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Steam Hybrid Car from BMW

samzenpus posted more than 8 years ago | from the backwards-is-forwards dept.

Technology 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?"

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Australian Muslims Rioting in Streets! (-1, Troll)

The_Fire_Horse (552422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263375)

Dec 15, 2005 - Cronulla, Australia
Police have mobilized 500 extra staff to quell the 3000 crazy arabs who are roaming the streets in packs looking to beat up and rape anyone getting in their way
Hi, I'm The_Fire_Horse [] and you might remember me from such news reports as
'Elections in Iraq - an exercise in futility'
and 'Pubes - not just for flossing anymore!'

Todays LIVE update comes straight from a slashdot troll on the streets of Sydney:
"I was sitting on the beach with my Linux laptop madly hitting F5 while trying for first post when all of a sudden this gang of 30 shows up.

ME - [looks up] "Hello ethnic people - do any of you guys know of any faster wireless access points that I can connect to?"

GANG - [glaring and waving cricket bats] "THIS IS OUR BEACH, BITCH!"

ME - [knew this was coming] "Look, I am just relaxing on the beach, like a happy little Australian minding my own business - why are you harrasing me?"

GANG - "We are going to smash you fuckin' head in, until your brains fall out your arse"

ME - [smirking] "I realise that you are in a gang and therefore stupid and gutless, but I just need to know of a decent 802.16 connect point.. hey, what the fuck am I talking about - none of you even know what a computer is I'm guessing!"

Suddenly the gang attacks, but The_Fire_Horse is prepared [] and quickly yells out "LOOK - OVER THERE, IT'S ALLUH!!
and would you believe it, just like those old 50's style jungle movies these crazy natives drop to their knees like lemmings and starting screeching "PRAISE ALLAH"

The fire horse quietly walks away as the police swoop in.

Downsite? (5, Insightful)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263377)

...with practically no downside.

Additional moving parts, and servicability? How many modern garages know how to service a steam engine?

Re:Downsite? (5, Funny)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Downsite? (1, Funny)

moro_666 (414422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263462)

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? (2, Insightful)

leetdan (776353) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263403)

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.

Re:Downsite? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263450)

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? (0)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263492)

except leetdan was referring to a turbocharger which is run off of exhaust gases not a supercharger that's run off of a belt so the turbocharger barely if at all increases gasoline use.

Re:Downsite? (1)

hardlined (785357) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263503)

The parent was talking about a turbocharger which only revs up when exhaust gases are increased (during acceleration) where as a supercharger is always on and usually run by the crankshaft (I think?) this makes turbocharger more efficient than a supercharger. I know plenty of cars with turbochargers (the whole saab line and the subaru wrx's off the top of my head) and only a select few "muscle specific" cars with superchargers.

Having a 95 Saab 9000 turbo myself I usually get 30mpg with gentle driving and have plenty of torque and horsepower when I need it, if I loose a couple mpg's (30 is good enough for me) then be it.

What is the difference between a turbocharger and a supercharger on a car's engine? []

Re:Downsite? (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263544)

Superchargers can also engage and disengage, depending on how they're implemented. (They're belt-driven, and the belt just spins freely if not engaged.) But both turbo and superchargers increase performance by putting more fuel-air mix in the cylinders, which produces more power but burns more fuel. This steam system just uses the waste heat directly to increase power, with no additional fuel-air mix.

Perhaps there will be a steam-electric-fuel hybrid (tribrid?) at some point...

Re:Downsite? (2, Informative)

NixLuver (693391) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263562)

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'.

To get more horsepower out, you have to put more gas and air in, all else being the same.

Re:Downsite? (1)

DocOmega (876655) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263411)


Obviously, it doesn't run Linux.

Re:Downsite? (2, Interesting)

Chatsubo (807023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263413)

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 sounds like a downside to me...

