Good Steam Ideas are coming

In the meantime while we are waiting for the good ideas to be explained–something that requires thought, analysis, and preparation–here are some more  bad ideas.  Somehow I came across the website: and the name should have warned me sufficiently, but I could not resist and a long list of engines emerged that are: “efficient engine designs that better utilize fuel than the conventional internal-combustion engine.”  Now then, I am an inventor just like the next guy but one has to give credit to the IC engine people for doing a pretty good job of wringing energy out of fuel given the limits of materials and what Sadi Carnot said at one time.

And so here is what was listed under the “Open Source Energy Network” heading: Jirnov Vortex Engine patent 5,511,525 that looks a lot like a vane engine with complexities.  It may be useful in a steam engine as an exhaust turbine where a lot of low pressure steam needs to be moved.  It does not appear to have thermodynamic benefits.

Second was the Bourke Engine, the uniqueness of which is a Scotch Yoke instead of a crankshaft.  Those who think will see that a Scotch Yoke has the geometry all wrong resulting in high side loading.  Bourke compounded the deficiencies of the Scotch Yoke with a two-cycle IC engine before claiming a 300% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Thirdly was the obligatory mention of the Tesla Turbine.  At least the definition is accurate: “parallel closely spaced disks tap viscosity”.  The conclusion is a little shaky “Technology works but is yet to break into marketplace.”  My comment is that the marketplace is a cruel taskmaster; it expects something more than single digit mechanical efficiency.  The name Tesla appears to have magical properties and it is used and misused all over the place.

Fourthly is the Stirling engine which we have already mentioned as the enemy and anyone wishing to study the matter should read Colin D. West: “Principles and Applications of Stirling Engines”, a book I recently acquired and find to be the best available on the subject.

The final engine was the compressed air engine–“Use compressed air, which can be replenished from clean energy sources if desired.”  Well, we all desire to use clean energy sources, it is just that they are so few.  I forgot compressed air in the excitement of listing all of the other enemies of modern steam power.  The general rule of compressed air is that 20% of the energy that went into compressing air is turned into mechanical energy.  The reason is the huge amount of heat generated in the compression part of the cycle, then lost during the storage part of the cycle, and then not recuperated from the atmosphere during the expansion part of the cycle because there is not enough surface area in the cylinder to exchange the heat necessary to warm up the air when it expands.  Boyle’s Law has something to do with this.  If we could put some fins inside the cylinders and slots in the pistons we could get somewhere with this idea.

Compressed air works economically when one is burning coal to make electricity and then using electricity to compress air, particularly if done off-peak and with concomitantly lower rates, and while using the Scuba tank technology of carbon fibre tanks.  If combined with a bio-fuel burner something similar to the Ericsson Cycle can be used to greatly increase the range of a compressed air car.

Some genius will probably come up with the idea of making a steam engine without a boiler by using the compressed air to make a fire in a combustion chamber with compressed natural gas as the hydrocarbon fuel, something relatively clean because of the high hydrogen ratio, and then spraying some water into things to cool them down before all of the metal melts and calling it a steam engine thus having all of the cachet and magic of steam that we, steam enthusiasts, have built up over the years.  The fact that there are worse ideas should not be taken as a compliment.  This system would work and makes some sense for certain drive cycles that are stop and go and wait for the lights to change.  The problems that I foresee have to so with chemistry–any time hot steam is in contact with oxygen, from the over-stoichiometric ratio of air to fuel, or hot steam is in contact with carbon dioxide, from the combustion by-products–only bad things will happen.  The bad things are carbonic acid plus oxygen, both greatly corrosive to iron and probably aluminum.  It is still a long ways around the barn and we all like pure steam.


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