Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Technology Science

Steam Hybrid Car from BMW 663

RMX writes "BMW is unveiling its turbosteamer hybrid engine, which uses the excess heat in the exhaust system and reclaims 80% of it by powering a steam engine that assists the gas engine. Overall, this gives a 15% more efficient engine; and significant additional performance (power and torque) with practically no downside. "This project resolves the apparent contradiction between consumption and emission reductions on one hand, and performance and agility on the other," commented Professor Burkhard Göschel. Are steam engines the future of environmental-friendly hybrid vehicles?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Steam Hybrid Car from BMW

Comments Filter:
  • Downsite? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:11AM (#14263377) Homepage Journal
    ...with practically no downside.

    Additional moving parts, and servicability? How many modern garages know how to service a steam engine?
    • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:16AM (#14263401)
      ...the huge plume of steam coming out the 'smokestack' on the top of your BMW....

      Just kidding, of course. It's probably a closed system, but the headline of this story certainly produces some amusing mental images.
      • by moro_666 ( 414422 )
        actually it would be funny on a rainy day to leave the cars behind you into a thick cloud of fog. you can use the steam whistle (they had these on steamtrains at least) to express your 'pity' for them having just normal gasoline cars ..

        but i'd rather have a steam engined harley davidson, imagine that woosh-woosh sound when you leave the central square of the city :)
        that 'woosh woosh' also makes you remember your deadlines at work which just wooshed by ...
    • Re:Downsite? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by leetdan ( 776353 )
      Not to mention, you know, added weight? A turbocharger similarly uses wasted energy, and is proven and reliable technology. On the other hand, you're going to have a lot of heat being dumped in places you don't want it if this thing ever craps out.
      • except that a supercharger increases gasoline use whereas the gizmo that the article talks about uses another steam engine to increase performance without added gasoline usage.
        • Re:Downsite? (Score:2, Informative)

          by NixLuver ( 693391 )
          Tubochargers do, in fact, increase gasoline consumption. The way turbochargers and superchargers increase HP is by increasing the pressure of the gas/air mix inside the cylinder; more air means more gas needed, means more horsepower. The turbocharger is 'more efficient' in a general sense, because it doesn't start compressing air much until well up in the RPM band, so 'gentle driving' won't invoke the compression and increased gasoline consumption. OTOH, the supercharger does not suffer from 'turbo lag'.

    • Re:Downsite? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Chatsubo ( 807023 )
      Steam engines usually need to be supplied with water.

      The article doesn't state whether it would be necessary to periodically stop and fill up with water, whether it will be a closed system, and if not, will the water supply last as long as the fuel in the tank?

      They mention extracting energy from the cooling water as an additional source of energy. But is this related to the water being used in the steam engine?

      This article is very thin on specifics, but constantly having to stop and fill up with water sound
    • Repairs... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pedestrian crossing ( 802349 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:23AM (#14263431) Homepage Journal

      How many modern garages know how to service a steam engine?

      I would think that BMW dealerships would be able to service BMW autos, no? Yes, I understand the rush to FP, but do you think maybe they'll have this covered by the time they go into production?

      I am glad to see some innovation to the standard IC engine.

      But I guess it's just easier to sit in your armchair and criticize real engineering...

      • Re:Repairs... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:34AM (#14263478) Homepage Journal
        I would think that BMW dealerships would be able to service BMW autos, no?

        Sure, the dealership will know how to service it, but that wasn't what I was referring to by "garages". I was referring to those independent garages where you can often get cheaper, better service. I don't take my 1991 Plymouth Voyager to a Chrysler dealership; They're booked solid and will want to replace half the car. I take it to a small guy on the outskirts of the city who comes up with cheaper solutions .

