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Northern Pacific Lignite Fired Steam Locomotives?

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Northern Pacific Lignite Fired Steam Locomotives?
Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Sunday, February 14, 2021 11:15 PM
 

So my understanding is Northern Pacific fired their steamers with what they called rosebud coal or simply lignite? What are the specifics? Which classes, and what modifications were done to the firebox, boiler etc? As lignite is a low rank coal with low BTU's, loads of moisture, and high ash content.

 
 
 
 
 
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Posted by Erik_Mag on Monday, February 15, 2021 12:22 AM

The "Rosebud" comes from the coal mine at Colstrip being in Rosebud County and near Rosebud Creek. The coal is a sub-bituminous grade, which is a higher quality than the lignite found in extreme eastern Montana and western North Dakota.

Main reason for using Rosebud coal was that the mines in Red Lodge were close to being tapped out along with the high labor costs involved with underground mining. Red Lodge coal was of a higher quality than Colstrip coal. The coal seam in Colstrip is about 70 feet below the surface and is about 30 feet thick. This made it economical to strip mine, with large electric draglines and shovels doing the grunt work (got a tour of the 1923 vintage dragline with a 150' boom and 9 cu yd bucket).

Modifications for burning Rosebud coal was a very large grate (NP Yellowstone with 180 sq ft) and small air holes to minimize lifting of the coal bead - Rosebud coal is relative friable, and a standard grate would lead to coal dropping through the grate or being blown out the stack.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Monday, February 15, 2021 8:24 AM
 

Erik_Mag

The "Rosebud" comes from the coal mine at Colstrip being in Rosebud County and near Rosebud Creek. The coal is a sub-bituminous grade, which is a higher quality than the lignite found in extreme eastern Montana and western North Dakota.

Main reason for using Rosebud coal was that the mines in Red Lodge were close to being tapped out along with the high labor costs involved with underground mining. Red Lodge coal was of a higher quality than Colstrip coal. The coal seam in Colstrip is about 70 feet below the surface and is about 30 feet thick. This made it economical to strip mine, with large electric draglines and shovels doing the grunt work (got a tour of the 1923 vintage dragline with a 150' boom and 9 cu yd bucket).

Modifications for burning Rosebud coal was a very large grate (NP Yellowstone with 180 sq ft) and small air holes to minimize lifting of the coal bead - Rosebud coal is relative friable, and a standard grate would lead to coal dropping through the grate or being blown out the stack.

 

Thanks for the correction Erik. I've seen Rosebud incorrectly labeled as lignite, or called "black lignite". NP steam engines were always funny looking to me modified to burn lower quality coal. So did NP steamers ever burn true lignite?

 
 
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Posted by Erik_Mag on Monday, February 15, 2021 2:01 PM

I don't know if NP ever used lignite, but I suspect not.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 15, 2021 2:23 PM

Burning true lignite is not best (or even particularly well) done on a grate with nonvariable induced draft from a front end arrangement with nozzles.  One company that specialized -- for a while -- in designing equipment that 'worked' was Fuller-Lehigh, and the approach, such as it was, can be seen in locomotives like the Snuff Dipper described in Trains in the early '70s (See the Snuff Dipper and the Yellow Dog Blues).  I have actually found a picture of the Lehigh Valley locomotive that tried this equipment, and there is some documentation for the Australian attempt with a Victorian C16 in 1923 (Peter Clark will be able to comment on this better than I can).  

It might be amusing to see how this equipment (predominantly designed for, and as far as I know successful in, stationary industrial applications) would be scaled to simple-articulated size, and operated effectively over typical NP profiles.  Among other things I think this would clearly take the excessive-smoke palm from the D&RGW articulateds...

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Monday, February 15, 2021 7:41 PM
 

Overmod

Burning true lignite is not best (or even particularly well) done on a grate with nonvariable induced draft from a front end arrangement with nozzles.  One company that specialized -- for a while -- in designing equipment that 'worked' was Fuller-Lehigh, and the approach, such as it was, can be seen in locomotives like the Snuff Dipper described in Trains in the early '70s (See the Snuff Dipper and the Yellow Dog Blues).  I have actually found a picture of the Lehigh Valley locomotive that tried this equipment, and there is some documentation for the Australian attempt with a Victorian C16 in 1923 (Peter Clark will be able to comment on this better than I can).  

