Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Propulsion systems, machinery, turbines, boilers, propellers, fuel consumption, etc.
cityracer
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Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by cityracer »

I am creating a fantasy world where technology evolved quite differently from our own world. This is mostly due to natural scarcity of several resources, most notably fossil fuels. That main fuel of this world is charcoal. In many ways, however, the technology of this world is near future. With this in mind, I am trying to come up with ship designs.

Currently, my focus is on propulsion, for both river and ocean going vessels. Given its inferiority to coal, how good would charcoal powered ships be? Would these ships still have sails, even with near future technology?

I already have an idea for an ocean going transport ship. This ship is based on the clipper ship. It is iron hulled and uses a combination of steam and sails. Would something like this be viable?
Steve Crandell
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by Steve Crandell »

not an answer, but you didn't mention nuclear power.
cityracer
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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Steve Crandell wrote: Sat Sep 04, 2021 4:37 am not an answer, but you didn't mention nuclear power.
Nuclear power would not exist in this world. I have this idea of technology varying significantly throughout this world depending on how much electricity can be produced locally. Nuclear power would make that idea virtually irrelevant.
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marcelo_malara
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

cityracer wrote: Thu Sep 02, 2021 8:26 am I am creating a fantasy world where technology evolved quite differently from our own world. This is mostly due to natural scarcity of several resources, most notably fossil fuels. That main fuel of this world is charcoal. In many ways, however, the technology of this world is near future. With this in mind, I am trying to come up with ship designs.

Currently, my focus is on propulsion, for both river and ocean going vessels. Given its inferiority to coal, how good would charcoal powered ships be? Would these ships still have sails, even with near future technology?

I already have an idea for an ocean going transport ship. This ship is based on the clipper ship. It is iron hulled and uses a combination of steam and sails. Would something like this be viable?

Well, the first coal ships were quiet inefficient, with shaft powers close to that of a modern truck. And theirs consumption was high, needing sails to complete a transatlantic voyage. I would say that with time charcoal power would produce that, clearly a Titanic could not be built.
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marcelo_malara
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

For future reference.

Coal density 1.6 kg/m3

Charcoal density 0.2 kg/m3

Calorific value of coal 7600 kcal/kg

Calorific value of charcoal 7000 kcal/kg

https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/fuel ... d_169.html

Main weakness is in space needed for bunkers.
cityracer
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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I found some information about steam engines online. According to one source, you need 10 times as much charcoal to produce the same amount of energy as coal. Another source says that triple-expansion steam engines are about 11% efficient, although, it did not say what year that was. Modern steam turbines are usually in the low 40% efficiency range. If these numbers are correct, I assume that would mean that you would need roughly 2.5 as much charcoal in a steam turbine, as you would need coal in a triple-expansion.

There is more to this story, however. I mentioned that this world would have near future technology. In addition, with charcoal being so important for so long, this would undoubtedly lead to greater innovation than in our own world. Therefore, I would presume that you would need roughly twice the charcoal rather than 2.5 times.

My only question now is am I looking at this correctly or is this supposed to be calculated differently?
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

I am not sure of the efficiencies posted, I don´t believe that the turbine is 3 times more efficient than triple expansion, remember that battleships were still being built with triple expansion engines when the turbine already existed (most notable by US and Germany). That numbers would make a turbine propelled ship have three times the range of an alternative engined one, which was not so.

Anyway, some thoughts. First, the boilers would have to be bigger, because you have to burn about 8 times the volume. If the boilers are 10 times bigger than coal burning ones, you may end with a big ship carrying little cargo. Second, if you have trees and vegetables you can distill alcohol, what can be used to spray on the charcoal, the same as oil was sprayed on the coal previous to pure liquid fuels used.
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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marcelo_malara wrote: Sun Sep 05, 2021 8:52 pm I am not sure of the efficiencies posted, I don´t believe that the turbine is 3 times more efficient than triple expansion, remember that battleships were still being built with triple expansion engines when the turbine already existed (most notable by US and Germany). That numbers would make a turbine propelled ship have three times the range of an alternative engined one, which was not so.

Anyway, some thoughts. First, the boilers would have to be bigger, because you have to burn about 8 times the volume. If the boilers are 10 times bigger than coal burning ones, you may end with a big ship carrying little cargo. Second, if you have trees and vegetables you can distill alcohol, what can be used to spray on the charcoal, the same as oil was sprayed on the coal previous to pure liquid fuels used.
I think this compares turbine engines of the modern day vs triple expansion of the late 1800s or early 1900s. Wouldn't that make a difference? Also, what effect would spraying alcohol on charcoal have?
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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Well, yes, turbine´s efficiencies has improved over the years, going from the direct acting ones, to single geared and double geared, you need this data to know about which one we are speaking about. Meanwhile triple expansion had ceased to be developed, there was even quadruple expansion, but at that time (1920s I think) all the money went to turbine.

