Which pollute more -- steam or diesel?

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by RobertInOntario, Feb 28, 2007.

  1. Ralph

    Ralph Remember...it's for fun!


    Well Rick, I know not everyone in the Twin cities is a light rail fan but here's one of many similar articles I've found indicating high ridership of the line. I've ridden a few times for fun, but living in a suburb north of the line don't use it for daily transporation. Its great for getting from the Mall of America to Downtown. As you might expect on any public transporation you'll see all kinds of folks.
  2. Ralph

    Ralph Remember...it's for fun!

  3. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Another option is converting our passenger trains to electric as they have done in Britain.

    In the UK, they converted most of their passenger trains to electric starting in the 1960s. A third (electrified) rail was added. And nowadays most of the the passenger trains in the UK are electric. They still use diesel for freight trains though (but compared to our freight trains, theirs are very short!).

    I've often wondered why they could convert their trains in Britain to electric but not in Canada and the US. The answer is obvious, probably due to our much greater distances and extremes in climate.

    Thoughts? Maybe I should start a new thread but at least this is still on the pollution topic!

  4. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

    The third rail electric system is only used on the (former) southern region of British railways - dating from many years ago. Elsewhere, overhead catenary systems are used :wave:
  5. tetters

    tetters Rail Spiking Fool!

    #2 the tree huggers have already sued to try to put a stop to wind power because birds might fly into the blades.

    Good Gravy! :rolleyes:

    These are probably the same people that think we should all be living in caves. The thing about these so called enviromentalists is that most of their ideas are based in fanciful thinking with very little scientific evidence to back it up. I only say this because as you quoted they said that the birds "might" fly into the blades. Did they do any actual studies to find out that this will happen? Cripes. Wind power is used all over Europe and have you seen any reports of chopped up feathered friends all over the news? Hardly. In fact major city centers with all of their high rises and lights pose a greater threat to migratory birds then a freakin wind generator ever will.

    Save the planet? Lets start with those leather Hush Puppies you're wearing and work up from there... So much for save the animals.

    Don't get me wrong. I love nature and the Earth and want to do a better job so that there is a world for my children to grow up in that is safe and clean. I recycle, bike or take transit into work. Our vehicle gets driven to the nearest subway station and get parked while my wife goes into work everyday. I make mistakes, I'm not perfect. I like think I'm better and that my kids will be expects at it by the time they grow up to be adults.

    I can also offer another opinion. As an avid cyclist and mountain biker, these nuts try to continually argue that "off-road" cycling is ruining the local provincial parks and forest trail networks. When in actual FACT scientific studies have shown that a MTB tire with a contact patch of roughlyl 1 inch does less damage to a trail surface and erosion then a hiker in hiking boots. And don't get me started on what horses can do to the trail systems as far a damage and erosion goes!!! Funny thing is, that whenever a public trail maintenance day is held, the MTB'ers are out in full force, fixing trail damage and attempting to improve the trail conditions over all. Where are the hikers? Equestrians? Probably sitting at Starbucks, arguing over how they are going to take out a second mortgage to top up the tank on the H2 that's parked outside. Yeah...I'm generalizing so sue me...

    Just trying to make a point is all.

  6. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    being a scientist, I think I should chime in.

    The #1 greenhouse gas (from a chemical property standpoint) is water vapor. a distant #2 is carbon dioxide. the real problem is carbon dioxide will raise the temperature a litte, and that will increase evaporation from the oceans, and raise the temperature A LOT. Water vapor stores a lot of energy - and that is why steam engines work.

    Both diesel and steam engines convert hydrocarbons into useable energy. The smoke you see is soot - inefficient ccombustion or impurities in the fuel. Some diesels put out more soot than a properly fired steam engine, but that is visible pollution only as the soot eventually settles out.

    From a greenhouse gas standpoint, all that matters is how many hydrocarbons are burned to create how much work. It does not matter how those hydrocarbons are burned or used. the end result of any complete combustion of hydrocarbons is water vapor and carbon dioxide. Diesels are way more efficient than a steamer. A steam engine will also put out much more water vapor out the stack from the boiling of the water to produce steam.

    one more thing: there is tons of bad science out there. Scientists are bought just like anyone else. Plus, they have egos to protect, much like anyone else. As far as I know, the biofuels thing is a joke as I have heard it takes more fuel to raise the crop to make the fuel than the amount of fuel that the crop can produce. In other words, it takes more energy to create less energy. The only way it pays for itself is probably government subsidy to the farmers...

  7. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

    Hey Guys - the Gauge is for stuff about trains - not right-wing rant politics!! Let's get back to the original point, and send your anti-environmentalist messages to one of the kooky neo-con websites! (Oops - little bit of politics creeping in there...:D )

    Anyways - what about the difference between electric locos and diesels? Are electrics as polluting because of the power stations needed to supply the juice...??
  8. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Yes, but not quite as much. The thermal efficiency of a modern steam plant is 50-60%, and if the plant is a co-generation plant, the effiiciency rises to about 90%.

    But let's say the power comes from an average thermal plant with an efficiency of 50%. Even with transmission losses of about 10%, for the amount of power used, an electric makes more efficient use of the power than does a diesel.
  9. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    Wow! This is a truly interesting discussion.

    I've not seen steam turbine locos mentioned here. Would they have been more efficient in both fuel use and maintenance, had they been allowed to develope further?

