Carbonic Acid Engines>
Carbonic acid is an old name for carbon dioxide. A carbonic acid motor (or engine) is driven by pressure which may simply come from a reservoir of compressed gas, or be produced by evaporating liquified carbon dioxide. A liquified gas takes up much less space than its compressed gaseous equivalent, giving the possibility of greater energy storage. Carbon dioxide is easily liquified, unlike the so-called "permanent" gases such as nitrogen and oxygen, which require more energy and more complex machinery to liquify, and are much harder to store for any length of time.
All gases have a critical temperature; below this temperature, the gas can be liquefied by the application of pressure alone. Carbon dioxide has a critical temperature of 31.1 °C, and so can usually be liquefied just by compression. The critical temperatures of oxygen and nitrogen are -118°C and -146°C respectively, and they are therefore much harder to liquify, as considerable pre-cooling is needed as well as compression.
Calling carbon dioxide "carbonic acid" is an obsolete usage. Nowadays carbonic acid refers to H2CO3, a weak dibasic acid formed when carbon dioxide dissolves in water; this acid exists only in solution.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF CARBONIC ACID
The history of CO2 engines begins early in the 1800's, when experimenter first liquified and solidified carbon dioxide. They discovered- sometimes through catastrophic explosions- that if CO2 was chemically generated in a sealed vessel, enormous pressures were generated. Using CO2 to replace steam in engines started to look promising. It was not.
THE BRUNEL GAZ ENGINE: 1823-1833
Left: The Brunel engine: 1823-33
"Put simply, the scheme was to generate gas from carbonate of ammonia and sulphuric acid and pass it into two surface condensers which were alternately heated and cooled and which communicated through expansion vessels and valves with a power cylinder. When the gas in one condenser was held in its condensed state by passing cold water through the condenser tubes and the the other was heated but the circulation of hot water, the difference in pressure between the two vessels was thirty-five atmospheres. This was the power which Brunel endeavoured to harness and which he believed at the time might supercede the power of steam so promising did the idea seem that the experiments were heavily subsidised, even the Admiralty making a grant."
"The technical problems which had to be solved in order to translate theory into practice were immense and that they were solved is extraordinary when we think of the very limited metallurgical knowledge at that time. The gas condensed at a pressure of no less than 300 atmospheres, while pipes and pipe joints had to be made to withstand pressures of 1500 lbs per square inch. This in an age when, in steam engineering, 50 lbs per square inch was often considered dangerously high. Cast iron was obviously useless and a type of gunmetal was eventually evolved for the pressure vessels. Marc Brunel, just after the closure of the tunnel at Rotherhide (under the Thames, first attempt) spent six months working with an assistant named Withers. Brunel's notes and sketches suggest an apparatus just about as safe as a ticking time-bomb, and the most remarkable thing is that he and Withers failed to blow themselves up! At long last, however, Brunel was forced to admit defeat. On January 30th 1833 he wrote "Gaz - After a number of experiments I fear we must come to the conclusion that (with carbonic acid at least) no sufficient advantage on the score of economy of fuel can be obtained over steam power""
THE CHEVERTON ENGINE: 1826
Left: The Cheverton engine: 1826
b, b 'Calorators' filled with hot oil
h The power cylinder
i The power piston
l,l Displacement plungers
n.n cold water inlets
AN ACCIDENT IN PARIS: 1840
One of the most famous carbonic-acid accidents occurred when Adrien Thilorier was experimenting with liquid CO2 in Paris. A cast-iron vessel exploded, and "tore off both legs from the unfortunate M Hervey."
The incident is mentioned by the famous chemist Justus Liebig in in a 1843 letter:
"...This, however, cannot be accomplished without considerable danger. A melancholy accident occurred at Paris, which will probably prevent for the future the formation of solid carbonic acid in these large quantities, and deprive the next generation of the gratification of witnessing these curious experiments. Just before the commencement of the lecture in the Laboratory of the Polytechnic School, an iron cylinder, two feet and a half long and one foot in diameter, in which carbonic acid had been developed for experiment before the class, burst, and its fragments were scattered about with the most tremendous force; it cut off both the legs of the assistant and killed him on the spot. This vessel, formed of the strongest cast-iron, and shaped like a cannon, had often been employed to exhibit experiments in the presence of the students. We can scarcely think, without shuddering, of the dreadful calamity such an explosion would have occasioned in a hall filled with spectators."
