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Author Topic: Steam Powered Submarine.  (Read 10978 times)
Mechanic Williams
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« on: February 20, 2013, 04:47:16 pm »

Hey guys

For part of my degree I am writing a short story set from the perspective of a young stoker aboard a steam-powered submarine. However, I want to make it as realistic as possible. The idea is it’s a world where global warming happened when humanity hit the steam age, where the seas have risen and the majority of land is underwater. Coal and iron reserves are still flourishing, and the populace that can build submersible watercraft to salvage the remnants of the old world. In layman’s terms, a steampunk version of Waterworld.
Horrible concept aside, I have been researching steam-powered submarines, and needless to say, each one failed with varying degrees of disaster (sinking, destroyed, scrapped etc). Now, in this universe, coal is the main fuel, hence the majority of these craft are coal-fired and powered by triple-expansion marine steam-engines. Obviously, this creates problems, as where does the exhaust from the engine go? I know the locomotives that served the Metropolitan Railway in the 1860s used condensing gear, would that be useable on a ship to take care of the smoke from the boilers? Any other suggestions would be appreciated Smiley

Sincerely, Mechanic Williams.
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2013, 05:27:50 pm »

Until the advent of nuclear power submarines had very restricted submerged range. They used diesel engines on the surface and when submerged, a combination of battery power and compressed air. This meant that they needed to surface regularly to recharge their batteries. Some submarines were capable of using snorkels to remain submerged at shallow depths for longer periods.

There have also been submarines which use hydrogen peroxide and diesel to generate steam.

Coal can also be used to generate alternate fuels which might be a bit more practical for submarines. Coal gas, made by heating coal to produce a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, was widely used in the 19th century and was readily available, being a by-product of the coking process. Coals gas is much cleaner burning than coal.

The smoke from burning coal is a mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, soot particles, water vapour and various other hydrocarbons. Condensing and storing it is not a trivial process as it contains so many different constituents and would most likely form a sticky, abrasive paste.

For salvage and mining activities it might make sense to use submersibles supplied with power and air from surface ships by umbilical cables
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2013, 11:05:17 pm »

Maybe I can help a little.

When you say steam powered submarine: the one that comes to mind is Reverend Garret's RESURGAM, circa (without looking it up) mid-1800's, very roughly.  They'd shut the burner down and run on residual heat underwater.  You could get a fair amount of time that way, and it would save you the exhaust collecting / scavenging problems.  Hotter than the Sahara inside, though.

As a caveat: where RESURGAM translates into "I shall rise again"; it didn't and Garrett died.   Sad

Most of the Homebuilt Subbers and Leaguers online now are using (in one revamped form or another) my SIMPLIFIED SUB DESIGN MATH program, developed between 1985 and 1991; and first published in Europe in 1998.  (It was developed to design the unusually ornate Nautilus Minisub, which came out within one pound of design specs for a 1.25 ton submersible.  If it will work with something that fancy, it will work for anything.)  The website carrying it in Europe folded, so I've been meaning to post it at VulcaniaSubmarine.Com.

In the next couple days, go to the index page at VSC and towards the top look for a link to the LATEST ADDITION to the website.  I'll post SSDM and it'll help you design a boat that is within parameters to operate hydrostatically as a submarine.

Hope this helps.   Smiley

Pat
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Madasasteamfish
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2013, 06:30:04 pm »

Simple answer, have it operate like a diesel powered submarine with dual engines. Older subs would use diesel engines on the surface, or just below it using a snorkel, and then an electric motor running from batteries (which would also used as a generator to charge the batteries when they were using the diesel engine) whilst submerged. They were pretty effective but had limited operating times under the water (I think they had to surface every 10-12 hours to change out the air and charge the batteries).

But be mindful of size issuses if you're going to use that approach (submarines aren't known as 'sardine cans' for nothing).
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2013, 07:11:58 pm »

In regard to the O/P's question of utilising steam power to propel such a vessel, I personally think that a triple expansion engine wouldn't work (too large to fit in the hull) - it would be far better to use a small compound unit - its smaller size lending itself to the hull design.

As for fuel - why not go down the route of having shore stations who convert coal into flammable gas (like hydrogen) that can then be compressed into a liquid and then pumped into storage tanks on board.

Yes you could re condense the waste steam - creating some form of "closed loop" system (as is in use today aboard modern nuclear boats) and the snorkel idea to gain the necessary oxygen required to burn the coal gas (which from memory includes hydrogen and methane), if one were burning hydrogen, then your exhaust product would be water, again condensed outside the pressure hull, and, stored in the hull to provide both ballast and drinking water!