        Oh, and fooey on FP. I really don't give a damn; it just happens more often because I'm a subscriber.
        • by bhima ( 46039 ) <Bhima.Pandava@gmail. c o m> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:40AM (#14263501) Journal
          I'm sure that, in 2035, when you finally get one, the dwarf on the outside of town will know how ot fix it! :)

          sorry couldn't resist.
        • Re:Repairs... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalkerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:24AM (#14263766) Journal
          I know a few people who work in garages, and here is how it goes. Lets take the new hybrids for example. The first hybrid models came out about 5 years ago. At that time the garages did not worry about learning them as they all had warrenties and nobody is going to take a new under warrenty car into a garage. About 2 years ago this local garage realized that eventually they would need to be able to service these new cars, so they sent a few guys to some classes to learn. I believe the garage is now certified to work on these cars, right as the cars are starting to come out of warrenty. Many smaller garages are waiting a bit longer though untill there is enough demand for service as such cars would only account for a very small percentage of their buisness (not many hybrids were sold in the first couple years, so it will still be a while before you see many hybrids out of warrenty)
        • Re:Repairs... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sdpuppy ( 898535 )
          Point taken.

          A while back one of the museums that I visited had a steam engine that was about 200 years old (hope I remember that right :-)). What I got out of the demo was:
          1) It is fairly simple, construction is simplier than an ICE (internal combustion engine). Someone who knows how to service an ICE can learn to service steam quickly. Of course the question is how easy is it for the mechanic to master the interface between the two engines.

          2) Steam engines are very reliable and last a loooong time. I

      • Read between the lines. He's one of those excessively "Open" people, who feels everyone should be able to do everything. I agree with him to a point; I would hate to get stranded with a broken steam engine, and be unable to find anyone to fix it. I also drive a BMW. I would never take it to anything other than a BMW dealer for service, because I just don't trust anyone else, and the BMW service department is pretty much the best set of mechanics I've ever dealt with, in terms of attention to detail and
    • Re:Downsite? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by duffbeer703 ( 177751 )
      How many modern garages know how to service hybrid batteries? Practically none, other than Toyota, Honda & Ford dealerships.

      The nice thing about a steam hybrid is that you don't have any high-voltage electrical cables running through the car -- so after an accident, firemen and police won't need to worry about getting electrocuted when cutting you out of your car.
    • I can think of one downside - it's still using petrol (or gas).
      • Re:Downsite? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:13AM (#14263703) Homepage
        Using petrol is kinda what your stuck with at the moment (or diesel, which is still a fossil fuel).

        Most efficient car available is the Honda Insight M5, getting 83.1MPG and having the lowest CO2 emmisions of any car (80g/km, which is about 25% lower than the next contender). Unfortunately they're damned near impossible to get - the best quote I've found is £62,000 and no honda dealer I've talked to has even heard of it...

        Next you've got a bunch of diesels (Citroen C2 1.4HDi at 68.9mpg & 108g/km), the Prius is quite a way down the list at 13th (65.7mpg but with lower co2 emissions).

        The most efficient petrol engine available (Peugot 107) is only 61.3mpg... I'd like to see the figures for this BMW to see if it can beat that.

        (source: http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/ [vcacarfueldata.org.uk])

        • Re:Downsite? (Score:4, Informative)

          by skyshock21 ( 764958 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:56PM (#14265123)
          The reason you're not seeing Honda Insights sold much is because they only have a 73 Horsepower Engine [velocityjrnl.com]. To me the lack of performance there is more than enough to justify not buying one. Plus your claim that it gets 81 MPG is quite off the mark [autohopper.com]. It's actually around 65 average. Only slightly better than a mid 80's model VW Rabbit. Oh btw, we can get them here in the USA for $20,000 USD which is roughly £11,329.58 according to www.xe.com [xe.com]. Considerably less than £62,000 I'd say! Not so sure why they're that expensive in your market!

