Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

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Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby #7470 » Wed Jan 04, 2012 8:55 pm

In school last semester, we were asked to complete a semester long project on sustainability and what our sustainable creation would be and how we could do it. I chose to look into an electrically heated steam locomotive. I ended up getting a 98 on the project. My idea was to use an industrial steam generator (I'll have to look up the specific one) to create the steam. This generator was powered by rechargable batteries on the locomotives tender where the coal would have been (again, I'll have to look up the specific batteries, I know they were Cat batteries used to power generators in hospitals) These batteries were recharged using the same technology Toyota uses to capture heat as energy in the cars breaks; the same would apply in capturing the heat off the steam boiler. Generators in the wheels would also be used for the generation on electricity and for the batteries. So, the batteries would power the generator to heat the water to produce the steam, the heat from the boiler would be used to generate the power for the batteries creating a completely sustainable locomotive once it was operating with an exhaust of only water.

I am no expert by any means and neither was my professor :P (luckily) I know there are probably a ton of problems and holes with my theory of how it could be done. So I pose this question to all of you. How could an old steam locomotive in the US be converted into a sustainable steam locomotive for modern day? How would you do it?
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby scottychaos » Wed Jan 04, 2012 9:34 pm

Cool idea!
there is some interesting thinking in there..

What you have invented is called "perpetual motion"..
and people have been working on the problem for many hundreds of years! ;)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_motion
If you could actually make it work, you would become the richest person in the history of the world.
but sadly you cant make it work..because its impossible.

The primary culprits are heat and friction..you lose a lot of energy that way.
If your locomotive could be built, it would probably only run a few hours..
maybe a few days..but no more than that.

nothing is truly self-sustainable forever..
the closest thing we have is the Sun..several billion years is pretty good,
but eventually even the Sun will run out of power..

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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby jgallaway81 » Thu Jan 05, 2012 3:41 am

If you are asking about a turn of the century classic 2-cylinder reciprocating steam engine, then the short & simple answer is that it can't be done. At best you might get a few hours out of it, and its simply because of the inefficiencies of the method of converting thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Now, if you are willing to design a locomotive from the ground up, there may be a little wiggle room for aiming towards your goal, but still nothing closing in on "perpetual motion".

First, background: NS built a 4-axle switcher a couple years ago in conjunction with PennState & the US-DOE. The unit has over 1000 deep cycle batteries and uses regenerative braking to help top off the batteries during the day. Any time the throttle is idled, the dynamic begins flowing electrons to the battery bank. Even so, it takes a full charge each day to get the engine to make a full 8hr shift.

Now, going my route, (admittedly biased, I'm a pro-Hydrogen guy) There may be a little more room for accomplishment. The use of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in both fuel cells and a modified diesel-like internal combustion block would provide power throughout the day for use in traction motors as normal. Once the water was formed, it would be cooled and tank-stored for later recycling. Cooling of the block would be provided by a standard water loop, except this loop would be designed to contain the water in a super-insulated tank/boiler. When the engineer called for dynamic, power would be routed to one of several options: batteries for direct storage; heating elements in the water tank to super heat the already hot water into steam; or used to provide electrolysis of the "produced" water back into free oxygen and hydrogen for later re use. Optimally, the onboard computer would break up the available power to provide the most return for the investment. Tied into the onboard computers, the system would be able to guess if this was likely to be a quick or extended dynamic run, and direct the energy to the system that could provide the most return: a quick use of high level dynamic might only last 60 seconds, but thats enough time to add 2-3 hundred degrees of energy to the boiler tank. Alternatively, a 40-minute extended use of dynamic might be better off charging the batteries, "cracking" waste water and the remainder of the power being sent to help maintain the boiler temps.

Since dynamic is a very high amp, brief application, I believe the thermal storage tank offers the best option for energy recovery. Using super-high amp heating elements, the boiler water could be raised to pressurized steam relatively quickly. The steam could then be used in a small "block" reciprocating engine to generate electricity to either charge batteries or provide additional power for waste water electrolysis. Because the water could be heated faster than any other recovery process, the engine would be able to recover the most energy. Plus, because the water/steam will remain "charged" for some time, there will be the ability to utilize that energy for some purpose (electrolysis, charging, onboard electronics, etc) for some time even after the engine is no longer operating in a dynamic braking capacity.

Just my idle thoughts.
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby johnthefireman » Thu Jan 05, 2012 3:31 pm

Off topic as far as sustainability is concerned, but for an "electrically heated steam locomotive", see http://www.friendsoftherail.com/phpBB2/ ... tric+steam
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby #7470 » Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:57 pm

Not really off topic. As posted, it would be impossible to make a completely sustainable steamer. But with all the "go greens" nowadays, you never know if there will be any law that limits steam locomotives use. I'm just interested in how it could be done to preserve these engines even longer into the future for all generations to enjoy. Steam locomotives were built way beyond their time and we should take advantage of that, at least for tourist operations.
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby #7470 » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:14 pm

johnthefireman wrote:Off topic as far as sustainability is concerned, but for an "electrically heated steam locomotive", see http://www.friendsoftherail.com/phpBB2/ ... tric+steam

Thats very interesting. It's cool to see that it worked! The point that my professor was trying to get across is that although we can break away from one source, it puts more use on another. This is a perfect example because the locomotive itself is only putting out an exhaust of water vapor, but the electricity needed to run it is coming from a power company which burns coal to produce electricity. I was trying to think of a way to build one without putting a use on an outside source. But this is proof that it could be done; the only question is how could a generator like that be powered without the need of an outside electrical source?
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby johnthefireman » Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:09 pm

In Switzerland it was almost certainly hydro-electricity, not coal, but the point about using an outside source remains the same.

Sorry if I wasn't clear: I wasn't implying that your OP was off topic, only that my reply had nothing to do with sustainability and thus, in a way, was off topic, but was on topic in that it dealt with electrically heated steam.

Cheers!
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Re: Self-sustaining Steam Locomotive

Postby jgallaway81 » Tue Jan 10, 2012 8:32 pm

Going on the reciprocating steam engine route, it might be possible to segregate a portion of the boiler feedwater to be electrically pre-heated before injection. If one was willing to do heavy modification to the tender, one could re-equip the tender trucks with traction motors for dynamic braking. Rather than burning off the electron resistance via forced air, the resistor grids would be cooled via water, thereby pre-heating the water.

As I recall, live steam injectors require cold tender water in order to work, so injector-only engines would not be able to use this option, however any engine with a turbo pump or a simple reciprocating pump would be able to use water at 210 degrees, which would provide a serious bonus in fuel efficiency. If one could pressurize the tender tank with compressed air to say... 20-40psi, you could even increase the preheat temperature even further, though now you would add an FRA requirement for hydrostatic testing of the tender tank as well. Which costs more? fuel or a hydro test of the tender at the same time as the boiler?
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