CAPTURING CARBON. A Nightly News feature described a project that is growing algae as a source of biofuels. Because algae photosynthesize a lot of carbon, one way to promote its growth is to pipe power plant exhaust into lagoons, thereby keeping the carbon out of the atmosphere.

The latest issue of Trains arrived in my mailbox. I did find some time to look at it, despite end-of-semester deadlines, to discover a report on the fireless steam locomotive. The first such locomotives were commissioned by Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard, better known as the aggressor at Fort Sumter and later the recipient of Grant's counterattack at Shiloh, who, as administrator of New Orleans, asked a French engineer to build him something clean for the dockside railroads.

Some North American power plants charged later versions with exhaust boiler steam, and used them to switch the coal cars. Around here, the switcher, if there was one, was more likely an electric locomotive. (I'm claiming the research paper on this one!) The article noted that the Meiningen works built fireless steam locomotives as late as 1988. Unlike the Trabant, this product of the Peoples Republic of Prussia was pretty good.

There is some work on latter-day fireless steam locomotives, including the application of heat pump technology and the use of the sun to extend the locomotive's range. The challenge is to develop a locomotive as powerful as the genset and hybrid locomotive, with lower operating costs, and preferably a lower first cost. It's not the kind of thing to attract the attention of policy makers, which increases the likelihood of us seeing one that works.

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