After Coal?

A special section just for steam engines and boilers, as without these you may as well fit a sail.
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TahoeSteam
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Re: After Coal?

Post by TahoeSteam » Mon Feb 08, 2021 8:57 pm

After labour with bunkering, dirt cleanup, fire tending, and clinker removal are considered is coal that much more economical than burning oil? Not to mention the social license of a well operated oil fire (little to no smoke, no cinders, no forest fires, no explosions (see 'well operated'), etc)... Is there really a reason not to go that route other than the initial conversion cost, nostalgia, and noise of course (which can be minimal depending on the burner used)?

I love wood, but realize it's availability is limited in some areas, especially where a lot of the hardwoods were cut down in a strangecrusade to rule the waves or something along those lines...

I do know Gondola on Coniston Water burns bags of compressed wood logs with success.



Oil seems universally available, and one can say it's "really really old vegetable oil" 😉

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Re: After Coal?

Post by Mike Rometer » Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:34 pm

Oil (diesel) in the UK, is generally expensive, unless you can get it from a farm, or use heating oil, as the tax on it is prohibitive when sourced from gas stations. There is also a possible argument that if used in a boat, that is transport, so should incur the road use related tax.

Currently around $6.50 per Gallon (US) inc. taxes.

Ours is priced in litres to try and fool us that it's cheaper than it is!
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Re: After Coal?

Post by TahoeSteam » Tue Feb 09, 2021 6:20 am

I was thinking more along the lines of #4 heating fuel or recycled internal combustion engine lubricant.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by cyberbadger » Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:22 pm

I believe in certain parts of the midwest united states you can find still find coal. There is a place near me in Akron, OH called Church's Coal. They sell mix hardwoods, Bituminous Deep Kentucky mine, and Anthracite all bulk by weight, they weight your vehicle.

The Bituminous I've used is quite energy dense, but oh so sooty. I haven't used coal much recently.

When I was just burning hardwoods I made the claim that it could be carbon neutral if trees are being planted to replace those harvested.

Right now I've been running a mix of propane, kerosene(steam atomizing siphon), and hardwood.

I'm upgrading my steam atomizer setup with a steam pressure regulator and two USA made Delavan siphon nozzles. I feel if I want to do a multiday trip I want the energy density and convenience of a liquid fuel.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by TriangleTom » Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:49 pm

One thing that may be worth taking into account when considering the economics of using oil as opposed to coal is that although the fuel itself is more expensive, will a launch really burn that much of it?

A 4 hp launch, operating at a measly 4% efficiency, should only consume about 2 gallons of fuel per hour:

4 horsepower * 1 hr * 2544 BTU / (hp * hr) = 10,176 BTU per hour work done by engine

10,176 BTU per hour / 4% Efficiency = 254,400 BTU per hour required firing rate

254,400 BTU per hour / 139,000 BTU per gallon of diesel = 1.83 gallons of diesel per hour ≈ $10 per hour based on the price given earlier, assuming you buy road tax diesel. That said, marine diesel may be taxed differently in the UK, so it may be cheaper.

Another thing to consider is that using oil you will likely be able to get a fire going and make steam much faster than is possible with coal, so your ratio of waiting versus steaming on the water may be a lot better. Likewise, your end of cruise cleanup will also be faster and easier with no soot, dust, ash, or clinkers to deal with, and the added benefit of being able to easily refuel at any marina.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by RGSP » Tue Feb 09, 2021 6:38 pm

Nobody has answered the original question about grate area. In England these days you have get home-heating stoves tested for both output and efficiency/pollutants, before you can legally sell them. For multi-fuel stoves such as the one I use to supplement a heating oil, the output ratings burning wood are 0.5 to 0.7 of those when burning low-smoke coal, for several reasons I can confirm the numbers subjectively with my own stove, where I get through about 6 tons on seasoned hardwood in a winter, and just use low-smoke coal when I want to avoid frequent stoking, and a little of it does last very well.

I have to say I think the issue of fuel cost for steamboats is misleading: few of us steam more than a few hours a week averaged over a year, and if all the other costs of running a steamboat are totted up realistically, then they come to a lot more than fuel in most cases. With bigger vessels (e.g. steam drifter Lydia Eva) the cost of fuel for a full day's steaming can be a bit eye-watering, but then the cost of maintaining the vessel is painful as well.

On relative costs of heating oil (= gas oil, or kerosene), if you have a free source of trees, then by the time you've felled them, logged them up, split them, and put them into ventilated dry storage for a year, oil seems reasonably cheap. Hardwoods only dry out very slowly via their bark, hence the need to split them before storage for drying (very few would buy unsplit firewood logs here). The ECO police would soon be after anyone who burned a great deal of softwood or unseasoned hardwood, and indeed there is pressure to ban wood-burning stoves in London if not elsewhere because things other than seasone hardwoods do get burned. By the way, there is no shortage of hardwoods for fuel in England, and there never has been, because woods were and are managed sustainably, but the economics of dealing with trees singly or from small woods are poor when the inevitable transport costs are included.

