to watch the video above; and read up on the Besler steam plane — it was a Travel Air 2000 two place biplane that flew using a steam car engine.

      You had mentioned they were loud; the opposite is true. The Besler steam plane was so quiet the pilot could shout down to people on the ground, and be heard.

      I have a toy Mamod steam roller and a steam waggon that runs on steam. It only generates somewhere around 0.001 HP; but it can barely get itself around. Lots of steam toys like these.

      - it needs cooling to be efficient – power plants and ships use a lot of water to cool. It would be more feasible to carry batteries than water…

      A Doble steam car used a air-cooled condensor that was about the size of a car radiator. It was fitted to the wing of the Besler steam plane. Because it condensed its steam (unlike the Stanley in the above video); it only had to carry makeup water to make up for the water lost in leaks and accessories. And no chugging noises, either.

      - efficiency really suffers from short operation or partial load.

      That is correct. Also, steam power plants benefit from, and steam cars suffer from the square-cube law — when you double the size of an object, you square it’s surface area and cube it’s volume. That is why power plants and airships are built so big — the bigger a powerplant is, the more heating surface and volume, and the more efficient it is.

      Cars with their small boilers are hurt for the opposite reason; my tiny Mamod toy engines even more so. Still, a Stanley Steamer set a world land speed record of 120 MPH, and it was years before it was broken.

      - warmup time of a few hours is not acceptable. Years ago when diesel had 3 second glow-time, people complained about that. How would people accept even minutes warmup time?

      It took a steam car 5 minutes to boil up. Nowdays, you could plug the equivalent of an electric block heater into an electrical outlet, and preheat the boiler remotely just like you would remote start a car. Unplug the cord, give it a second to start, and away you go.

      - noise, dirt, maintenance,

      Steam cars ran on liquid fuel, so no coal ash. They kicked up no more dust than a regular car. The boiler required maintenance, but a steam engine is dirt simple, and no transmission or clutch at all to worry about.

      And that is the major advantage you left out — steam engines need and have no clutch and transmission. That makes up some of the weight from the boiler and water you have to carry; so a steam car was no more heavier than a gasoline or electric car.

      And they developed awesome amounts of starting torque. That made Stanley steam cars in particular very popular for hill climb events and in Pikes Peak races. And, with no need to shift gears; they can put many gasoline cars to shame in drag racing.

      - refilling water etc. Water freezes. People can’t deal with urea tanks to be filled every year, do you think people fill their water tank daily?

      No arguement there. Just for grins; I looked at what it would take to drive my 60 miles to work; and it would involve a water stop halfway each way.

      (Thomas, steam cars and locomotives only developed steam pressures as high as 500 PSI. That made water chemistry a little less important than a high pressure stationary or marine boiler. That is why the AT&SF swtiched to diesel earlier than the other railroads — they were having to send water out in tank trains to their more arrid water stops because the limited water there was too poor.)

      Still, like other forms of alternate power, steam vehicles have a place. Sentinal Steam Waggons were used as city delivery trucks in England as late as World War II. Steam coal was cheap and plentiful; if you needed water, you just stopped on a bridge, let your hose down into the creek below, and used your on board steam pump or ejector to take on water. A few bridges in England had openings just for this purpose.

      They were used as brewery wagons, tar wagons, box trucks, and even a bus. Two were shipped to a coal mine in South America to transport coal to a port; but they did not work out — by the time they got to port, they had used up most of their load. So, a railroad was built instead.

      At that brings up the other point — when the Norfolk and Western and other coal hauling railroads were loading their trains up at the coal mine, they filled their engine’s tender with coal as well. So, their fuel was practically free; they also developed run through “Lubritoriums” where the steam locomotive entered one end and came out cleaned, lubricated, and filled with fuel and water on the other end; greatly cutting down on the time to turn them around.

      You also failed to mention that many railroad roundhouses had a stationary boiler which could be used to keep the locomotive boilers at close to operational temperatures all the time; cutting down on stress on the boilers and greatly speading up the boilup time. So, with free or near free fuel available and cheap labor, steam engines make sense; what finally killed steam on the coal railroads were the huge backshops and a decreasing supply of steam accessories (steam air pumps, feedwater pumps, injectors, turbo generators, etc.) along with maintaining coal and watering points.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        what a waste of energy to keep boiler running all day. A car drives 1 hour a day and you think it is good to have it plugged in all day to keep the boiler on? Do you realize how much expensive electricity you would burn? and isn’t’ that the limitation of EV? If I’m tethered to an outlet, at least give me a low-maintenance EV.

        and based on your calculation you need to re-water after 30 miles… all EV already beat that easily.

