Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#1
Hi, everyone! I’m writing a book that combines steampunk and fantasy, in that world most of the industries are powered by steam, taking in consideration that there’s an alternative fuel (that can substitute coal and wood) that takes very little storage space, and the absence of the petroleum (all rubber comes from from rubber trees), how do you think, what heights could steam based technology reach?
Please note, that there are steam trams, cars, airships, trains and stagecoaches already presents, if you could think about something different, please let me know.

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#3
Tractors, which will automatically change agriculture. And factories with all sorts of machines, escalators/elevators (believe it or not, steam escalators really existed), basically anything that has an engine that burns fuel can probably be running on your new magic-steam fuel. Which means that it is also possible to have very, very big steam-robots like the big spider-thing from Wild, Wild West.
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Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#4
I do agree with the guys above! If the issue with the heavy and voluminous fuel is solved, there are little limits that remain, as Ariana said, you could basically create anything that has an engine. But, I think that the biggest limitation in this world would be the absence of plastic! And all the derivates that are produced from the petroleum, that are a lot! And probably the machinery would be pretty cool! Think about it, you need more power, you build bigger boilers, so technically, if you want a bigger tank, you'll need a bigger boiler! But God, if it's a tank on a steam engine, it should be really hot inside of it! I know that there were steam-powered cars, trucks, tractors, escalators, for God's sake, there were even steam-powered cannons! Locomotives too, of course, but were there any attempts to make steam-powered tanks?

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#5
were there any attempts to make steam-powered tanks?

Steam Tank 1918:  Steam tank - Wikipedia

Actually, in the series Terramagica, the energy source of Terramagica is the vapor (known as goblin gas for the terrible disfigurement if you are exposed) that Ka' thorn crystals give off, which powers the engines directly, eliminating the need for boilers. Yet still allowing for some very 'steam-punkish' devices. One major downside is that Terramagica violently explodes in the presence of the other magical energy system, Aethyr, which means TM devices must be shielded by using lead mixed in with the brass (or you can rip the shielding off a TM lantern and throw it at an Aethyr user, turning a household device into a makeshift bomb...)


Terramagica | Royal Road

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#6
It does depend on if they solved the limitation on stress levels for materials. You can only exert so much power with steam engines before something bursts. At that point it turns into a question of 'how strong are the metals/materials'. There is also a limit to how hot you can get the steam, which also affects how much power you can get from it. Anyway

cranes, lifts (already mentioned) and pulleys. Actually, anything that requires some kind of power in order to move in one way or another can be done with steam engines. Doesn't matter if it's up and down, spinning, shaking, turning, going forward, sideways, backward or vibrating. . . . For some reason my mind locked up for a moment at steam-powered sex toys before rejecting the thought. There are limits.

Which gets us to the second issue: How small can they make it? Small enough for a motorcycle? A lawnmower? hedge trimmer? Vibrator?

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#7
I agree with size as a potential limit, on both ends. I can't see small trinkets being fueled by hot steam as a good idea... Other things would be efficiency, since energy output limits how big the things that are moved, and even if you scale up the engine, there's limits on the material end of things. Not just stress, I feel, but also heat-- you'd want space or insulation against that entire energy generator part. Not to mention for steam engines, you'd need water. Water is heavy; you'll want to factor that in when you're considering air transport sizes. God knows it's expensive enough to just send art prints to a neighbor country. All these coal/wood and water add weight, which means more energy is needed to move them. I am *not* touching the maths for this calculation, but I imagine there's an actual hard limit in this case. Of course, this might be less of a problem if it's stationary, but transporting the water and fuel would still require energy in some form.

That said, regarding size, with what you laid out on your post it says nothing against the existence of rudimentary batteries... Just sayin', for the smaller stuff maybe.

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#8
Not very far or at least to me.

The main thing being how dangerous broilers can be.

That is one of the downsides to having a boiler, they can explode if something goes wrong. Steam creates a lot of pressure and when it releases it explodes, it will burn and kill people. And all it takes is a valve not working, corrosion, build up of some sort of minerals in a pipe, to the materials being used failing due to fatigue, or the material used being impure and cracking. Have you ever research steam locomotive explosions? I do believe that is part of the reason they jumped so quickly to diesel engines.

And yes, there was a time when people had broilers exploding in their residences.

Anything thing that small one would have to worry about how much heat is generated into making steam because water doesn't heat up instantly.

Anything large would be how long it takes for it to heat up. For a reference, a steam powered locomotive could take up to 6-7 hours to get warmed up and ready to go depending on how cold it is.  I couldn't imagine how long it would take a ship to get prepared for departure with a pure cold start.

So I guess time it takes to prepare an engine or a tool for use would be another factor in how far steam technology would go. 

