Here are 7 videos from the steam meet, plus other conslusions on our involvement with steam power. We will build a hydronic heating stove with allowance for a steam engine electrical generator – even if we don’t install the steam engine before winter.
Tomâ€™s working museum collection has a large selection of engines, cars, and parts. and it has an extensive library of books, manuals, manuscripts, and patents on steam. It is also a workshop, where he can build boilers, restore cars, and build steam engines. Many of them can be run on the spot by using compressed air instead of steam. Here is a sample of a few engines â€“ from small boat to car-sized in the 100 hp range, running on compressed air:
Tom pointed out a particular engine which he thought was what we need at Factor e Farm â€“ a 3 or so horsepower engine. I personally liked one that was made almost completely with off-the-shelf parts â€“ a double-acting uniflow engine where his valve was a hydraulic valve running off a cam on the main shaft:
Here is the infamous Green Steam Engine â€“ the one that is touted as an â€˜efficient, modern steam engineâ€™ by its inventor. I was excited about it at first, but then found out that it has no proven performance record. Tom once wrote a lengthy paper on the flaws of this design, which I will ask to reprint â€“ as people keep asking us about the engine after hearing the â€˜efficient, modern steam engineâ€™ claim:
This is one of the points that I learned: just about anything has been tried with steam, and those who attempt to reinvent the steam engine find out that all of their brilliant ideas are already found in 100-year old patents after doing further research â€“ in 99.9% of the cases. So, for me itâ€™s simple â€“ just tap the talent of the SACA crowd, and build the advanced, modern engine with it. A couple of members are doing this, and some have proposed a modern steam car â€“ but there is no modern steam engine power unit yet because that takes a long time to develop and test. This is where I see the potential of open source steam power â€“ first in documenting the technical prior art as embodied in the work of many SACA members â€“ and integrating that into an effective design. While there is continued debate on the details of what works and what doesnâ€™t, there is general consensus on underlying principles. Ands everywhere, almost all SACA people are working either on their own projects, and many playing with their toys without greater aspirations â€“ but there is also a couple of people interested in â€˜saving the world.â€™
There were several steam-powered motorcycles at the meet. Did you know that the first motorcycle ever (1800s) was powered by steam? They did not have gasoline engines at the time when people were ready to motorize bicycles. It worked, and apparently there was quite a few of these in operation. This tells you that steam engine systems can be quite small. One guy is firing his with corn.
There was one very interesting steam motorbike here – with fully electronic steam injection. One could thus control the cutoff ratio (length of steam injection) completely, for optimizing engine efficiency under varying load. 800 rpm was the operating condition â€“ at 600 PSI and 600F. The track record for the valves is only 16 hours so far.
Moving on to flash steam generation, here are some examples. Tom also has a tubing bender for making steam generator coils:
Tom mentioned that a generator consisting of 5 pancakes like those shown in the video (105 feet of 1/2â€ Schedule 40 black pipe), at 1000 Fahrenheit/1000 PSI of a high-performance steam generator â€“ produces enough steam for a 100 hp engine.
Now hereâ€™s an interesting one â€“ Tomâ€™s wood fired car. You throw in some wood into this fire-breather â€“ and you are off. What a sight:
Here are some other mobiles zooming all over the place, and one going through town:
Apparently, all noteworthy steam cars and engines that you may have heard about end up in Tomâ€™s collection. He does a lot of field research, visiting with as many people in the field of steam power as possible, and collecting all types of information and samples.
While Tomâ€™s car is quite a freak, we can actually make a biomass-fired dragon into quite a practical, convenient, and modern car. I discussed biomass pelletizers with Geroge Knight from Canada, who is considering building a pelletizer, and who has achieved some mastery with simple, automatic pellet burners. Take an automatic pellet burner, add a high efficiency uniflow engine, and you have a modern car fired readily by local biomass. If switchgrass produces 11 tons of dry biomass per acre â€“ doesnâ€™t that indicate that solid biomass fuel is a practical fuel option for cars, and that it could provide a significant portion of fuel needs, and completely power the tropics? Biomass â€“ grass or wood â€“ is abundant, especially in the tropics. Iâ€™ve heard Bob Edwards, one of the members, say that one acre in his Tennessee woodlot is sufficient if he wanted to power a steam car.