Wikipedia provides more details, though they do not quite line up with Liebig's account: "On 30 December 1840, Osmin Hervy, who prepared scientific demonstrations for lectures at the School of Pharmacy in Paris, was operating one of Thilorier's machines when the gas-generating cylinder exploded. Shrapnel broke Hervy's legs, one of which had to be amputated; he died of infection a few days later." Contemporary reports show that this is what actually happened.
MR BAGGS' CARBONIC ACID ENGINE: 1843
The Mechanic's Magazine carried an account of a lecture given by a Mr Baggs at the Cheltenham Literary and Philosophical Institute. He was said to have made "... ingenious and successful application of the expansive and condensable properties of carbonic acid, and ammoniacal gas to the production of motive power."
The account is disappointing. It gives no practical details of any engine, but does tell us that Mr Baggs knew little about his subject, because he denies that that carbonic acid cools when it is allowed to expand. He also makes light of the dangers involved in working with very high pressures. Baggs said that Isambard Brunel had told him personally there had never been the slightest accident during his gaz experiments.
"I put the question, the other day, to a friend of mine who has had very considerable experience in the liquefaction of the gases, whether he had ever had the slightest apprehension of encountering any accident in his numerous experiments. His reply was "Never! My apparatus is made of a proper strength, and to show my absolute conviction of its safety, if it were only well wrapped up in blankets, I should not have the slightest objection to take it to bed with me." No doubt there's website for that sort of thing.
No other evidence has been found that Mr Baggs ever built an engine.
Source: Mechanic's Magazine No 1021, 4 March 1843
THE LAY-HAIGHT TORPEDO: 1885
In 1884 or 85 the US Navy exhibited a Lay-Haight torpedo, powered by a reservoir of compressed carbonic acid that worked a Brotherhood engine connected to the screw. The torpedo was wire-guided and exploded from the shore, so was presumably intended for coastal defence only.
LILIENTHAL'S ORNITHOPTERS: 1893
The aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal made many successful gliding flights before he was killed in a gliding accident on August 1896. He inspired the Wright brothers. Like several others before him, Lilienthal never quite abandoned the idea that flapping wings was the key to motion. In 1893 and again in 1896, he built gliders with flapping wings in the ornithopter fashion. Each machine had a lightweight carbonic acid engine that produced about two horsepower (1.5 kilowatts). The engine was supposed to make the wing tips flap up and down and move the aircraft forward. Neither model was successful.
Left: The Lilienthal glider: 1894
Left: The Lilienthal carbon dioxide motor: 1894
Left: The Lilienthal carbon dioxide motor: 1894
ARTHUR STENTZEL'S ORNITHOPTER: 1896
Left: The Stentzel ornithopter with carbonic acid engine: 1896
THE NEW POWER COMPANY CAR: 1899
Left: A carbonic-acid car by The New Power Company: 1899
According to The Horseless Age, Oct 1898, the liquid CO2 was stored in the tubular frame of the New Power Company vehicle and heated to 90 degrees (Fahrenheit or Centigrade?) by a flame generated by "Sestalit" a patent solid fuel of the era. "The difficulty hitherto experienced with carbonic acid gas, when used for power, has been that the rapid evaporation would cause the valves to freeze. This difficulty the inventor claims to have overcome through a new valve which positively cuts off the current from the retaining cylinder at every stroke. One lever only is used for steering and regulating speed, while a second is required for reversing the motor."
"Sestalit" was a produced by the United States Fuel Company, who published a book on it called "The Marvelous Fuel, Sestalit" in 1890. They appear to have been primarily a coal mining company. The fuel was patented by Albrecht Pagenstecher in August 1890; see US patent 435,076. Sestalit consisted of hundred pounds of pulverized charcoal or coke, 3.5 pounds of saltpeter, (potassium nitrate) 3 pounds of starch, and 0.5 pounds of powdered brown sandstone, made into a paste with water and then pressed into moulds.
It was claimed that Sestalit could be lit with just a match, and then burnt "slowly and continuously without flame, smoke, or noxious gases and emitting an intense and uniform heat." It would still be a nuisance to have to light up the CO2 heater before setting off, but but a lot less trouble than the traditional paper, wood, and coal method of building a fire. Sestalit was intended for small-scale heating applications like sad-irons and foot-warmers.
