'Biocoal' fuels steam train comeback
Uni of Minnesota steampunks plot loco speed record
Trainspotters who find the homogenized world of modern locos a bit dull could soon be celebrating the return of steam, if all goes well in a University of Minnesota study.
The university, along with Sustainable Rail International, are to restore a 1930s locomotive – 3463, a 4-6-4 Hudson-type loco built by Baldwin that’s spent its retirement at the Kansas Expocenter in Topeka – as a test bed for bio-coal. The locomotive has already been stabilized prior to the trip to Minnesota for restoration.
If all goes well, the university says, it expects to create the “cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive”, costing less to maintain and fuel than current diesel-electric locos.
And, since there’s no point in ambitions if you don’t make them big, the consortium also hopes to take the restored loco up to 130 miles per hour (nearly 210 km/h).
Target: 130 mph for restored steamer running on biocoal
Its biocoal – cellular material processed into a solid fuel – exhibits the same energy density and material handling properties as coal, the university says, but without coal’s heavy metals. The biomass is also carbon-neutral, and produces less ash, less smoke (sorry to those for whom the ‘magic of steam’ includes the smell of burning coal), and fewer volatile off-gases.
The Coalition for Sustainable Rail says its “Project 130” will also produce more horsepower at higher speeds than diesel-electric locomotives.
If the project is successful, they note that the demonstration would also show the value of high energy density biocoal in other applications such as power generation. El Reg supposes then all we'd need to worry about is deforestation… ®
Re: My first thought
Same way as charcoal - dry distillation of organic matter.
1. The dry distillation produces most of the nasty stuff (sulphur, nitrogen, etc from proteins go at that stage as sulphur dioxide, etc). What is left after that is nearly pure carbon. It can burn very clean. The problem with it is that it is very porous, takes lots of space and its energy density is a bit crap. That can be solved by pressing it into small pellets ("high density coal").
2. While making biomass into coal requires some energy to start off with it can be made self-sustaining as a side project of partially burning the biomass. Just ask any of the cough, cough, national minorities stripping to bare ground the woods of Eastern Europe and making them into charcoal for sale.
3. As far as a modern steam train having efficiency on par with diesel - that is a given. Steam is not that inefficient. The problem with steam is not the efficiency - it is the maintenance bill. All that regular boiler descaling, cylinder overhauls, gasket changes, etc cost a pretty penny. Add to that having to have regular (and probably in this day and age deionised) water supply along the rail lines. Compared to that with a diesel you just change the oil and the oil filter every few thousand miles and keep filling it up with some rotten dinosaurs.
cellular material processed into a solid fuel
did they say how much energy is needed to process the cellular material into a solid fuel ?
I love all the green talk about how alternative fuels seem to magically appear without any energy cost.
My first thought
How is this "clean" biocoal produced and how much energy is required?