The Aero-steam Engines.

Updated: 21 Aug 2007
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During the first half of the Nineteenth century, many attempts were made to drive engines by using mixtures of steam and hot air. This development came some way after the invention of the classical air-only Stirling engine. See here for information on hot-air engines.
The motives were two-fold; firstly, it was believed by many inventors that a judicious mix of air and steam would give greater efficiency than either alone, and secondly, to overcome the severe lubrication problems that resulted from handling hot gas, by covering the engine internals with a film of water from condensation.
None of the engines described here seem to have met with any success.

There are inherent problems with trying to operate an engine with the gas from a furnace; a little aquaintance with valves clogged with cinders, and cylinders eroded by grit, must have discouraged many of the would-be pioneers of this technology

I regret that I am unable to provide here an analysis of the thermodynamic advantages or otherwise of mixing the technologies of the steam engine and the hot air engine. I don't have the time to dig into the mathematics- and I am by no means certain that I have the ability.

Injecting air into a steam boiler runs absolutely counter to normal practice in condensing steam engines (as used in electric power stations) where the maintenance of a good condenser vacuum is vital to efficiency, and strenuous measures are taken to exclude air from the cycle as much as possible.


OLIVER EVANS AND THE VOLCANIC ENGINE

The first pioneer in this field was Oliver Evans, who in the late 1700's introduced what he called his "Volcanic Engine"- not a name to reassure the nervous. This worked on mixture of furnace gases and steam.


THE BUSBY VOLCANIC ENGINE

At the moment all I have is the bare fact that there was a Busby Volcanic Engine; I don't even have a date. Presumably it was inspired by Evans' Volcanic Engine.


THE GLAZEBROOK ENGINE

Glazebrook used moist hot air to drive his air engine, the subject of an English patent in 1797. The air was compressed before exposing it to water, so the heat of compression would cause it to take up more water.

No further information currently to hand.


WILLIAM MONT STORM AND THE CLOUD ENGINE

William Mont Storm experimented with combined air and steam in the period 1851-55. His "Cloud Engine" used steam and air "in a condition resembling fog" (Knight) to push on a piston. It was exhibited at the American Institute fair in 1855, but "failed to realize the expectations of the inventor" and was apparently never heard of again. Certainly fog does not sound as if it would be much use in driving an engine.


THE BENNETT AERO-STEAM ENGINE

An American called Bennet took out a US patent for an air-steam engine on August 3, 1838. This is currently the best documented aero-steam scheme that I have discovered.

Left: The Boiler/Heater of Bennett's Aero-steam engine.

In the Bennet system, air was blown through a furnace working under pressure and then passed through water in a boiler surrounding the furnace.
Air was fed in from a blowing machine (ie air compressor) through pipe c which split into two branches; e fed air to below the fire, while d fed air above it, the proportion being controlled by the two butterfly valves f,f. The heated air and other products of combustion emerge through the short neck g, controlled by the valve h, and bubble through the heated water, hopefully being washed of ash and dust. The resulting mixture of hot air and steam passes to the engine via stop-valve k. To replenish the fire while it was still under pressure, fuel was poured into the air-lock n, controlled by two air-tight sliding doors o and p.

Other parts of the boiler/heater are:

i Safety-valve loaded with dead weight
l Water inlet to boiler
t Ash removal door
v Blow-off valve
w Mud removal door

From Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, 1881 Edition.

The version planned for Captain Cobb's ship (see below) had the outer case planned to be 4 feet in diameter and 12 feet high. The inner furnace was to be 3.5 feet in diameter and 9 feet high.

From Mechanic's Magazine, 9th Sept 1837; p388.

No details are known of the engine, but it almost certainly consisted of conventional reciprocating pistons and cylinders. This would have driven a similiar reciprocating compressor to feed air to the boiler/heater.

