Steam Engine Questions
Aren’t steam engines inherently inefficient?
Steam engines like all other engines can not achieve greater than the maximum Carnot efficiency. This law states that the maximum theoretical efficiency is 1-T_low-T_high. However during the initial development of steam engines working with high temperature and therefore high pressure steam was not possible. Therefore efficiencies were quite low. Later as boiler technology improved and steam temperatures increased steam engines pushed up to 26% efficiency.
Are Steam engines difficult to control?
This depends on a number of factors including the type of fuel powering the boiler, the type of boiler and not the least the type of load run in the steam engine. The simple answer is that yes steam engines in their early forms were difficult to control and required operator knowledge and diligence to run. One had to constantly watch the boiler level and temperature and make certain that enough power was made to match the load. This was more or less a full time job.
How then does OSE plan to make a more friendly operating Steam Engine?
Luckily we live in a cheap digital age and we plan to fully utilize this for control of our systems. By integrating boiler feed control and steam engine valve control with an open source Arduino controller we expect that the system will require much less oversight.
What is taking you so long, I want off the grid when will they be available?
There are two major hurdles in the way of implementing the system. The first is development of a means to electronically control and adjust the cutoff ratio of the steam engine. This control will allow for ease of operation and superior efficiency to previous steam engines.
Secondly to make the engines long lasting and economical we need to develop the ability to cast them. We are working on developing our foundry.
What sort of system can we initially expect?
What seems reasonable right now is to expect the availability of a fully integrated biomass burning steam engine system to charge a DC battery bank and a thermal energy tank soon. The solar component for this steam engine is also in the works. You then need to look at your situation and determine what performance you can expect from solar and what biomass you have available. Many places may desire to have a combination of a small solar concentrator and a backup biomass boiler. Other sunny areas may rely purely on the solar thermal system, and cloudy areas may need to be exclusively biomass.