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More on LD Porta, last great steam designer - and other stories

by JohnofParis Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 07:02:15 AM EST

Delightful surprise! Came across Helen's diary, LD Porta: Last Great Steam Loco Designer by accident the other day and sent the link to two friends in the "modern steam movement" i.e. Martyn Bane (mentioned by Dodo) and Shaun McMahon, consulting engineer at Rio Turbio, Patagonia where Porta was chief engineer in the Fifties. 

As the archive seems to be inaccessible now, I'm posting this sequel.

Some of the replies to Helen's diary trotted out the same old objections and prejudices we've been used to seeing over the last fifty years or so. However the arguments in favour of looking seriously into modern steam in the 21st Century are pretty watertight and Porta pointed the way many times.


Thermodynamic efficiency.

I am not a physicist, but these arcane thermal efficiency figures are theoretical and are regularly trotted out, mostly by IC proponents (blinding us with science?); as far as overall efficiency is concerned, a notion more easily understood, when the two technologies, steam and I.C., have been directly compared in regular service on the same job over a similar period, it's about even-steven with a small advantage in favour of steam.

To get an idea of what could be done in the 1990s with steam I suggest taking a look at Roger Waller's article For the Mechanical Engineers [pdf!] where he notably talks about the rack-and-pinion mountain locomotives he developed in the 1990s whilst working for SLM. On the basis of "bums on seats" for a given weight of train up and down the Rothorn in Switzerland, the new steam locomotives are slightly more economical and pollute a lot less due to more complete combustion - all this with one-man operation for the locomotive. (They are also prettier and attract more customers, but this is not the main thrust of my argument.) They do use more fuel when working, but the gasoil burner is shut off when standing and when descending, retarding being done using the time-honoured Riggenbach counterpressure brake. With the burner off, heat and boiler pressure are conserved by radical heat insulation of boilers, cylinders and piping; comprehensive heat insulation is in fact crucial to all steam locomotives and was neglected in the past until Porta came along.

An on/off burner with electro-mechanical control was developed by the Doble brothers in the 1920s for their highly sophisticated steam cars. At 40 mph on the level they ran (I should say run, there are a still few on the go) burner-off for about two-thirds of the time. Modern electronics would make a multiple unit running with steam locomotives perfectly feasible. The ultra-modern Ezee (Equal Zero Emissions) steam unit using ceramic catalytic no-flame burners and ultra high pressure and temperature is designed to fit under the hood of a Skoda Fabia and was developed by IAV in the late 1990s by a research group subsidiary of Volkswagen. Try telling these people that the steam process is inefficient.

To go back to Waller, he has proposed a methane burning loco for Russia that promises a 60% economy over diesels or electrics - I don't think he was believed which is symptomatic of the communication problem we're facing.

Discomfort - working conditions

This was the biggest argument in the Fifties for doing away with steam and at that time was perfectly valid. There's no doubt that servicing Stephensonian steam locomotives (i.e. the "puffer" with firetube boiler) to keep the trains running was an absolute nightmare, especially in Britain and France where "facilities" had become worse than in the 19th Century. Porta and others have shown that today there is absolutely no excuse for such a state of affairs. Porta's most recent steam projects would have required very little servicing and gave very high mileage between overhauls.

One of the problems was the use of coal with its attendant dust, soot and ashes. Porta did not just develop the Gas producer system, he proposed automated devices for ash disposal and the whole boiler unit he developed eliminated almost all pollution (or "ambiental contamination" as he called it - he was an environmentalist before that word was invented) through complete combustion. His solutions were not armchair engineering but eminently practical, backed by sound theory and can be taken up again at any time (he wrote over 200 papers, so none of this is lost at the time of writing). Solid fuel burning does bring more problems than liquid fuel but IC engines cannot deal with solid fuel at all: although coal-dust burning diesels are theoretically possible and have been tried, they have never come to anything. Porta's steam locomotives on the hand have no trouble with solid, liquid or gas fuels of any kinds including biomass, and adapt to local conditions eliminating expensive pre-processing of the fuel. Most of the more recent projects burn gasoil, although as I write, Shaun McMahon at Rio Turbio, Patagonia is working hard on reviving the the gas producer system.