        And are you seriously proposing people go to shopping malls and work , and then swap out their boiler for a pre-heated one?

        and what do you burn? unless you burn wood or coal, you are bound to the same scarce fuels ICE use (CNG, LPG, gasoline, diesel). and you realize that this would use up more fuel than a modern ICE?

        If your ideas and arguments are so great, why don’t you convince some investors and produce steam cars and set up boiler-swap station, water refueling (with anti-freeze in case you want to sell in snowbelt)

        Yeah and not needing a clutch really makes up for the added weight of coal, water etc…..

        Your ideas all sound very great, and I hate to bring reality into this, but maybe, just maybe, there is a reason why all commercial ships, locomotives etc. went away from steam… and why there are no steam cars.

  • avatar

    Cyclone Technologies has been developing a modern steam engine for the past few years. They hope to make a practical automotive engine but I think their real potential is in recovering energy from waste heat.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/pres-obama-says-maybe-the-steam-engine-is-more-romneys-speed-while-his-own-administration-funds-steam-engine-development-thru-cyclone-power-technologies/

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      One of my favorite articles posted here; thank you very much for that. I still hold out hope for Cyclone’s engine type to be used in future “off grid” transportation applications, especially since its external combustion system will allow it to be used with liquid fuels whose vapor pressure characteristics preclude them from being used in traditional ICE applications.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thanx Thomas ;

    Another good read that has prompted many good responses , I’m learning from every reply .

    In 1971 I was nearly run over by a Stanley Steamer barreling up Rosemead Blvd. ~ it was a yellow open car (? Roadster ?) with a Monocle windshield and was dead silent , why I stepped off the curb in front of it and nearly got killed .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    skor

    Steam powered 1963 Ford Falcon.

    youtube.com/watch?v=LJq2Hc_mXFI

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Sorry but the reason the diesel overtook the steam loco wasn’t standardized parts (you were right that each steamie was built to order and had unique parts though) but TCO, total cost of ownership. A diesel loco cost more up front but the labor involved in running and maintaining a steam locomotive is so excessively higher it’s the reason that the steamers went extinct in less than 10 years.

    Steam loco requires a driver and fireman, diesel requires a driver only
    Steam loco takes hours to start up into running condition. diesel is start and go like a car.
    Steam engines have to have to have constant daily lube maintenance and cleaning…and a heavy duty cleaning every other week that takes 24 hours and requires a team to crawl all through the boiler, firebox, everything to clean out all the ash from burned coal. Diesel maintinance is way lower.

    In the end it boils down to total cost of ownership and the diesels pwned the steamers and it’s the reason steamers went extinct in the US in just a few years. The brits held off longer but mainly because the brits are slow to adapt to change and cling to tradition in general.

    • 0 avatar

      I have heard both arguments but since the article really wasn’t about the death of steam trains I just picked one and didn’t get too involved in explaining all the various reasons steam died. I wish now I had done a better job with that part of the article, but fortunately there are a ton of people here who know all the details who are happy to show us how smart they are. It is a fascinating subject.

      I’ve also heard that another problem was that the piston steam engines pounded the rails flat and they had to be ground back into shape every so often. I think they still do that to some extent, but not as often as they used to.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        Oops. Hope I didn’t join the “look how smart I am” brigade. I only wanted to express enthusiasm for steam even if I don’t think it’s great for personal transport.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          I also am sorry for joining the “look how smart I am” brigade. You and I are kindrid spirits in many ways; I worked for the performance testing group of an electric utility after graduating from college; and later in a petrochemical plant that used process steam and had steam turbines and reciprocating steam pumps everywhere. I brought home three of the smaller (still weigh 200-300 lbs) steam pumps and a brass Babcock and Wilcox boiler nameplate from one of the boilers in the old boiler house before they tore it down.

          I also got to tour the M-K-T (Katy Railroad) Bellmeade backshops outside of Waco, Texas before it was torn down. All the machinery but the massive overhead beam cranes and a few stationary cranes had been removed; but the massive size of the place gave a good idea of what it took to keep those old steam locomotives going.

          Thank you for placing this article out there; and thank you for putting up with us.

          • 0 avatar

            > I worked for the performance testing group of an electric utility after graduating from college; and later in a petrochemical plant that used process steam and had steam turbines and reciprocating steam pumps everywhere.

            Hey, that sounds like you should know what you’re talking about instead of making statements like: “Steam engines can also pull with full power from 0″. I don’t think such an “engineer” should really be conflating torque and power.

            It seems a pretty trivial matter of first principles that a gas pressure of certain temp against a surface of fixed size produces a constant torque, compared to a fundamentally fixed power motor which is only secondarily constrained by current/thermal/etc.