Re:Downsite? (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263446)

I figured they were just using the part that draws mechanical energy from steam, bypassing the boiler stage. That's how I'd do it.

Re:Downsite? (4, Informative)

Sique (173459) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263463)

German online news site Spiegel Online [] has more details on this:
Heat plant in the car [] . It uses a high temperature (up to 550 Celsius) circuit using water and a low temperature one using ethanol (alcohol) (operating at 150 Celsius). Both are closed systems.

Repairs... (5, Insightful)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263431)

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... (5, Insightful)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263478)

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.

Re:Repairs... (3, Funny)

bhima (46039) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263501)

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... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263612)

I take it to a small guy on the outskirts of the city who comes up with cheaper solutions .

In that case, people like you can stay out of the new car market until a new innovation that really works becomes standard. Problem solved.

Re:Repairs... (1)

agraupe (769778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263488)

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 so on. Hell, I fill it with petrol at the self-serve in -20 degree weather, just to make sure it's done right (there's a peculiarity regarding the fueling that I don't want to explain to a station attendant every time, and still probably have done incorrectly). YMMV.

Re:Repairs... (0, Offtopic)

whopis (465819) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263533)

there's a peculiarity regarding the fueling

Not to get further off topic... well, actually, yes... to get further off topic... What is the fueling peculiarity? I'm just curious.

Re:Repairs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263489)

The issue isn't "if" there will be stations, but "how many" stations. If the number of stations capable of servicing these vehicles is limited, the cost of maintenance will likely be higher. Early adopters tend face this.

Still, I agree that innovation is nice to see.


Re:Downsite? (2, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263525)

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.

Re:Downsite? (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263551)

I can think of one downside - it's still using petrol (or gas).

Re:Downsite? (1)

Spunkemeyer (805072) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263578)

Couldn't the same be said about the Prius?

Re:Downsite? (1)

Politburo (640618) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263619)

They'll learn the same way they do it now... reading the service manual, and trial and error on a customer's car. The dealer garages will probably have some additional training.

Mechanics don't just magically know how the car is put together. While every car is similiar in terms of broad concepts (how the engine works, etc), they are unique in how everything is hooked together. Mechanics do a lot more RTFM than they'd like you to think, as people assume "reading the manual"="you don't know what you're doing"

Article text in case of slashdotting (-1, Troll)

Karma Troll (801155) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263378)

I don't want to start a holy war here, but what is the deal with you Linux fanatics? I've been sitting here at my freelance gig in front of a Linux box (a PIII 800 w/512 Megs of RAM) for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to copy a 17 Meg file from one folder on the hard drive to another folder. 20 minutes. At home, on my Pentium Pro 200 running NT 4, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this Linux box, the same operation would take about 2 minutes. If that.

In addition, during this file transfer, Mozilla will not work. And everything else has ground to a halt. Even Emacs Lite is straining to keep up as I type this.

I won't bore you with the laundry list of other problems that I've encountered while working on various Linux machines, but suffice it to say there have been many, not the least of which is I've never seen a Linux box that has run faster than its Windows counterpart, despite the Linux machines faster chip architecture. My 486/66 with 8 megs of ram runs faster than this 800 mhz machine at times. From a productivity standpoint, I don't get how people can claim that Linux is a "superior" machine.

Linux addicts, flame me if you'd like, but I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use a Linux over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.

Re:Article text in case of slashdotting (-1, Offtopic)

HaydnH (877214) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263504)

OK... where to start... (and why am I responding to an off-topic post (modd this off topic please!)

Firstly, a linux filesystem mount's remote filesystems in a folder, eg: folderA in outer mongolia might be mounted as /usr/folderA. Have you checked where this folder you're copying to is located? Other than that you might have a HDD problem, copying files is mainly dependent on the speed of the HDD, linux has mostly been faster in the past for me - but the HDD speed is usualy the major factor of copying times.

In addition, during this file transfer, Mozilla will not work. And everything else has ground to a halt. Even Emacs Lite is straining to keep up as I type this.