          And for what it's worth, I've read an interview with one of the chairmen from General Motors saying even if we COULD just snap our fingers and everyone would automagically have hybrid cars, we'd still be in the same predicament in 10 years. With the cost of replacing those batteries totaling in the THOUSANDS every 7 years, the lackluster engine performance, the lack of BIG savings on petrol costs, and the expensive price tag of these things, I just don't see much justification for buying a hybrid right now.
  • by LazyBoyWrangler ( 760913 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:14AM (#14263387)
    Although the idea seems nice on the surface, how much more energy goes into refining the metal for the additional engine? How much weight is added? How much cost is added? Although many of these schemes seem beneficial, when evaluated over the lifespan of the product it may be a net zero or net loss from the existing technology. If people would stop buying new cars every two years, we would be better off than everyone buying the newest, latest greatest enviro-trendmobile constantly.
    • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:23AM (#14263433)
      the same could be said for a regular gas/electric hybrid...
    • by Myself ( 57572 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:24AM (#14263439) Journal
      The used cars don't get crushed as soon as the first owner is done with them, they go onto the used market and hopefully allow less enviro-trendy people, who just want a new car, to replace the old gas-guzzler they'd been driving. The new green-mobile will be sipping less gas throughout its entire lifespan, no matter who's at the wheel.

      The trouble is when people buy new cars that are NOT environmentally friendly, those cars also continue to guzzle for as long as they're on the road. If the average vehicle coming off the assembly line were more efficient, then we'd be pushing out the older crap with newer, better stuff. But the average fuel economy of ALL manufactured vehicles has actually DROPPED since the 1990s:
      ... availability of four-wheel drive. The increasing market share of these vehicles, combined with their lower average fuel economy, has contributed to a lowering in overall average fuel economy since the mid-1980s.
      from Automobile and Light Truck Fuel Economy [policyalmanac.org]
      • An assumption (Score:4, Informative)

        by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:24PM (#14264825)
        The used cars don't get crushed as soon as the first owner is done with them, they go onto the used market and hopefully allow less enviro-trendy people, who just want a new car, to replace the old gas-guzzler they'd been driving.

        You're assuming the new owner doesn't have to drop a few k on new batteries. If a used car is going to take many thousands to make right, how well will it do in the used market?

        From that standpoint this new "Snobby Steamer" is better as there are not lots of nasty batteries that eventually wear out.
    • If you are thinking along those lines, there is only one conclusion: don't drive.

      The only way that you can live in the US and not drive is to live in a city center where you have access to public transit or can walk to work and shopping. That isn't going to happen until it becomes too expensive to live in the suburbs, and that isn't going to happen in the near future.

    • by uradu ( 10768 )
      Although your idea seems nice on the surface, if car life cycles were much longer than 2 years (say, 30-40 years like in Soviet Russia), the manufacturers simply wouldn't have the cash for the steady stream of innovation that gave us our much safer and more economical cars today. And unlike software that we're so cynical about, there has been true and steady innovation and incremental improvement in cars for a long time, at least overseas.
      • "Although your idea seems nice on the surface, if car life cycles were much longer than 2 years"

        i'm sorry, but this is either troll or /. lacks moderation option "dumb".

        if everybody in the world would be scrapping car after two years, we would be in seriously deep shit.

        here, in "eastern europe" - ex-ussr, most cars are > 10 years old, some are > 20. they run relatively ok (though some lack stuff like air conditioning etc), are very cheap to maintain (they are simple and fixing them is easy). gasoline
    • Although the idea seems nice on the surface, how much more energy goes into refining the metal for the additional engine? How much weight is added? How much cost is added? Although many of these schemes seem beneficial, when evaluated over the lifespan of the product it may be a net zero or net loss from the existing technology. If people would stop buying new cars every two years, we would be better off than everyone buying the newest, latest greatest enviro-trendmobile constantly.

      Compared to what, your fe
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @11:24AM (#14264274) Homepage Journal
      Although the idea seems nice on the surface, how much more energy goes into refining the metal for the additional engine?

      And how much effort goes into raising obscure questions nobody is likely to have the answer for?

      But in this case, intution with a little math can be a reasonable guide. Most people have no idea of the fabulous amount of energy the expend by driving around. A gallon of gasoline contains about 131 megajoules of energy, or roughly 124000 BTUs.

