Triple exapansion steam engines

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Above is a video of the Elliot Bay Triple Expansion Steam Engine being started up and ran. Apparently these guys are building this from scratch with plans to eventually put it in a 32' boat. From the video's comments the son of the builder explains, "We built it because we like steam powered boats, no other reason." I'm impressed. 

If you crave a steam launch, follow their link. They sell kits for $3,400 or a set of drawings for $300.

From Wikipedia article on steam engines (where I swiped the animation):
It is a logical extension of the compound engine (described above) to split the expansion into yet more stages to increase efficiency. The result is the multiple expansion engine. Such engines use either three or four expansion stages and are known as triple and quadruple expansion engines respectively. These engines use a series of double-acting cylinders of progressively increasing diameter and/or stroke and hence volume. These cylinders are designed to divide the work into three or four, as appropriate, equal portions for each expansion stage. As with the double expansion engine, where space is at a premium, two smaller cylinders of a large sum volume may be used for the low pressure stage. Multiple expansion engines typically had the cylinders arranged inline, but various other formations were used. In the late 19th century, the Yarrow-Schlick-Tweedy balancing 'system' was used on some marine triple expansion engines. Y-S-T engines divided the low pressure expansion stages between two cylinders, one at each end of the engine. This allowed the crankshaft to be better balanced, resulting in a smoother, faster-responding engine which ran with less vibration. This made the 4-cylinder triple-expansion engine popular with large passenger liners (such as the Olympic class), but this was ultimately replaced by the virtually vibration-free turbine (see below).

The image to the right shows an animation of a triple expansion engine. The steam travels through the engine from left to right. The valve chest for each of the cylinders is to the left of the corresponding cylinder.

Land-based steam engines could exhaust much of their steam, as feed water was usually readily available. Prior to and during World War I, the expansion engine dominated marine applications where high vessel speed was not essential. It was however superseded by the British invention steam turbine where speed was required, for instance in warships, such as the dreadnought battleships, and ocean liners. HMS Dreadnought of 1905 was the first major warship to replace the proven technology of the reciprocating engine with the then-novel steam turbine.
Finally, below is the largest operating triple expansion steam engine located at Kempton, England. It is absolutely enormous, rising over 3 stories in height and requiring 'starter' steam engines to get it running. Surprisingly, from the sound track of the video, it isn't as noisy as one might expect.

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