This definately sounds wierd! Check your logs for errors (yes, linux, unlike windows, tells you whats going on!).

Linux runs slower on a 486 than windows? Are you running Win 3.1??? Can you even run XP on a machine with 8 megs of ram??

Windows is faster? *co... virtual memory being read... ugh*
Cheaper? WTF? free vs lots???
More Stable? My linux box has crashed once in the last 3 years - that was due to a failed DIMM. Windows on the other hand, where to start...

Sorry got blue screened before finishing that last comment.


Real world value ... (5, Insightful)

LazyBoyWrangler (760913) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Real world value ... (3, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263433)

the same could be said for a regular gas/electric hybrid...

New every 2 isn't such a problem... (4, Insightful)

Myself (57572) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263439)

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 []

Re:Real world value ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263481)

How much weight is added?

That was the big question that I asked myself after I read the article. Having a more efficient engine with more ponies is fine, but if you added even more weight to get there, did you really get a true net benefit when taking into account the entire system (the car), not just one part (the engine). Did your 15% savings in fuel consumption get eliminated by a 20% increase in weight (ok, 20% is probably a massive overstatement, but you get the point).

One other issue that came to mind is safety in collisions. If you get into some accident with this system, do you have the additional spectre of having a fair amount of super hot steam flooding into the passenger compartment. Or the potential to thwart any rescuers or people trying to exit the vehicle because of steam emissions?

Re:Real world value ... (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263543)

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.

Re:Real world value ... (1)

Analogy Man (601298) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263641)

Even with a suburban sprawl model a small amount of planning can get a lot of cars off of the road. Sadly in many communities the forethought and planning just doesn't happen. The infrastructure costs of a bike friendly community are cheap in comparison to roads and parking lots.

In Seattle on my 15 mile commute only about 1 mile of that was nasty in terms of traffic hazard, but it was manageable.

I now live in mo-town and there are some great bike trails, but they are not built with the commuter in mind. A typical rider on these trails puts their bike on their car, drives to the trail, rides around, and then loads their bike back up and goes home. I would need to bike 25-30 miles to go 10-15 miles from home. Also, kind of like the challenge of communications technology, the last mile is bitch

Re:Real world value ... (2, Interesting)

uradu (10768) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263605)

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.

Choice name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263391)

Will they call the Ohio model the Turbo Cleveland Steamer?

Re:Choice name... (1)

pl1ght (836951) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263482)

If they do, i know i want one =D

BMW an innovator in alternative fuels (5, Informative)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#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: []

Re:BMW an innovator in alternative fuels (2, Informative)

cra (172225) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263440)

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, but vinegar is easiest to get).

Re:BMW an innovator in alternative fuels (1)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263452)

Why not apply the same principle here to the hydrogen engines then? They will produce heat just as conventional gas engines do, that same heat can be used further down the line to drive a steam engine. And as an added bonus, you get a supply of water for free, as a combustion product from the Hydrogen engine!

Tiny little difference (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263534)

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 (2, Interesting)

MarcQuadra (129430) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263579)

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 pollution to power generating stations, which we'll need a lot more of if the 'hydrogen economy' takes off.

The short-to-mid-term solution to the issues at hand is to produce engines that get much better mileage, like this hybrid, and to get Americans to give up their lust for uber-powerful cars. The long-term solution is effective mass-transportation, alternative energy sources (which hydrogen is not one of), and making dense walkable urban communities close to centers of commerce and industry part of western culture.

I think a good start would be to tax the crap out vehicles based on a pollution coefficient, banning light trucks (SUVs) from the high-speed lanes of highways, legislating a portion of the gas tax to fund mass-transit R&D and construction, leveraging heavy parking fees, raising the gas tax so gas costs $4/gallon, and legislation allowing for small diesel vehicles in the US (currently they are diffucult to produce, they get treated differently than gas vehicles).