      To melt steel, according to Google, is 377 kWh/mt. Since a kWh is about 3.6Mjoules or 3413 BTU. So, a single gallon of gasoline has enough energy, in a modern electric furnace, to melt over thirty six metric tons of steel in a modern electric furnace.

      Now granted, we have to include the energy of the entire process, including mining transportation, and so forth. Supposing the cost of melting the steel is 1% of the total energy costs in creating the extra components. In that case a gallon of gasoline is sufficient to produce not 36000 kg of steel component, but 360 kg. Let's generously guestimate that is approximately the weight of a single unit.

      Suppose with the added weight the net gain in efficiency is not 15%, but say 1.5%. Thus a car getting 25mpg now gets 25.25 mpg. Suppose the user drives the car 15,000 miles per year. In that time on the pre-unit version he uses 600 gallons. On the post unit vehicle, he uses 594 gallons, for a savings of six gallons.

      Under these highly pessimistic assumptions, the energy for creating the unit is paid back in two months.

      However, I doubt the unit weighs nearly 800 lbs; nor that a 15% increase in powerplant efficiency with modest weight addition would result in only 1.5% increase in vehicle efficiency. Note that the article is claiming that the net efficiency of the car increases by 15%. It's not inconceivable that the manufacturing energy could be recouped in a single fill up.

      Americans for some reason have a weird bias against efficiency; I always hear these kinds of objections when an idea to make something more energy efficient comes up. It's almost like we're afraid of it.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Quote " Americans for some reason have a weird bias against efficiency; I always hear these kinds of objections when an idea to make something more energy efficient comes up. It's almost like we're afraid of it. "

        Sorry to jump in anonymously here but that is an interesting point, and one that is relevant to most developed countries, including here in England.

        My theory is:

        The whole point of 'modern' living, is to reach a state where we have so many machines and resources available to each of us, that we neve
      • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @03:15PM (#14266270)
        Americans for some reason have a weird bias against efficiency; I always hear these kinds of objections when an idea to make something more energy efficient comes up. It's almost like we're afraid of it.

        I know exactly what you are talking about. I have spent a lot of time arguing energy technology and efficiency on peak oil message boards and it kind of goes like this:

        Unabomber: Oh goody, peak oil is going to happen we're all going back to live on subsistance farms and industrial society and all those idiots with SUVs will be punished!

        Me: Hey, but what about technology X?

        Unabomber: Look at the EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested). To get all the steel out of the ground to build that would cause huge amounts of global warming.

        Me: Ok, but it's something right? It will make life better right and the investment will eventually pay off?

        Unabomber: Ha Ha! Nothing can stop the doom of technological society. Your puny inventions are no use!

        Me: But I kinda like technological society.

        Unabomber: Nature must punish you for your hubris to rise above the other animals. Repent and move back to an organic farm while there is still time!!!

        Me: Well I'm going to ignore you and build technology X anyway.

        Unabomber: But you'll cause global warming and keep perpetuating your unsustainable way of life.

        Me: Better than going back to the stone age.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:15AM (#14263392)
    BMW has the ability to make Hydrogen-powered production cars, it is a shame that they have not caught on yet.
    Current fuels will eventually go the way of the steam engine, or wait, maybe not the steam.

    Interesting site: http://www.bmwworld.com/hydrogen/ [bmwworld.com]
    • I for one live in a place where hydrogen gas isn't very available, except for the kind that is bonded with oxygen and pours down almost daily. I think there is a dilemma about how to "start the process". Should people start buying hydrogen powered cars and hope there will be gas stations around, or should the stations be built, hoping that people around them will start getting hydrogen cars?

      The only way I know how to get pure hydrogen around here right now is to put magnesium into vinegar (or any other acid
    • This steam engine could be used today with virtually no change needed in the infrastructure. Gas stations would only see a increase in the water consumption (wonder if it can use tap?). They all ready sell deminerilzed water and tap water is usually also available.

