Flash Steam Basics

I want to reference a very significant book that all steam enthusiasts should know about. -The Pictorial History of Steam Power- by J.T. van Riemsdijk and Kenneth Brown. 1980 Octopus Books Limited. ISBN-0-7064-0976-0- On page 56 begins a very interesting sub chapter. Called EFFICIENT USE OF STEAM. If you are lucky enough to obtain this book I highly recommend reading it from cover to cover. It not only has wealth of drawings but also seriously discusses steam theory. Trust me this book covers everything if you look close enough. And it is a pleasure to read.

L912-2As this article progresses you will find the scope will become quite advanced. Taking what was learned in the past and applying it to the advancement of the technology. And building on it successfully, without breaking any laws of thermodynamics. But taking advantage of more than just the “first and second laws”. J.W. 10/25/2002.

During my experience as a A.S.E. master automotive technician. I often wondered why so called critics believe that flash steam engines cannot be built. And at the time I was studying thermodynamics. To better understand turbochargers. And how they positively affect the performance of internal combustion engines. Needless to say I learned much on how turbochargers actually work. Also I studied using water injection as an intercooler in diesel turbo applications. Which I found very very interesting. And can tell you this is common practice at “today’s” diesel tractor pulls. It is how they maintain such high boost pressures. Since all turbo’s work on a principle of heat of compression in the impeller section. I mention this because it is important to have a diverse background of study. And most who attempt flash steam engine construction do not. The same can be said of those who criticize such engines. But that being said, people tend to interpret things differently. It is inevitable that there will be a different view of the same thing. And this is usually learned by experimentation and reproducible results.

pic2I am enthusiastic about the prospect of a flash steam engine. Many years ago I begun my own research and development to explore this possibility. The very first thing I was concerned with was the primary heat source for such an engine. Certain prerequisites had to be established. Cost of the fuel was of primary concern. Since I have put in hundreds of hours testing external combustion chambers. And fuel can be expensive over time. Feed corn is the solid fuel of choice. It’s cheap and burns remarkably clean. But most importantly has “tons” of btu energy per weight. And is inherently much safer to use than typically available liquid fuels. Such as fuel oil and propane or hydrogen. I disagree with those who say corn should not be burned as a fuel. It is a shame to see “mountains” of feed corn simply rot in distribution locations since there’s no buyers. After all the American farmer almost always loses money on this crop. Since there is sometimes an excess supply. In this application it can be used directly without ANY processing. It can be burned in external combustion chambers. Burning corn in an ideal combustion chamber, is considered as a high-grade heat source as fuel oil. For this purpose. The real benefit here is that the corn does not require further processing. Such as is the case with ethanol or other alternative liquid fuels. Making it cheaper to use in this application. In fact it has been speculated that if it wasn’t for the cheap price of corn. building a steam engine of this type wouldn’t be economically reasonable. because this type of steam engine will in fact operate with the other fuels. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say any heat source will do. You need a high-grade heat source to make this work. When this reaches a commercial stage the fuel will be cheap enough to make it economically attractive. As far as the super efficiencies that have been claimed by people in the past. That is still unclear. But the flash steam engine may be made to operate. That is clear.

So with the heat source situation under control, I set off to create a flash steam engine. And decided to base my flash steam engine on a four stroke engine. I want to point out some benefits to using an four stroke engine. First is compression stroke, it makes heat and this is good. second is the intake manifold vacuum it’s good because it can draw steam thru a condenser. And since the spark plug only fires once during two rotations of the crankshaft. It has a conservative operating schedule. So I said why not, lets inject superheated water thru the spark plug port. It should flash and produce pressure and cause the engine to run. My first attempt was to run an engine off solenoid valves. I used argon just to test the idea. The first engine was a 2.2 liter 4 cylinder Toyota engine. And I used on shelf Honeywell 12 volt pilot operated solenoid valves. Set up a timing system to operate them. Plumbed them to the engine and connected a 2600psi argon tank to the thing. Believe it or not it worked. The highest engine speed I got was about 600rpm. And it ran about 3 minutes or so. And it could not be throttled. I tried using a ball valve but the engine either half choked itself or ran as fast as it could. Needless to say the dynamics were way off. And I deemed that type of valve unusable for flash steam injection. And I immediately realized the seat of the valve, needed to be inside the combustion chamber. Or as close to it as possible. The next thing that became painfully clear was the need to throttle the engine. The ball valve just wouldn’t do. The injection valve itself needed to have variable valve lift to throttle engine. Then the pressure source could be unobstructed in its passage to the valve. Eliminating dynamic flow problems. And it didn’t take long for me to realize nobody sells a valve like this. So I started my own company and built one. Once I had a good working valve in hand I was able to do the real experimenting. And I learned a lot real fast.

