Constitutional Emergency

Here's a question for all of you mechanically inclined types.  How practical and difficult would it be to build a stationary steam engine and couple it to a generator for emergency power?  I have access to lots of wood and water.  My thought is that when everything goes to hell in a handbasket I have everything required to operate a steam engine recognizing the fact that it would probably not be good for providing 24/7 power.  However, several hours a day would certainly keep the freezer from thawing out.

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Good question.

How does one build this contraption? 

The steam engine is readily defined in any library.  The question  is, how do you sustain what ever will fuel it.  As the wattage demand is increased, so will the fuel consumption increase.  The other important item is a water supply.



Unless you were able to find a steam engine and couple the shaft to the generator drive, it would be easier to use a container, such as a fifty five gallon drum, use copper tubing or cpvc to direct the steam to turn the drive for the generator unit by having it turn fan or paddle blades connected to the shaft. The shaft with paddles would have to be enclosed in a housing allowing the steam to turn the blades in a clockwise direction. You would need a bypass valve connected prior to the connection to prevent the steam from building up enough pressure to cause damage. A rudimentary system could be built if you have an old car alternator or generator on hand for around one hundred dollars. It may not look pretty but it would work, your current output would vary as pressure varies unless you add a regulator such as ones found on automotive alternators. Good luck with your project.

Thanks for the information.

Steam would also provide purer drinking water.

Good Idea !

Do a web search for "small steam turbine generators" - there are people out there that have already done the R&D for these systems.


As a practicing machinist and forty plus year engine builder and designer, a stationary steam engine is a good plan, and relatively easy to put together if one has the tooling.  Both piston design, and turbine are realistic, and practical, but by no means the limit for generator power.  Stirling engines, hot air, closed cycle engines can be made out of lawnmower engines, external combustion engines are also possible, and one can take and make a "producer gas system" by which one "cooks the hydro-carbons" out of waste bio matter, including rotten wood, and run a gas engine, particularly flat head engines, off this.

    It is probably the most thermally efficient means of energy generation immediately, and consists of a "boiler" you shovel all your waste and wood into, sitting on a "fire box", which is initially fired with wood, and the gas which comes out can be routed through a water type filter to remove tars and steam, and this routed to a home made "carburetor" which is very much like a propane regulator for "fork lifts" and other vehicles which have been converted to propane.

   Once this operation is well started, part of the gas can be re-routed to fire the burner, and it becomes self-sufficient for fuel as well.  If there is serious interest in this aspect, contact me, and I will put some more information out, as well as some substantial links to people who have done this for a couple decades and are independent.

    The most difficult issue is the fact the tank must be charged with more waste, and the easiest way to start with is having two setups side by side for generating gas, one operational, the other cleaned out, with all waste being charcoal, real charcoal not like what you buy, and about twice the BTU's per pound.  That charcoal can be shoveled out to fire the other burner, and the tank filled, and fired up when the first is showing signs of production reduction.

    Once the setup is well established, water can be run in the tanks, and the charcoal can be converted to "water gas", by which the water is broken down into carbon monoxide, a fuel, and oxyhydrogen, also a fuel, and using this method, the efficiency of the producer is raised about 20%.  To do this demands multiple "cookers", as you actually reduce all the waste and burn it, but the water can't be added to the mixture until it is almost pure charcoal, and it must be run hotter, so insulation of the tank is a must.

   These were used all across the nation during the depression, and during the war, with many cars and substantial delivery trucks being converted to use wood, trash and waste for fuel.  The most useful books I know on this subject are written by Steve Chastain, and while not so easily available anymore, he has been in print continuously for two decades and more, and should be able to be found in used books.  He has about half a dozen or more books, ranging from using existing bits and pieces, to going whole hog and casting up parts and making permanent, standalone generator systems.

Semper Fidelis, John McClain, GySgt, USMC, ret.  Vanceboro, NC

John thanks for the info.  Is there some place where I can get plans/drawings for the system you describe.  I've got two freshly rebuilt Dodge engines for WWII 3/4 ton trucks.  One will go into the 1942 WC52 I am rebuilding.  I'm assuming I could use the other one in the system you describe since it is a flat head 6 cylinder.  I'm not to bad at tinkering and restoring but when it comes to building from scratch I'm lost.

Good, practical information!



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