Steam powered car question

Discussion in 'Architecture & Engineering' started by domesticated om, Jun 15, 2008.

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  1. domesticated om Interplanetary homesteader Valued Senior Member

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    What are the problems with steam power, and why isn't it used to power automobiles?

    Footnote -- this isn't intended as some sort of whacko alternative energy thread. I Really only want to know the real fundamental problems behind the steam engine, and why the average joe's car isn't powered by one.

    If anyone suggests a couple of ideas (example -- fuel is needed to heat the boiler, then why not use an electric element similar to stove). Feel free to call this stuff practical/impractical, and explain why.
     
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  3. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    To begin with, you wouldn't want to use any scheme that used a two-stage or more energy conversion process - like the electric element heater you suggested. Each stage has inherent losses in conversion that reduce efficiency and in that case there are three: battery or fuel cell -> converting electricty into heat through a resistance -> converting that heat into steam. (Of course, there is also another stage - converting the steam pressure into mechanical energy - but that would be present in any type of steam-driven application and is yet ANOTHER waste of energy in the conversion.)

    So that limits you to firing a boiler directly by some conbustion process. And since most fuels are VERY expensive, that pretty much limits your choices to either wood or coal. (And either of those is going to result in a long start-up time until enough steam pressure is generated to drive off. And what do you do when you reach your destination? Kill the fire or let it burn while you shop for groceries or whatever else the purpose of your trip was?)

    OK, then - wood or coal. Wood isn't very energy-dense so it's going to take a LOT of it to go anywhere. And coal? Do you really want to kill everyone in the city you drive several thousand of such vehicles into??? Whew! Talk about smog alert!!!!!!! To put it mildly, it wouldn't pass the emissions laws of the 1800s.

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  5. kmguru Staff Member

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    Most power plants are coal based where they do use a boiler to make steam which drives a steam turbime to make electricity and then the electricity is sold at say 6 to 8 cents per KWH. If you can do than in a miniature size in your car, that would work but not practical.

    Best solution is store the energy from a nuclear or natural gas power plant at night and drive during the day and sometimes at night at 95% efficiency. Just in case you runout of the bettery power, have an onboard 3000KW to 5000KW power plant to limp back to civilization.
     
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  7. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    Well, don't forget that those generating stations don't have to haul the coal around with them as dead weight like a car would. Coal is HEAVY.

    And as I already mentoned, there's the starting and stopping issue with a car AND the fact that it would never, ever qualify for emission standards in any city ANYWHERE. (Except for third-world countries where there are no standards.)
     
  8. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    If you had no access to electricity or fossil fuels, it would make sense. Maybe you have many acres of trees. I've even seen steam powered bicycles and motorcycles. Steam powered cars used to set all the land speed records.
     
  9. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, the original self-propelled farm tractors were steam driven and used wood as fuel. But the farmers frequently complained that they spent almost as much time filling up with water and wood as they did actually using the tractors. And on top of that, they said they spent over half the winter chopping and splitting wood just to run the thing the next season.

    That one went on record as NOT our finest technological achievement.

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  10. kmguru Staff Member

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    That tells you man's need for much denser fuel like nuclear or any stable but compact high energy souce...like C4?
     
  11. MetaKron Registered Senior Member

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    It seems like steam power would work best in a hybrid.
     
  12. MetaKron Registered Senior Member

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    Depends on whether that was an improvement over what they had before. Wasn't that like late 19th century?
     
  13. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    No, very early 20th. They only made them for a little over two years. (In the U.S., at least - I don't know about other countries.)
     
  14. MetaKron Registered Senior Member

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    It sounds like the collectors had a lot more enthusiasm for them than the farmers.
     
  15. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    Google the Doble!

    The best steam cars ever made back in the 1930s. Theres even a video on youtube of one charging up a hill.

    Incredible torque, low emissions and virtually silent.
     
  16. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Hobbyists run steam powered small trains around narrow gauge tracks on their property. I once saw a real steam powered train here in Portland, it was fascinating. It makes interesting sounds.
     
  17. Diode-Man Awesome User Title Registered Senior Member

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