The Perfect Use for Steam

The title should be the Two Perfect Uses for Steam.  What we are thinking about is a truck with a big burner and steam generator and a tank of water that can drive up to a house or apartment building and inject high temperature steam into the house.  The first reason is bedbugs.  It appears that only heat will kill bed bug eggs.  Insecticides will ill the bugs but not the eggs so that is an ongoing and ultimately losing proposition.  So what is needed is a long insulated flexible hose that will handle 800 degree F heat but almost no pressure.  The hose is reeled out, the truck is driven up to the front door, a Christmas tree manifold is placed in the living room with many smaller flexible hoses snaking into each room and with the doors more or less closed.  All that is needed is to have a few temperature sensors with remote reading capability strewn around and the burner turned on.  The reason this works so well is because superheated steam is hot and dry and contains a lot of heat, much more than hot air for an example.  A little empirical testing will need to take place to see how much wall paper comes off the walls, how many candles melt into puddles, and how hard the refrigerator will have to work to keep up.  An etymologist will need to be on the staff so that maybe we can kill cockroaches as well as bed bug eggs.  Also the hamster will need to be moved because all of the air, and concomitant oxygen, will be displaced.  I think it will take an hour or two in order to heat up the furniture enough to kill the eggs.  This will be a big boost to steam people because then we will have half of what we need to be in the steam business: a big burner and a big heat exchanger.  If we had a steam engine in the truck we could give rides around town between bed bug gigs.

In between bed bug egg killing the truck could be used for fire fighting.  The main problem with fire fighting is the water damage to the house and contents.  That is a serious problem.  Also it takes a long time to get the water pumped in to where the fire is burning.  Firefighters need to crawl around on the roofs chopping holes in the building and doing all kinds of damage.  The rational way to put out a house or any building fire is to drive up onto the front lawn with the truck.  Sticking out in front of the truck will be a pipe with a big piece of sheet metal around it, more or less like the conical pet collar.  If the driver is good he will poke the pipe through a window, merely breaking some glass and not damaging the siding.  The sheet metal piece will more or less seal the broken window so that not much air exchange takes place.  Then a huge amount of really hot steam under whatever pressure is needed and I am thinking only 10 psi or so is shot into the building.  Unless there is an open door nearby or some broken window the steam will pressurize the house displacing all of the air and thus putting out the fire.  If the fire is up in the attic and there are no openings to that space then some way of getting steam there is needed.  As soon as the fire burns a little opening into the ceiling the fire will be put out.  This is such a genius idea that a person such as myself wonders why no one thought of it sooner.  It is just that so few people are truly enthused about steam and all of the possibilities for it to benefit humanity.  Either that, or the newspapers prefer to take photos of firefighters standing out in the cold with icicles hanging from their hats and big fountains of water being sprayed through the air.  It is difficult to get an emotionally heartwringing photo out of some superheated steam leaking out from under the door.


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6 Responses to The Perfect Use for Steam

  1. stevebb says:

    look up ? They ended up builing a rather large trailer mounted steam raising boiler much as you describe but for filling up steam balloons.

    Superheated steam – hmm it’s “corrosive” and will react with carbon containing materials- wood, cotton etc producing C02, and potentially pretty dangerous levels of hydrogen gas.

    • Tom Kimmel says:

      In response to the statement about superheated steam being corrosive and reactive, that is the reason that we keep it inside steel tubes in the steam generator and then we put it inside pistons and cylinders and expand it to low temperatures and pressures extracting work from it. We think that when superheated steam is shot out of a nozzle it cools off quickly and we do not know for sure. That can be easily tested empirically. Kindling temperature is 457 F or whatever the name of Bradbury’s book is. When using steam for fumigation we are trying to raise the temperature of things in a house without getting them too wet so we want to have as high a specific heat medium as we can. As for the steam balloons, if you look at molecular weight and note that oxygen and nitrogen are diatomic, then you will see that hot steam is about half the density of air, and thus has much more lifting power than hot air itself. A few days of testing in an abandoned house would answer all of our questions. The point I was making is that few people have considered this as a possibility. As always, it is the comments that sharpen the argument or more precisely sharpen the logical thinking process. Thank you. Tom Kimmel

      • stevebb says:

        Superheated steam has lower heat transfer rate to surfaces than staturated steam does. Inside fabrics will remain cool for longer, so the small amount of condensation will wick deeper.

        Adiabatic expansion of superheated steam through a nozzle won’t cool steam down to saturated steam temps unless the initial steam temp/pressure fit the nozzle expansion ratio. (if download is working combined with knowledge of the thermodynamic cycles is very useful for working backward from desired steam temp&pressure, through nozzle to get temp&pressure of boiler outlet)

        I was indeed tempted to reference Fahrenheit 451. But it’s not the temperature of the steam that’s the problem re corrosion it if the steam is reversibly dissociated due to the superheat. Dissociation splits the H20 up(at expense of temperature rise=where the energy of superheat is stored?), and that which changes it’s pH from neutral. Looking at trends in there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem below 400 deg C. But dissociation is perhaps why so many materials are only rated for saturated steam-even hot water can react with zinc in some brasses.

        Perhaps desuperheat before flexible hose? Eases requirement on tubing
        Useful page –

        Agree very much that the applicability of theory, should be tested

      • tkimmel3 says:

        First of all I need to confess my ignorance of how steam works after being liberated in the air. I think that it cools down fairly quickly after it escapes a pipe or hose. Secondly, it is quite simple to figure out what steam does empirically. One starts with superheated steam and then slowly ups the water flow until the steam temperature lowers until it is effective. Thirdly, this is not an area of technical interest that very many people are working in. Everyone else is trying to extract power from steam. I had thought that because we know how to make superheated steam, and few other people are comfortable with monotube steam generators, that we would have a technical edge. The lesson to be learned is that every thing about steam is both little known and of critical importance. We will plow on ahead and welcome comments that will sharpen the thinking. I am still trying to kill bed bug eggs without peeling the wallpaper off the walls by making everything sopping wet. Tom Kimmel

  2. Regarding your steam fire engine scenario: I’d want to see it in action before I bought one. Fires are tricky things, and much of the damage to a structure is done by the firefighters to expose burning surfaces in order to put them out. The great advantage of water on fire is that the heat of vaporization sucks up much of the fire’s energy so that adjacent flammables don’t get hot enough to burn. This is particularly when one uses a fog nozzle, since the tiny droplets of water have a huge total surface area and they flash into steam very effectively. This is the basis of the Chimney Snuffer (; see it in action at 1:06), which is very effective on chimney fires.

    • tkimmel3 says:

      Dear Ms Black, Of course one would have to do empirical research. The purpose of steam is to displace the oxygen and then there will be no combustion. If there is a high volume of steam and it will be at pressure, then the steam will blow all of the air out of the building and will not add any water, so there will be no water damage and the fire will go out. The steam would have to be added for some time because the hot coals will still be there ready to burst into flame as soon as oxygen arrives. In other words, steam is a way to easily getting a very large quantity of an inert gas (water vapor) into a building under pressure. The reason that this system has not been used before is, I can only assume, because no one is comfortable with a monotube modern steam generator system, or knows how to make one. I think it is a genius idea. Tom Kimmel

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