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Return of the Steam Engine?

Startup Cyclone Power thinks it has a way to replace internal combustion engines.
December 15, 2009

The gasoline-powered, internal combustion engine dominated transportation during the 20th century, but during the early years of the automobile it wasn’t obvious that it would beat out two alternatives: batteries and steam.

The movement to cut carbon emissions and petroleum consumption has of course renewed interest in electric vehicles. But there’s also an effort to revive the steam engine.

Today I got a letter (speaking of antiquated technologies) from the president of the Steam Automobile Club of America, Tom Kimmel, directing my attention to Cyclone Power Technologies, a startup based in Pompano Beach, FL. A few days ago, the company demonstrated its new steam engine, which generates 100 horsepower. The company has also posted some videos of the engine here. It can run on just about any source of heat: the sun, wood pellets, biofuels, diesel, waste heat from other engines. Basically anything that can be used to produce a head of steam. The first application would be generating power from waste heat, the company says (pdf), but the engine could also be used to power vehicles.

Kimmel writes that steam engines can run directly on biomass, without the need to convert it into biofuels, with the energy losses that this entails. But there’s a reason why liquid fuels beat out the alternatives before–they store more energy. It’s hard to imagine this being a real alternative–outside of some nice applications. Anyone think otherwise?

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