Re:You Hydrogen People (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263632)

You hydrogen people bother me.

Didn't the naysayers say similar things about electricity and batteries during Benjamin Franklin's time? If you need electricity to produce hyrdrogen, put solar panels on the roofs of the hydrogen plants. Hydrogen power is going to be used in the future, bothersome or not.

Re:BMW an innovator in alternative fuels (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263581)

until they can figure out how to make fuel cells with out platinum, hydrogen powered cars will not be usable in the long term.

Re:BMW an innovator in alternative fuels (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263657)

BMW has the ability to make Hydrogen-powered production cars, it is a shame that they have not caught on yet.

From where do you intend to get the hydrogen?

If you reform natural gas into hydrogen, you lose some of the energy that was in that natural gas. Further, you produce in the reformer the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be produced by burning the natural gas directly. You might better compress the natural gas and burn that in an engine.

If you use electricity to hydrolize water into hydrogen and oxygen, then instead, you lose a good chunk of the energy in hydrolysis. Burning the hydrogen in either an internal combustion engine or using it to power a fuel cell to power an electric motor introduces more losses.

If you intend to use electricity, you would be better off storing it in Lithium Ion or Nickel Metal Hydride batteries than converting it to hydrogen, at least until the efficiencies can be brought up a bit.

I support the idea of building Hydrogen-powered cars for research, because we should do the research. Unfortunately, the research thus far has not produced anything that would give us a net gain if put into production, ergo, going to production with it would be very premature.

Choo choo (1, Interesting)

ReformedExCon (897248) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263394)

If you take a look around at the current state of locomotion, you'll find that steam engines are largely a thing of the past.

What has taken their place? Diesel electric trains.

What's going to be the next big thing in American car engines? Diesel.

Forget steam, it's a toy. Diesel electric will run our cars into the next decades until the oil fields dry up.

Re:Choo choo (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263415)

You jest, but when you combine something like a diesel electric model with the regenerative braking used in current hybrids, you could probably make a really efficient car without the need for the elusive CVT that doesn't suck. Plus as a bonus, when fuel cell technology matures, you could replace the diesel engine and generator head with a cell stack and a hydrogen tank.

Re:Choo choo (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263649)

Could you expand a little on why you think current CVTs suck?

Are you referring to the strength limitation (which is why you currently only see them in smaller, lighter vehicles) or something completely different?

Re:Choo choo (1)

chnmille (929984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263422)

But why not make use of the exhaust? If it's going to be there, wasting energy, why not reclaim it and add 15% efficiency as the article claims.

Re:Choo choo (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263430)

This could be applied to a diesel engine just as well.

Re:Choo choo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263432)

If you take a look around at the current state of locomotion, you'll find

If you take a look at the current fuel prices, you'll find that a 15% increase in efficiency doesn't sound too bad.

Re:Choo choo (1)

inferis (84322) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263442)

And since half of the cars Europe already have Diesel engines, there's no reason why the new fad couldn't be steam assisted engines. ;)

Re:Choo choo (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263445)

I strongly agree. Current turbodiesels can get upwards of 50 mpg, with a traditional ICE arrangement. A diesel-electric with power reserves and some high-torque motors ought to get even better effeciency while still getting good performance and being fun to drive, while requiring even less maintenance than current cars. Diesel makes a great transitional fuel to renewables, as well, since you can in most cases go directly from petrolem-derived diesel to biomass-derived biodiesel with little or no engine modifications.

The benefits are obvious, the drawbacks are few, the remaining technical barriers are low. It is the only renewable-energy-based transportation that is practical, cost-competitive, and available today.

Re:Choo choo (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263669)

Smart is parading a new four-two model turbodiesel around that gets upwards of 81mpg

What I'm waiting for... (1)

sterno (16320) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263453)

I'm waiting for one of these car companies to discover new uses for buggy whips in the powering of cars. A diesel-electric hybrid with buggy whip injection or some such. Then all those tales of the last buggy whip makers will have to be rewritten.