It might be amusing to see how this equipment (predominantly designed for, and as far as I know successful in, stationary industrial applications) would be scaled to simple-articulated size, and operated effectively over typical NP profiles.  Among other things I think this would clearly take the excessive-smoke palm from the D&RGW articulateds...

 

Yeah I found that odd when reading about NP steam locomotives they mentioned being fired by lignite. When in fact it was SBC, as pointed out to me by Erik. I don't think any railroad would run that low rank of coal, but hey refined coal technology didn't exist back then. 

 
 
 
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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 15, 2021 8:01 PM

SD60MAC9500
Yeah I found that odd when reading about NP steam locomotives they mentioned being fired by lignite. When in fact it was SBC, as pointed out to me by Erik.

You'll find that many railfan references in 'pre-Internet days' cheerfully confused low-rank "subbituminous' with "lignite" -- in fact come to think of it, I can't recall any reference to NP power through my childhood ever calling that Rosebud coal anything but 'lignite'.

Some of the things necessary to make "cost-effective" burning of lignites in stationary plants can be highly interesting.  One interesting one I saw go by in EPRI discussions was microwave heating of lignite with nominal ~30% water content to get it to where it could be flashed off and burned in pulverized-coal-style equipment; these featured extended return-pass architecture like the Donlee TurboFire XL that could recuperate the energy in the considerable remaining water content (just as with steam injection mass for NOx reduction) as the exhaust mass dropped through 212F on its way to the fans.  Don't try those tricks on locomotives (even though it has to be said that with stack-train clearances they have become practicable...)

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Monday, February 15, 2021 8:57 PM
 

Overmod

 

 
SD60MAC9500
Yeah I found that odd when reading about NP steam locomotives they mentioned being fired by lignite. When in fact it was SBC, as pointed out to me by Erik.

 

You'll find that many railfan references in 'pre-Internet days' cheerfully confused low-rank "subbituminous' with "lignite" -- in fact come to think of it, I can't recall any reference to NP power through my childhood ever calling that Rosebud coal anything but 'lignite'.

 

Some of the things necessary to make "cost-effective" burning of lignites in stationary plants can be highly interesting.  One interesting one I saw go by in EPRI discussions was microwave heating of lignite with nominal ~30% water content to get it to where it could be flashed off and burned in pulverized-coal-style equipment; these featured extended return-pass architecture like the Donlee TurboFire XL that could recuperate the energy in the considerable remaining water content (just as with steam injection mass for NOx reduction) as the exhaust mass dropped through 212F on its way to the fans.  Don't try those tricks on locomotives (even though it has to be said that with stack-train clearances they have become practicable...)

 

I don't know about you, but I'm a big proponent of using coal as a fuel source. It's plentiful, and as we have the largest reserves in the world. It can make for a good source of; methane, hydrogen, and synfuel production. It can be refined into a much cleaner state for combustion. I've been doing some research on the Coldry process being used in Australia for its refined coal. Or what they call densified coal. Using refined coal with advanced ultra-supercritical combustion with combined cycle can achieve efficiency ratings of at or above 70%. Better than NG CCGT. Coal fired generation has made some of the largest gains over the decades with efficiency. ICE and other modes of combustion have stagnated, or have achieved very little gains.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Monday, February 15, 2021 10:31 PM

Somebody fill me in on the "snuff dipper" steam locomotive.

I read that article but I can't stop in the State Historical society right now to look up that issue of Trains.

The Trains cover depicts a fat stack.  Did this thing have some manner of mechanical draft?

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?
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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 15, 2021 11:08 PM

SD60MAC9500
I've been doing some research on the Coldry process being used in Australia for its refined coal. Or what they call densified coal.

