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The Solar Powered Steam Car

The Solar Powered Steam Car

Reprinted from Volume 23, #3 of The Steam Automobile
(Fall, 1981 issue, pages 32-36)

Editor’s Note: this submission came to the Automotive Tribune from Peter Brow who had originally posted the article on on his site.   Peter had spotted an article in the Steam Automobile Club of America from 1981 and had found significant interest and some of the commentary is included here.  Additional information about the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Vehicle is included at this link for the Automotive Tribune.  In our archives we have a copy of this particular 1981 SACA magazine which were unable to locate to add a photograph of the magazine cover and for possible inclusion of graphics and artwork that would be relevant to the reader.


Note: Peter Brow’s updated comments following this article, below.

[1-30-2001]

 


Introduction:

Here is a very interesting article on a technology which I think holds great promise for the future. Imagine a future where all cars are powered directly by solar energy without toxic electric batteries or gaseous emissions. I believe the heat-battery steam car technology described in the following article can be developed to where solar steam cars are quickly refueled by draining cooled “thermal liquid” out of onboard tanks and pumping in hot “thermal liquid” heated at desert solar-collector farms. The hot thermal liquid pumped into the car’s tanks generates steam, which runs a steam engine, which propels the car. The cool liquid is shipped back to the solar farms for reheating, and hot liquid is transported from solar farms to distant cities, especially those in less-sunny areas, via insulated pipelines or insulated road or rail tankers.

Due to the simplicity of the equipment and the low cost of the materials, I think nonpolluting solar cars like these could run at a lower overall cost per mile (purchase, maintenance, and energy) than cars powered by fossil fuels, electric batteries, fuel cells, etc.. My calculations indicate that the range of these solar cars could be economically extended to about 200 miles with extra solar heat-tank capacity.

Homes could be heated by pipelined solar “thermal liquid” too, and small steam-powered generators at each home could provide all electrical service.

So we may someday have a world whose energy not only comes entirely from the sun, but where energy is both cleaner and cheaper too!

Check out the following article, and see what you think. Eventually I will try to scan the pictures from the article, and include them on this page.

 


On-board “thermal battery” can be charged by parabolic reflector to provide boiler heat for steam-driven experimental car. Widespread application of propulsion concept could result in sizeable energy savings.

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With a hiss and a burst of steam, the solar-powered test car jumped to life. I drove a short distance, eased to a stop, checked the steam-pressure and thermal-battery temperature gauges, shifted into reverse and returned. The car had moved smoothly with surprising power, and solely by heat energy stored on board.

An intriguing contrivance — a 1977 Vega wagon stripped of its engine, transmission, and drive shaft, and refitted with a 1915 Stanley engine, a monotube flash boiler and a 700 lb thermal battery — the experimental car effectively demonstrated the feasibility of using solar energy for vehicular propulsion. The thermal battery, a unique heat sink and the key element in the design, contains a stable, high-temperature, heat-storage material that can be charged (heated) by a high-temperature solar concentrator, such as a parabolic reflector (for convenience a small oil burner charges the thermal battery during testing). Water pumped through the monotube boiler, which is submerged in the heat-storage material, produces steam to run the engine. … Continue Reading

Solar-Thermal Hybrid Vehicle — Construction Photos

Gallery Photographs Added

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Finished In The Paint Booth, A Dignified Patriotic Paint Job With Sparkle

Photo sheets related to construction of the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile have been added to the Gallery Photographs.  You will need to go to the Gallery Tab at the top of the page to access the Solar-Thermal Hybrid photos.  Normally, you could scroll down the page and on the right side you will see the gallery posted on the main page.  However, this link apparently is not active because of the size of the composite photographs.

Photographs Taken During Construction

These photographs were taken during construction of the vehicle.  One photo sheet is of the documentation associated with the photographs.  After about 30 years in the album, the album started coming apart and deterioration has affected the text entries.

Effort of reporting about the Experimental Vehicle in the Tribune is to provide a functional record for those who have academic or general interest about this topic.

Polaroid Photographs Were State-of-the-Art

Red, White and Three Shades of Blue Leaving The Paint Booth

Red, White and Three Shades of Blue Leaving The Paint Booth

At the time that this project was being conducted traditional Polaroid Photographs were state-of-the-art for quick photographs.  They do not have great resolution but they are the best graphic documentation that exists.

Text Explanation

Text information page is very significant.  It contains the explanation information associated with the photographs.  From the condition of the archive, it appears that some of the text entries have been lost over time.  Loss of some photographs also appears to have occurred.

Solar Thermal Hybrid Vehicle – Background

April 27, 2009 Solar-Thermal Hybrid Vehicle Comments Off on Solar Thermal Hybrid Vehicle – Background

Why a Solar-Thermal Car?

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1981 Press Release Photo

It did not start out that way.  Discussion for the Solar-Thermal car came during the Patent process in 1980.  It went something like Dr. McElroy, because of the high energy density you can achieve in the Thermal Battery you could conceivably patent this as a fuel.  If you had a fuel could you build a vehicle?  My reply was I never thought about it, but I will look into the idea.  That statement was life altering.

History and Background

Rather than addressing the technology right from the start let’s go back to the fundamentals for this unique vehicle, its technology and story behind its design, construction, testing and operation.  With this information in place we will move into politics, publicity, funding, and the phases of death for the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile.

Every emotion in the book can be associated with the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile.  A project of this magnitude, with its publicity and media coverage taught everyone involved courage, humility, and perseverance.  This project has had a life-long impact on everyone involved.

washington-star-march-10-1981_bIn 1981 the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile went on display at the 8th Energy Technology Conference and Exposition at the Sheraton Washington, D.C. Hotel.  This car represents the only Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile ever built.

