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Writing fiction, steam power, hydrogen internal combustion engine

  1. Mar 20, 2015 #1
    Question: is it possible to have any of the following -
    1. Steam engine in a car
    2. A steam internal combustion engine
    3. A hydrogen internal combustion engine

    Background info

    Hi all, I am working on a fiction short story for fun. It is set in a parallel universe so history and a few other things are different.
    It's a mix of steampunk and present day settings and technology

    It doesn't have to be extremely accurate. I'm looking more at if these things are possible at all.

    I appreciate any help you could provide, should you have the time.
    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2015 #2

    Doug Huffman

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    Steam engine car, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company built Stanley 'Steamers' from 1902 - 1924
  4. Mar 20, 2015 #3
    The BMW Hydrogen 7 is car that can replace gasoline with hydrogen. I think that would count as a hydrogen internal combustion engine.
  5. Mar 20, 2015 #4


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  6. Mar 20, 2015 #5
    Thanks for the replies.

    I did do research on it. But I wasn't able to find out the specifics. I know that they had steam cars and there are hydrogen cars in production now. I was wondering if it was possible to have, specifically, a steam internal combustion engine, not the boiler, as well as if it was possible to have an internal combustion engine that burned hydrogen, rather than using electrolysis.

    I'm not looking at if it's practical or not, just if those specific configurations are possible.
  7. Mar 20, 2015 #6


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    As it says in the hydrogen vehicle link it is possible to make a combustion engine that works with one. As for using a combustion engine with steam I'm fairly certain that would be pointless, a combustion engine already can provide energy to move. If you instead pump that as heat into a complicated steam set up you're making the whole set up massively less efficient.
  8. Mar 20, 2015 #7


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    # 2 is not practical as Ryan points out. However, you might consider a steam turbine engine if you have a small nuclear core that generates lots of heat with fuel rods on a small scale. Not sure I'd buy one, but in the future, with a new radiation safe material called Bee-eS-Shield-ooniam, it would then be practical.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
  9. Mar 20, 2015 #8
    A steam internal combustion engine is an oxymoron, an internal combustion engine heats the working fluid inside the engine, cylinders for recip engines combustion chamber for gas turbines, a steam engine heats the working fluid in a boiler and is an external combustion engine. However you can inject water into the air stream of IC engines to improve the power output or to control combustion temperatures and emissions.
  10. Mar 23, 2015 #9
    Thanks for the additional information, everyone.

    I guess I missed the combustion part while researching hydrogen. Thanks.

    Hey, that's a good idea. Hadn't thought of putting a steam turbine in a car or even a very small nuclear powerplant. - In engineering terms, the nuke plant would be the prime mover, correct? And the steam turb the secondary mover?

    It's an alternate world, so it doesn't have to be practical. Even so, I'll probably have to insinuate that there may be ever so slightly differences in the laws of nature, disregarding the fact that that would make life as we know it impossible. Hence, speculative fiction.

    I can sort of see how that would be redundant, but I still don't understand engines/turbines and the uber basics of engineering enough yet. Is it because steam power and combustion do the same step in the process of making work, that you can't really combine them?
    (I'm a little slow on the uptake; not being facetious. Sometimes quite slow.)

    Or is it b/c the steam needs internal combustion in a furnace anyway, that it would be a total waste to combine ICE w/ steam?

    Thanks again, all. I appreciate the help.
  11. Mar 23, 2015 #10


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    I'm not an automotive engineer but I'm fairly certain the following is true:

    The way any car works is to turn the energy stored in its fuel into motion, specifically the wheels turning. A steam car works by burning fuel (like oil), the heat from that is used to boil water which evaporates as steam. That steam is forced out of the boiler (by the pressure of evaporating) and pushes on a mechanism as it does so which spins the wheel.

    An internal combustion engine gets rid of the whole steam set up and instead the burning of the fuel itself drives a mechanism that spins a wheel. If you were to combine them you'd end up with a system that burns fuel to spin a mechanism to heat water to spin a mechanism. No step is perfectly efficient so you lose energy at each stage, not to mention the extra weight.

    RE nuclear cars that's been proposed for a while but no prototype has ever been built: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon
  12. Mar 24, 2015 #11
    Okay . . now it makes sense. Thanks. Appreciate it. Yeah, that wouldn't even work for a fictional world.

    Never heard the concept of nuclear cars. Cool! I'll look into that, as it may work for this story.
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