            Is this a matter of not making “engineers” like they used back in the steam days, or people who like to flaunt credentials on the internet?

          • 0 avatar
            wmba

            @ agenthex, you say:

            ” It seems a pretty trivial matter of first principles that a gas pressure of certain temp against a surface of fixed size produces a constant torque .. ”

            Another stupid statement. A gas pressure at any temp against a flat surface produces gas pressure against a flat surface. We call these containers. If you are talking about a stopped steam cylinder with a movable piston and linkage to a crank, then at TDC, there is no moment arm, and hence no torque generated no matter the pressure . There’s a trivial first principle for you. Maximum torque will be generated, if steam pressure is maintained, when there is a right angle between the crank throw and connecting rod. Elementary mechanics, rather than the first principles jumbled in your brain. You really are a siily little troll.

          • 0 avatar

            > There’s a trivial first principle for you. Maximum torque will be generated, if steam pressure is maintained, when there is a right angle between the crank throw and connecting rod. Elementary mechanics, rather than the first principles jumbled in your brain.

            Do you even have the slightest clue what the torque/power curves discussed here are? It’s not a plot of force vs. where the piston is, but rather the force vs. rotations per minute (you know, where we assume the piston goes through more than one rotation).

            I can only imagine you couldn’t figure what to do with the link recommended above, because even though it patronizes the reader as if they’re morons I thought the lot of you engineers eg, jhefner, etc, could benefit from a thorough read. So here’s what you do:

            copy (that’s Ctrl-C), and paste (Ctrl-P) what’s on the next line into the “URL” bar in your browser (that’s what you’re read this site with), then hit enter and a new page should come up:

            http://www.railway-technical.com/st-vs-de.shtml

            Unfortunately if reading it is too hard there’s nothing I can do.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @agenthex or Werner VonBraun da rrockkett scientist!

            So rocket scientist or firecracker tech.

            What causes pressure?

            After you work that one out, what happen to atoms and molecules as pressure increases?

            Explain what causes a pressure vessel to fail, ie, what impact do the atoms and molecules have on the pressure vessel wall?

            Is steam a gas or liquid?

            What is reaction?

          • 0 avatar

            > What causes pressure?

            I’ll be sure to get cracking on that one after I solve the greatest mystery in how the hell you ever figured out how to get on the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            “Is steam a gas or liquid?”

            Depends on if it is subcritical or supercritical (though I have heard supercritical steam described more like a frictionless fluid.) :)

            We had a supercritical unit at the utility I worked at that had been in reserve for several years. When it was brought back online, the group picked me to conduct the first performance test.

            I know the unit was well ND tested before being brought online; but couldn’t help but think what would happen to me if the main steam line failed when I straddled over it to put a thermocouple in the H.P. turbine’s belly for the test.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @jhefner
            Thanks!

            Agenthex appears to unable to help himself with his commentary and perceived knowledge.

            I will say he appears to have some knowledge. Computer can contain ‘knowledge’ or information.

            But he has difficulty applying that knowledge.

            The ability to manipulate knowledge is called intelligence. This appears to be lacking in his case;)

          • 0 avatar

            > “Is steam a gas or liquid?” Depends on if it is subcritical or supercritical (though I have heard supercritical steam described more like a frictionless fluid.) :)

            This is a perfect illustration of the “collection of facts” mental capacity and its limitations. Science as a pure representation of reality reflects its impractical nuances and is thus distilled into simplified models along constrained design paths for “engineering”. In this case for eng purposes a phase diagram of given substance (eg water) sufficiently conveys these known properties. Since this often remains too complex for routine maintenance work and its operators, it’s distilled again into further simplified facts for their benefit (eg heating “water” turns it into “steam”, etc). With this comes a loss in conceptual integrity which is necessary to understand how systems work. That’s why those at this level are at best marginally competent at grasping existing designs nevermind synthesis.

            The marginally competent are fairly common in lower echelons of industry; the telltale signs such as poor reasoning and missing the point are unmistakable. Whatever trite role already stretches the limits of their ability, so there’s negligible chance of expansive expertise despite protests to the contrary.

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/housekeeping-do-you-want-the-directors-cut/#comment-2846177

        • 0 avatar

          I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to denigrate anyone’s contributions, quite the opposite. I’ve learned a lot from the comments in this thread. I like the level of enthusiasm I’m seeing and, right or wrong, proud that I started a discussion of this caliber.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Thomas Kreutzer
            Thanks.

            I seems steam currently is only viable for large scale stationary use.

            But, maybe one day in the future steam will come back!