bpic3aI already knew that if there was a volume of gas in the cylinder, it would push the piston. But what would flash steam do? In my endeavors with the injection valve, I was releasing flash steam. I would fill the valve with water then seal it. Then turn on the valve’s onboard heaters. The pressure increased to very high pressures, such as 5000psi. I would then actuate or open the valve. Trust me its quite loud. And is similar to the sound of a shot gun blast. I was full of optimism when I installed it on the test engine. J.W. 10/27/2002

Please bear in mind that the experiments described here, were performed about two years ago. From the date of this writing. And this specifically pertains to moving a piston with flash steam not argon. Anyway here’s what happened. I modified a 11hp Briggs and Stratton engine to accept the L912™Injector. Then set about discharging it while it was installed on the engine. First I rotated the engine to top dead centre on the compression stroke. Then installed the injector, heated it up and discharged it. Just like you see in the picture above. Except that it was discharging into the combustion chamber of the engine. The injector developed an internal pressure of about 3000psi. If the concept was to be sound, I needed good results from a static test such as this. So I crossed my fingers and discharged the injector into the engine. I was astonished to see that nothing happened. The piston didn’t move one millimeter. I was overcome with disbelief. The engine was suppose to turn over but it did not. And I knew that if the engine did not rotate thru a compression stroke. In a static test, then it would not operate at speed. Or perhaps not at all. I asked myself what is going on here. This should work, the results in open air discharge were so fantastic. So I decided to put some more thought in to it. A day or two later I figured out what was happening.

Back to Heat of Rejection page

Flash steam can form, or condense in a micro-second. Generally your expecting it to flash instantaneously when your trying to run an engine off flash steam. And this is possible. but it can destabilize just as quickly. And this is what was happening in my experiment. I was producing the flash steam just fine. But the engine block was cold. And it absorbed the flash steam directly into water. Almost producing a vacuum it was happening so fast. The room I was working in was air-conditioned and at a temp of 74°f. The mass of the engine block was at equilibrium with the room temp. And since the mass of the engine block was so much greater than the mass of the actual flash steam discharge. It simply absorbed it. This is probably the most important thing to consider when contemplating a flash steam engine. Back to the static test. I then proceeded to take a small propane torch and heat the block and cylinder head of the 11hp Briggs and Stratton engine. First I heated it to 180°f. Then set up the experiment same as before and discharged the injector. This time it worked. The engine kicked over about 740°of rotation. At 212°f the results were almost twice as good. In fact the rotation of the engine was so dramatic the engine almost jumped off the table. This is a very important thing to learn. And what is going on in this situation must be watched very closely. Since it is a relative factor that will affect performance drastically. For example It has been observed causing extended run times, in four-cycle engines running on argon. The hotter the engine block the better the performance. It has been observed in engines that are running on argon for ice to form on the exhaust valve stem. And the block is generally cooled by the compressed argon. but if you heat the block before running the engine. You will always get better performance. So this phenomenon is relative even in non-flashsteam applications. As should be the case. But the effect is much more critical in the case of a condensable vapor such as flash steam.

It is important to understand the concept of engine block heating. In fact this is common practice even with live steam engines. I believe its called steam jacket, or flowing a small amount of steam around the cylinder casting. This practice always promotes further expansion of the steam in the cylinder. Their by increasing efficiency. And is necessary on the flash steam engine as well. Except on a flash steam engine live steam is only present in the cylinder and exhaust. And if you are running the engine on flash steam, the hot water that your injecting into the engine. Will flash and release heat. And this is working in your favor. However all the engines that I work with, have a mechanism to heat the block. But the mechanism to heat the injected water is always more substantial.

J.W. 11/03/2002

Leave a Reply