Outdated technology

This is what I take Migeru's obscure comment to imply (unfamiliar blog language misunderstood by me - sorry Migeru - anyway the point is still valid and reflects an attitude commonly encountered). Outdated to me smells of fashion and in assessing any technology, fashion has absolutely no place the debate. This does not mean that we should not be critical of the past but criticism can be positive as well as negative.

Over the last couple of years I have been translating an unpublished Porta manuscript paper in French centred around André Chapelon's celebrated 4-8-0 rebuilds (Andrée's a girl's name, Helen but there's no harm in wishful thinking, a few woman steam engineers would certainly be a breath of fresh air). I hope to find an interested publisher in the near future, but whether that happens or not, translating it has been an education in itself and the paper is interesting in being the only detailed criticism of Chapelon's work I have ever seen.

Chapelon himself was interested in history and always recognised his debt to the past. One name that comes up from time to time in his writings is D.K. Clark. Clark's most celebrated book is Railway Machinery published in 1855. He had been allowed to conduct tests on the locomotives of several railways around 1849 (lucky man) and the book is largely given over to his observations on the test results. Apart from the fact that high pressure for him was a mere 100 psi (7 bars), the book could almost have been written by Porta himself. Clark even developed a primitive form of Gas producer system. It wasn't his invention but he saw the value of it and applied it on the Great North of Scotland Railway around 1855 at a time when most railways were burning coke. Like Porta's GPCS, it used steam jets and air ducts and in a simplified form was used by the railway in question until it ceased to exist as an independent concern in 1923.

Another thing I totally reject when discussing steam is Helen's own closing comment that Porta's legacy is a "might-have-been". She mentioned David Wardale, the brain behind the brilliant 5AT project, but we also have Nigel Day, Phil Girdlestone, Ted Pritchard, Shaun McMahon, Roger Waller - all continuing Porta's work in various parts of the globe. Apart from Pritchard, these are not old men. They all love steam for its own sake, but much more than enthusiasts, they are also practising engineers, highly competent in a neglected, demanding and grossly misunderstood technology. The world has never been so much in need of this sort of competence.

Porta's motto was No hay que Flojar, which basically means, "Never throw in the sponge".

Display:
Fascinating. Didn't know people were still calling for new steam locos. But with the passion held by many for the old ones it isn't that surprising I guess. When Helen was talking about Porta as a might-have-been, it seems to me that she meant that Porta could have done even greater things if he had been allowed.

You might want to include her article url to your diary. http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2006/7/12/84724/0583

And welcome to eurotrib!

by Trond Ove on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 08:58:46 AM EST
Thanks I'll take your advice on Helen's article.

I have to come clean and admit I speak from an enthusiast's point of view. However my interest has always been more in the technological history side and when I try to analyse it all I am fascinated by systems. When I first started regularly using the net I soon found out that there were new steam projects of all kinds in the wind: railway, marine, road transport etc. The article by the Swiss engineer Roger Waller was one of the first I came across; the other was the Australian, Ted Pritchard's site where he described his steam car development in the 1960s and 70s. He really took it a long way, but as he depended on state support, funding finally fizzled out in 1978. However he was invited to the United States with his modified Ford Falcon where notably it underwent emissions tests giving the lowest figures recorded up to that time, and this due to the intrinsic technology and not to add-ons of the type needed for IC engines.

Waller in his article, although using the radically different Stephensonian technology was claiming similar results - as did Porta. The real advantages from the emissions point of view are drastically reduced CO carbon monoxide and NOx emissions. So I thought it was worth looking into further.

Yes, the steam locomotive is a very beautiful dynamic object, and when when actually in steam almost a living being and I will be the last person to deny that. However I am not conducting a "bring-back-the-steam-locomotive" campaign as such. I sincerely believe however that in the present world situation all types of technology should be given a fair crack of the whip and objectively assessed - and we should hurry up about it.

The great advantage of the steam process to my mind is that power production is separate from power delivery. In an IC engine the two actions are combined in an "ultra short" process which demands that to deliver power the engine must turn at a minimum speed; this in turn demands various transmission devices. Steam on the other hand is a "long" process: the heat source boils water and makes steam, generally used by the cylinders to apply power directly to the wheel-rim, moreover it is effective from 0 rpm. (This is why I think that using electric drive whilst feasible is a waste of time as it throws away one of the main advantages of steam). Theoretically the process is less thermally efficient, as there are more opportunities for losses between each stage. People like Chapelon and Porta identified these losses that were long underestimated, showed how they can be minimised. This to my mind was their biggest contribution although they Chapelon also studied structure, vehicular behaviour - Porta tribology...

