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 Post subject: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:10 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:38 pm
Posts: 91
Has anyone ever done any research on the possibilities of alternate fuels for steam locomotives? I was just watching a video on how Hydrogen Fuel Cells work and was wondering if something like that could be implemented on a steam locomotive to develop the heat needed to generate steam. Perhaps using a fuel cell stack large enough to produce enough electricity, which can then somehow be converted to heat within the firebox? And since the only emissions are water and vapor, you'd never see anything but clean white steam comin out of the stack; no more black smoke! Was just curious after watching the video, as to whether anyone has ever looked into this, or even if such a setup could work.

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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:33 pm 

Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2007 7:31 pm
Posts: 138
Location: Elizabethtown,PA
Pennsy Forever,
Please don't take this personal, let's talk " the Laws of Physics, i.e. thermodynamics and stuff. If I had a fuel cell and some hydrogen to put in it, I certainly wouldn't waste time and ( literally ) energy with an "open Rankine Cycle " steamer. Much better to connect the electrical juice through some switches and appropriate electro - gizmos to the traction motors to move the train.

However, If I had a big pile of sugar cane bagasse, or dried bovine type cow chips,
that would be great " hog fuel " to fire a 15% thermally efficient museum piece.

Legend has it that a Phila. & Reading hogger was having a bad time getting the load over the road from Reading to Harrisburg. Not enough steam due to a badly scaled boiler combined with 4th rate bony coal in the hopper. Along about Myerstown, in the Lebanon Valley, he spotted an unfortunate porker stuck in a right-of-way fence. A quick clinker hook bash sent the unfortunate one to pig heaven. The head-end crew heaved the pig carcass up onto the footplate and then into the firebox. All that lard made plenty enough BTU's and steam to get the drag over the hump to the Susquehanna.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:06 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:18 pm
Posts: 2226
simply wood as early steamers were wood fired. As coal became more available so did the locomotive design. Now its diesel fuel, whats next... seems we're looking at electrification.

If anything figure out a corn fuel design. The ACE locomotive project was about making clean coal use. Perhaps after market garbage refuse. I would think your going to make some form of a burning oil.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:20 pm 

Joined: Tue Feb 02, 2010 2:59 pm
Posts: 18
If you are going to consider alternatives to coal and petroleum fuel oil for steam locomotives, you need first to understand the characteristics of those fuels as energy carriers. Coal used in North American locomotives ranged in specific energy from 8500 BTU/lbm to more than 13000 BTU/lbm. At the upper end of that specific energy range the energy density of coal is around 750,000 BTU/ft^3.

With diesel fuel specific energy is around 20000 BTU/lbm and energy density is about 140000 BTU/gallon or 1050000BTU/ft^3. You can see where a fuel oil conversion could increase a locomotive's range between refuelings.

Another characteristic of a combustion fuel is the adiabatic flame temperature. This is the temperature of the exhaust gases created when the fuel is burned in air with complete combustion and no excess oxygen. This is the theoretical highest temperature that the fire can produce. In practice there is always incomplete combustion and excess air. A fuel with a high flame temperature can always be turned down with more excess air. A fuel with a low flame temperature can only be turned up by using oxygen enriched combustion air and even if that were practical there still is a limit.

The point is that in order to get the same performance out of a steam locomotive with an alternative fuel, you need:

a) equal or greater flame temperature.

In order to get equal range you also need:

a) equal or greater specific energy, and

b) equal of greater energy density.

Then if you can build a practical fuel delivery and combustion system for the new fuel you might be ready to consider its cost.

Hydrogen combustion is good on flame temperature and specific energy, but is lousy on energy density even when liquified. Running the hydrogen through a fuel cell and then using the resultant electricity to heat water just throws away 40% or more of the energy originally in the hydrogen. Either way, I just can't see pulling a string of NASA style hydrogen transport cars ahead of the paying customers.

All told, developing alternate fuels for steam locomotives at this point is just a feel good public relations exercise. A fleet of 150 on average lightly operated steam locomotives has only a trivial impact on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Until some CO2 reduction regime is implemented and actually results in reduced coal mining or peak oil makes fuel oil too expensive or unobtainable or public opprobrium for fossil fuel burning develops into economic boycotts of obvious burners, alternate steam locomotive fuels are something to think about for the future, but not something to spend much money on.

My own preferred alternate fuel would be charcoal made from worn out federal reserve notes ;)

Andrew Adams


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 12:01 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1809
Has anyone ever done any research on the possibilities of alternate fuels for steam locomotives?

Not sure whether you mean for regular revenue service or to replace coal on historic engines. However:

Unless the individual is a "rogue" or its a "Black Swan" (unintended) by product of something else, that an intrepid preservationist appropriates; steam will burn oil, coal or wood and only be used in its present circumstances.

-I doubt there will EVER (again) be a major industrial effort to develop a new regular use steam locomotive.

There simply are too many advantages to electric traction, principally the ability to provide power independent of speed and have multiple unit operation. Steam also faces the disadvantage of the need to have plenty of (treated) water. Try running the idea of added expense across Warren Buffett's desk as he closes in on BNSF and its remote and dry territories by paying a premium of $100/share.

The technical impediments are substantial; the economic ones are insuperable.

PS Andrew; at the rate they are printing those little green slips of paper, they'll either never wear out or they're worn out upon printing.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 2:56 am 

Joined: Sat Aug 21, 2004 10:52 pm
Posts: 914
I am assuming he is asking about preserved locomotives, not new steam.

