The Truth About Cars » steam engines The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » steam engines Pres. Obama Says ‘Maybe the steam engine is more Romney’s speed’ While His Own Administration Funds Steam Engine Development Thru Cyclone Power Technologies Thu, 30 Aug 2012 17:11:18 +0000 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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A Renaissance For The Automotive Steam Engine? Fri, 18 Dec 2009 03:08:41 +0000 steamracer

The steamer is the granddaddy of all engines, dating back some 2,000 years. All of the earliest “cars” were steamers, and the golden age of steam cars in the teens and twenties resulted in some fabulously refined vehicles. The Stanley was very successful and set the world speed record in 1906 that was only broken recently; and the ultimate development, the highly refined Doble, created a legend. The advantages of the steam engine are the ability to burn almost any kind of fuel, generate maximum torque at starting rpm, no need for a transmission, and the ability to power the loudest of horns. There have been numerous attempts at automotive steam engine revivals; but their many downsides have relegated them to the obscure pages of wikipedia: delay in getting up a head of steam, bulky condensers, oil contamination of the steam, inefficiencies, etc.. But Cyclone Power Technologies has been developing a radical update on a compact, efficient, eco-friendly steam engine. Before we dismiss it as more hot vapor in our usual dismissive TTAC manner, let’s take a closer look first:cyclone_engine

Under development for quite some time, Cyclone claims to have addressed all the shortcomings of steamers in one compact package. For a detailed explanation, go here, or here’s my Cliff Notes version: almost any fuel can be burned in the flash boiler (1), which super heats water to 1200 degrees F in as little as five seconds. Steam powers the pistons in the radial engine (4), which spins on hi-tech ceramic bearings that are lubricated only by water. There is no need for any type of oil for lubrication, eliminating contamination and the need for oil changes, etc. Spent steam enters the condensing unit (5B), where a fan powered heat exchanger preheats the intake air for more efficient combustion. Cyclone promises efficiencies comparable to gas and diesel engines, potentially even higher, depending on the fuel and its source (orange peel oil, for instance). Emissions for external combustion engines are intrinsically low. Sound perfect? Well, there are a few issues to sort out. But it should smell good burning that orange peel oil.

First, Cyclone has yet to complete development of the whole integrated package. They’ve operated the engine and various components separately, but not as contemplated here. The engine is going to be used for US Land Steam Record Team in their attempt to break the world land speed record for steam vehicles in Bonneville, UT, as early as next August (see separate post).

engine3The warm up time is still an issue. Cyclone says ten to fifteen seconds to generate steam, but that’s not a full head. That will take about a minute or more. And that’s all dependent on how cold it is outside. No quick morning get-aways. Well, remote starters would deal with that. Questions as to mass-production build costs are unknown, as well as the reliability of the water-lubricated engine.

There are two main attractive features that will likely keep Cyclone in development money for at least a while longer. Number one is the ability to burn almost any type of fuel from orange peels, palm oil, cottonseed oil, algae, used motor oil and fryer grease, as well as traditional fossil fuels, propane, butane, natural gas and even powdered coal. In a post-oil world, that might come in handy. By then, they should have it fleshed out.

The other intriguing possibility is in using waste heat to generate the steam. Theoretically, a diesel truck engine could be combined with a Cyclone, running mainly off the diesel’s exhaust, and burning additional diesel if needed to provide a quick burst of extra power. It lends a whole new meaning to the word hybrid . In a scenario like this, efficiencies of up to 55% or greater could be contemplated. That compares to about 30 to 35% for the diesel alone. For a more extensive discussion on this and other possibilities, head over to GreenCarCongress’ article on the Cyclone.

The verdict? It sounds more promising than the steam-injected Bobcat by the length of a Bonneville record run. But then I’m old enough to remember reading several articles titled “A Renaissance For The Automotive Steam Engine?” or something along those lines in Popular Science over the decades. So here’s my addition to the genre. I somehow suspect it won’t be the last either.

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