I think ECT has almost wholly abandoned any use of the Coldry product for steam combustion; reading between the lines the chief present object of the revised Coldry Project is to make "valuable products" that are not densified coal, notably syngasification on the one hand and 'char' probably for sequestration; I also suspect some of the revised emphasis is to use some of the 'leonardite' for carbon geosequestration directly.  Note the part of their most recent annual report (last month) where they advocate the 'zero-carbon' nature of the process heat source -- 'net-zero-emissions lignite drying solution' was one way they put it -- and their emphasis is now "enabling Victoria's vast, world-class lignite resource to pivot from high-emission electricity generation to low or zero-emission high-value manufacturing and energy products, inculding hydrogen, fertiliser, [syn]diesel, iron and steel production" and they are participating in incentives to export syngas (as LNG) and presumably-blue hydrogen (which they have to develop as the hydrogenation source for syngas).  (And yes, their blue hydrogen at least on paper will be closely connected with CCS (sequestration).)

Very little to my knowledge has happened to increase the price penalty for electricity with full carbon sequestration, and a wide range of effective true clean-coal strategies remain perfectly applicable to modern practice still   But I do not see any incentive to publicly develop these, and their use in proprietary solutions has been a joke for nearly half a decade now.  

I was a great proponent of a couple of the SRC approaches in the '80s (and in fact still have some of my little test gallon of n-methylpyrrolidine (which  is the selective carbon solvent).  This gets rid of the trace elements in the feedstock inherently, and can produce very finely-divided carbon 'flour' (reminiscent of copier toner, Wayne) which is an ideal feedstock for carbon sequestration after the bottoming passes (where the water condenses out and the gas is pressurized to ~35atm and the compression heat used for process).  (This was the kind of product used in the coal-burning Eldorados and other GM experiments in the Carter administration... cincidentally it probably remains the best alternative for both USC-compatible firing and for realizing some form of gas-turbine combined-cycle bottoming)

Since then I took a great interest in co-firing some of the torrefied woods with carbon fuel stocks (the comparatively high wood ash being an excellent dolomite-like flux if needed) which was a very popular impending technology before the 2008 economic disaster.  This of course did not recover during the Obama administration, and it never got to be enough of a priority, covert or otherwise, afterward (I suspect some of this will prove to be technology-ownership-related, but some of that is paranoia without far better proof than I can command).

Correct Rankine-cycle (with bottoming) remains by far the best of the generation technologies; it is possible to touch high numbers with a good ultrasupercritical positive-displacement expander where part-load operations forms a substantial part of the duty cycle, but it requires more capital and work than good modern rotating-expander equipment -- even if the Germans proposed to shell them out like peas for distributed backup generation in the era just before the big renewable-energy reset in that country. 

But I doubt there will be any widespread adoption of carbon-centric technologies in the next few years, no matter how 'economic' the results might turn out to be -- the "action" is in zero-carbon rather than zero-net-carbon, and while I feel very sure there are killings to be made in private zero-net-carbon (in large part out of subsidized blue hydrogen from gas once zero-net-carbon has become "politically recognized" and industry demonstrates it can sequester without fraud or failure) it won't be publicized before those capable of wangling the appropriate large-scale capital have captured more than the market in carbon credits.

I think there is an incteasingly vanishing future for untreated-coal combustion in any kind of power generation, particularly compared to zero-net-carbon liquid and gas fuels, until sequestration is not only recognized as cost-effective but is in widespread implementation.  This would be a nifty opportunity for a Biden administration, but of course the priority there would never involve 'coal for combustion' as a preferred alternative.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 15, 2021 11:18 PM

Paul Milenkovic
Somebody fill me in on the "snuff dipper" steam locomotive. I read that article but I can't stop in the State Historical society right now to look up that issue of Trains. The Trains cover depicts a fat stack.  Did this thing have some manner of mechanical draft?

If you google "Fuller-Lehigh" and "locomotive" you will likely come upon much of the information, including some good accounts in the contemporary trade press (and advertising!) courtesy of Google Books making it free now.

As I recall the combustion was in a closed 'retort', a bit similar to what Wardale calls GPCS, with the fuel being delivered via forced draft under pressure, and the induced draft via an enormous fan for the necessary smooth firing and slow load-following to stabilize the combustion.