HYBRID for the Durango tree huggers??
Posted by: dougvv (IP Logged)
Date: January 20, 2010 09:31AM

How about putting a trolley wire or 3rd rail along the D&S with either a trolley pole or 3rd rail shoe on the steamers. Place electric heating elements in the firebox and to boil the water.

To quiet those that say you are just moving the pollution to the Navajo power plant and encourage the renewable resource supporters, place a dam across the Animas at Rockwood and use hydro-electric to power the steamers.

Another use for the dam dam is for flood control.

Of course a little black puff from the smoke stack now and then would be nice - just sign a contract with Lionel to get smoke tablets?

Just think about it!

Doug vV

Gad! I think Kokopeli was here.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 3:30 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 8:17 am
Posts: 102
Location: Wilmington DE
I think the Grand Canyoun RR uses used french fry oil or something.

Since they ended their steam program, I'll NEVER go back, as why is burning oil in a diseasal worse than burning oil in a steam engine?

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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 9:59 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5353
Location: southeastern USA
Bagasse was frequently used to fire locomotives in sugar mills since they had a lot of it to dispose of....as well as the stationary boilers in the mill. It takes a LOT of bagasse and must be frequently added to the fire, which must pretty much fill the box. Logggers burned slabs for the same reason. If bagasse or other cellusoic waste plant material were pelletized, like pellet stove fuel, it would work better, but that adds the energy necessary to make the pellets on the front end. Organic garbage emits methane, and that gan be generated in digesters and piped to a burner, but I know I wouldn't want to be near one for long - like when you drive past the sewer plant in your town.

So, two approaches working in unison: a constant source of waste combustible mass and an efficient steam generator and steam engine to use it in. Check out the Cyclone Engine sometime.

dave

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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 1:06 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2004 8:10 pm
Posts: 75
Location: Adrian, Oregon
An idea that might have some merit....
Here in Eastern Oregon where commercial logging has been severely curtailed, a lot of the slash from Forest Service thinning contracts is being chipped on-site, sun-dried and shipped to a wood-fired co-generation plant. I don't know what kind of steam generating system they're using, or the thermal effeciency of the fuel, but apparently they've found a way to produce competitively-priced electricity.

Now...couple this renewable fuel source with an old idea from eighty years ago when British company Sentinel Waggon Works built several unique locomotives for South American service. These units used a high-pressure (550+psi) water-tube boiler coupled to truck-mounted steam traction motors. With this system they avoided both the balance & weight problems of ordinary reciprocating steam locomotives, and the inherently inefficient system of a diesel with a combustion engine coupled to a generater coupled to electric motors.

For M-U operation, current technology would allow for electronic fire control, while throttle adjustment could be handled with either an electro-hydraulic spool or an electrical solenoid, with safety cutouts on each.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 4:49 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:24 am
Posts: 23
http://www.thetrain.com/Steam-Event-7275.html

It appears GCR will steam again on a partial schedule with a WVO fuel blend for 4960.
I've gathered from this video the following...

1. Xanterra sees a cost savings by using biofuel. They are in a unique situation owning both restaurants and railroad.

2. This savings is leveraged into a PR move for Xanterra permitting them to boast their eco-friendly equipment.

IMHO, this makes good business sense for GCR & Xanterra. And it's still a steam engine, no matter what fuel it burns.

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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 6:54 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 31, 2007 3:11 am
Posts: 129
Location: Missoula, MT
muldow70 wrote:
And it's still a steam engine, no matter what fuel it burns.


It's amazing how many people forget this. "Sorry you're burning oil. It doesn't smell right!" *walks away shaking head* I don't put up with them well.

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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:50 pm 

Joined: Sat Aug 28, 2004 3:25 am
Posts: 1025
Many years ago I saw a photo of a steam switcher in Switzerland that had a pantograph on top of the cab. During World War II coal was scarce and Switzerland has plenty of hydro electric power. As I recall the story, the shop crew installed a transformer and a big heating element in the "yard goat". Apparently it did not work as well as hoped, and the experiment was not repeated.
Regarding that "real hog fuel" tale from Pennsylvania, if it had been a steam ship rather than a locomotive, I'd call it a "sea story".

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Bob Davis
Southern California


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:56 pm 

Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2008 11:28 pm
Posts: 31
http://www.dself.dsl.pipex.com/MUSEUM/L ... isselc.htm

Seemingly it wasn't such a failed effort...

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Remember this if you'll be spared, trains don't whistle because they're scared.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 12:14 am 

Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2007 7:31 pm
Posts: 138
Location: Elizabethtown,PA
Bob Davis wrote:
Regarding that "real hog fuel" tale from Pennsylvania, if it had been a steam ship rather than a locomotive, I'd call it a "sea story".


Aye, Laddies, 'tis no sea story. It's in a booklet; Railroads of Lebanon County by Donald Rhoads Jr. and Robert Heilman. A comprehensive history of the Lebanon County railroad network. Includes a large number of original photographs. 196p. Illus. Lebanon County Historical Society publication # 90025 (2000) 924 Cumberland Street
Lebanon, PA 17042
717-272-1473
http://lebanoncountyhistoricalsociety.org/publications

I never have been, nor do I ever intend to be, deliberately politically correct.
Any instances where this may have occurred are purely coincidental.


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 Post subject: Re: Alternatives to Coal and Diesel Fuel for Steam Locomotives?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 12:26 am 

Joined: Sat Aug 28, 2004 3:25 am
Posts: 1025
Thanks for the followups! I'd say the RYPN "doubt removal and clarification service" is working well tonight.

Train approaching
Whistle squealing
Pause, avoid that
Run-down feeling.

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Bob Davis
Southern California


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