I dig in my books and found consumption values of about 2.5 lb/ihp/hr for coal ships, that would be 1.1 kg/ihp/hr, so yes, it appeared turbines were many times more efficient at about 0.35 kg/hp/hr. But, that is indicated horse power, a power calculated with a time/pressure diagram of a functioning cylinder, and its values are somewhat different that shp, because the indicator diagram does not take into account the losses (mainly friction) of the machinery.

As per fueloil spraying, it was used in warships to improve the combustion of the coal, I presume that doing the same with alcohol and charcoal would do the same. And better yet, you may get rid of the charcoal and use alcohol directly in the boilers, remember alcohol was used in the V-2 rocket!
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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marcelo_malara wrote: Sun Sep 05, 2021 10:57 pm Well, yes, turbine´s efficiencies has improved over the years, going from the direct acting ones, to single geared and double geared, you need this data to know about which one we are speaking about. Meanwhile triple expansion had ceased to be developed, there was even quadruple expansion, but at that time (1920s I think) all the money went to turbine.

I dig in my books and found consumption values of about 2.5 lb/ihp/hr for coal ships, that would be 1.1 kg/ihp/hr, so yes, it appeared turbines were many times more efficient at about 0.35 kg/hp/hr. But, that is indicated horse power, a power calculated with a time/pressure diagram of a functioning cylinder, and its values are somewhat different that shp, because the indicator diagram does not take into account the losses (mainly friction) of the machinery.

As per fueloil spraying, it was used in warships to improve the combustion of the coal, I presume that doing the same with alcohol and charcoal would do the same. And better yet, you may get rid of the charcoal and use alcohol directly in the boilers, remember alcohol was used in the V-2 rocket!
Wouldn't alcohol fuels essentially be ethanol? And doesn't ethanol take a significant amount of energy to produce?
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

Your commentary made me think deeply. I doubt that your world is feasible. Basically you are speaking of Medieval Age with some improvements. If the only energy source is charcoal from forests, and that same forests are used for shipbuilding, they would be quickly depleted. Cast iron would need charcoal too for its production, so there is no way of saying iron would replace wood. In this world natural resources would need to be carefully managed. I am not an expert in alcohol´s production, I understand that fermentation from bacteria produces alcohol, but then alcohol production would compete with food production from crops.
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

So we end in the Medieval Age with some modern knowledge. Could we built steam engines and boilers with cast and wrought iron melted with charcoal? Would be available enough charcoal to produce iron for hulls? Or do we stay with steam propelled wooden ships?
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

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marcelo_malara wrote: Mon Sep 06, 2021 12:53 am So we end in the Medieval Age with some modern knowledge. Could we built steam engines and boilers with cast and wrought iron melted with charcoal? Would be available enough charcoal to produce iron for hulls? Or do we stay with steam propelled wooden ships?
While this world may seem unfeasible, it has some things that I just haven't mentioned. For one, while charcoal is the main fuel source, it is not the main source of electricity production. That is mostly the job of hydroelectric, which is plentiful due to the continent in focus having a watershed that produces as much water as the Amazon.

The other thing that helps this world is from the fantasy side of things. I won't go into too much, but most people are attuned to an element, one of which is wood. For our purposes, this attunement could be used on large tree farms to help trees grow at a quicker pace.

I also decided from the start that infrastructure development is much less built out than in our world. Rural areas would rely mostly on railroad hub towns for connection to the outside world.

Also, Ethanol is likely the future of this world, but could reasonably still be on the horizon.
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by marcelo_malara »

Mmmmm....electricity means copper, copper has to be cast too. There is also the problem of the heavy machinery for the construction of the dams, how would they be powered?

By the way, there is a book, I have it in my wish list, Forests and Sea Power, describes the logistics and problems behind the supply of timber for shipbuilding.

Regards
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Re: Charcoal Fueled Steamship in a Fantasy World

Post by cityracer »

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my post. I think that I have enough information at this point about propulsion. I'm going to take the information I have learned and make a new post specifically about ship design.
marcelo_malara wrote: Mon Sep 06, 2021 2:31 pm Mmmmm....electricity means copper, copper has to be cast too. There is also the problem of the heavy machinery for the construction of the dams, how would they be powered?

By the way, there is a book, I have it in my wish list, Forests and Sea Power, describes the logistics and problems behind the supply of timber for shipbuilding.

Regards
There are other reasons why this world works, but this forum doesn't feel like the appropriate place to discuss that.
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