The International Steam Pages
21st Century Steam Car
See also http://www.steamcar.co.uk/ (link dead by October 2014) for current information. Click here for a BBC story from December 2004.
This is a press release from October 2006.
The British Steam Car Challenge – which will attempt to set British and World Land Speed Records in excess of 200mph – received a considerable boost recently when Slough Heat & Power in Berkshire provided some steam from a purpose-built gantry to assist the team in their initial trials. After various tests, the car's turbine layout was redesigned and is now successfully generating in excess of 300bhp – the output needed to achieve the records. Having proved, mathematically, that 200mph is possible, the team is now completing the high-tech boilers for the car, named Inspiration. The boilers will generate a formidable four megawatts of energy – almost enough to power a small town for a day.
Steam engines could be eco hope
By Jo Twist, BBC News science and technology reporter
Think of steam engines and hazy, romantic images of chugging great beasts of old fill the mind. Steam-powered vehicles are not usually deemed as being parked at the cutting edge of transport technology. Nor do they seem to be the type to race across desert landscapes in a bid to smash land speed records in the 21st Century. But British design engineer Glynne Bowsher and his team have almost finished building a super-fast vehicle reminiscent of the Batmobile. And this car puts a new technological breath of life into what is regarded as a traditional means of power. He knows engine and vehicle design like old friends, having worked on Richard Noble's record-breaking Thrust 2 jet car and having designed ThrustSSC, the first vehicle to break the sound barrier on land. His team, the British Steam Car Challenge (BSCC), is hoping that its Inspiration vehicle will live up to its name and not only break a long-standing steam-car speed record, but also inspire thinking about alternative fuels for the future.
In and out
The search for a suitable alternative fuel source to hydrocarbons which can cleanly power our vehicles has touched on various different options. Fuels which do not "rot" the environment usually bring to mind images of gently humming electric cars, clean hydrogen, natural gas, or hithane - a concoction of hydrogen and methane. The most promising, believes Mr Bowsher, is either nuclear or hydrogen fuel. The public is reluctant to explore nuclear; but researchers and engineers across the world are exploring how best to generate and, more importantly, store hydrogen fuel, one of the main barriers to its widespread use. Nine European cities are taking part in a pilot scheme to use hydrogen fuelled buses on certain routes, for instance. But until a viable mass-scale way of storing and distributing hydrogen effectively is developed, it remains limited in use. Mr Bowsher believes that until then, designers could look to Inspiration for a different take on good old steam. The key to its potential is the difference between internal and external combustion technologies. External combustion engines - like steam ones - hold several advantages over internal ones. They have the potential to produce fewer harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) than conventional cars which use internal combustion engines. Although steam engines still need to burn hydrocarbon-based fuels like petrol and diesel, which in turn release carbon dioxide, external combustion engines can control the release and the production of CO2 more efficiently. And because such engines can work well at lower peak temperatures and pressures, the creation of NOx compounds can be almost negligible.
Inspiration is a far cry from the steam cars made famous by the Stanley brothers, however. The 1906 record, set by a Stanley Steamer at what is now Daytona Beach, is the longest-standing officially recognised land speed record for a steam car. It was set at a time when the battle for supremacy between petrol-powered internal combustion engines and steampowered external combustion engines was in full sprint. Although Stanley Steamers had enjoyed a boom in the early 1900s, they were quickly being overtaken by internal combustion engines. The steam car, driven by Fred Marriott, reached 127.7mph (205.5 km/h), beating four petrol-powered vehicles to pick up the Dewar Trophy rewarding the fastest vehicles on land. Even before steam became speedy, a steam-powered engine designed by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot drove the first selfpropelled vehicle in 1769. But it had to rest every 15 minutes to generate enough steam power to send it on its way again. To Mr Bowsher, it is steam's historical legacy that has always attracted him. "I grew up with steam locomotives in my own town, so steam was a part of my life. When I was young we didn't have a car - my father never owned one," he explains. "We went on the railway or the bus. It was quite important to me; I always had a love of aviation and steam so those two things in terms of transport are still with me."
Designing a steam engine fit for the demands of a 21st Century land-speed attempt has proved somewhat of a
challenge, however. "We basically had to come up with our own design, which is innovative in some ways," says Mr
Bowsher. So innovative,
in fact, that the team is exploring patenting the design. Inspiration's engine works in quite a simple way, he explains.
Water is passed through a steam generator where it is heated by burning propane gas into superheated steam at
400C and at 40-bar pressure (4 million Pa). That steam is then fed into four nozzles on a two-stage
turbine arrangement. "With a turbine, you either use the pressure energy or velocity energy. In this case,
we turn the pressure energy into high velocity. "Then the moving gas stream strikes the turbine wheels and
starts them rotating - a bit like a small-scale power station," explains Mr
"Once we have a turbine that goes round, rotational power, that along with gear ratios can be used to drive the wheels
and once we have the wheels rotating we can make it go forward fast." It sounds simple enough, but there were big challenges
But he can imagine the engine design being used in diesel based commercial vehicles which belch out a large proportion of pollution, like buses and lorries. "Burning propane is environmentally more friendly than burning diesel. If the technology could be adapted, then it might just be a possibility - it is something we are investigating," he says.
INSPIRATION STEAM CAR:
Construction: Tubular steel spaceframe with composite/metal panels
Two stage turbine on single spool
Click here to return to the modern steam locomotive developments page.