It suffered from just the same issues as GPCS, too: economical flexibility was not something the setup really did, and this sort of locomotive was not going on trains that provided long stretches of working at relatively constant speed and stable load.  As with just about anything else with a pressurized firebox, but now complicated by Neronian levels of quench, even when relatively new there were puffs of soot about anywhere gas could escape.  Toasted torrefied lignite soot, perhaps with some of that ol' leonardite cross-linked ploymerization stickiness to it.  I suspect no power or principality could help you if the flameholding failed and you had to try restarting in a hot firebox with that fuel and that forced-draft pressure -- kiss those eyebrows goodbye!  (I believe prominent mention of explosion doors is made in some of the description ... and when you look at the pictures you realize they won't work as expected...)

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 4:46 PM

The answer to the original question is Yes. The NP did burn lignite coal in engine fireboxes. Not well. Not for long.

See pages 171-176 in Schrenk and Frey's Pioneer Steam Era.

Mac

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 6:40 PM
 

PNWRMNM

The answer to the original question is Yes. The NP did burn lignite coal in engine fireboxes. Not well. Not for long.

See pages 171-176 in Schrenk and Frey's Pioneer Steam Era.

Mac

 

Thanks Mac

 
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Posted by M636C on Thursday, February 18, 2021 2:41 AM

There is some documentation for the Australian attempt (to use the Fuller-Lehigh System) with a Victorian C16 in 1923 (Peter Clark will be able to comment on this better than I can).  

I am a bit late answering this. I've been distracted by having to write an article for an Australian rail magazine at the last minute when a schedulled article was found to be unusable.

This subject was covered in the July 1972 issue of the Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin (No 417) in an article entitled "Pulverised Brown Coal Fuel for Locomotives" by the late John Buckland.

The article is particularly well illustrated and covers two systems used by the Victorian Railways, the Fuller -Lehigh system tested in 1923-24 and the German STUG (STUdien Gesellschaft) system from 1949 to 1953.

The two systems were remarkably similar. It was said that the main difference was that the Fuller Lehigh system used a small reciprocating steam engine to drive the equipment while the German System used a steam turbine.

The pulverised brown coal was stored in an enclosed hopper, which fed into twin feedscrews driven by the steam engine and this was conveyed by two pressurised flexible tubes (about 5" in diameter) to a burner located on the rear of the locomotive firebox. The firebox was lined with refractory bricks, similar to an oil burning locomotive.

In 1923, one tender was modified and used with three different locomotives being tested, with the other equipment being moved from locomotive to locomotive.

The first locomotive was C class number 16, which was a large 2-8-0 (by local standards), at the time the most powerful locomotive in Australia. A large 4-6-0, A2 800, which was an older type without a superheater was also tested, as was a superheated light 4-6-0, Dd number 1022 one of the more recently built members of a type used on light branch lines.

The purpose was to try to use the poor quality brown coal (which was mined locally for power generation but was not suitable for normal use in steam locomotives). The test locomotives were all fitted with narrow firebox boilers, and could only burn the brown coal under controlled conditions such as in the pressurised burner.

The post WWII trials involved two locomotives, X class number 32 and R class number 707. The X class was a 2-8-2, a development of the C class with the same leading dimensions but with a wide firebox. The R class was a 4-6-4 intended to replace the A2 class.

These locomotives ran for some years in regular service, but by 1953, it was realised that diesels were the way ahead. Many steam locomotives had been converted to oil burning, including all of the C class and several of the A2 class.

One reason for the trials was that most locomotive coal used in Victoria was brought in from New South Wales. This involved transhipment at the border, since NSW used standard gauge and Victoria used 5'3" gauge.. So there was quite an incentive to use locally mined fuel.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Thursday, February 18, 2021 10:59 AM
 

Thanks for the Aussie perspective Peter. From what I understand the Victorian brown coal is very unique in moisture content. I read somewhere its moisture content was up to 60% some of the wettest coal in the world. 

 
 
 
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Posted by M636C on Friday, February 19, 2021 5:47 AM

SD60MAC9500
 

Thanks for the Aussie perspective Peter. From what I understand the Victorian brown coal is very unique in moisture content. I read somewhere its moisture content was up to 60% some of the wettest coal in the world. 

 
 
 
 

I'm not sure how they burnt the brown coal in power stations but they were regarded as high on the scale of CO2 production, and have all closed now.