      Hydrogen is not yet mature while petrol and steam engines are.

    • You Hydrogen People (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) *
      You hydrogen people bother me. Hydrogen is not at all a solution to either the fossil supply or pollution problems. Producing and compressing the hydrogen takes a TREMENDOUS amount of energy that makes the overall scheme much less efficient than burning oil derivatives on-site. The issue isn't getting hydro fuel stations, it's getting the hydrogen without using tons of electricity.

      The only thing hydrogen is good for is to reduce emissions from the vehicles themselves, but you only end up pushing the polluti
      • by flyinwhitey ( 928430 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:35AM (#14263834)
        "The only thing hydrogen is good for is to reduce emissions from the vehicles themselves, but you only end up pushing the pollution to power generating stations, which we'll need a lot more of if the 'hydrogen economy' takes off."

        And which are signifcantly more efficient than masses of cars spewing less refined emissions, especially nuclear plants.

        Essentially your post says "punish auto owners, and reward mass transit users" while completely ignoring the fact that mass transit is impractical in many places and always will be.

      • by uradu ( 10768 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @11:09AM (#14264143)
        > The only thing hydrogen is good for is to reduce emissions from the
        > vehicles themselves, but you only end up pushing the pollution to
        > power generating stations, which we'll need a lot more of if the
        > 'hydrogen economy' takes off.

        Except that you're missing a critical piece here: since hydrogen extraction facilities are very large and stationary (something most cars are not), they can use fuels that would simply not be an option for the cars themselves, such as wind, solar, wave or nuclear power. And even if you do keep producing hydrogen by burning fossil fuels, because of the size and relatively low number of production facilities you have the economic luxury of investing in technologies that burn fossil fuels more efficiently and transform waste into more benign forms than would be feasible in the cars themselves.
  • by Intocabile ( 532593 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:17AM (#14263405)
    Let's just hope this isn't comming from their Cleveland factory.
  • by Volanin ( 935080 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:19AM (#14263412)
    Quote from the company's press release about BMW's philosophy towards efficiency:

    "A reduction in consumption amounting to a few percentage points over the entire model range exerts higher overall effects on the general population than high percentage points for a niche model."

    Now the company just has to make BMWs available to the "general population"!
  • by HuggybearVT ( 576997 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:20AM (#14263419) Homepage
    Combined cycle power plants aren't exactly revolutionary. They're more efficient, but more expensive to buy and maintain.
  • Downsides - A few (Score:4, Insightful)

    by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:20AM (#14263420)
    Here are a few downsides off hand:

    * More parts == higher maintenance (pumps, special catalytic convertor, etc)

    *at least 24 ft of piping that may be impacted by even minor collisions

    *Steam systems extra sensitive to corrosion from impurities in coolant.
  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:21AM (#14263421)
    Steam engines need to carry lots of water or provide a large cooler/radiator to condense the exhaust steam back to water for recycling. Bill Lear's plan to put "modern" steam engines into trucks and busses failed because he couldn't solve this problem. The article doesn't address this issue.

  • Hey Stan... (Score:4, Funny)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:21AM (#14263424) Journal
    ...I thought that idea ran out of steam decades ago...ba-da-boom!
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:21AM (#14263426)
    If you're only getting a 15% boost in efficiency. Cars are only about 20% efficient and that's if you have a really efficient one. A 15% increase is like going from 15% overall efficient to 17%. This is just a kludge.

    There's a much simpler and more effective solution... Go full electric drive hybrid. Decouple the engine from the drive.

    • 80% of the heat exhaust energy, not the total amount of energy.
    • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:45AM (#14263529) Homepage

      There's a much simpler and more effective solution... Go full electric drive hybrid. Decouple the engine from the drive.