            Well, sooner or later we will use everything up and all that will be left in large amounts will be water;)

      • 0 avatar
        3800FAN

        lol when it comes to the internet and even quickly MENTIONING trains on the internet choose your words carefully… the Sheldons are EVERYWHERE!

        Yes steam locos take a much bigger toll on the rails than diesels. The diesels downward force on the rails is pretty even while the steam locos is alternating with the rotation of the wheel most forceful when the crankpin is 90 degrees to the rail and at zero when it’s parallel to the rail. Then add the fact that the 2 sides are 90 degrees off from each other so when the left side is at zero teh right side is at 90 and pulls the left side back above zero…then vice versa back and forth.. it leads to the steam engine taking a bigger toll on the rails than the diesel.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      “The brits held off longer but mainly because the brits are slow to adapt to change and cling to tradition in general.”

      There is some truth to that; but it was also because the Brits had access to Welsh coal; some of the best coal available for firing a steam engine. Coal mines were plentiful, and labor was cheap; but yes, tradition played a large role as well.

      The coal strikes of 1950s, London’s growing problem with deadly smog, and finally the “Beeching Axe” of the 1960s brought an end to steam; though it continued in industrial service for awhile longer.

      • 0 avatar
        3800FAN

        The brits love steam too cuz they invented it. After British rail rushed to diesel in the early 60s British kids actually purchased to-be scrapped steamers..restored abandoned branch lines and ran them on them. It sounds crazy but they did. There are lots of YouTube videos about it.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Steam really needs the condenser to be efficient. Without using condensation to drop pressures opening the height of the “box” a Carnot cycle is giving away so much. Condensers are heavy and work best with liquid as a coolant. Great in a power plant or sub/carrier, not so much in a car. Peak torque depends on ideal blade speed and is usually (excluding moving vanes) designed in based on usage. An HP/LP set usually has different peak efficiencies to achieve some sort of balance. Reduction gears to get from efficient turbine RPM to efficient screw RPM are a long way from free. But if cost isn’t the main design concern and operations are long term so quick light off isn’t needed steam still wins. As someone who operated and maintained (and loved) steam plants on carriers and subs I’m as far from impartial as anyone. Gotta stop. I’m rambling.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Wow perfection! I’m going to get the iPad and a glass of wine so I can savor this post.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Look, steam powered cars are just cool, bring em back!

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Water/methanol injection has proven to do a lot in the aftermarket/racing world. I wonder how much more efficiency an OEM could extract with such a system in a street car. Hell even just water injection could help a lot to cool the charge and reduce emissions.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      water injection was used by the Germans in WW2 in some piston engined fighter planes. Water cannot be compressed like steam so will instantly increase the compression ratio. It’s a great way to blow the head off a motor and therefore not much use in terms of reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Know that Ford developed (in the last five years or so)an TT engine that used DI for gasoline, and then port injected ethanol, to cool the cylinders between cycles (allowing for much higher compression using regular grade gas), produced the torque and FE of a Diesel with the HP and emissions of Gas, think one of the reasons it would never be considered for production, was like the issue of having to add urea, people would have to add ethanol here and there.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    A great place to see the history of steam is the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn.
    Many steam engines on display starting with a wooden antique with a huge vertical cylinder that was in the ground. Definitely worth a visit for steam fans.

  • avatar
    andreroy55

    You said “one square foot of water heated to 366 degrees F at 150psi will expand to 1700 feet of water vapor”. Don’t you mean “one _cubic_ foot of water heated to 366 degrees F at 150psi will expand to 1700 _cubic_ feet of water vapor”?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    @agenthex
    Don’t you think very experienced people with knowledge in a certain field might know better than you?

    Obviously you don’t.

    There is a medical term for your problem is called egocentrism.

    “Egocentrics regard themselves and their own opinions or interests as being the most important or valid. To them, self-relevant information is seen to be more important in shaping one’s judgments than are thoughts about others and other-relevant information.”

    Here’s the link;
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egocentrism

    Again, read and learn, maybe you’ll understand that your input can be (often) incorrect and is of little credence.

  • avatar

    > Don’t you think very experienced people with knowledge in a certain field might know better than you?

    Unfortunately the kind of people who boast about their experience in anything often tend to be most clueless. That is abundantly evident from this very commentary thread if not life in general.

    The scientific term for this is the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon.

    There is no solution for this because they simply lack the meta-cognition to recognize their own incompetence, akin to how canines lack the self-conscience to recognize themselves in the mirror.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    If any of the best and brightest really care..please check out Jay Leno’s garage piece on the Doble.
    From cold to drivable in less than 5 minutes!!
    His steam generator is state of the art and makes me wonder if it would have modern applications….
    Fascinating…..the genius of Doble!!!
    You must see to believe,and hope you give it a view

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    Great posting.

