The Anonymous Widower

Will Steam Solve The Zero Carbon Freight Locomotive Problem?

Steamology Motion has now been awarded two Department of Transport grants to develop modern steam power for UK railways.

February 2019 – W2W Zero Emissions Power System

In Grants To Support Low-Carbon Technology Demonstrators, I quoted an extract from this article on Railway Gazette to describe their W2W Zero Emissions Power System.

Steamology’s Water 2 Water concept will use compressed hydrogen and oxygen gas in a ‘compact energy-dense steam generator’ to produce high pressure superheated steam to drive a turbine, which will generate electricity to charge the batteries as a ‘range extender’ for a Vivarail Class 230 multiple-unit produced from former London Underground vehicles.

There is not much on the Internet about this project, but I did find this article on the Bournemouth Echo, which is entitled Team Behind Chalres Burnett Steam Car Is Working On Trains.

Note that the typo in the headline is not mine, but one of the worst, I’ve seen in a newspaper, since the heady days of the Liverpool Echo in the 1960s, which gave Fritz Spiegl a second career, with all its spelling mistakes.

In the article, Chief Engineer; Christopher Lack describes the steam power like this.

We take hydrogen and oxygen and we burn them inside the chamber which then creates steam and we use that steam to drive a turbine which then powers the generator.

That all sounds very feasible, despite being a bit like the power system of a Space Shuttle, which carried liquid hydrogen and oxygen in the external tank.

At take-off the Space Shuttle carried 629.3 tonnes of liquid oxygen and 106.3 tonnes of liquid hydrogen. Will hydrogen and oxygen always have a similar 5.92 ratio by weight in any combustion process?

June 2020 – Zero Emission Rail Freight Power

In First Of A Kind Funding Awarded For 25 Rail Innovation Projects, I described this project like this.

Hydrogen-based steam turbine system to provide zero emission power for existing freight locomotives.

This is surely a much bigger challenge, as a Class 66 Locomotive for example, has a power output of nearly 2,500 kW, which might need to be sustained for three or four hours. That could be ten MWh, which explains why battery freight locomotives haven’t been developed.

As hydrogen contains 147 MJ/Kg of energy, does that mean that about 250 Kg of hydrogen and an equivalent amount of oxygen would be needed to power the locomotive for four hours?

The amount of space required for the fuel doesn’t seem to be ridiculously large, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

One of the processes in the chemical industry, that I haven’t modelled is combustion. This is probably because, when I was building mathematical models in the chemical industry, it was for ICI Plastics Division and their processes were all about pressure and/or mixing large amounts of chemicals in huge reaction vessels.

But thinking about it, if you burn hydrogen and oxygen in a combustion chamber, you’ll generate a lot of heat, but not much superheated steam to drive a turbine.

So could Steamology Motion have combined the combustion chamber and the boiler in some way?

Suppose, hydrogen and oxygen are burned in a combustion chamber and controlled amounts of water are injected into the chamber.

  • Obviously, not enough to stop the combustion.
  • The water would vaporise and surely join the combustion products and come out as turbine-ready superheated steam.

I suspect some researcher somewhere has used this process to see if they can drive a steam turbine from hydrogen and oxygen.

Perhaps, they were experimenting with a hydrogen-based energy storage system.

  • An electrolyser powered by surplus renewable energy, would split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be stored under pressure.
  • To recover the energy, the hydrogen and oxygen would be burned together to create superheated steam to drive a turbine.

The process could work, with an efficient hydrogen and oxygen to superheated steam generator.

But would it be economic, when compared with a hydrogen fuel cell? Fuel cells don’t need to have an oxygen feed and just uses common-or-garden air!

On the other hand, as the US space program has shown, it might work with liquid hydrogen and oxygen, which would possibly need less storage space and could mean a longer range for the locomotive.


It is a very large engineering challenge for Steamology Motion to get their system to work.

But, I do believe, that it’s possible to make the idea work.

I also think that the Government wouldn’t have signed up for a second project, if the first project had been a complete failure.

But, if Steamology Motion can convert a Class 66 locomotive from a polluting, noisy, carbon-spewing dinosaur into an eco-friendly hydrogen-electric locomotive, they will have done the planet an enormous favour, as there are tens of thousands of diesel locomotives, that could be converted.

They will also make billions for themselves!



June 20, 2020 - Posted by | Transport | , ,

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