      So you want to go from:

      instead of


      I can't really imagine that's any more (and probbably less with all those energy form transformations) efficient than the current hybrids. Engine efficiency comes from small engines running at constant speeds. That's already accomplished with the hybrids.
      • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @11:10AM (#14264156)
        The power curve put out by an internal combustion engine isn't linear; it prefers to stay at a particular range of RPMs for maximum efficiency. This is why cars have transmisisons to change gears, trying to keep the engine at that preferred RPM range no matter what RPM the wheels are turning at.

        Electical motors, on the other hand, are linear: turn up the juice, and the thing turns faster.

        The philosophy of using a diesel with electric drive is to keep the diesel engine turning at exactly the right RPMs to maximize efficiency, supplying power to the electrical drive as needed. This way, the locomotive gets the same efficiency moving slowly as it does at speed (as opposed to cars, which would really rather be in 5th gear going 80 km/h).
      • Decoupled drives are slightly less efficient at speed, but your average suburban vehicle falls to zero per cent efficiency at every traffic light (or going downhill for engines that require a minimum fuel input all the time).

        The advantage of the fully decoupled engine is that it is at the same efficiency all the time, and around town that's a win.

      • by Gldm ( 600518 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:42PM (#14264998)
        Well you're assuming we'd keep the design of the gasoline engine similar. If we start using the idea of electricity as a virtual transmission then it's possible to make gains.

        Consider a redesign of the combustion engine that has just cylinders that use 2 a modified 2 stroke compression cycle on each end, and just move the cylinder in a tube that has an electric coil. Put a magnet in the middle and you can transmit power without needing to connect the cylinder to any mechanical transfer system. It'll produce a pretty standard AC sine-wave, and because there's no direct mechanical coupling it can run at optimal efficiency or power rates instead of having to deal with constant acceleration/deceleration. You could even shut down and power up individual cylinders on demand, and since there's no mechanical connections, using say, dozens or hundreds of smaller cylinders for better efficiency and more flexible power would be possible.

        On the electric side, motors have far better low end torque, and less moving parts overall. If you did the design right you might even be able to eliminate the mechanical transmission for different gears completely. Not having mechanical transfer means you can easily do things like 1 motor per wheel directly coupled. This would again provide more robust redundancy, better efficiency, scalability (only run 2 motors when needed i.e. highway driving), better driving properties (full time all-wheel drive), etc.

        Granted you're still going gas->motion->electricity->motion, but you're not replacing just gas->motion. You're replacing gas->several thousand moving parts with friction losses and failure rates->motion with gas->electricity->maybe a couple dozen parts->motion. The removal of the complex mechanical transfer system is where you'll get the efficiency AND reliability boost. But that would make cars last for 20 years, and nobody wants that, right?
  • by thewiz ( 24994 ) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:22AM (#14263427)
    I wonder if they will offer a steam whistle as an option to replace the car's horn.
    It certainly would get the attention of the person in front of you preening themselves in their rearview mirror!
  • Thermo? Weight? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by blank101 ( 862789 )
    What is the operating temperature of the engine compared to the environment? What pressure does the steam system operate at? Also, how much does this addition weigh? So I add 10 kW; how much of it is spent on hauling around a steam engine?
  • by Ric0chet ( 110522 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:31AM (#14263466)
    ...for a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor add-on for my Delor..er...Nissan.
  • by FrankDrebin ( 238464 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:33AM (#14263471) Homepage
    ... a network of metal tracks to operate them on.
  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:33AM (#14263472)
    Now all we need is to condense the output of the steam engine into water and give it to a horse who will help pull the car. That way you'll surely be 100% efficient!
  • Heh, anyway you slice it, this is pretty cool! I don't know if this is a profitable idea or not, but definitely cool. The real fun begins if they try to add an electric motor to the mix to further reduce fuel consumption.
  • This is cool and all, but the article measures 15% greater efficiency. Wouldn't something just as complex (say, a turbo) be able to be more efficient? I'm rather suprised there aren't production cars combining multiple technologies such as turbo, steam, and electric.

