The Steam Engine

December 15, 2010
By , Cumming, GA
People often think of steam engines as inefficient, out dated, labor intensive pieces of machinery. But many new innovations in this technology, such as the turbine generator and Clean Coal (both used in power production), make it more efficient than ever. Steam power dates as far back as the first century A.D.; however, the use of practical engines goes back to about 300 years ago. At the turn of the 20th Century, steam was the most widely used form of power. It was used for transportation, manufacturing, commercial and residential applications. In modern times, steam was replaced by internal combustion engines in the transportation and industrial areas.

Today, steam in the home can be heated without a flame. The use of solar cookers uses energy from the sun to heat water, generating steam which can be piped around the house wherever it is needed. Re-circulated steam in power generation plants saves water by condensing used steam back into its liquid state and returning it to the boiler to be heated up again. During the turn of the century, a company called White Motor Company built a steam car that used the idea to capture steam after it leaves the cylinder, condense it, and pumped it back to the boiler for further use. This made the car highly fuel efficient.

At the end of the 19th century, steam was used for power in factories, mines, and for construction. In the factories, steam engines were used as a power source for large tools, such as industrial lathes, dye presses, or even industrial sewing machines. Factories would run long belts from the machinery to the steam engine’s drive shaft to work the internal components of the machine piece.

During the first half of the 20th century, steam engines ruled the shipping industry with steam locomotives and steam ships. The steam locomotive played key roles in this nation’s development, uniting the east with the west by making transcontinental travel possible. Giant steam engines were used on massive transatlantic luxury liners such as Titanic and Lusitania. During World War Two, the war ships in the US Navy were propelled by massive steam engines below deck. The age of steam died in the early 50s, as they were retired from factories and railroads replaced by electric motors and internal combustion engines.

In the year 1951, the United States and Canada developed the first nuclear reactor to produce electric power. The reactor heats water until it turns to steam. The steam is then piped to a turbine which produces electrical power. The same process is used in today’s nuclear power plants. The use of steam to produce electricity is also used in modern day coal fired power plants. Steam can be deadly if steam pipes, emergency pressure release valves, and steam gauges are neglected servicing and maintenance. In the year 1986, a steam explosion occurred in a Russian (now Ukrainian) nuclear power plant called Chernobyl. The explosion caused the reactor to go critical and exploded. The more current year of 2007, a steam pipe exploded in New York City due to poor maintenance.

Now, steam is safer with fail-safe devices and reinforce pipe. People also have steam powered hobbies such as model stationary engines and steam locomotives. Hobby steam is safer than commercial steam because pressure in the boiler usually is lower than any where in a commercial main.

In conclusion, steam can be extremely useful as well as dangerous.

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