Today, almost 30 years later, there appear to be no other alternative-energy thermal-powered automobile assembled.  This is for good reason, the technology does not readily lend itself to powering automobiles.  It works elegantly to heat & cool homes, provide process heat, and provide electricity.

The Energy Conference was the first public outing for the Solar-Thermal Hybrid Automobile.  We made the front page of the Business Section of the Washington Star.  As reported in the Washington Star on March 10, 1981 American Solar Energy Corporation of Arlington is displaying a small station wagon powered by a solar thermal fuel system.  The automobile sports the inaugural license plate NOGAS.

Oil Embargoes

 

March 30, 1981 -- Page 3 Article

March 30, 1981 -- Page 3 Article "The Stanley Steamer Goes Solar"

In 1967 the US experienced its first Oil Embargo

or the 1967 Oil Embargo.  In retrospect, this should be called the First Arab Oil Embargo.

In 1973-74 the US experienced the Second Oil Embargo.  This Second Arab Oil Embargo which is typically referred to as the Arab Oil Embargo.

Looking back, it is interesting to note that the energy crisis that occurred in 1973 was particularly significant, in a number of ways.  It definitely started the US to think about energy issues that were not considered beforehand.  Here is a summarization for the 25th Anniversary of the 1973 Oil Embargo.  It puts many issues into perspective.

In 1979 there was another Energy Crisis .  This 1979 Energy Crisis also led to economic turmoil and recession.

newsweek-march-30-1981_bReflecting on these repeated supply and demand problems in the Nation’s fuel supply revealed that the US, and all industrialized nations were being controlled to some degree by Foreign fuel suppliers.

An interesting summary, When The Gas Ran Out, brings key issues associated wit these difficult years together.

Recognizing the massive energy problems facing the US was not too difficult.  You had the opportunity to live with gas lines or No Gas (later to be used for the license plate of the Solar Thermal Hybrid Automobile).

This was not a good situation.  At times it was risky to take any trip by car because you might not be able to get gas.

Next Step

Energy Today at Louisville, KY, October 11, 1981.  Event promoter Everett Hurd in the world's only Solar-Thermal vehicle.

Energy Today at Louisville, KY, October 11, 1981. Event promoter Everett Hurd in the world's only Solar-Thermal vehicle.

After departing the Texas Transportation Institute School For High Performance Driving, a previous article in the Tribune, I read in the Wall Street Journal that the US was going to spend lots of money to re-insulate homes.  This fact made it clear that being in the Insulation Business and Home Improvement Business would be just the right place to make money from a major trend that what was going to happen.

Insul-Aid Insulation Company was co-founded with Alan Maurer.  We had a great business and soon had some 30 people working for us.  Alan was an architect who worked with other architects that were coming up with high-tech innovative ways to cut energy use and energy loss in the new designs.  Insul-Aid was always in the news as a partner in special projects.

Automobile racing team member sizes up the Solar-Thermal Car.  At right is Vice-President of American Solar, Richard Kubis.

Automobile racing team member sizes up the Solar-Thermal Car. At right is Vice-President of American Solar, Richard Kubis.

The company quickly expanded from walls and ceiling insulation systems to any other insulation system you could imagine.  If the customer needed the product, we would make it happen.  Expansion rapidly brought us into energy efficient doors, windows, solar screens, ceiling fans, wood stoves, passive & active ventilation systems, and many other products.

1979 Graduation

In 1979 I finished my academic work at Texas A&M and was faced witha very serious decision after Commencement.  Continue to work with Insul-Aid, and my car business, or find a new challenge.

After several days, I decided to tackle the energy crisis.  It came down to a focus that said, everything in solar up to this point had delivered only modest powe output.  If solar was ever going to be a viable alternative energy then someone had to figure out a way to make solar power a reality.

(L to R) R. Kubis, E. Hurd, Dr. R. McElroy.  Mr. Hurd offers his congratulations to American Solar on being the Feature Attraction of the Energy Today Exposition.

(L to R) R. Kubis, E. Hurd, Dr. R. McElroy. Mr. Hurd offers his congratulations to American Solar on being the Feature Attraction of the Energy Today Exposition.

Review of Solar Literature

No small task, but up to that time things had worked fairly successfully for me.  I spent months at the Texas A&M University library reading solar and power materials in an attempt to get an engineering understanding of what made solar efficient and what properties made solar inefficient.

After completing the review of literature and coming up with a basic mathematical model for how a system could work then I was faced with the problme of how do you build it?

Having a great idea is just that.  For the idea and concept to be useful and implementable for society the idea must be turned into physical reality.  I moved back to Arlington, VA and continued to search for the final pieces of the technology puzzle.  While reviewing engineering tables on physical properties of heat and thermal transfer my attention was drawn to a particular type of wax.  It had high specific heat, high specific gravity, and had a very large temperature range that it would remain fluid.

Information Error Leads To Success

Heat flow diagram

Heat flow diagram

There was an error in the specific information in the manual but I had found the ideal material for a Thermal Battery.  Many thermal batteries are molten salt.  The system I developed did not use salts, in an effort to eliminate the corrosive effects.  In addition to the fact that established functional parameters for he system supported use of the wax product in the Thermal Battery.

Patent Application

I wrote up the initial patent application and sent it to the Patent Office at Crystal City, just a few miles from where I was located in Arlington.  Reviewers at the Patent Office communicated that this was a Novel idea but the final preparation needed to be completed by a Patent Attorney.

In the process of working with the Patent Attorney it went something like Dr. McElroy, because of the high energy density you can achieve in the Thermal Battery you could conceivably patent this as a fuel.  If you had a fuel could you build a vehicle?  My reply was I never thought about it, but I will look into the idea.  That statement was life altering.

Random Photos From Automotive Tribune Site

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Richard Kubis Explains Solar Thermal Hybrid Automobile