Part 14: SIR9’s Plasma Steam Engine
By Thomas C. Kramer
Here‟s a new design that has very good potential for commercial watercar development
or a DIY project if you have an old model car (one without all those computer monitoring
systems and fuel injection. The basics of this system were posted to the
http://groups.yahoo.com/egaspower by Sir9 who claims to have put 30,000 miles on his „78 El Camino 350 cu in V8 running on nothing but water, averaging about 300 miles per
gallon! How he did it and how he can improve on his system is the story of SIR9‟s
Plasma Steam Engine in this chapter.
Sir9 is a tinkerer and a mechanic who happened one day to drop a live 110v AC wire into
a bucket of water lying on his work bench. This mistake resulted in a gusher of water as
the live wire arced creating an underwater plasma gas of dissociated water which
ruptured and blew water all over the place. But unlike most people who learn from their
mistakes never to do such a stupid thing like that again, Sir9 thought that the reaction was
really cool….so he did it again but this time he place a chunk of 2x4 over the bucket.
Well, he still has a crater in his shop ceiling, but the reaction triggered an out-of-the-
bucket thought. “If a 110 VAC spark in a bucket of water could launch a 2x4 into my
ceiling, what would it do in a car engine?” And that was a spark of brilliant intuition.
Having many years experience with car engines, Sir9 intuitively knew that the reaction
would take place in the cylinders using a 110VAC spark and that water vapor would
either be injected using a fuel injection system or come in via a standard carburetor. The
trick would be to make the 110VAC system and then get it to fire at the right time.
The 110 VAC trick was easy, he just bought a 12VDC-110VAC 700 watt inverter,
which is something you can get at most electronic stores. This hooked up to his car
battery would pump out the AC he needed.
What is an “inverter”? It is a box with a black and a red wire coming out that you connect to your battery (red to positive +) on one end and a common wall socket plug
point on the other end. Inside are some switching electronics that take a direct current
(DC 12Volts) and convert it to an alternating current (AC 110-240 volts at 50-60 Hz).
This internal circuit just breaks up the incoming direct current by switching it to parallel
tracks 50-60 times per second (Hertz) and then upping the voltage through some small
This switching generally results in some heat build-up thus the inverter box is often
ventilated and may contain a small fan or you may want to install one yourself
particularly since you will be using this in the engine compartment..
Typically inverter components are grounded to the inverter box, but since you are placing
this in the engine compartment and the car electronics are 12VDC based, the box
SHOULD NOT BE GROUNDED TO THE CAR BODY as this will cause fuses to
short out due to the amps passing through the box. Mount the inverter box on wood,
rubber or plastic thus effectively isolating this circuit from the car body.
The inverter should also be fused with either a 20 amp fuse or a 20 amp circuit breaker
from the battery positive connection. Be safe.
The next problem was the firing using AC instead of the DC current from the distributor.
Ah, this was easy for him too as he could just use some old appliance rated AC relays.
Oh yeah, now you are lost. What is a “relay”?
A “relay” is a current activated switch something like a solenoid switch that locks your
car doors. When a current is applied to a small electromagnetic coil it pulls a small
spring arm down which then opens a circuit for as long as the current is applied to the
coil. When the current stops, the switch springs back open.
In the case of an AC/DC relay there are usually a minimum of 6 relay contact pins: (a) 2
are used by the DC current to open and close the switch, (b) 2 are for the AC – IN from
the inverter and (c) 2 for the AC – OUT to the spark plugs.. The DC side has positive IN and negative to ground.
Sir9’s Relay Diagram
Spark Plug Ground
The relay‟s contact armatures only bend when current is applied to the small coil inside.
These armatures are insulated and isolated from the other switched circuits thus they only
act like a normal light switch being flicked on and off.
In Sir9‟s circuit, however, you have to use rather robust relays since you are using both
high voltage from the distributor and AC current from the DC/AC inverter box. These
are appliance rated relays and not the common ones found in auto supply shops. The
ones he used were also so old that they didn‟t even have part numbers on them so to
replicate his circuit exactly will be tough. The best solution is to check with your local
appliance or electronic shop and see what they may have that will withstand the currents
(20 amps at 110VAC or 240VAC depending on your inverter) and high DC voltages
(30,000 VDC from the coil and distributor) for the switching. These will be tripping with
every firing so you want relays that will last and not meltdown after a few hours of usage.
Sir9 also used only a 5 pin relay…..hmmmm. Where did the DC volts ground to?
Presumably this was to a mounting screw, but what if it were grounded to the AC
negative??? That would cause a big back spark on the AC circuit at the plug. Hmmmm.
But it would most likely fry your inverter too. Stick with a 6-pin relay first.
Also, you can chop the DC voltage from the distributor by placing a resistor on the line
and then grounding the rest to the body or engine block.
The resistor will only allow a small voltage to get through to activate the relay. The rest
is dumped to ground. This is what normally happens in any engine. The size of the
resistor will depend upon the voltage needed to activate the relay thus you will have to
size this accordingly. But if your relay is robust enough to take a 30,000 DCV hit then
you won‟t have to use a chopper resistor.
You will need 1 relay for each sparkplug wire.
This is because you are firing each spark plug separately with the AC current.
These relays are mounted on a separate board ALSO NOT GROUNDED TO THE
CAR. Again you don‟t want to dump AC current to the car ground or you will screw up
all your wiring.
