Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/714

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

burning of the metal—they have only come into commercial use for very small powers.

During the last thirty-five years gas engines have been perfected, and more recently oil engines, and in point of efficiency both convert a somewhat larger percentage of the heat energy of the fuel into mechanical energy than the best steam engines. All successful oil and gas engines are at present internal-combustion engines, the fuel being burned in a gaseous form inside the working cylinder.

Very numerous attempts have, however, been made to construct internal-combustion engines to burn solid fuel instead of gas. Some have been so far successful as to work with good economy in fuel, but the bar to their commercial success has been the cutting of the cylinder and valves by fine particles of fuel. This difficulty is not present when the fuel is introduced in the gaseous or liquid form, and hence the success of gas and oil engines; but could this difficulty be overcome, the solid fuel would be the cheaper to use.

Internal-combustion engines, gas engines, oil engines, cannon, etc., owe their superior economy in fuel to the very high temperature at which the heat is transferred from the fuel to the working substance of the engine, and consequently the great range of temperature in the working substance of the engine. In steam engines the temperature is limited by the practical difficulties of deterioration of metal and materials involved in the construction.

About fifteen years ago I was led by circumstances to investigate the subject of improving the steam turbine. In recent times several attempts had been made to apply steam turbine wheels of the Hero and Bianca types to the driving of circular saws and fans. The velocity of rotation with either of these types must necessarily be very high in order to obtain a reasonable efficiency from the steam, a velocity much in excess of that suitable for the direct driving of almost all classes of machinery; gearing was considered objectionable, and it therefore appeared desirable to adopt some form of turbine in which the steam should be gradually expanded in small steps or drops in pressure so as to keep the velocity of flow sufficiently low to allow of a comparatively moderate speed of rotation of the turbine engine.

The method adopted was to gather a number of turbines of the parallel flow type on to one shaft and contained in one case, the turbines each consisting of a ring of guide and a ring of moving blades, the successive rings of blades or turbines being graduated in size, those nearer the exhaust end being larger than those near the steam inlet, so as to allow a gradual expansion of the steam during its passage through the turbines.