Separating the heat process from power delivery means that:
a) a wide variety of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels may be burnt with little or no modification.
b) combustion efficiency can be maximised more or less independently of power demands (with intermittent burners it would become completely independent), which is what gives the low emissions. Porta achieved this with coal through use of a thick low-temperature firebed with a quantity of steam injected to keep the heat at cherry-red (about 700°C). That's why he avoided the conventional white-hot fire.

As for "might-have-been", the problem is that it is a highly-charged word that for some people might imply failure. Also I am a bit touchy about steam being considered a thing of the past. I would prefer "might still be".

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:45:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I guess it is great that it isnt spewing as much carbon monoxide as diesel, but what about carbon dioxide? And how efficient would a steam engine be compared to an electric loc fuelled by a coal plant? I guess I could see a posibility of a renaissanse for steam in specific roles, such as on certain passenger routes, etc. But other than that I am not sure, unless there is a SERIOUS energy crunch coming. (Which some people on this board seems to be arguing. I remain sceptical, at least towards doomsday scenarios.)
by Trond Ove on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:23:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Me too, but reducing carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions without filters is a good start that we've not made yet! In any case as long as we burn things, we'll produce carbon dioxide. The only solution there is nuclear, but that's putting us under a permanent sword of Damocles and things only have to go seriously wrong once in a heavily populated area (You will gather that I'm not really in favour of that particular "green" solution). But I do find the Peak oil argument pretty convincing.  The thing is there is an energy/pollution crisis which demands action. This demands, not doomsday scenarios but vision - finding the best means to eke out what seems to be left. If there's a bit more than we think, so much the better for future generations.
As for coal-burning power-stations, can't say. Electric motive power is very efficient in itself but demands heavy infrastructure. Chapelon pointed out that the problem of electrification is the extent of line losses which means that, depending on the distance involved, you have to produce considerably more electricity than you will ever be able to use. This holds good for all national grids whatever the source - steam - i.e. nuclear (yes a nuclear power station after all is a steam engine), coal or oil-fired... hydro wind...
 Chapelon was of the opinion (in the 1930s!) that you had to adapt fuels to needs. His position at that time was that it was wise to continue with coal for the the railways leaving imported fuels for the uses where it was indispensable i.e. the roads. I don't know what his views on maritime applications were. The situation now may be a bit different, but you have to admit the man had vision at a time when they believed in of an unlimited energy cornucopia.
On a more mundane level, steam could well be used for cross-country passenger services and rail freight where medium power diesel locomotives are at present employed. The technology is there waiting in the wings and production could be geared up within a relatively short time scale - 10 years?  The 5AT project already mentioned is for a small locomotive with a top speed of 200 km/h and 1890 kW/2535 hp at the draw bar - more than ample for current needs. I also spoke of Waller's proposition for Russia but did not mention his current project for a suburban line in the Basel district http://www.modern-steam-hauenstein.ch/.

John of Paris
by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:18:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well argued, backed up by references, written with passion - what more could you ask ;-)

The crucial insight is in the description of the technology as being a two technologies = fuel-type independent power unit, and steam-based drive system operating the traction system.

The other factor rarely mentioned (and crucial IMO) is that the mobile part of the transportation system is modular. All 'cars' are pulled or pushed by a single engine (in most cases), but the cars can be any kind of container on wheels, Cars can carry people, liquids, bulk, machinery,  mail, animals - almost anything.

The question is: can a modular system using a single engine get energy efficiency benefits that the alternative - road transport - using many engines, cannot?

It must, on straight A to B connections to hubs, such as between cities. Where it cannot compete - is in collection to and delivery from these hubs.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 12:21:36 PM EST
Where it cannot compete - is in collection to and delivery from these hubs.

That's what horse-drawn carts are for.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 12:40:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Giddyup dobbin!

John of Paris
by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:20:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cars are not only modular they are on-demand.  If I want to buy a packet of pins I can, at will, walk to the garage, jump in my car and zoom off to gratify the desire.  Almost by definition mass-transit systems cannot match this functionality.  

