Monday, May 15

Pritchard’s Power for the World

The advent of steam power ushered in a period of great expansion in the industrialised world, as ships substituted steam for sail opening up the waterways to become our first highways. People and cargo were linked to other communities over our vast continent. But it was to be the motor car that most revolutionised the world of the 20th century, creating a freedom of mobility that only could have been dreamed by our forebears.

It seems as if by accident those first motor vehicles were petrol driven rather than by steam. Perhaps it was assumed inefficient and slow start up steam engines could not be improved by clever design and hence the internal combustion petrol engine was seen as superior. An enormous infrastructure quickly built up around that investment, to the exclusion of alternatives.
Estates and cities could now be created away from the waterways, as motor vehicles gave us unpanelled new freedom spurred on by abundant cheap oil. A populace oblivious to the polluting force about to be unleased upon it.

The oil spike in the mid seventies gave the westernised world an oil shock and a small stimulus to consider alternatives. About that time Ted Pritchard produced a steam powered engine for an Australian Falcon which covered thousands of kilometres both in Australia and the USA.

However once oil stabilised and the initial concern diminished, interest in his engine subsided.

But as the price of oil rises and its polluting nature becomes unsustainable a renewed interest led Pritchard Power to set up in 2003 a company to develop and license their unique steam drive power systems.

I am very interested in sustainability and hence when I first read about Pritchard Power Systems, it was exciting to realise such systems with low emissions are also quiet, light weight and have miserly fuel consumption.

Their power systems have many different stationary and mobile applications. The have particular relevance and advantage to developing countries and agricultural communities.

Key advantages of the Pritchard technology from their Information Memorandum of January 2006 are:

  • Very high fuel efficiency and high thermal efficiency:
  • Existing multi –fuel capability _eg (sawdust, rice husks, nut shells and other agricultural wastes etc) and relative simple development step to liquid fields (ethanol: kerosene: reclyed oil) and potentially solar.
  • Multi services –electricity generation: sterilising or process steam; Hot water "distilled water”: direct shaft power take off:
  • Very low emissions on any fuel type and very quiet running:
  • Simple and safe, with low maintenance, no pressure vessels (and in automotive application no gears or clutch)

    If you would like to learn more about the Pritchard Power systems visit their website at


Granny said...

Interesting. Once upon a time this country had an auto called the Stanley Steamer. It had a tendence to blow up at inconvenient time.

I'm sure Pritchard has worked out that small glitch.

Wendy A said...

Excellent post Lindsey. Thanks.

Lindsay Lobe said...

H Granny & Wendy

Thanks for visiting. The Pritchard Power systems are a far cry from the failed technology of a Stanley Steamer which took a long time to warm up before it was even operational “The boiler does not have any pressure vessels and requirement for special training or certificates to operate. In the case of a collision it is crushable and acts as further protection to the passengers. Should it be ruptured there is no cascades of boiling water. As super heated steam travels though the coils it is dissipated into the air very quickly and safely”.

Best wishes

Granny said...

I was just kidding. We need to do as much as we can to conserve energy and resources. This sound like a promising start.


JuBlue said...

Interesting. What's the downside? I mean, why aren't we jumping on this right now? (Don't tell me it's those evil oil companies and the jerks who love them.) How long does it take one to warm up? (I guess I should follow the link?)

bohemiantroubadour said...

Necessity is the mother of invention.

This is a great time for research and development. Learning from the past is always a capital idea.

Lindsay Lobe said...

Hi JuBlu & BT

The steam engine competes against the huge investment in the petrol internal combustion engine and hence with the abundance of cheap oil there was a discentive to invest in alternatives.

The steam engine starts in matter of seconds, in fact even a 1924 Double E19 only required 30 seconds to warm up before it bcame operational.

At the start of Automotive development steam was superior in power and did not require a clutch, but when the electric starter was invented the internal combution engine became a "jump in and go " means of transport, compared to earlier steam driven vehicles taking 30 munutes to warm up.

Best wishes

DA said...

Great post. I wonder if steam engines and the coal that was needed to make them work were so great after all. Gas or diesel engines seem so efficient..

I'll check out the site first!

Sylvana said...

That is facinating. I love the idea that you can use waste to fuel the car! My husband and I regularly burn our junk mail rather than shred it. Tonight while we were doing that I said that we should heat our home with it - we get enough of it!

Lindsay Lobe said...

Hi DA & Sylvana

Steam engines are external combustion engines with water as the working fluid. Both the internal combustion engine (presently in your car) and the external combustion steam engine burn fuel producing heat.

The heat of the combustion raises the temperature of the working fluid and provides pressure to produce the force against the piston which turn the crank and transmit power to the wheels.

The advantage of the steam engines is the combustion chamber in the boiler can be designed to accommodate any combustible substance.

Hence the fuel burnt is clean producing less pollution than a houshold gas heater.

Hence steam engines can use a variety of fuels.
Gas and Diesel is a finite fuel resource.

best wishes