U.S. Team Steaming For Speed Record

Steam powered vehicles might sound a little, uh, 19th century, but don’t tell that to Cyclone Power Technologies and engineer/designer Chuk Williams. They’ve announced that later this year they’ll be on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah attempting to break the world land steam record. It’s a matter of national pride – and a bid to demonstrate that modern steam power can be a viable, earth-friendly alternative to gas and diesel internal combustion engines.

“We need to bring this historic record back to the United States,” Williams said in the announcement, “and we want to do it with a steam engine that can eventually be placed into everyday passenger and commercial vehicles – something that hasn’t been done in over 100 years.”

steam engine land speed record attempt, Cyclone Power Technologies

image via Cyclone Power Technologies

The team is aiming to achieve a speed over 160 mph. In 2009, a British team set the record at 148 mph. A year ago we reported that Cyclone had made a model of the engine that would power the record bid. Now the vehicle itself is at Cyclone’s Florida shop, being measured for installation of the engine, gearbox and fiberglass body.

The attempt at the record, which could come as soon as August, will rely on Cyclone’s Mark V heat-regenerative external combustion engine. The stock automotive engine can produce 100 horsepower and it gets going fast (think of opening a valve under pressure), with starting torque of up to0 850 pound-feet. No need for a transmission here.

An interesting thing about steam engines, too, is their versatility; because they use an external combustion chamber, pretty much any fuel can be used to generate the necessary heat – including 100 percent biofuels. Cyclone also says that by burning fuels longer, its engine incinerates more carbon particles than internal combustion engines, and that by burning the fuels at lower temperatures it avoids producing harmful NOx gases.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.