The Bennet system was described in the English journal Mechanic's Magazine in the issue for 9th September 1837, p388, which reproduced an article from The Journal of The American Institute to which Bennet contributed a long dissertation. The information below is taken from this source.
A model of the engine was exhibited at the American Institute for several weeks, with Mr Bennet on hand between the hours of eleven and one to explain its operation. It was reported that the principles were "to be employed in propelling Captain Cobb's steamer between this (country) and Liverpool" though whether any such trial was made currently is uncertain. It was claimed that a voyage from the USA to Liverpool would be completed in 10 days, using one tenth the fuel of contemporary steam ships. Were this claim to have been justified, we should have heard a lot more of the Bennet system than we have.

Bennet gives the following description of the projected installation:
"The engine for the Liverpool packet is a double horizontal high pressure engine, 35 inch cylinder, 6 feet stroke, with two blowing cylinders of half the capacity, worked by the piston-rod of the steam cylinder passing through the lower or extreme head, and into the blowing cylinders; consequently both will be of the same motion."

Bennet goes on to deal at length with the efficiency of his scheme. I reproduce following without comment on its soundness, though I must say I have my doubts...
"...I find that one (cubic) foot of air blown into the furnace, to promote combustion... is augmented in bulk by at least five times its original size... consequently it will take one fifth part of the power of the steam to operate the bellows. ...I estimate the power of the engine at 612 horsepower."

The Mechanic's Magazine was not impressed. At the end of its report, it commented:
"The intelligent reader will not fail to perceive that this last miracle of art of our friend Jonathan, is nothing more than a new, but by no means improved edition of the blast-engine of Messrs Braithwaite and Ericsson, which proved in its application to steam-vessels a failure, for the same reason that his will assuredly fail also, -the rapid clogging up with clinkers, and wasting of the fire-bars, through the intensity of the heat to which they are subjected."

In actual fact the major cause of the failure of Ericsson's caloric ship was the very low power output from a huge engine installation- the cylinders were 14 feet across, but moved up and down at the leisurely speed of **.
"Our friend Jonathan" was a contemporary way of referring to Americans.


PAINE'S ENGINE

Paine's engine. US patent of Nov 30, 1858. In this case the air is wetted before it is heated, and so it would take up much less water vapour than if it had been heated first.


SOME OTHER AERO-STEAM PATENTS

The Stillman patent was dated Aug 9, 1864

Bickford's patent was dated June 6, 1865


WASHBURN'S AIR HEATER AND STEAM-GENERATOR gif4

Washburn took out his patent of Sept 5, 1865

Left: The Boiler of Washburn's Aero-steam engine.

Air was forced into the furnace I under pressure through pipe H below the grate, and left via pipe D, being bubbled through water at E to remove dust and cinders. At the same time water entered through pipe G and was boiled in the coiled pipe inside the furnace. Steam left at C and mixed with the hot moist air leaving through valve K, the mixture leaving through pipe L.

It seems strange that so little heating surface was provided for generating the steam- perhaps it was intended to be only a small proportion of the mixture.
It would appear that the air would be hot enough to boil the water in E, so pipe F would be used for make-up water.

From Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, 1881 Edition.

This is presumably the same Washburn who took out a US patent on July 4, 1865, (No 48607) for a motor powered by the thermal expansion of solid materials. The expansion of metal rods drove a ratchet which could be used to wind the mainspring of a clockwork motor; thermal expansion will give only a small movement but there is great force behind it, so with enough gearing-up no doubt some sort of power output could be obtained, but it would be very small. The patent gives no details of how the rods could be rapidly heated and cooled to increase the output power.
One is left with the feeling that Mr Washburn did not have much of a grip on the practucal details.

A museum gallery on this sort of engine is planned for the future.


TANGER'S AERO-STEAM ENGINE: 1866.

The Tanger patent was dated Dec 4, 1866

Left: Tanger's Steam Generator.

Air from a compressing pump entered via pipes E and I, was heated in the convoluted pipes F and J, and then injected into the water in the boiler through pipe K, which was fited with a number of small nozzles.


TARR'S AERO-STEAM ENGINE: 1867.

Tarr's patent was dated 1867.

Air was heated in a furnace, mixed with steam and used to drive a double-acting engine.