Older submarines were in fact "submersible" vessels - true subs didn't evolve until the advent of nuclear power. Battery life in a sub belonging to the WW2 era was limited to about 10-12 hours and would require about the same amount of time to re-charge.

One of the documented problems of using a snorkel (by the Kriegsmarine in WW2) was that because they had a complicated valve system, the crew would suffer from terrible ear problems - each time the top of the snorkel was submerged by a wave the diesel engines would then use what little air there was in the hull.

see here: for more info related to sub snorkels.

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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2013, 07:12:40 pm »

IF most of the land would be under water then where would the wood or coal come from to power steam ships?  Coal is hard enough to mine without having to wear a diving suit.  Steam engines are notoriously inefficient and consume huge amounts of fuel.  Whale oil would be too necessary for lubrication to afford to burn often.  It is hard to believe how many cords of wood the local little steamboat goes through each day: http://www.mxak.org/home/photo_essays/laurie_ellen.html

Aquatic worlds would tend to have milder winds but still sail power would be the most self sufficient mode of transportation.  Some sort of wind or solar generator could charge batteries for limited underwater travel.  http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/143385-sail-powered-submarine/

Costume idea?

Various atomic powered steam vessels would be possible.  http://singularityhub.com/2012/10/15/19th-century-french-artists-predicted-the-world-of-the-future-in-this-series-of-postcards/

Radium fireplace.   Grin

IF your character is young (small & skinny) they could also have the duty of piloting the autogyro.  German U-boats sometimes kept take-down autogyros onboard to use as higher observation platforms. 

German submarine launched Autogyro Fa330


These autogyros did not have engines but with a light weight pilot could be towed aloft at air speeds below 8 kts.   Even a slow vessel with a modest head wind can fly one.  To keep it steamy the pilot might have a Morse code trigger like button on the cyclic to send messages down the tow wire.  IF such a pilot were to find a powerful enough little engine such a gyrocopter could fly on its own.   
« Last Edit: February 21, 2013, 07:25:18 pm by Captain » Logged

-Karl
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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2013, 02:02:09 am »

SOme information on the British K-class steam powdered submarine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_K-class_submarine   I find the nickname, Kalamity-Class, amusing. 

http://www.britsub.net/html/kclass.html

This book preview gives a peak into life onboard a modern submarine: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2021918/Why-submarine-crews-stinking-feeling-SUB-LIFE-ON-BOARD-WITH-THE-HIDDEN-HEROES-OF-BRITAINS-SILENT-SERVICE.html
This is a diary of a WWI submariner: http://readytogoebooks.com/jgbooks/Diary-P-1918.html

9-Minute History: K-Class Submarines
 
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chironex
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2013, 10:57:45 am »

You'll need to get more chemically creative than to use coal.
Under Artistic licence-ships on TVtropes, this is listed for the sub in Atlantis: The Lost Empire:

"Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire features the Ulysses, a Steampunk submarine that's the size of two aircraft carriers that can dive as deep as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In real life, submarines of that size cannot dive that deep because the high pressure underwater will cause its hull to crack open and take in water. Fortunately, the movie also averts this when the Ulysses gets blown up by the Leviathan when it is halfway from the bottom of the Atlantic, and the submarine crew had to use the ship's escape pods (since this is only possible with the smallest submarines) to reach the bottom. Worse, the Ulysses, as mentioned before, is actually steam-powered. In real life, this is actually impossible because a steam engine, if placed inside a submarine, would actually deplete said submarine of all of its oxygen if it dove underwater, and as a result the crewmembers would all die of asphyxiation because of this. "

Whoever wrote that, meet 45 long tons of "Shuttuppa-you-face".
Just because it may not quite work like the one in the movie, don't think someone won't find a way.
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George Salt
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2013, 11:12:08 am »

Ignoring technical details for now, I suggest adding The Drowned World by JG Ballard to your research reading list.

For a long time I've had the Cleopatra (best seen as this papercraft model) at the back of my mind as the perfect aesthetic model for a steampunk submarine - much better than the Disney Nautilus.  It would need funnel, control surfaces added and a prop - but the shape is perfect.

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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2013, 11:22:11 am »

Obviously, this creates problems, as where does the exhaust from the engine go?

And where does the oxygen for combustion come from? - probably a more pressing question when submersed.


.. coming back to technical questions and how it might work..

