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Will Your Next Car Be Steam Powered?

Posted in Alt Fuels, auto industry, Biofuel, Car Tech, Engines, Environment, General, Newsworthy by Kurt Ernst | August 25th, 2010 | 5 Responses |

External combustion engines are nothing new, and there was a time when steam powered cars were as popular as gasoline powered cars. The convenience, low maintenance and superior performance of the internal combustion engines eventually killed steam powered vehicles. If Cyclone Power Technologies has their way, however, steam powered vehicles may be making a comeback.

There are a lot of reasons to embrace Cyclone’s Mark V engine, but here are the two best ones: it’ll burn any liquid fuel, and it produces 850 foot pounds of torque at startup. Its compact size (about twice as large as a lawnmower engine) means it will fit just about anywhere, and it’s closed loop water system means you don’t need to carry additional water, unlike earlier steam engines. You don’t even need to use oil, since water vapor is sufficient to drive and lubricate the pistons.

Cyclone goes into as much engineering detail as you’d care to read on their website, but here’s a brief recap of how the Mark V works. The combustion chamber (which resembles an old-fashioned air cleaner) sits atop the motor. Fuel is ignited and used to produce superheated steam in coils inside the combustion chamber; unlike steam engines of old, this process happens in as little as five seconds, with full power reached in 15 seconds at an ambient temperature of 70° F.

Superheated steam, at about 1,200° F and 3,200 psi, drives six pistons arranged in a radial configuration. Pistons are connected to a patented spider bearing, which rotates the crankshaft. Like an electric motor, the Mark V develops maximum torque at low RPM, and since that torque measures 850 foot pounds, you don’t even need a transmission.

Once the steam is used to drive the pistons, it enters a condensing unit where it’s cooled and returned back to liquid form. The cooled water is returned to the combustion chamber coils, and the process begins again. Only four gallons of water (weighing about 32 pounds) are required to run the Mark V engine.

There are some downsides to the Mark V, not the least of which is working with high pressure, superheated steam. That’s nasty stuff, and if it escapes containment, bad things happen if you’re in its path. There are ways of solving that particular problem, so I don’t see that as a deal breaker. The real issue becomes fuel economy and cost to manufacture, and I don’t think Cyclone has progressed to the point where either can be speculated on. I’ll keep an eye on their development, because you never know where the next big leap in automotive technology will come from.

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5 Responses

  1. Set says:

    This is cool. I love unusual engines, especially when they’re retro. If you can use any liquid fuel, you could very easily call this the greenest engine yet. You could run ethanol, biodiesel, and maybe even WVO. I like.

  2. Kurt says:

    Set, I think the only catch would be the energy density of the fuel. Cooler burning fuels would take longer for the engine to come up to operating temperature, and may not allow it to reach full pressure.

    Still, I think this is pretty cool. The company is only five hours away from me, so I may have to go check them out.

  3. Set says:

    Yeah, I’d be curious to see the different results of different fuels. You might take longer to get to operating temp on diesel, but you’d still get better fuel economy, due to higher energy density. They stated using used motor oil as a fuel, too. I’m curious what the results of that would be. Also, other effects could be the cleanliness of the combustion chamber: how often would it require cleaning, and what effects would different fuels have on that? My interest is definitely piqued.

    If you head there, write an article on your trip. I’d be very interested in it.

  4. Rankin says:

    Where’s my Mr. Fusion?

  5. Kurt says:

    You can’t have a Mr. Fusion, but I guess you technically COULD use uranium fuel rods to power the Cyclone Mark V. Not that it would be a good idea…