Second, within hubs a greatly neglected power source is the horse power of horses.  A study, of which I only read a brief precise, determined horse and wagon delivery systems were cheaper and just as timely as trucks (lorries) in the London metro area.  The horse - um - 'exhaust' problem is easily solved by use of a bun-bag.  I don't have a solution for the horses-attract-flies -> Public Health problem but it isn't any worse than the continuous health problems created by millions of people breathing carbon monoxide all day.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:06:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think only special kinds of people breath carbon monoxide. The locked in the garage with a car engine running and a lack of antidepressants kind of people...
by Trond Ove on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:19:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Combusting (burning) gasoline (petrol) produces Carbon monoxide (cough/hack/choke.)  That's the way it 'tis.

As to your other point, I'd take anti-depressants too if I was subject to the constant fear of being "collateral damage" of the automotive transportation system.  ;-)

   

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:37:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The local brewery uses a horse and cart for local deliveries. It's not just quaint PR - it seems to make sense as a practical solution too.

And cities also have networks of pedal powered couriers who delive documents and small items, and do it faster than any other form of transport would. (They're also good for fluffing up client egos - 'Yes, I'll bike it over right away' is so often the right answer for clients who believe they're too important for a mere postal delivery.)

The hub problem isn't just an issue for steam, obviously. The UK's rail freight companies have been trying to work out how to combine bulk and smaller-scale freight for years now. There are a couple of places where supermarkets have been built next to freight lines and deliveries have switched from road to rail. But mostly, the UK hates its own railways. The business landscape is fragmented, and the Whitehall interface is even less coherent. So the road and air lobbies have been winning the freight campaign, in spite of some aggressive attempts by the freight lines to innovate.

A fascinating pro-steam feature though. I think it's doomed as a business idea because there's so much irrational prejudice against steam that only a working prototype might have a chance of changing it. And that would be so fantastically expensive, in manufacture, and also in licensing and commissioning, that it's unlikely to happen.

But it might make a comeback in a generation or two, when things may be more desperate and there's more pressure to experiment.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:37:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Horse power is a practical solution.  Although people think I'm going to gob tobacco juice over their Armani suits when I mention its potential.  

Here in New Mexico we are building a light rail system for public transportation in the Albuquerque area and the railroad company is laying new track to carry even more of those cargo containers the shipping lines are so fond of.  I keep hoping we'll get passenger rail service as well.  Small steps in the right direction.

... mostly, the UK hates its own railways

I understand that is so.  I don't understand it.  Perhaps because I've never ridden the lines.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 02:06:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK hating its own railways must be the result of Thatcherite destruction by privatization.

The only thing to hate about the British Rail is that it is outrageusly expensive.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 02:11:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've got the idea - from God knows where - the privatization of BR was a crock-up.  The idea was to invest in track, expand services, and reduce fees.  Instead they fired everybody, tore-up track, reduced service, and increased fees.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 02:43:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, that sounds like a fair description.

It's the difference between neoliberal pipe dreams and the reality of the market.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 02:46:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It wasn't so much tearing up track - there's been a little of that, but most of it has been torn up to replace it so that trains don't make it explode when they ride over it - but tearing up a reasonably functional nationalised system to replace it with a Frankenstein patchwork of micro-companies, each with their own specialised interests.

Rail companies run trains.

They don't own the trains, which are leased to them by train leasing companies.

They don't own the permanent way, which is maintained by a special semi-public company called Network Rail.

They don't own the stations, which are owned by Network Rail too. So there's not much incentive to develop them.

They don't own access to the railway, which is controlled by time slots called paths. They rent it for a while using a complicated and expensive competitive franchising scheme. Which is supposed to encourage open competition, but doesn't, because franchises are mostly closed, so competitors mostly aren't allowed on the network.

They have a limited ability to set timetables, which are decided by the Department of Transport.

No one is in charge of strategic planning. Supposedly the Department of Transport looks after this, but since it hates the railways its efforts are desultory and grudging at best.  

The annual government subsidy - which now has to be paid for contractual reasons, and is out of Treasury control - is more than five times what it was the days of British Rail.

A sane solution would have been simply to pay BR that extra money and let them get on with it. Former BR managers would have exploded with delight to be given the sums that are being paid today.

Instead it gets frittered away in a maze of bizarre and arcane legislative and bureaucratic interfaces between each of the different players.

This is what NeoLoon economics looks like.

Finally, earlier this year the Tories admitted that perhaps the scheme hadn't been a total success.