I could even picture going cross country with a pellet-fired steamer â€“ with a rooftop solar wood dryer and â€œregenerative brakingâ€ powering an on-board hammermill/pelletizer. So to make it across this country on a road trip, you bring your chainsaw, and you donâ€™t have to stop at gas stations!
Marcus from Lynx Steam is the fellow interested in a mass-produced, affordable, combined heat and power (CHP) steam engine. He brought a biomass monotube steam generator connected to this experimental rotary engine (see link). The concept is right â€“ and itâ€™s a proven, robust electrical production option if one uses a standard steam engine. He is currently working on a steam engine with an injection-molded, high temperature plastic â€“ for low-cost production. His target is the entire engine, a radial uniflow engine, about 1 hp, for under $100 when mass-produced.
As far as the outcome on evaluating the feasibility of a combined heat and power stove â€“ the results are positive. In fact, there was one SACA member whose father ran a steam engine to generate electricity, hot water, and space heating. The question for us is whether we will have the time to build a decent steam engine. The question is not whether it will work â€“ as the SACA crowd has already built hundreds of working engines â€“ and they can provide review. The question is simply time.
It appears that the $1700, 10 hp engine from Tinytech Plants is not worth buying â€“ because it will require just enough messing with it that making your own (now with SACA assistance) should not be much more difficult. While Tinytech Plants is an off-shelf product, I donâ€™t have any references to verify performance â€“ though I was informed that Sustainable Village just purchased Tinytechâ€™s 2 hp engine â€“ so we should follow up with them. I am not convinced that it is self-starting under the conditions of unattended longwood stove operation like weâ€™re proposing.
We will do a stove, simply because our comfort depends on it â€“ running a central stove instead of 2 or more separate stoves. We will use about 150 feet of 1â€ black iron pipe connected with fittings, to generate 1/2 kW of of electricity and 100 kW of heat for distribution. It turns out that black iron pipe, with fittings, tightened down hard, with anti-seize compound in the joint â€“ will give a long-lasting heat exchanger that will not leak at the joints â€“ capable of generating steam at temperatures of 350F and pressures of 150 psi. We will make ready allowance for adding a steam engine to go with it. For now, we will build the stove and hydronic heating system, simply by adding baseboard heating to the housing units. If we have additional people appear in the winter, we can move one of our modular solar cubicles closer to the stove, and run hydronic heat into them. Thus, one stove covers space heating for all living quarters. We will press bricks for the stove and its building next week.
Regarding the heat exchanger on the stove, here is the design for a monotube (single, long tube) proposed:
Water enters the top of the heat exchanger, and exits at the bottom. The steam separation chamber is used to separate steam and control the water level in the steam generator. If you donâ€™t control the water level, you will be spitting water out of the exhaust.
In 200 years, nobody has figured out how to control a monotube boiler under varying load conditions. It is simply a combination of the small amount of water in the entire steam generator at any single time, and the fact that the steam generator pipe has significant thermal energy stored in it. One canâ€™t just cool it/heat it within a fraction of a second, as demanded, for example, in city driving.
On other concluding comments â€“ I am trying to understand why steam has never gained higher popularity. Someone mentioned in a talk that if only 1% of the entire ICE budget went to developing steam power, we would now have the option of driving with steam. Tomâ€™s conclusion is that it is a simple infrastructure and education issue â€“ simply, the modern transportation infrastructure is not set up to handle steam. The reason for the absence of steam is political choices, not its technical feasibility. As far as I know, there is complete consensus within SACA that steam is could be a maintenance-free means of mobile propulsion. Note also that steam locomotives were common, and that most of our modern electrical power comes from steam turbines fired by coal, and that there was a number of steam vehicles on the roads at the beginning of the 20th century.
To sum up the 2-day adventure – next year, we are considering taking a cross country trip to follow up with some of the SACA members throughout the States. During the visits, we would build components. We would plan on returning propelled by steam power. On a more immediate note, here is a proposed steam hydraulic hybrid of 250 Watt electrical production that we are currently reviewing for feasibiliity. Please comment.