Re:Choo choo (1)

izerop143 (937296) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263457)

They are not talking about locomotion.
movement: movement or the power to move from one place to another

The point is they are using excess and otherwise wasted energy and turning it into power. Thats all that they are doing, just because it is steam you think its a joke?
And so what if we switch to diesel, we could still use this technogly and take advantage of the otherwise wasted energy.

And just for the record, when you talk about steam, I presonally use steam everyday, (not steam but hot water) to brew this awesome pot of coffee. Maybe we should hook up my car to brew coffee? That would be kind of sweet.

Re:Choo choo (2, Interesting)

aug24 (38229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263498)

I think you are confusing fuel and engine form. Diesel is just a fuel, it doesn't dictate the engine type.

The (only) difference between (1) internal and (2) external combustion is that the fuel energy is used to create an expansion due to (1) a chemical reaction and (2) a state change in some other material. The expansion is then used to drive a piston and after that it's all gears!

The biggest problem with internal combustion is that the heat of the reaction can't be avoided and is absolutely not wanted, so you have to carry around cooling systems. For external combustion the heat is exactly what you want, and it's pretty easy to obtain ;-). The downside is you have to carry around some other material (for the state change) which is typically voided rather than cooled and re-used.

So... there's no reason you couldn't make a highly efficient diesel external combustion (probably steam) engine.

In fact this hybrid is arguably pretty clever, as it uses the waste heat in one of the most efficient ways possible, as input to a steam engine! If the water runs out, the car continues on its merry way as a POICE (plain old internal combustion engine) - and a lot of gears!


Re:Choo choo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263548)

"Diesel electric will run our cars into the next decades until the oil fields dry up. "
It might, but people who always think that you can just use the fuel until it runs out are forgetting it's other main uses; plastics.
You use up all the hydrocarbons for fuel, and your seriously limiting the availability of plastics. Therefore in the long term it's about preservation of the resources and getting the most out of them, so steam is a good idea. And as for running 'into the next decades' - the North Sea oil field - off the UK - is already running out of gas and oil. It's one of the largest, and others will follow. Reserves have been overstated recently and aren't easily tappable.
All quite interesting that we've managed to do all this damage in 100 years or so... so yes, unless we get smart, internal combustion engines will be a thing of the past.

Re:Choo choo (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263565)

Diesel electrics came into favor because the steam engines in the 1930's and 40's required an alot of skilled labor to operate. For a car however, there are alot of disadvantages, mainly pollution. These days, most of the harmful pollution in cities like New York comes from diesel trucks and busses -- its bad enough that NYC is considering moving its bus fleet to natural gas.


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263404)

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turbosteamer eh? (3, Funny)

Intocabile (532593) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263405)

Let's just hope this isn't comming from their Cleveland factory.

BMW Philosophy. (5, Funny)

Volanin (935080) | more than 8 years ago | (#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"!

Re:BMW Philosophy. (1)

Timo_UK (762705) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263528)

They are over here - the 3 series is always in the top 3-4 of best selling cars in Germany.

Re:BMW Philosophy. (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263587)

Actually, the 3 series outsells any range that Ford or GM produce for the UK, too.

Re:BMW Philosophy. (1)

Carewolf (581105) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263617)

BMW makes engines for more than just BMW cars..

Heat Recovery Steam Generator? (3, Insightful)

HuggybearVT (576997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263419)

Combined cycle power plants aren't exactly revolutionary. They're more efficient, but more expensive to buy and maintain.

Downsides - A few (3, Insightful)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Downsides - A few (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263618)

*at least 24 ft of piping that may be impacted by even minor collisions
I assume they won't be using copper pipes but rather flexible composite materials ones. Say silicone coating a woven tube matrix; good luck breaking that.

