A Different Kind of Hybrid

Hybrid engines for automobiles are considered an intermediate technology on the road of alternatively-powered cars, with the ultimate goal being an electric car. Towards that end, most hybrids in development and production use a combination of electrical power and chemical power to drive the vehicles. Such engines, like most gasoline internal combustion engines, lose about ¾’s of their energy as heat, a tremendous waste. Legendary race engine developer Bruce Crower seeks to reclaim that lost power.


Bruce Crower and his steam engineBruce Crower and his steam engineCrower, who has won the Louis Schwitzer Award for racecar resign, is looking towards the future by looking at the past. His innovative hybrid engine uses a combination of gasoline and steam for power. While steam power brings to mind massive coal fired locomotives, in fact, it was originally one of the most promising types of power for automobiles at the beginning of the 20th Century. Jay Leno currently owns a steam powered 1925 Doble that passes current smog laws with flying colors and achieves over 1000 foot pounds of torque. That car can travel over 100 mph, has no transmission, and is completely silent!


Crower’s hybrid is something different; it adds two strokes to a traditional, four stroke gasoline engine. There are first the four expected strokes of the cylinders: intake, compression, power, and exhaust. Right at the end of the fourth stroke, however, water is sprayed into the cylinder, contacting metal surfaces that can reach temperatures as high as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The water is vaporized immediately, becoming steam and expanding 1,600 times, driving the cylinder down for a second power stroke. On the return stroke, the steam is exhausted to a condenser, which returns the water to liquid state to be used again.


The Steam-o-Lene gets 40% more work out of a gallon of gas than a traditional engine, a tremendous boost in power. Crower believes a diesel engine would achieve a more modest improvement of about 5%. He has filed a patent application and has every intention of selling his concept to a larger company that would bring it to market. Look for this engine to begin seeing the light of day in production vehicles in the next decade. It’s just too good to end up in a warehouse somewhere. Imagine the potential fuel savings of a triple hybrid gasoline/steam/electric vehicle. Could we see fuel mileage reaching into the 60 or 80 mpg range with existing technology? (Source: Popular Science)

S Daniel Ackerman
Motor and Machines Writer