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Steam Power Makes A Comeback

Sep 9, 2008
Generally people relate 'steam power' to the slow moving steam trains and boats of an age long since left in the dust, a sentimental picture of a Victorian railway perhaps... not exactly state of the art eco-power you may say. However steam power is getting a re-vamp thanks to a company who are trying to make the steam-engine more efficient and compatible with modern day technology.

Clean Power Technologies, in Newhaven on the English south coast, are trying to create a car that runs on steam power. They are developing steam hybrid engines that cut down and reuse the huge amount of energy wasted by the internal combustion engine.

"When you talk of steam people think you are going backwards," said Abdul Mitha, the company's CEO and president, "Anywhere where you are wasting a lot of heat, we can go in, capture the heat and turn it into energy savings ... Steam has tremendous power. If it can drive a steam locomotive, why can't it drive an automotive engine?"

Of the energy in a vehicles petrol tank, just 27% is converted into forward motion, 33% is spent cooling the engine, 4% is lost as friction and a huge 36% is lost as exhaust heat. The company is aiming to harness the wasted heat that is pumped out of the exhaust and convert it into useful power. "There is a lot of heat that is created and totally wasted. Clean Power Technologies aims to recover 40% of this exhaust heat", Mitha.

Clean Power Technologies have created an experimental model in which engine exhaust at 750C, the typical for a lorry, is run through a steam accumulator which heats water to 360C plus, creating high pressure steam which they are ultimately aiming to pump back to the main engine to drive the pistons. However at the moment they are using the steam to run refrigeration units transporting frozen goods on the trucks. A demonstration truck is under construction to be completed by the end of October. Once they have completed the refrigeration units, the company is planning to expand to powering the electronics and air conditioning for boats, and hopefully by 2011 a complete steam hybrid car.

The plans are supported by Dr Ralph Clague, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London, "Recycling exhaust heat and energy that is rejected from the engine has got to be the way forward in the future." He feels that there has been no need to improve the efficiency before, however people are now faced with minimal fuel supplies and rocketing prices, "A tank of petrol or a tank of diesel is such an incredibly good energy store that we have been able to afford to throw some of it away up until now."

Although these ideas have been around in the industry for a while, Clean Power technology is addressing them practically and productively. "It's a perfectly feasible idea ... Obviously now with rising oil prices etc it becomes essential to extract more energy from the fuel you are putting in." Clague.
About the Author
Hannah Walker is a writer for www.ecoswitch.com
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