THE GIBSON CARBONIC-ACID CAR: 1899
Left: The Gibson carbonic-acid car: 1899
From The Horseless Age, May 31, 1899:
"The expansive power of carbonic acid is titanic, but two chief difficulties have stood in the way of its adoption for power purposes--the inability of inventors to control it and prevent the valves from freezing up owing to its too rapid expansion, and the high cost of the substance."
Gibson's car claimed to have eliminated the problem of freezing valves; this was clearly an endemic problem with the technology. The article thought that carbonic acid could be economically manufactured in quantity given enough demand for it.
It is not clear whether the freezing problem was caused by ice, originating from contamination with water, or if the carbon dioxide itself was freezing. This is entirely possible (and probably the more likely explanation) as solid carbon dioxide, otherwise known as dry ice, forms readily when liquid carbon dioxide is evaporated.
Left: The Gibson compressed-air car: 1900
SIGNALLING POWERED WITH CARBONIC ACID
Left: An article on railway signals powered by carbonic acid: 1904
TRAJAN VUIA'S MONOPLANE:1906
In 1906 the Romanian aeronautical experimenter Trajan Vuia was living in Paris and testing a small bat-like monoplane with a tractor propeller. The pilot sat well below the wing on a framework with a four-wheeled undercarriage. It was driven by a carbonic acid motor, of which no details have so far been found, except that it was of inadequate power. (A later monoplane was powered by 24hp Antoinette petrol engine) Some short hops from level ground were made, the longest being 24 metres. Proper flight was not realised, but the machines are considered to be the immediate ancestors of the monoplanes which appeared in Europe before World War 1.
THE CETONIA CARBON DIOXIDE ENGINE FOR AEROPLANE MODELS: 1911
Left: Cetonia carbonic acid engine for model aeroplanes
Left: Inside the Cetonia engine
Left: Cetonia heating system
Further details are given in an article that appeared in Flight on 3 Feb 1912. The engine described above is the A -type, with an inclusive price in France of 225 Francs. Types B (1/2 hp) and C (1/4 hp) were crossed out in the French catalogue that Flight received, and so were presumably no longer offered. The temperature of the hot water was supposed to be 90 degC; presumably that was the starting temperature and it cooled rapidly in operation.
Left: Model biplane with Cetonia engine
The designer of the Cetonia engine was a Monsieur Poterin du Motel. That name raised an eyebrow; it is generally believed that Mademoiselle Stéphanie-Félicie Poterin du Motel was the woman over which the famous mathematician Evariste Galois fought the duel in which he was killed at the age of 20, in 1832.
Further searches for the name revealed H Poterin du Motel, the author of an 1899 textbook on life insurance, and perhaps more promisingly, a Jean Georges Marie Poterin Du Motel who took out British patent 147,656 for life-saving equipment in 1921.
THE NOMIE CARBON DIOXIDE ENGINE FOR AEROPLANE MODELS: 1911
Left: Nomie carbonic acid 3-cylinder rotary engine for model aeroplanes: 1911
Left: Nomie carbonic acid 3-cylinder rotary engine for model aeroplanes: 1911
THE CARBON DIOXIDE POWERED LIFEBOAT: 1934
Left: Carbon-dioxide powered lifeboat
The carbon-dioxide engine appears to be of the two-cylinder horizontally opposed type. One wonders if there were any provision for stopping it freezing up as the carbon-dioxide expanded; any water vapour in the CO2 would congeal and clog up everything disastrously.
CARBONIC ACID MOTORS TODAY
This sort of motor must be quite obsolete, no? No. Certainly, typing "carbonic acid motor" or "carbonic dioxide motor" into a search engine will (at the time of writing) yield nothing. The result is quite different if you use "CO2 motor". You will find that modern carbonic dioxide motors are used to power model aeroplanes. Advantages include low noise output and no flammable fuel.
A small metal reservoir is charged with either liquid or gaseous carbon dioxide under pressure. This powers a motor that looks very much like a small glowplug engine. There is a valve at the top of the cylinder usually operated by a protrusion from the crown of the piston. Exhaust is via a uniflow port uncovered by the piston at the bottom of its stroke. Fins are provided, just as on a glowplug engine, but here the purpose is not cooling but to stop the engine cooling down too much as the CO2 expands.
Left: Two CO2 motors for model aircraft.
CO2 motor links:
www.gasparin.cz Do not miss the historical overview in the "CO2 motors" section.
www.samsmodels.demon.co.uk/gasparin.html which shows some fine CO2 engines, including a V12!