In any case, even if it breaks, it surely can be made to do so nicely, and merely fall back to the normal engine core.

Where's the Condenser? (3, Interesting)

jamesl (106902) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Where's the Condenser? (4, Informative)

blakestah (91866) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263516)

The pictures accompanying the article suggest the system interfaces with the relatively large radiator already in the front of the car. It is not going to produce nearly as much steam as an engine that would power the entire car, and this steam engine doesn't need a heat source either.

Hey Stan... (3, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263424)

...I thought that idea ran out of steam decades!

It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (2, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.


Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (2, Informative)

inferis (84322) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263455)

80% of the heat exhaust energy, not the total amount of energy.

Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (3, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263529)

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.

Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (1)

vidarlo (134906) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263591)

So you want to go from: gasoline->motion->electricty->motion instead of gasoline->motion 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.

I thought this was what all hybrid cars did? Gasoline->motion->electricity->motion. And as you points out, the engine can run at constant, optimal speed.

Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263656)

Hybrids switch between gas->motion + regneneration and eletric->motion all automatically. Current hybrid's real effency comes from the regeneration cycles, present in braking and momentum.

Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (1)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263571)

ICEs are much more than 20% efficient, somewhere in the 35-40% range for the better models, im not talking about american beasts here, i know more is lost in the drivetrain, through rolling friction, etc, but still. and though 15% extra efficiency doesnt seem like all that much, in the grand scheme of things it could be extremely beneficial, especially when the extra power and torque is taken into account. i currently get between 450 and 700 miles to a tank (i drive an audi 2.0 tdi - 13 gallon tank) and those 15% would increase that to over 500 to 800. the increase would be more appreciated on the high end though, as for me refuelling isnt something i do often, someone whos filling up several times a week (my brother averages 2-3 tanks a week - 20 gallon tank) would see it as a definite improvement.

Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263661)

*Cars* are about 20% efficient max. The ICE sits idling in traffic, variable speeds etc. Increasing the engine efficiency by 15% is a kludge and only increases the overall efficiency of the whole system by a couple of percent. Expensive waste of time.


Re:It hardly reclaims 80% of the energy (1)

ronanbear (924575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263621)

Or 20%+15%=35% In large power plants the addition of a Rankine Cycle to the Otto Cycle for the Combined Cycle typically almost doubles efficiency. Why do you think that full electric drive hybrids would be more efficient? More of your work going into the alternator and electric motor. Hybrids are more efficient when accelerating and braking (when regenerative braking is employed). The hybrid motor gives zero benefit while cruising at constant speed. There are massive technical issues that lead me to be skeptical about the promise of this technology. One of them being that steam generators would not be easy to control in the stop-start environment of a car.

Steam engine options (5, Funny)

thewiz (24994) | more than 8 years ago | (#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? (2, Interesting)

blank101 (862789) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263441)

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?

I'm holding out... (4, Funny)

Ric0chet (110522) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263466)

...for a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor add-on for my

Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263467)

Digg, two days late.

Next Thing They'll Invent... (5, Funny)

FrankDrebin (238464) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263471)

... a network of metal tracks to operate them on.

The obvious next step (2, Funny)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 8 years ago | (#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!

Chiti Chiti BMWang BMWang (1)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263493)

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.

Steam Power (1)

izerop143 (937296) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263495)

Just for the record, Steam is not OLD, its still being used to this day in the form of a nuclear power plant. So everyone please stop saying Choo Choo and read this...

The uranium bundle acts as an extremely high-energy source of heat. It heats the water and turns it to steam. The steam drives a steam turbine, which spins a generator to produce power. In some reactors, the steam from the reactor goes through a secondary, intermediate heat exchanger to convert another loop of water to steam, which drives the turbine. The advantage to this design is that the radioactive water/steam never contacts the turbine. Also, in some reactors, the coolant fluid in contact with the reactor core is gas (carbon dioxide) or liquid metal (sodium, potassium); these types of reactors allow the core to be operated at higher temperatures. Read Howstuff Works here []

15% (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263502)

15% WoW....stop the press.