The brown coal was compressed into amall blocks called "briquettes" and these were sold as a substitute for black coal lumps for domestic use. These were shiny and black and looked like coal viewed from a distance.

I think these were tried in locomotives but the  briquettes gave off enormous quantities of sparks which would have set fires all along the right of way.

In Western Australia they mined black coal that would deteriorate if left in the open air for any length of time. This is still used, mined at a town named Collie for nearby industries. But to store it for use in locomotives, it had to be stored under water. At Midland Junction they had a gantry crane with a grab over what looked like a huge deep swimming pool. I never did work out how they knew where the coal was under the water. Maybe you could see it on a fine day...

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Friday, February 19, 2021 9:47 AM

M636C

I'm not sure how they burnt the brown coal in power stations but they were regarded as high on the scale of CO2 production, and have all closed now.

The process of pulverizing the coal and using hot air to blow it into the furnace would remove most of the moisture. I would also suspect that a fair amount of moisture would escape from the coal piles.

I have a vague recollection of hearing that the Australian lignite power plants had a significant down time. This was in respect to combustion turbines intended as back-up were operating almost continuously.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, February 19, 2021 10:49 AM

It took me a while, but here is a good 'introduction page' to finding out both the 'densified coal' project information for Victorian brown coal (when that was a priority) and where the current zero-carbon-oriented strategies to use the 'Coldry' process are currently oriented:

http://ectltd.com.au/2020-agm-chairmans-address-and-company-presentation/

This was from the thread on coal-fired options that appears to have been deleted without notice.

There have been a number of interesting 'alternative-energy-resource' projects to burn lignite directly over the years, including what I recall as a production-size plant using microwave drying.  There are several options for the Coldry process that involve attractive synergies, including small-scale nuclear and process heat from blue hydrogen production.

Erik_Mag
The process of pulverizing the coal and using hot air to blow it into the furnace would remove most of the moisture. I would also suspect that a fair amount of moisture would escape from the coal piles.

The problem with allowing water to evaporate from Victorian brown coal is that the stuff apparently becomes almost pyrophoric when dried.  Using hot air blowing won't 'remove' the water; it just passes it along to help NOx generation much as steam injection would, and implies (at least to me) that extended gas pass to recover the latent heat of vaporization of the combustion and excess 'process' water -- as with the passes in a Donlee TurboFire XL boiler -- in the Rankine cycle is the sensible alternative rather than heat lost less recoverably to dewatering processes.

Correct me if wrong but I thought this material needed very little help to be "pulverized" for PC-style firing.  You might need more positive internal stoking and not use hopper feed at the burners, as for drier coal, but I don't think frictional heat in the pulverizing apparatus would be that substantial...

Somewhere on a different computer I have a fairly long technical analysis of the StuG experience, which I received to put up on steam_tech as a files-section resource.  All that is gone now but I may be able to retrieve a copy if anyone wants more hard details.  Probably Peter Clark has the same account (I don't remember the cites offhand) and can arrange to make it available in the meantime.

 

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Posted by M636C on Sunday, February 21, 2021 2:49 AM

I must admit that I hadn't heard of Environmental Clean Technologies before. Using that name for a lignite production system is reminiscent of the works of George Orwell, but what can you expect of a country where the conservative political party calls itself "Liberal".

It doesn't sound like a bad idea but it might be about seventy years too late. There are huge reserves of good quality thermal and metallurgical black coal in Australia that would put pressure on the costs of processing the lignite, even if it could be mined at very low cost.

The whole presentation sounds as though it was conceived to extract funding from the Australian Federal Government who would do anything to make coal appear to be environmentally responsible, due to their minority partners the National party that hold a lot of seats dependent on coal mining.

To return to locomotives, the trials with the STUG system on locomotive X 32 provided performance equivalent to similar locomotives working on the best thermal coal available (with about 30% higher energy content than the lignite). The fuel consumption was somewhat higher, and the other X class were only hand fired, but the locomotive could match the black coal fired locomotives on a day to day basis. But the EMD diesels were ordered the same year the trials started, although they were delayed by the need to conserve foreign exchange and didn't enter service until 1952. Many of those EMDs are still in service with open access operators today, having lasted in service thirty years longer than the 2-8-2s.

Peter

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