Steam engines? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Are there any practical steam engines available out there? Any that could effectively replacing an electric motor? Couldn't a fridge be run by a steam engine? Or the cellar sump pump?

-- Floyd Baker (, October 29, 1998


Try this site:

-- Elbow Grease (, October 29, 1998.

The efficiency of a direct-mount steam engine is relatively low - but it could work. Think about the care and feeding of the supply water, the condensing water, the time (energy) to heat the boiler and water to begin to get pressure, the storage of fuel (and the effort to cut/mine/dry/feed the burner vs the effort of using ??? other method to run the "motor" of the pump.

For a sump with less than 3 gal leakage per day, it might be easier to use a mop, sqeegy and sponge. Better yet: assign a kid, if you have one handy. No need to do it yourself.

For a fridge, don't know. Propane may be the simplest, like they use in the RV campers. Recommendations anybody?

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, October 29, 1998.

Floyd it has occured to me that there are several books and some magazines about steam power. Most of this is machinist hobby stuff - but the engines can turn out real power. I don't know much more about them - had a college prof in the engineering dept that liked the darn things. In fact they have an old engine show in a town north of Memphis each spring. Maybe you could look around where you live and find some group that does the same or has meetings you could attend.

-- Paul Davis (, November 01, 1998.

I've been thinking more about steam. We all know it was the major source of heat and power in an earlier time and perhaps it may now be due for a comeback.

The separate components of a system are: Fire, water, containers (boiler, condensor and associated piping), and a mechanism to turn the steam pressure into mechanical motion. All of these must be strong enough to hold whatever pressure is developed. A safety valve should be connected to the boiler, and various points in a large system, to relieve excess pressure; otherwise an explosion or high pressure steam leak can occur.

These steam engines can be used to turn an auto alternator to recharge batteries or to pump water or many other things an electric motor does now. A system could be made to also supply heat to your abode when needed. Not only by normal radiation and convection, but by piping hot water and/or steam to distant rooms.

Water is heated to boiling. The steam pressure that develops is piped to a device which converts it to mechanical torque. The "used" steam is then condensed back to water which re-supplies the boiler. The entire circle is sealed to retain the pressure.

A boiler can be made from an old home steam radiator. It already has the connections for water in and steam out. There would have to be more than one; one for boiling the water and two or more for condensing the steam back to water. They might be those old steam radiators or engine blocks or any other strong casting or tanks. The steam can be connected to the mechanical converter by pipe and perhaps high temp flexible connections; maybe hydraulic hose or heavy auto radiator hoses. I have no idea about pressure ratings for any of these items but believe that effective steam pressures would be in the 80 to 160 lb range. Obviously there are places where steam lines and other usable materials can be obtained.

The steam is brought to the "steam engine" in a small line under whatever pressure you have developed. It propells the turbine or piston by exerting this pressure and then the used and expanded steam is taken from the device through a much larger, low pressure, return pipe. It is taken to the condensor where it cools and is converted back to water. The condensor should be kept in a large tank of heat dissapating water, outside in the cold, or otherwise kept as cool as possible. It must be large enough and cool enough to fully condense the returning steam.

As the boiler water turns to steam, not only does it exert pressure into the line to the "engine", it will also exert pressure back down on the water and intake line until it equalizes throughout the system. I am a little hazy here about how this is kept from happening. Don't know if gravity plays a part or not. Perhaps by using some of the steam pressure to *pump* replacement water into the boiler through a one way valve. Please if anyone can add any more detail here, or correct anything I say anywhere else, please do so.

Beyond that, the only thing that keeps everything operating in a cycle from water to steam and back to water, is the condensing action. If the cooling exhaust piping and condensor are operating properly, the space occupied by the exhausted steam as it is condensed back to water, becomes somewhat of a vaccuum. That is; steam pushes on one end of the engine and vaccuum pulls on the other.

The "steam engine" device might be an existing water pump used in reverse, with the torque running an alternator. Be sure the construction of any such device can withstand the steam heat, pressure and moisture. Gear boxes, manifolds, any castings with internal cavaties, pulleys and belts, pillow blocks and a whole lot of things that have been rusting out there in the junk yards and out behind the barns can be made to work again, in a steam operated environment.

This is all just food for thought. I don't claim to be an engineer. Just think it could just turn out to be the most usable means of distributing heat and supplying mechanical power.

Please add ideas, corrections or other details.


-- Floyd Baker (, November 07, 1998.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