- the steam engine could be driving a compressed air engine and submersed the sub operates on compressed air - with a heat exchanger to draw heat from the water around the sub whilst the sub is operating in compressed air mode.

- the fire being stoked could be recharging a chemical heat storage reaction that's used to generate steam when submersed.


It's worth remembering that in a post-apocalyptic world, mining coal is very resource intensive.
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Matthias Gladstone
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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2013, 01:25:37 pm »

Not quite a true submarine, but my favourite example of a steam powered (semi) submersible is the CSS David:



It's basically a SWATH (Small waterplane area hull) vessel wiuthout the added structure on top. It would have been a lot harder to hit than conventional vessels of the period. The long probe on the front is a spar torpedo; basically a bomb on a stick.
-Matt
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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2013, 01:41:16 pm »

In terms is mining coal in a submerged world, the practicalities depend a lot on how deep the water is over the coal deposits. Of course an additional problem is that the most of the more easily accessible coal deposits have been mined out since the industrial revolution and getting at the deeper ones relies more on technology.

Having said that it is reasonably conceivable that the entrance to the mine could be housed in a caisson, a technique used for building bridges and piers and certainly possible with 19th century technology as long as the water is reasonably shallow. This would however require quite a well developed industrial infrastructure as is likely to be quite an expensive business. 
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Matthias Gladstone
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2013, 03:38:17 pm »

In terms is mining coal in a submerged world, the practicalities depend a lot on how deep the water is over the coal deposits. Of course an additional problem is that the most of the more easily accessible coal deposits have been mined out since the industrial revolution and getting at the deeper ones relies more on technology.

Having said that it is reasonably conceivable that the entrance to the mine could be housed in a caisson, a technique used for building bridges and piers and certainly possible with 19th century technology as long as the water is reasonably shallow. This would however require quite a well developed industrial infrastructure as is likely to be quite an expensive business. 

Another option perhaps is scavenging - looting the coal bunkers of old vessels (depending on the time period the pre-apocalyptic civilisation was in); this has occured in reality - for example, the Titanic's maiden voyage was in the middle of a coal strike and fuel had to be looted from other White Star Line vessels. Of course this would be very much a finite resource.
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Captain
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2013, 06:23:06 pm »

Not quite a true submarine, but my favourite example of a steam powered (semi) submersible is the CSS David:



It's basically a SWATH (Small waterplane area hull) vessel wiuthout the added structure on top. It would have been a lot harder to hit than conventional vessels of the period. The long probe on the front is a spar torpedo; basically a bomb on a stick.
-Matt


Great minds think alike.  We have a local home built submarine that seems to use the same bow weight system:



The bow planes were not enough so he had to add a weight.  Of course he added a cast iron cannon from: http://www.hernironworks.com/cannons.html  Funny TSA story there. 



I find it slightly reassuring to know that there are local folks crazier than myself.   Grin

A submarine could be powered by: http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,38956.0.html  I would suppose that even dried seaweed or drift wood could work.  When it is submersed it would either need a snorkel with a fairly powerful air pump or to switch to another power source like battery, compressed air, or rowers. 

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« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2013, 03:49:28 pm »

Coal mining in the industrial revolution era might be made EASIER by the sea levels rising.  You just sail into Appalachia and chop away entire islands of coal, same as the mining companies are lopping the tops of Appalachian mountains today.
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« Reply #15 on: March 01, 2013, 08:04:27 pm »



I am not sure how accurate this map is since Antarctica is not even shown and I have flown over a hill of coal in roughly the center of Alaska that was just piled up so that they could get at gold back in the territorial days. 

IF it were possible to flood the Earth then more than half of these coal deposits look like they would be submerged.

While looking for something else I found this site:  http://www.submarine-history.com/NOVAtwo.htm  Check out "1879." 

Anglican Reverend GEORGE W. GARRETT tested the steam-powered "Resurgam:" steam for a boiler for surface operations, steam stored in pressurized tanks for submerged operations. The boat passed initial trials, but sank while under tow (rediscovered in 1996). Out of funds but not undeterred, Garrett took his ideas to a wealthy Swedish arms manufacturer, THORSTEN NORDENFELDT.

What I was looking for is the story of a submersible that I read about a long time ago and seems to be somewhat forgotten now.  It was supposed to have been home built by a young man (near Pittsburgh?) and was basically a metal diving bell open on the bottom that he would paddle to points on the river then use a grappling hook to snag the bottom.  He would then winch himself down and swim out to scavenge coal that had fallen off the transport barges.  Despite the low value of coal he still made a little money and was surprised at the attention that he received from the Navy who were interested in his simple crafts potential for salvage and recovery.  His invention bridged the gap between a simple diving bell which required a ship for support and an autonomous submarine. 