Band-aid upon a larger problem (1)

porkThreeWays (895269) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263513)

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 is just as complex as a non-gas solution.

This is nice and all, but with the advent of more efficient gas engines, oil companies will just raise prices so they are still profitable. An engine might be twice as efficient, but will it matter if gas is 6 dollars a gallon?

Re:Band-aid upon a larger problem (1)

martinthebrit (565913) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263556)

No. All a turbo allows you to do is burn the fuel in the engine more rapidly. You get more power, but at an increase of fuel economy. This solution is making use of the currently wasted byproduct of internal combustion; i.e heat to get more power from the same amount of fuel.

Could be combined with conventional hybrid... (4, Interesting)

Goonie (8651) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263517)

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.

Steam with Fuel Cells (2, Interesting)

yancey (136972) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Steam with Fuel Cells (1)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263550)

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.

Question (1)

j0e_average (611151) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263541)

Why aren't car engines designed like modern train engines? I believe most trains are propelled by elecric motors which are in turn powered by diesel engines, which turn generators.

Why doesn't this idea scale down to automobiles? Is it the continued dependence on fossil fuels / generation of greenhouse gases, or is there some point where the size/weight/power ratio no longer makes sense?

My Beamer is a Steamer (2, Insightful)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263559)

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.

Re:My Beamer is a Steamer (1)

majjj (644070) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263595)

Yeah, really if this could be worked around for all the engines present currently... this will be a significant moment in the history of automobiles.

Re:My Beamer is a Steamer (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263626)

Tell that to the people GM is laying off because they're backpedalling from one of those.

They built up a huge capacity to make gas-guzzling SUVs, and then act surprised when demand goes down as gas prices go up. I don't know if we can say yet that they've gone broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but they have proved that it's not always a great idea to capitalize on a fad, especially when doing so requires a huge capital investment that's going to be practically worthless when the fad passes.

Forget heat engines.... (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263594)

...some are better than others, some are cleaner than others, but we will never get away from the upper Carnot efficiency - which in our atmosphere is right around 33% (a value we don't even come close to in practice).

The Ideal Gas Law, what a bitch!

This is a decent stop gap technology I suppose, but electricity is the way to go. Electric to mechanical energy efficiency approaching 85% (in practice!) Now if we can figure out how to minimize loss during transmission.... or how to generate the stuff ubquitously withut using a heat engine....

Don't you just love /. engineers (2, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263597)

Almost everyone seems to think they somehow managed to spot faults in the concept that nobody at BMW could possibly have imagined. To complex, to heavy, to expensive, go to hydrogen instead.


To complex? Compared to what? This is a BMW not some american car. Germans may suck as human beings but they know how to make cars. Cars that actually just bloody work instead of needing to be fixed every ten miles.

To heavy? Compared to what? A giant hydrogen fuel cell? Me thinks BWM engineers would have figured out that adding an old style steam engine as found on trains would not be very effective. Perhaps these engineers already thought of the fact that adding a few hundred kilograms would not make sense so the thing does not weigh a significant amount?

Same with expense. Anyway this is BMW, anything that adds performance (wich it does power performance) is good and they just sell it on their premium models first.

As for hydrogen. Well part of the hydrogen engines are still internal combustion engines and will therefore still produce heat. Same with every fuel source that is burned. This steam engine idea could be used whereever you have waste heat.

It is in itself nothing new, in fact it is extremely old. Steam engines themselves didn't just create some steam put it in a cylinder and then vent the steam. Big engines had up to 3 cylinders. 1st high presure, then a middle pressure to take the waste steam from number 1 and then a low pressure one to take the last bit of energy from the steam.

/. engineers. Pah.

Misconceptions. But this is a GOOD thing. (3, Insightful)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263635)

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?

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