    Although this isn’t about steam vs diesel electric, it is a fascinating subject. I am a fan of natural gas as vs diesel and gasoline, and trains seem like a perfect application. My Waste Management garbage truck runs on CNG.

    Rail uses a hell of a lot of diesel, so I was looking into why they don’t switch immediately. There are, of course, a number of reasons.

    The diesel engines that run trains are huge. Each cylinder is 16 liters in some of them.

    The basic arithmetic of pulling trains is nicely covered in this article:

    http://www.republiclocomotive.com/tractive_effort_and_power_calculations.html

    I am more interested in the history of why railroads converted than theoretical speculation.

    Here is a Saturday Evening Post condensed article from 1934:

    http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2013/05/11/archives/post-perspective/locomotive-diesel-engine.html

    This article argues that Diesel electric in 1934 was about 35 cents/mile vs 70 cents/mile for steam.

    A modern steam fan argues that steam is cheaper than diesel electric:

    http://www.internationalsteam.co.uk/trains/newsteam/modern50.htm

    His argument is that powder river basin spot coal prices per BTU is 15x cheaper than diesel.

    However steam is only 6% efficient per BTU compared to around 40% for diesel electric.

    His main argument is that modern steam locomotives are about 3x as efficient as first generation steam locomotives. This is based on actual working engines and seems very plausible, given general improvements in technology and efficiency.

    He doesn’t address the emission problems of coal. EPA has mandated tier 3 and tier 4 standards which are much stricter than earlier standards or no standards in the steam age.

    Since electric generators are switching from coal to natural gas, I can’t see how a coal powered engine could work in the US today.

    The transition from steam to diesel was driven by the ‘bean counters’ so I am pretty confident that there were material cost savings. Since WW I until about 1980, railroads were under extreme cost pressures. In addition, early Diesel Electrics used DC power and were not even close to contemporary locomotives. They also had experience with electric locomotives, which they had to use in Grand Central Station and other areas of the Northwest corridor.

    One of the other cited reasons was that steam engines were available only 35% or the time – the remainder spent on maintenance and other inefficiencies while diesels had 90% uptime.

    As far as the ‘so what’ of this regarding cars, the most interesting thing is the huge improvement in 3rd generation steam locomotives. So it is likely that a modern steam car would be much more efficient than the historical ones.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    How would a steam car do in a collision? If those pipes are hot enough to the touch to burn through your boiler suit, what happens to passengers and bystanders when they fracture under impact?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      No worst than your exhaust manifold.

      Steam cars used what are known as flash boilers. Unlike the fire tube boilers found in steam locomotives and some stationary boiler installations (which DID cause major devastation when they gave way); flash boilers only contain a small amount of steam at any given time; and will not explode.

      The worst steam car accident recorded was when Fred Marriott attempted to break his own land speed record in the Stanley Rocket. The boiler pressure was far greater than a standard steam car (I think it was around 1,000 PSI; but that is by memory; which could be wrong).

      It is estimated that he was going between 140-150 MPH when the rocket went airborn and broke in two when it landed. The boiler rolled down the beach spewing steam and looking like a comet, but it did not explode or injure anyone. Fred himself was injured in the crash, and did not attempt it again.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Marriott

    • 0 avatar

      They aren’t going to be running high psi boilers like a ship would and so the temps would be a lot lower. The volume of water would probably be minimal, too, but people could get burned pretty good. Assuming the heat source had some kind of a kill switch when it detected low water the risk of fire would be minimal

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    Steam actually is alive and well in the US Navy. All nuclear carriers are powered by steam turbines, with the heat source being nuclear.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    Oh, and steam engines are still made today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NPpelLCIkk

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Regarding the steam engine’s two stroke cycle, back in the mid 70s I saw a Popular Mechanics writeup on a new steam car that used the block and internals from an Evinrude outboard motor as its engine since it provided a conveniently sized ready made 3 cylinder 2-stroke.
    My take is that steam offers efficiency in large scale applications and incredible fuel flexibility but it hits obstacles in packaging efficiency and ease of use. I doubt you could make a steam plant as compact as a Ford Ecoboost 1.0, much less one that could have a car moving in under 30 seconds.

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      I’m still thinking an “internal evaporation engine” should eliminate the start-up delay and at the same time offer the potential for fine-tuning all parameters on-the-fly to extract (much closer to) all the energy from the fuel it uses, i.e, be very fuel-efficient.

      But, hey, I’m not an engineer, so what do I know.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    At least the article and the comments are very informative and entertaining .

    -Nate


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