WARSOP'S AERO-STEAM ENGINE BOILER

George Warsop (1826-1898) of Nottingham designed the Warsop Aero steam engine in 1869. Previous to this, in 1862, he had made a series of trials at Portsmouth with submarines driven by compressed air but the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty notified him that they did not intend to give this invention further trial. It was first tried on the Thames in March 1870, presumably for marine propulsion (the vessel involved seems to have been called the Fox) and exhibited by Thomas Warsop, (1853-1912) the son of George, at the International Exhibition in South Kensington. When his apprenticeship ended Thomas Warsop went to work for the Warsop Aero Steam Company of London, erecting machines on the aero steam principle in different parts of the country, and conducted successful experiments at Chatham Dockyard for the Admiralty.

This seems to indicate that the Warsop system had some success, but it seems to have been short-lived. The Warsop company went on to become a major manufacturer of portable rock drilling and road breaking tools, and appears to be still operating under the name Fairport.

Most of the information above comes from The History of Warsop and Its Machines by Donald G Whiting, which can be seen here.

A paper entitled On the Warsop Aero-Steam Engine was presented by Mr Richard Eaton of Nottingham and thoroughly discussed at a general meeting of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham on the 10th of November 1870. The proceedings were published in a small book; now that would be an obscure thing to try and get hold of, wouldn't it?

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Above: Warsop's Aero-steam engine boiler.

A single-acting air pump, driven from the engine crankshaft, compressed air to slightly above boiler pressure and supplied it through a 1.25in bore pipe A. The air was heated by the engine exhaust steam in the chamber B, passed through the steam exhaust passage C to the chimney H and was there heated again by the flue gases. Then it passed to a coil in the boiler smokebox where it was further heated, and was then injected into the boiler through a perforated pipe; the perforations were more widely spaced at the inlet end to give an even distribution of air across the length of the pipe. A non-return (clack) valve was fitted to prevent the air pipe from filling with water when the engine stopped.

The drawing above seems to contain an error. The perforated injection pipe can be seen running the firebox; I think it is meant to be connected to the coil just to the left of the boiler, as I have shown by the dotted lines.

"The Aero-steam Engine, the invention of George Warsop, a mechanic of Nottingham, who, by employing compressed air united with steam, is said to have effected the saving of 47% of fuel. The plan was reported to the British Association, at Exeter, in Aug. 1869, and was said to act successfully in a tug steamer (for China) in the Thames, 26 March, 1870.
Mr. Edward Field, in his new motive power, introduced a small volume of steam into a large volume of heated air, and effected an economy of 12 to 20% of steam. The system was exhibited in London, July, 1891."

From Haydn's Dictionary of Dates, 1904

"THE Warsop aero-steam engine has lately been much talked of, and was the other day prominently described in the Times. The invention consists essentially in mixing heated air with the steam before its admission into the engine, and results have been obtained which show considerable advantages in the case of certain engines and boilers. Engineering referring to the subject remarks, that it is to be regretted that those interested in the invention should not have afforded means of judging whether its application to engines of an economical class would furnish results as satisfactory as those obtained with the defective boiler of the Fox."
The Fox was presumably the name of the tug steamer referred to above.

From Nature (Thursday, February 24, 1870) Notes, pp. 431-433

WARSOP AERO-STEAM RAILWAY LOCOMOTIVES

Warsop's system was used on some locomotives built for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company (the L&YR) In 1871 the 0-6-0 locomotive No. 369 was modified to use Warsop's Aero-Steam System. It appears six locomotives were fitted with the system.

In the Public Record Office at Kew, London is a document described as "Grant from Warsops Aero Steam Co Ltd to the L&YR of right of use of patent no 2772 dated 1868, improvement for locomotives."

According to Sekon, G A, in the Evolution of the steam locomotive, 1899, (Sekon was not from Mars; it was the pseudonym of George Augustus Nokes. It is usual to cite the pseudonymic form) an air pump forced heated air into the bottom of the boiler which agitated the water and assisted the generation of steam and fuel economy, but the air pump increased maintenance costs.
It is far from clear how fuel economy could be increased in this way, and the maintenance costs of the air pump are rather a puzzle- air pumps were widely used in braking systems without prohibitive costs.

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