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#10
Without oil, chemistry would be the biggest bottleneck. 

Steam gives power, you have fuel to get enough power. This allows for a lot of things with the right pressures.

But chemistry needs raw materials that only oil (and gas with more steps) can provide.  And chemistry is most usefull (i dont know what lubricating oil you made them use for all the gears of the steam powered machines, but without chemistry it is hard to get good ones.

Same goes for a lot of basic reagents. 

So in a world that went for steam because no oil and another alternative i believe chemistry would be the main problem.

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#11
Many species of spiders move their legs with hydraulics, so pocket-sized items would not be impossible; the trick would be making sure the power source is tiny enough to fit in the mechanism. 

Computers are similarly possible. The Analytical Engine is the only design I know of and it's a punchcard, but, eh, I'm pretty sure that we would've figured something out if steam power had been the path we'd gone down. The issues I can see with it is that fire and heat hazards would make pocket devices very difficult to achieve, but small items, provided people don't touch them, might not be as much of an issue. 

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#12

Oskatat Wrote: Which gets us to the second issue: How small can they make it? Small enough for a motorcycle? A lawnmower? hedge trimmer? Vibrator?

Well, that's a good question! I was thinking how small it could get, obviously, there will be no modern tech available in the industrial era, but it should be reasonably easy to make a shoe-box sized steam engine, so a motorcycle and a lawnmower should be doable, about the vibrator, well, I think all the hot steam would get in the way.

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#13

namio Wrote: I agree with size as a potential limit, on both ends. I can't see small trinkets being fueled by hot steam as a good idea... Other things would be efficiency, since energy output limits how big the things that are moved, and even if you scale up the engine, there's limits on the material end of things. Not just stress, I feel, but also heat-- you'd want space or insulation against that entire energy generator part. Not to mention for steam engines, you'd need water. Water is heavy; you'll want to factor that in when you're considering air transport sizes. God knows it's expensive enough to just send art prints to a neighbor country. All these coal/wood and water add weight, which means more energy is needed to move them. I am *not* touching the maths for this calculation, but I imagine there's an actual hard limit in this case. Of course, this might be less of a problem if it's stationary, but transporting the water and fuel would still require energy in some form.

That said, regarding size, with what you laid out on your post it says nothing against the existence of rudimentary batteries... Just sayin', for the smaller stuff maybe.

I like your thoughts, well he mentioned that there is an alternative fuel that isn't taking much space, so let's assume that the weight of the fuel is accounted for, but I do agree that even without the coal weight, it'll still be too heavy to make a plane that uses the steam engine because the boiler itself should be freaking heavy and you'll have the water too! while in aeronautics the weight reduction is the most important! So I think it'll be really challenging to make a plane, I think that the Zeppelins are the way to go!

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#17
Hi, everyone, thank you for your replies, comments, and suggestions, it helped me look at things differently, I deeply appreciate it.

In my book “The Steaming City of The Holy Inquisition”, we could say that it’s the earlier stages of the industrialization era, only the biggest cities have well-established facilities, and the military of course (in this case, the inquisition included), Metallurgy and Chemistry are still poorly developed, we could say that this branches of science are at their infancy. Some of the metal alloys available are brass, bronze, steel, nothing too complicated and not the optimal formula. The steam engines got a good start only due to the application of fire crystals. Accidents are quite common (relatively speaking) So the rest of the industries are in their forming stage. There are no special metals, that are present in other fantasy books, in this world, also there is no petroleum, the rubber comes from rubber tree plantations, there are but there are steam carriages, heavy carriages (analogs of trucks and tractors), cranes, ships and heavy industry equipment, the apex of the steam technologies at the moment are the zeppelins, other stuff are at the prototype stage, sorry I’ll not mention what since it’ll be a spoiler for my book and maybe some of the people here are reading my book 😋 Thanks to everyone, I have a clearer idea about the limitations I want to have in my book, but if you have any ideas about some cool or helpful steam tech please continue to share, I’ll be very thankful 😁

Re: What would be the limitation of steam based technology?

#18

Derin_Edala Wrote: Are you specifically suggesting a world where the people never learn to turn the steam into electricity? Our modern world is largely steam powered (coal and nuclear power plants are giant steam engines) so if anyone discovers electricity then their limitations are basically our limitations, without renewable energy.


Without chemistry electricity is limited : no good batteries, no cheap isolator, no semiconductors, etc... Not mentionning the lubricants, corrosion resistant paints, coolant fluids etc... Even metallurgy and ore extraction gets more complicated.

Just making wires would be a headache. Not even thinking about DC motors.


I can see how a steam punk world would know about electricity but they would need a lot of magical things to make it into a useable alternative with no oil exploitation.