Idiots.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 03:28:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
90% of the track on the Isle of Wight was torn up. I don't know whether it was a result of Thatcherite idiocy or it happened earlier.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 03:50:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Isle of Wight lines disappeared during the 50s and early 60s.

A certain Dr Beeching tried to remove a third of the UK's rail system in 1963 and almost succeeded. A lot of useful lines survived. But there are still places where recovery is impossible because lines that could be useful now have been built over.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 04:57:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a small stretch of dismantled railway that is now a scenic trail, but the rest seems to have disappeared without a trace.

The Isle of Wight is the size of a city (140,000 people in 380 square kilometres) and its rail network used to be dense enough to feel like the tube. A real shame, if you ask me.

But you say this happened 50 years ago, so why are we blaming Thatcherism for the fact the UK hates its railways? It seems to be a more deep-seated feeling.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 08:33:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They call this baroque epicycle railroading "deregulation"?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 03:52:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for the information.

I'll try and get back later for a more substantial response.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 03:54:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This diary is about possible revival of steam power for a variety of applications. You're talking about transport systems.

Your comments are interesting but why don't you start your own diary? -- I'll come and join you there.

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 05:09:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having a strong fondness for steampower I attempted to find a way to implement it for power and heat generation in our new-to-us house.  I found the diverse parts for such a system can be purchased but there just aren't any off the shelf systems available.   Plus the arrogant attitudes of the suppliers of small steam engines was off-putting.  Finally, the fixed determination to stay wedded to 19th century control systems persuaded us against the experiment.

Theoretical investigation and table-top models are necessary steps for practical systems.  But if steam stays at those levels the reintroduction of steam will only remain an intellectual exercise.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:26:18 PM EST
For house co-generation/heating using steam, there are two companies I know of but neither of them have yet got beyond advanced development stage.

1) Pritchard Power (Australia ) http://www.pritchardpower.com/
A firm founded by Ted Pritchard, the Australian steam car man I spoke of. 5hp home unit for heating and electricity generation with additional direct power take-off. Solid fuel, originally intended for Third World use (I say whole world use), but liquid fuel version will be offered. Unit could also be fitted into a small boat.

They hope to get prototypes running for this Autumn. As in the past, they are hampered by funding problems and are seeking investors.

2)http://www.enginion.com/de
German firm, the same people as developed the eZee car steam unit I mentioned. An ultra high-tech system using a wankel steam engine with electronic control allowing either heating, power generation or both; the entire unit is about the size of a computer tower. The last I heard they'd got at least one prototypes working in their office. The site has been down for the last couple of months or so, which may be either good or bad news.

3) not steam, but currently on the market is Whispergen http://www.whispergen.com/. This uses a gas-burning Stirling hot-air engine with waste heat recuperation

Steam units unlike IC engines for portable electricity generators have the advantage of very quiet operation. For outdoor festivals or sailing ship's auxiliaries, this would be a godsend.

It should be realised that had the Doble brothers' technology been taken up in the Thirties, we would today have silent trucks, farm tractors and plant machinery.

All this and what I have described in my diary is much more than mere intellectual exercise, however development does take time and money. The point is there can be efficient practical steam units up and running very quickly to fill in the gap. This demands vision and political will - but now!

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 05:02:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Outdated technology
This is what I take Migeru's obscure comment to imply.
Er? That was a comment asking a site gnome to delete some spam...

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:37:40 PM EST


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:42:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hush, hush.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:55:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry I'm new to blogging.
But it was a strange way to tell somebody to piss off.
Anyay, you unwittingly opened up an important point to be dealt with and I can thank you for that.


John of Paris
by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 05:47:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But it was a strange way to tell somebody to piss off.

You still don't understand. We regularly get people registering accounts and spamming diaries by posting comments full of chinese characters and hyperlinks. I replied to one of them and said "delete parent". My own comment should have been deleted or hidden when the spam was removed.

I didn't open up any points to be dealt with. You saw what you wanted to see.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 08:08:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"I didn't open up any points to be dealt with. You saw what you wanted to see."

Of course and it helped me out. Thanks again.

I would still be interested in your views on steam technology though.


John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:06:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not much of a technologist, really.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:40:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru's exact comment was:

Vandalism in progress... Delete parent!

It was indeed meant to draw admin attention to a spam comment it was attached to as a reply (parent comment).

