Odd Citizen

Odd Citizen
An Odd Citizen’s Search For Vanishing Freedoms

More Steam on Innovation

June 9th, 2010

My friend, Ben Kalafut, wrote a comment to my recent article “Automotive Innovation, American Know-how.” His comment, below, stirred up some old memories on the subject. Ben wrote:

Have you seen the six-stroke water-injection setup? Makes timing and manifold design a bit more complicated, but a very nice way to lower T_c and get higher thermodynamic efficiency.

I hadn’t heard of the six-stroke engine so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Interesting! It appears that the original six-stroke was thought of around 1883. The Crower engine, which you are possibly referring to, which uses water injection, was invented in 2004 by a 75 year old American. Apparently it is similar to a design originally invented by Leonard Dyer in 1915.

In 1960 I had a friend who modified his Jeep engine to accept water injection. He was a pilot and also modified his Jeep’s controls so he could steer, brake, and accelerate using an aircraft joy-stick control.

And on a similar note, in the late 60’s I was a frequent user of the Mechanics Institute library in San Francisco. This library was originally established during the gold rush days to support engineering involved in gold mining. On numerous days, while doing my customary stock market research, I noticed a fellow patron at the back corner of the stacks. He was hunched over some very old, dusty tomes and took copious notes.

My curiosity get the better of my manners and I asked him what he was researching. He reported that he was a senior engineer from LearJet Aircraft company, which was then proposing to re-introduce a steam propelled automobile. The most complete and accurate technology for steam propulsion, he said, was all developed in the 1850’s, and thus resided in the dusty archives of the Mechanics Library.

An aside to all this is that sometimes good ideas in mechanical (for example) engineering become practical much later due to innovations in electronics (computerized controls) and materials (single crystal turbine blades, carbon fiber composites), for example. It takes time, humility and open minds for these things to come together in practical, economical products. There’s a gold mine out there, and it’s worth prospecting.

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