It might be the little engine that could. And the little engine that could revolutionize transportation as we know it is being tested and designed in Pompano Beach.
"The inspiration, I guess you might say, was need," said inventor Harry Schoell, a Miami native who is the CEO of Cyclone Power Systems.
Schoell and his team have developed a steam engine that is compact, relatively cheap to build, powerful, and lighter, cleaner, and more efficient than an internal combustion engine.
"It's a win-win situation," Schoell says, and predicts the Cyclone engine will soon be powering cars and trucks as a much better alternative than battery-powered motors. "You will not see an 18-wheeler going up the road on batteries, they don't have the power density, but these things will."
"Much better for the Earth," says Cyclone's president, Chris Nelson.
Why? We haven't mentioned the most interesting thing about this engine: it will run on just about anything you could remotely consider a fuel. Everything from old cooking oil to old motor oil to wood chips to diesel to kerosene to dozens of biofuels, with no engine modifications needed. You could fill up with diesel one day and Crisco the next. They even ran it on biofuel made from old orange peels, and the Cyclone doesn't need a muffler, catalytic converter, or even a transmission. Yet the auto version supplies 850 foot-pounds of starting torque. In techie terms, that means it's got power.
Nelson sees it as a way to break the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.
"This is really unlimited in the number of fuels that we can run in this, we've tested about 30 different bio and traditional fuels already," Nelson said. "Being able to produce a fuel in a region of the country that can be used in a car in that region but then have that same engine go to another part of the country and use the fuel produced there, that can't be done with current engines."
The engine itself uses a rotary design. Fuel is burned to heat coils, steam comes out of the coils and drives pistons. It won an "Invention of the Year" award from Popular Science magazine a few years ago. Now defense contractor Raytheon is considering the Cyclone to power a fleet of unmanned submarines.
Cyclone is also marketing the engine as a generator. Auto repair shops, for instance, could burn their old oil and turn it into electricity to help power their garages. Restaurants could do the same thing with spent cooking oil.
"We are making energy from waste sources that traditionally have gone unused, and as a country, we need to start using those sources much better and more efficiently," says Nelson.
Cyclone has installed some of the engines in boats. The goal, though, is to persuade an automaker to produce the first assembly line car powered by a steam engine. Considering steam engines in locomotives and ships built this nation during the Industrial Revolution, the Cyclone engine could be driving us back to the future.