Steam powered backup

Steven LakeSteven Lake Solar Expert Posts: 402 ✭✭
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I was out wandering around the web looking for potential alternative power generation methods in the event of solar failure and came across this. It was more of a research project into alternative ways of providing power in the event of total resource failure/loss (ie, the solar fails, there's no gas for the generator, the windmill is dead, etc) where power was needed, but you had none of the typical ways to provide it.

Is this a practical emergency power generation method? No, probably not. Well, it might be if you did it right, such as upping the allowable operating pressure, installing a fairly meaty or reasonably powerful AC alternator (I'm pretty sure this could spin up at least a 1500w AC alternator, or maybe even one as meaty as a 3000w), and you didn't mind watching your 120v AC water pump go up in a cloud of smoke from being under powered at startup. lol. Well, ok, the last part probably wouldn't happen, but even so you wouldn't have a very happy water pump either way.

Anyhow, I found this rather interesting, and figured to pass it along to you guys and get your thoughts on it. I figure that the rig itself has the ability to run at upwards of 80psi (the tank probably tops out at 120psi, so 80psi with a fire under it is probably the highest safe level you'll want to risk.) which means that, if he's getting that kind of performance at 18-24psi, he ought to get quite the run at 80psi. Of course, once you install a load on it, the performance drops way off.

You'd probably also want to install some kind of over pressure valve on it so that if it climbed above 90psi, and you weren't consuming the steam fast enough, you could vent some of the extra pressure to ensure that you didn't have a kaboom in the process of trying to run your generator. (booms like that are bad!) Otherwise it'd be a fun project to do just to say you did it. :D

What do you guys think? I'm actually interested in trying it just to say I did. :D

Comments

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,007 admin
    Re: Steam powered backup

    First--It appears there is no pressure relief on the compressed air tank/boiler... So BOMB! Be afraid, very afraid.

    People have run steam engines for three+ centuries now.

    We could always go back to those early engines... But they were probably less than 15% efficient (perhaps much less, I looked but could not find any details).

    Otherwise, we still have the option of wood gasification... I wonder if it is not the "safest" and most practical of the raw fuel engines (short of raising a field of some sort of oil producing plants and making bio-diesel or or other plants for alcohol fuels).

    Steam engines would seem to be the most dangerous. And Wood Gas is not entirely safe either.

    Back to solar panels, batteries (for electricity), and horse/donkey/people power for the rest?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Steven LakeSteven Lake Solar Expert Posts: 402 ✭✭
    Re: Steam powered backup
    BB. wrote: »
    First--It appears there is no pressure relief on the compressed air tank/boiler... So BOMB! Be afraid, very afraid.
    lol. Yeah, I already mentioned that. :)
    People have run steam engines for three+ centuries now.

    We could always go back to those early engines... But they were probably less than 15% efficient (perhaps much less, I looked but could not find any details).

    Otherwise, we still have the option of wood gasification... I wonder if it is not the "safest" and most practical of the raw fuel engines (short of raising a field of some sort of oil producing plants and making bio-diesel or or other plants for alcohol fuels).

    Steam engines would seem to be the most dangerous. And Wood Gas is not entirely safe either.

    Back to solar panels, batteries (for electricity), and horse/donkey/people power for the rest?

    -Bill
    Very, very true. But again, I'd do this just for the sake of saying I did it. Practicality wise, no, it's not that great of a system. Besides, if we got bombed/emped/CME'ed/whatever into the horse and buggy days ago, we'd have a lot bigger issues to worry about than whether we had electricity, that's for certain. So this just becomes one of those fun experiments with no real practical applications other than as a fun project. ;) Heck, I did crazy stuff like this all the time as a kid for that exact reason. Because it was fun! :D
  • bmetbmet Solar Expert Posts: 630 ✭✭
    Re: Steam powered backup

    Every year at a local spring festival, there's one old-timer who runs his steam engine for the delight of onlookers. It looks like a small version of the Walton's saw mill, with a long belt turning a series of gears. This engine spins all day with nothing more than a shovel full of wood chips every hour, occasionally venting a loud Bang out of the overpressure valve. I'm not quite ready to step back in time, but it reminds me of what my grandfathers fed their families with.
  • Steven LakeSteven Lake Solar Expert Posts: 402 ✭✭
    Re: Steam powered backup

    Excellent point, Bmet! That in turn I think is the primary reason for my interest in steam powered alternatives. IE, they hail from an older, simpler time when people didn't need many things to survive and live was simple, quiet, and fun.

    Oddly enough though I've even looked into stirling engine systems and the like as well for much the same reasons. Not because they're old school, but because they're not mass produced. They're typically something that uses a more primitive power source and needs to be hand built if you want to have one. Being a bit of a tinkerer myself, I've come to enjoy stuff like that.

    In fact, on that subject, I ran into a very cool twin cam stirling engine project created by two guys from England who built a fairly powerful unit using nothing more than a couple of metal boxes, some machined gears and parts, and a few pulleys. The thing wasn't much larger than a small office fridge and put out something like 1500w at 12v with a firebox that didn't measure anymore than about 2 feet square.

    Was it practical? Probably not. Would it be fun to build and run? You darned straight it would be! :D But then again, that'd be half the adventure. In a way it's similar to the fun some people have building solar systems. Half of their reason for doing it has practical applications, and the other half is just because having a system like that is fun. ;) So these are more or less an extension of the same spirit that drives us to build solar PV electrical systems.
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