    Solutions like this still have a few problems though. a) still using gas. b) short term solution. What happens when we run out of gas? c) much more complex and more moving parts. It could be argued that an engine that uses these technologies
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <robert.merkel@noSpaM.benambra.org> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:42AM (#14263517) Homepage
    One thing people don't seem to be grasping here is that this technology is essentially orthogonal to conventional combustion-electric hybrids. There's no reason (aside from not owning the tech, of course) why Toyota couldn't add this to the Prius IV, and make it more powerful and even more fuel efficient than it is today. Or, alternatively, it could be added to those European diesels some of you are so enamoured with. The limiting factor, of course, would be size, weight and cost - could you really have room for both the steam system and the paraphenalia of a hybrid car, and could you afford to add both?

    I'm a bit skeptical that really make this practical, but it's an impressive idea; a combined cycle automobile-sized piston engine.

    • Actually, I think this would make a poor combination with a hybrid. The whole point of the hybrid design is that it turns off the gasoline engine periodically, when it's not needed. This makes its heat generation inconsistent at best, which would mean the heat reclaimation system would only be in use part of the time, making it far less useful than in a system where the engine is always on.
      • Not if you use the steam turbine to turn a small alternator/generator. This could be used to help keep your batteries at peak charge and allow you to use a larger and more powerful electric motor on the hybrid.

        I drive a civic hybrid in Arizona and we have lots of mountains to drive through. Many times I run the batteries completely down while climbing mountains and then I am stuck with the 95hps of the gass motor and none of the 15hps of the electric. While the engine just runs faster and I can still cli
  • by yancey ( 136972 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:46AM (#14263540)
    I've been wondering how long it will be before we give up on gasoline/diesel engines and go with fuel cells. Granted, that may be many years away. Anyway, fuel cells generate a lot of excess heat during operation which could be used for generating steam as the BMW does. I think this is a step in the right direction. Despite advances made in recent years, automobile engines are still very inefficient and the focus should be on improving overall efficiency.
    • I believe that with fuel cells, it's not just heat generated, but an OPERATING temperature that is required for the reactions to occur.

      I have no idea how much waste heat most fuel cells generate once they're at their operating temperature. You'd want to be very careful about how much heat you skim off the top to run a steam engine.
  • by FishandChips ( 695645 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:51AM (#14263559) Journal
    Coming from BMW, this sounds suspiciously like "how to be green when you are super rich". New forms of ultra-frugal but still capable engines are more likely to be perfected by the Japanese even if someone else comes up with the initial idea. The core problem is the notion that you need an SUV the size of a tank to take a couple of kids three miles to school, or that you'll be considered a loser unless you drive an executive-class limo with a huge engine and all the trimmings. It's not very likely the car companies will start back-pedalling on either of those.
    • BMW is hardly for the "super rich". I recently bought a used VW Jetta for my wife, and it cost about $9000. A BMW in the same approximate class, with similar features, age, and milage cost $11500 (though it does cost more to insure).

      A used vehicle for $11500 hardly puts things in the realm of "super rich".

      Even if you compare prices for new vehicles, the perception of BMW as a "rich man's car" is odd. A new 3-series (which, I know from experience, *can* fit 5 rather rotund adults comfortably) can be had f
  • Two main misconceptions:
    • that a "steam" engine requires a lot of water (true only if there is no condensor. AKA the radiator on the front of the car.), and
    • this would somehow result in a broken down car with no repair facilities able to get someone back on the road. This is an additive system, when it is working, it adds power and mileage, when not, you have your regular gas-guzzling beemer.

    Of course at this point this is just a concept system, it remains to see if it ever makes it into production.

    My hope would be to see the steam engine addition connect to an electrical hybrid system, and that the main power source be a low-rev/high torque diesel engine. Do that with dynamic braking, etc. and you might just get an automobile engine that is say, 70% as efficient as the big diesel locomotive engines have been for what, 30 years?