Early diving bell. 

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Captain
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« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2013, 12:16:49 am »

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/08/submarines-1.html



This is an interesting Victorian era wooden submarine article.  I found the candle lighting/O2 sensor clever. 

Steam powered submarines are becoming a little more interesting than I expected at first. 
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Captain
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« Reply #17 on: November 11, 2015, 04:30:14 am »

https://screen.yahoo.com/travel-channel/mysterious-primitive-submarine-found-chicago-154730279.html 



http://chicago.straightdope.com/sdc20100520.php 
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« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2016, 03:51:20 pm »

Actually it's a bit after the fact of the original post, but I thought this might be worth adding:  I think what the original poster was referring to was rather like the Nordenfelt submarines, the first true military subs.  Here from Wikipedia:

"The first such boat was the Nordenfelt I, a 56 tonne, 19.5 metres (64 feet) vessel similar to Garret's ill-fated Resurgam, with a range of 240 kilometres (150 miles; 130 nautical miles), armed with a single torpedo, in 1885. Like Resurgam, Nordenfelt I operated on the surface by steam, then shut down its engine to dive. While submerged the submarine released pressure generated when the engine was running on the surface to provide propulsion for some distance underwater. Greece, fearful of the return of the Ottomans, purchased it. Nordenfelt commissioned the Barrow Shipyard in England in 1886 to build Nordenfelt II (Abdül Hamid) and Nordenfelt III (Abdül Mecid) in 1887.[23] They were powered by a coal-fired 250 hp Lamm steam engine turning a single screw, and carried two 356mm torpedo tubes and two 35mm machine guns. They were loaded with a total of 8 tons of coal as fuel and could dive to a depth of 160 feet. It was 30.5m long and 6m wide, and weighed 100 tons. It carried a normal crew of 7. It had a maximum surface speed of 6 knots, and a maximum speed of 4 knots while submerged. Abdülhamid became the first submarine in history to fire a torpedo submerged.[23]

Nordenfelt's efforts culminated in 1887 with Nordenfelt IV, which had twin motors and twin torpedoes. It was sold to the Russians, but soon ran aground and was scrapped. Garrett and Nordenfelt made significant advances in constructing the first modern, militarily capable submarines and fired up military and popular interest around the world for this new technology. However, the solution to fundamental technical problems, such as propulsion, quick submergence, and the maintenance of balance underwater was still lacking, and would only be solved in the 1890s.[8]"
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« Reply #19 on: April 03, 2016, 09:18:11 am »

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/08/submarines-1.html



This is an interesting Victorian era wooden submarine article.  I found the candle lighting/O2 sensor clever. 

Steam powered submarines are becoming a little more interesting than I expected at first. 


That's Monturiol's Ictineo II.  The interesting thing about that one is that he actually used an old steam engine in it; but via some inspired mechanic-ing split it in two.  One half produced power for the sub (I can't remember what it burnt, but it wasn't coal- in any case, it was something whereby buring it produced oxygen as a by-product) and the other half was adapted for scrubbing the air.
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« Reply #20 on: April 13, 2016, 10:21:58 pm »

The steam engine used in Ictineo II was a 6hp engine of the kind used in the textile mills. Monturiol "divided the engine in two" with one engine driven by steam from a coal boiler and the other driven by steam from a chemical boiler. This latter mixed Potassium Chlorate and Zinc in the presence of a Manganese Dioxide catalyst. The reaction resulted in potassium chloride, zinc oxide, oxygen and heat. The drawings I have seen are too small to work out any detail and it does not seem like much of the original has survived in either the Museum of Barcelona or the Museum of Catalunia. I am guessing either half the cylinders are allocated to each steam source, or more likely the steam valves are somehow split to accept both inputs. The chemical boiler used "rods" which could be inserted or withdrawn from the boiler to control the production of heat. Again, presumably water tubes within the boiler generated steam and the boiler exhaust fed oxygen to the carbon dioxide washers, to enrich the breathable air within the vessel.

Reference "Monturiol's Dream" by Matthew Stewart available in profile books.
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« Reply #21 on: April 14, 2016, 10:23:53 am »

I have very little to contribute, but I want you to know i ABSOLUTELY. LOVE. this idea!

*taps hat and walks away like nothing happened*
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