If I may speculate for a moment, charcoal has a great deal to recommend it as a fuel, but its low density unprocessed presents storage problems, particularly in a boat. You can of course buy charcoal briquettes, which are fairly uniform in shape and much denser than native charcoal, but they do generate enough ash to be a bit of a problem. The briquettes certainly often (and perhaps very often) use a fair bit of cement or hydraulic lime as a binder, which is almost inert. A friend and I have briefly experimented with using potato starch as a binder, which leaves minimal ash when burned: it costs a lot more than cement, but it's still cheap, and might just provide us with an excellent new charcoal-based fuel.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by barts » Tue Feb 09, 2021 7:03 pm

While the use of softwoods in slow burning wood stoves may prove a problem in terms of smoke unless it's either catalytic or a 'reburner' model, I've seen no issues with using Douglas fir in a steamboat boiler. The fire is never really damped down, and dried fir burns well and cleanly, with little ash problems. Interestingly enough, various wood species provide the same heating value per unit weight - about 7000-8000 btu/lb depending on moisture levels. Burning wood here is perhaps 2/3 of the cost per BTU of diesel if buying split firewood - both are inexpensive here compared to other areas.

Burning wood on longer voyages is problematic, of course, for smaller boats. It takes up a lot more room than diesel or coal. Wood fires definitely smell better than coal or diesel one, and at least we aren't adding to the fossil carbon problem.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by Old Steamer » Tue Feb 09, 2021 7:49 pm

Where most boats are steamed in Scotland (still not part of England) the use of anything but solid fuel or gas is banned. I am a bit surprised that nobody has mentioned propane as a boiler fuel. Readily obtained, clean burning, no ash to dispose of, boiler fouling negligible and without the mess that coal inevitably brings to decks and person. Would anyone like to comment?
OS
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Re: After Coal?

Post by barts » Tue Feb 09, 2021 9:13 pm

Old Steamer wrote:
Tue Feb 09, 2021 7:49 pm
Where most boats are steamed in Scotland (still not part of England) the use of anything but solid fuel or gas is banned. I am a bit surprised that nobody has mentioned propane as a boiler fuel. Readily obtained, clean burning, no ash to dispose of, boiler fouling negligible and without the mess that coal inevitably brings to decks and person. Would anyone like to comment?
Some steamers are very concerned with the safety issues of using a heavier-than-air gaseous fuel; there have been some accidents here in the US with propane-powered steamers. I've used propane for many years to start the boiler on our smaller diesel-fueled boat as the firebox has no provisions for starting with wood; it turns out one can spray oil with propane rather than steam, and this makes starting a steam-atomizing burner pretty simple. The real issue with propane are limited range due to fuel tank bulk, refueling, and difficulties in using gas tanks and the resulting cooling and dropping of pressure due to latent heat. The accidents I know of here in the US both occurred as the result of propane tanks venting; one in a Stanley steam car w/ an overfilled tank that led to multiple fatalities, and the other that led to the small boat burning to the waterline - everyone jumped overboard w/o significant injuries afaik.

For larger steamers, the safest way of drawing the tanks down quickly would be to draw the propane off as a liquid, and use a propane boiler to produce the requisite gas. This is what I've seen used at Burning Man with very large scale inspected propane powered flame effects. The much smaller fire effect systems I've personally made ran out of gas rdue to chilling elatively quickly feeding from a standard 20 lb tank. Water jacketed tanks work, but as draw increases, a mechanism to heat the water is needed, and that needs to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Propane has worked very well for small steamers; there's a local steam powered canoe that works well.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by DetroiTug » Wed Feb 10, 2021 6:05 am

Old Steamer wrote:
Tue Feb 09, 2021 7:49 pm
Where most boats are steamed in Scotland (still not part of England) the use of anything but solid fuel or gas is banned. I am a bit surprised that nobody has mentioned propane as a boiler fuel. Readily obtained, clean burning, no ash to dispose of, boiler fouling negligible and without the mess that coal inevitably brings to decks and person. Would anyone like to comment?
OS
Working with steam vehicles and solid fuel firing is mostly impractical, propane is one of the fuels that comes up in discussion often. It seems an obvious candidate as it is relatively easy to store, ignite, burns clean and easy to handle. In the range of heat though it is a colder fuel. For comparison, propane has around 90,000 BTU/gal, Gasoline is around 112, and Kerosene around 120, Diesel is around 128, bunker C is like 135 if I remember correctly, Alcohol is even colder than propane. This may not sound like much difference, but in practice the differences are stark. Although Propane works fine for boats, no one putting a vehicle plant together would consider using it because the demands on the plant are much higher.

My buddy has his steam buggy set up with propane and gasoline. He uses propane in the burner starting up to heat the gasoline vaporizer above the burner(just a 1/8th inch pipe), plus it has a propane "hotdog" pilot light to reignite the burner during operation. Once up to temperature he switches over to gasoline. He's tested the car running straight propane, the results were very poor compared to steam generation on gasoline.

Ron
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