  • by craXORjack ( 726120 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:16AM (#14263723)
    Just look at this new-fangled horseless quadricycle, Smithers. Steam-powered! Oh, I've seen the seductress of steam come and go over the years, but no one yet has been able to tame her. When will they learn that these faddish larks are nothing to get their knickers in a bind over. Reminds me of that one young fool. What was his name again? Edison, I believe. Lazy good-for-nothing. Always contriving gadgets to avoid an honest day's labor. Now let's take this contraption for a test drive. Which lever do you suppose is the velocitator and which is the decceleratrix?
  • by SloWave ( 52801 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:20AM (#14263745) Journal
    Beamer Steamer -- Copyrighted and Trademarked and for sale for $1,000,000 USD.
  • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:27AM (#14263785)
    The Stanley Steamer [vintagecarsource.com] was powered by a "pilot-gasoline-water-steam system." F.E. Stanley made 'em. There are at least four working examples at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado [stanleymuseum.org].

    There had been previous steam-powered cars -- at least three decades before Stanley -- but they seemed to be taking off at right around the same time people like Benz (in Germany) and Daimler (in France) were coming out with gas internal combustion models.

    As far as the tradeoffs, Stanley's assessment is described this way by About.com:

    Setting to work in a friend's garage, F.E. pondered the merits of gasoline versus steam. Gasoline engines were considered smelly, oily, noisy and difficult to start. They also required cumbersome clutches and transmissions. Steam, on the other hand, had a long record as a reliable means of propulsion ...Steam was a universal, performance-proven power source.
    • by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:33PM (#14264908)
      What BMW is doing is more long the lines of the combined cycle power plants - where the exhaust heat from gas turbines are used to make steam for steam turbines. The Stanley Steamer is more akin to a conventional steam plant.

      Curtis-Wright did something similar with the turbo-compound engines, where exhaust turbines were coupled to the crankshaft - got about 20% more power for a given fuel consumption - and allowed the DC-7C and L-1649's to go from New York to London/Paris nonstop.

  • by Kernel Kurtz ( 182424 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @10:33AM (#14263821) Homepage
    Quite a bit of work is done to reduce the aerodynamic friction of vehicles nowadays. Its a major source of inneficiency and is recognised as such.

    Heat in the form of engine exhaust, and in the form of friction braking are two major areas of energy loss for a vehicle as well, but only recently has capturing this lost energy been a potentially desirable goal.

    This BMW heat capture system seems like a great idea. Ford also has a regenerative braking system called Hydraulic Launch Assist [designnews.com] which could capture much of the energy lost in braking as well. Electrics and hybrids already reclaim some of this energy by using it to generate electricity to charge the storage batteries.

    It will be interesting to see if the ultra efficient cars of the future use any or all of these technologies.

  • The idea is old (Score:4, Informative)

    by xs650 ( 741277 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @11:15AM (#14264198)
    This idea isnt new, doing it in a potentially production car is.

    35+ years go we did a paper exercise in a thermodynamics class to evaluate the potential efficincy of a Rankine cycle (steam) engine running off waste heat from an internal combustion engine. IIRC, we got efficency numbers about like what BMW is claiming.

    One weakness is that the systems aren't very efficent at low power, such as stop and go traffic or slow driving. There just isn't enough waste heat in the cooling system to do anything useful until you start making a reasonable amount of horsepower.

    Some ships and stationary power plant use steam engines (usually steam turbines) that run off waste heat from gas turbine engines to boost efficency. Celebrity's Millenium Class cruise ships are one example.

  • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:07PM (#14264672) Journal
    I've always wondered why the exhaust heat was never put to better use. All that heat going out the back is wasted energy. The catalytic converter alone gets very hot. At the very least I figured it could be used for electricity generation so I think this is an idea that couldn't have come soon enough and I hope it gets used industry wide. I wonder why they chose water though. I would have expected them to use something with a lower boiling point and lower specific heat, like alcohol. Granted water is about as safe a substance as you can possibly get.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith