Steam Engine for Farm

Is there anyone who would not love a Steam Engine ? The smell of coal burning, the clicks of iron joints or hiss of the steam or the loud horn in bass. Our generation is privileged to have seen all of these.  Some of the specimens are still found in front of railway stations on display. I donot know where is Vaigai express kept, but Dakhkhanchee Raanee express is still being pulled once an year in Mumbai using another engine.

This year to mark 150 years of Railways, between Jan to Feb 2014 the only running locomotive steam engine will travel around 1, 400 km from India’s only surviving steam locomotive shed in Rewari, Haryana to Mumbai.

The R&D workshop for steam engines of Desai
Coming to the farm, can one use Steam power to do farming work?  I think it is well within reach. After seeing TinyTechIndia’s steam engines ranging from 2 HP to 50 HP, I am convinced more on this.  It is not the technology now which is prohibitive, but the  implementation. The continuous supply of biomass to burn, the sincerity with which workers will light the fire and run the show, the integration of boiler, steam engine, transmission of power to generator, the loss thereoff, scheduling of work – all these matter.

TinyTech V K Desi writes to his friends thus, “Recently my first tiny thermal power plant of 10 kw was successfully commissioned in village Dalbhanga of Kuchai Block in the district of Saraikela-Kharsawan in Jharkhand state of India. They never saw electric light in their life. During the day, power plant is connected to run tiny oil mill to provide fresh natural cooking oil to villagers and during night, it is connected to generator to provide lights in 200 homes. Two young boys have grasped knowledge to operate the power house and oil mill only in 3 days and now they are running the plant independently. After 11 pm, they close down the plant.”

Desai has designed very nicely using a single valve and minimal moving parts. One of his design for example Single cylinder double acting steam engine 5 hp, cylinder dia 3″xstroke 4″, complete with reverse mechanism,  hand lubricating pump for cylinder lubrication, drip lubricator for crosshead lubrication and 12″ pulley. Weight 85 kg.

He claims he has tested pipes at 600 psi, whereas recommendation is only to test at 300 psi. Many of his engines are in use locally and have been exported already to small countries (Developing nations). It must be a real boon for rural areas which require captive power generation.

50 HP Engine Boring – made of gun metal


I could see all kinds of engines in his workshop (Mandir to be precise). These are made to order.  Sincere young workers were seen machining different parts of the engines in lathe machines. There was one engine ready to be exported to Poland. Painted in blue color shining in morning SUN ready for packing. Desai was seen taking photos of the engine himself from different angles sqatting on the floor at this age. He was so enthusiastic with mystic smile.

Newly Painted engine waiting to be dispatched to Poland

Each of these engines have a large free wheel. I guess this is to smoothen the power variations that may araise due to crank rotation. An eccentric wheel closes and opes the steam input / valve.  Totally the engines may weigh between 60 KG to half a ton.


Bioler and Chimney where biomass can be burned.
Inside are the pipes to generate steam
Next comes the question of how to generate steam which forms the input for the steam engine. Large number of pipes welded in parallel is used. They line up the ceiling of the boiler in which any biomass can be burned. Refer picture.

When the wood, charcoal or any combustible material burns, the resultant heat boils the water in the pipes. Steam is generated. This is transmitted to the engine which provides necessary force to move the piston up and down.

Parallel Pipes hold water which becomes steam when heated.
View is from inside the Oven / Boiler / hearth

Having said that, now we can put all pieces togather.
a)  A heat Source / Fire place for generating heat over 100 deg Centrigrade (212 deg F).
b) Water container / typically pressurised pipes holding water.  Due to vaporization energy turns water into the gaseous form and increases in volume by 1,600 times.
c) Pipes to transmit steam into steam engine, valves to measure pressure etc.
d) Steam engine to convert steam power to mechanical power
e) Generator to convert mechanical power to electrical power
f) Some regulators.
From the context of Farm, i have the following ideas;
a) Heat Source :  If farm inputs have to be minimal, we cannot keep purchasing firewood or charcoal. They are costly. Will be affected due to demand/supply gap. Cost will go high due to transportation also. But they are ideal solid burning material.  In a typical farm, I guess we can mix cowdung + Saw Dust + Husk + Straw pieces and create fuel pellets. Sun dry and store it.  I want to try this eventually.

Alternatly, there is also a special source that I want to consider, namely SUN light.  As shown in the picture, perhaps a semi cylinderical reflective surface can be created (in a parabolic shape) which can be turned over its axis manually or otherwise. Steam pipes can be positioned on the axial line. There can be many such arrays. All the pipes can be combined into one and send to steam engine. I am willing to try this alone or if a suitable partner comes who doesnot count pennys and has a scientific sprit.

b) Steam Generation :  Desai mentioned that of all the components, the Steam generating pipe assembly is the costliest.  For example if Engine is costing 1.5 lacs,  the pipe assembly would cost 3.5 lacs or more. Therefore if you are cost concious, he urged me to fabricate the same locally. He said he will help with integration and testing.  That makes sense. I need to find some source in Coimbatore to fabricate steam rollers.  The pipes have to withstand pressures of 600 psi.  The welding must not corrode over a period of time if water is salty also.
c). Stem Engine:  Desai is there.  I guess a 5 KVA machine would suffice for 10 acre farm.
d) Generator : Also called alternator.  Need to find one. I am not sure where I can get, but there must be plenty of manufacturers for dieseal generators.
f) Regulator: This holds good for even the current dieseal generators. Therefore must be available in in the market.
End of story.

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