BTW, if Helen had taken it for a piss off comment, I think she'd have found a suitable reply ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 08:34:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The best way to deal with vandals is to tell them to piss off. I don't see what Helen was supposed to do except thank him.

John of Paris
by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:08:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The best way to deaal with vandals is to quietly undo their vandalism. The particular breed of vandal in the case at hand doesn't actually read the site so there's no way to tell them to piss off even if we wanted to.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:27:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like steam engines, and there are some applications where steam makes sense. In particular, tourist railroads, and engines that have to run at high altitude.

However, the fundamental thermodynamic inefficiency of the steam cycle cannot be ignored. When one applies modern techniques to diesel engines, they still are better than steam. If you have a fuel that can be burned in an internal combusion engine, you're better off to do so.

Investigation and development of external combustion engines should continue, of course. However, I suspect that the diesel-electric hybrid system will be the winner for onboard power generation, and electric power from coal-fired power plants will be the winner for those situations where oil is unavailable. Just my prediction...

by asdf on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 09:13:09 AM EST
They'll have do do something better on NOx emissions.

Perhaps it is time to reassess fundamental thermodynamics - how do you explain the results Waller and Pritchard got?

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:13:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps it is time to reassess fundamental thermodynamics
Er... no, fundamental thermodynamics is quite solid. The problem may be in the difference between theoretical and actual efficiencies, which is an engineering problem.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:25:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pardon me Roy.
Is that a .037% more efficent choo-choo?

It's not a problem.  It's what engineers do.

The whole romance of engineering, to me, is the gap between the theory, current systems, and attempting to narrow the chasm.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 03:30:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't mean "problem" as in "trouble". I mean it as "a physics/mathematics problem", that is, a challenge or a question to be answered within the given field.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 03:34:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't get me wrong, efficient steam engines are attractive in many environments. But what these guys did was compare older diesel engines with new steam engines.

Re NOX emissions, there is a lot of development work going on in this area. Pre-production road locomotives with significantly reduced emissions are already out there, and hybrid road engines are under development. Here's a recent GE "Evolution" engine that meets the latest EPA standards.

by asdf on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 06:29:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
-- "Don't get me wrong, efficient steam engines are attractive in many environments. But what these guys did was compare older diesel engines with new steam engines."--

Oooh - the pot calling the (steam) kettle black! That's the trick the diesel promotors played on steam so often in the Forties and Fifties when the boot was on the other foot, except that they often compared really old-fashioned steam with the very latest latest diesels.

Where Waller is concerned your criticism is invalid as, rather than directly compare with a slightly older diesel he made a point of asking for the latest specifications the diesel manufacturers could offer. However I have always thought that the trials and comparison should have been pursued after 1992 taking into account the effects of wear and tear in service. Personally, I would like to see an independent body set up - a sort of international "Porta Institute" to look into that sort of question. We can dream!

The GE diesel looks interesting, I'll follow that up.

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 11:50:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...comprehensive heat insulation is in fact crucial to all steam locomotives and was neglected in the past until Porta came along.

I am shocked, but I do recall images of steam engines with lots of uninsulated pipe. If these were hot pipes, or if boilers and the like were uninsulated, then it would seem that locomotive engineers were quite mad. Massive heat leaks don't do much for efficiency.

Can you say more about this?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 07:22:37 PM EST
Couldn't agree more. Although it depends on what pipes you are talking about e.g. injectors need to be kept cool otherwise they don't work. But I have seen whole unlagged areas of firebox on some photos of American locomotives, which seems to me a criminal waste of heat. Porta stressed the amount of heat loss that occurred at the cylinder ends that were often inadequately heat-insulated or not at all and encouraged condensation and loss of cylinder efficiency.

What is often considered one of Stephensonian steam's greatest assets is the fact that it will keep on working (after a fashion) in the most unfavourable circumstances - that's also been its Achilles heel because it has encouraged sloppy practice. Of course it does not invalidate the technology per se and such a criticism could never be levelled at the modern steam engineers I have cited - and they get results. Moreover you cannot get away with it when high-tech water-tube boilers are involved (They don't like you calling them "boilers", you're supposed to say "steam generator" - well, a rose by any other name...)

John of Paris

by JohnofParis (wrightdotperrierarrobasfreedotfr) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 11:00:46 PM EST
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