    For the record, there HAVE been a number of cases of birds --- mostly raptors I think --- being whapped by wind generator blades here in California. I do not know if the number of incidents would actually pose a serious problem. Birds also are hit by cars, planes, and electric transmission lines. (And brainless kids with 22s.)

    As I model the 19th century I do have one defense for wood as a loco fuel. Polution or not, when it burns it does smell one H of a lot better than coal or oil.

    And I agree with Mountain Man regarding slowing down. As a little kid in the 1940'S, I remember my father having to take annual business trips from LA to NYC. He'd settle into a Super Chief compartment and have 3 days or so to prepare his presentation. And on the way home he had 3 days to relax and unwind from the stress he'd experienced. As someone who, before retirement, had years where I traveled up to 80,000 miles on airlines (and I was NOT in sales) I rather envied my father on more than one occasion.

    Bill S
  10. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    That is true of any energy conversion. In this case, the vast majority of the energy required to raise a crop is provided by the sun, and the plants are only about 10% efficient at converting all the energy they receive. More energy is spent (and also lost) as the plants are converted to fuel.

    If it was actually true that is took more diesel fuel (for example) to produce biodiesel from plant matter (oils), the economic model would not support it, let alone any thermodynamic/energy efficiency model.

  11. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Producing corn-based ethanol takes about 4 litres of fuel for every litre of ethanol produced. In this ratio it makes no sense to switch to ethanol as a fuel source. On the other hand, as a fuel additive (up to 15%) it can be burned in a regular gas engine and improves fuel economy and emissions. This almost makes sense.

    Cellulose-based ethanol production is a bit more effective in the fuel-to-produce to product ratio, but I don't have a figure for that. This process uses anything, wood chips, straw - any sort of plant material, to make ethanol (or methanol?).

    I also don't have the figs on biodiesel, but biodiesel can also be produced from used cooking oil, which makes a bit more sense to me... at least get some use out of the stuff before burning it up. I know the City of Guelph is running 10% biodiesel in their busses and municipal vehicles, and seeing improved emissions and slightly better fuel economy. So again, maybe it's value is as an additive rather than a substitute.
  12. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Biking and hiking trails

    Good point about the damage the mountain bike damage verses hiking damage.

    But, as an avid hiker and member of two hiking associations, I know for a fact that such trails as the Bruce Trail and the Oak Ridges Trail are indeed maintained and cleaned up by hikers! Hikers were the ones who founded these trails, and they were made & intended for hiking. I'm sure there are some trails that are mainly used by bikers that are maintained by bikers, but the BT and ORT were created and are maintained by hikers. And these are huge trail systems ranging from 200 km to 800 km long, not counting the many side trails.

    The BT and ORT clubs usually hold their own trail maintenance days on BT & ORT trails, so that might be one reason why you haven't come across them.

    When I'm out hiking, mountain bikers are always friendly and polite, and I behave in the same way as well. So I don't mind sharing the trail with them. Plus, their bikes are quiet and don't pollute!

    But what drives me crazy -- and I really can't stand this!! -- is when I encounter ATVs and dirt bikes on the trails. This is especially frustrating having purposely left the city -- with its noise & pollution to enjoy nature & some quiet -- only to find noisy, smelly ATVs or dirt bikes! That really upsets me! I would think that ATVs and dirt bikes do a fair bit of tree root and trail damage as well.

    I'm getting a little off topic here, but we're still talking about pollution! I'm also ranting a bit and I know you were purposely gernalizing -- so no hard feelings intended.

    Take care,
  13. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks for your note! But isn't the same third-rail electric system also used in the Midlands & Wales? Take care, Rob
  14. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

  15. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    That's basically the approach used in France: electrification is widespread, and nuclear plants produce the majority of the electricity, so one would assume that trains often run on nuclear power, ultimately.
    The usual idea is: turbines might improve fuel efficiency (though more advanced non-turbine steam also would), but they take more maintenance. However, these statements are usually based on obsolete technology for all options. Turbine locomotives (whether steam-turbo-mechanical, steam-turbo-electric, or gas-turbo-electric) are out of favor. Thus, they haven't been built with modern technology. Supposedly, turbine technology has improved much more in the past 50 years than diesel technology.

    I've been reading about advanced steam, and it seems interesting. I will say for the record that I am opposed to increased use of coal, so this is all academic for me. But it does seem like many of the limitations of steam have been conquered, or could be easily. For example, the SLM works in Switzerland built some new steam rack engines in the 90s for a tourist line. Their boilers were so well insulated that they could stay hot overnight, eliminating the long firing-up process every day. In Germany in 1997, it was determined that a modern steam locomotive burning oil would pollute less than a diesel of equal horsepower. There have been designs for MU-capable steam engines.
  16. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    OK, thanks for referring me to that site. So the other regions use overhead wires and I think diesel is used by some trains as well, i.e. HST and Virgin trains. I think I should read up more on this. In recent years, I've mainly visited the South of England. Thanks again, Rob
  17. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

  18. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Wikipedia: the non-dictionary for our times.

    I trust you are aware of the recent revelation that many major corporations have in-house "certified experts" who insure that Wikipedia definitions remain user-friendly to their respective organizations, no matter what the actual facts might be.
  19. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

  20. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    I'm intrigued about these modern, high-tech steam engines and would like to learn more. Maybe this is the way of the future? Rob

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