Steam as a source of car fuel?

Posted by: Deborah Rhodes onAugust 19th, 2009

In an age when the environment and environmental issues seem to be cropping up everywhere; in the news, in magazines, in documentaries, we are becoming more aware of our carbon footprint and our personal responsibility to the planet. So the search is on for an alternative to traditional petrol and diesel cars. This article will look at one alternative: Steam powered vehicles.

Perhaps the greatest advantage a steam engine has is its ability to use almost any source of fuel to convert into heat in order to run the vehicle. This certainly opens up different possibilities for fueling a steam engine as opposed to the limited options of the internal combustion engine. Furthermore, steam powered engines are not affected by low atmospheric pressure meaning that they work just as well in both low and high altitude situations. There is also a high torque associated with a steam powered engine. From stationary mode this can be useful as it removes any need for both a clutch and a transmission system.

However with every advantage there has to be some form of disappointment. While the above attributes may make steam propelled engines attractive the fuel efficiency effectively kills any chance that we have to see the technology power our cars. Only about 30% of the fuel converted can be used by the engine and couple this with the fact that a steam engine can only reach about 35 miles before it needs refueled then its prospect for becoming a viable alternative to petrol are diminished. Moreover if you are continually starting and stopping, say in the city or at traffic lights, then fuel efficiency is reduced even more as steam pressure needs to be sustained throughout a journey.

Steam may not be replacing gasoline as a source for fuelling your car any time soon, or indeed ever. While it is more environmentally friendly than your average car it requires a lot more maintenances and refueling – far from ideal if you are using it regularly to commute. In saying that steam cars are popular, albeit as a novelty, as The Steam Car Club in Britain is thriving; just don’t expect to see a traffic jam of steam cars yet.

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