When mounting the relays you should note that they basically share common contact points with the AC circuit, that is, the AC IN (positive and common) run to each relay. As such they should all be wired together. Similarly, the DC ground is also common to each relay (which is grounded to the body or engine block).
When the same contact points share a common wired link, this is called a “BUS”. The
bus can be made from just simple copper wires soldered or by using appropriate connectors that connect to the same leads of the relays. Also common is the usage of copper, brass, lead or iron bars or strips for creating the bus. These are mounted in such a way that the relay pins just plug into the appropriate plug point on a bus or if you are lucky, you find an appropriate relay socket that allows you to more easily wire up the common contact points.
Note that, the wire from the distributor and the two wires from the AC OUT that go to the plugs are not on a bus.
AC IN + Bus
AV IN Common
Ground to Body
Wires From Distributor
Also remember to use heavy duty wire that is properly insulated. The gauge will vary between countries but generally what you should use is the typical wire used for plug points in a house.
You can also use the existing distributor cables to plug into the relay, but this will require an adaptor plug point. And if you use shielded cables, then you will also have to ground the shielding wires, perhaps to the common ground bus.
AC to the Plugs
Alternating current has two wires to complete a circuit, the positive power lead and the common return lead. Now the positive power lead obviously goes to the top of the spark plug. But where does the return lead go?
Ideally the spark plug should be isolated from the engine block so that the return lead would just connect to the base of the spark plug to complete the circuit. That would require the re-boring of the spark plug hole and inserting a non-conductive sleeve (like
high temperature plastic). That is really not too practical but it could be done if under commercial production.
When dealing with an existing engine, however, the easiest way to create this return circuit is to weld/solder a clip-on contact to the ring washer of the spark plug. Alternatively you can do the same using a copper or brass washer.
The AC return wire will then clip onto the ring and that to the ground of the spark plug. Since the distance is short for the return there will be little noticeable effect of grounding AC current to the block and thus it will not disrupt the DC electronics and electrical systems of the car.
The return wire will slip down the side of the spark plug and it must be properly insulated (both the wire and the connector) so you will have to be careful when replacing your plugs not to break off the connector when inserting the plugs. Use a rounded plug socket wrench if possible to prevent snagging.
Some cars may require that you bore out the plug port so that you will have enough room for the return wire. Check and see how much space you have to play with first though. In such cases it may be easier to solder a lead right onto the plug base and run your wire up the plug ceramic shaft.
Also, as above, I am not too sure of what effect the grounding of the DC circuit to the block will have on actual performance. This is a 30,000 VDC surge that may have an effect on the AC negative return which may be the trigger for the plasma arc at the spark gap. A bit more research has to be done here to figure out just what happens.
The plasma steam engine described here works primarily because of the high temperature plasma arc that is created at the spark plug. Generally you want to have a wider gap at the plug so that you get a bigger arc and thus more energy transfer. But the wider the gap the more difficult it is to create the arc, that is, more energy is needed.
The arc has a temperature of 5,000 – 7,000 F thus the longer the arc and the longer the
duration of the arc the more energy will be transferred to the water vapor causing it to expand as steam. The steam when heated will expand over 20,000 times thus creating the pressure that drives the piston down.
There is also a brief dissociation and re-combination of a small amount of water around the arc field which has a thermal and acoustic effect inside the cylinder to help transfer the heat from the arc to the water vapor to make the steam.
Generally you will want to pry open your spark plug gap with a flat screw driver to a bit wider gap than recommended for normal use. Sir9 set his at about 0.080” with a feeler
gauge, but you may want to play with this to see what works best with your engine. Start with a normal setting and just work up. Smaller gaps will work.
It has also been suggested that with wide gaps you may need to use a ballast coil to up the volts to start the plasma arc. A small coil coming off the relay positive lead may just give that added boost, but again you don‟t want too much power that you melt your plug gaps down. This is a plasma arc, you know, and it is very hot!
You should also use tungsten tipped plugs as normal plugs may melt at the plasma gap. Do check your plugs for wear regularly though. You may also want to try several other types of plugs such as racing plugs or other high performance plugs. See what works best for you.
You may also want to use longer threaded plugs so that the arc will be further down into the cylinder, however, this will depend on your heads clearance with the piston at TDC. It is not too cool to jam your piston into your plug, even if it does sound like a bit of a sexy thing to do.
Well, we now have our AC ignition system put together, but the engine won‟t fire up. Why?
In internal combustion engines running on gas, the timing is set to fire the fuel a few degrees BEFORE top dead center (TDC). This is because the flame front of the fuel is slow to reach full combustion and thus maximum pressure.
In a hydrogen powered engine the hydrogen gas burns much faster and thus the timing must be set AFTER TDC.
In Sir9‟s plasma steam engine, as with most steam engines, the steam must be injected or
created AFTER TDC as the steam pressure builds rapidly. If fired before TDC it could push the piston backward on the one hand and then suck the piston upward on the power stroke due to the contraction of the steam when cooled. Thus you create the steam AFTER TDC. How much AFTER?
Roughly in a range of 25-35 degrees past TDC based on crank shaft turning.
Now how do you do that?
The way old mechanics do it is to take out a plug, stick in a screwdriver, then turn the crankshaft manually to determine TCD. Once you are at TDC you put your spanner vertical on the crankshaft, and eyeballing, you pull it the 25-35 degrees forward. You should feel the screwdriver drop about an inch or so. Then you open your distributor cap and loosen the distributor adjusting nut (hopefully you have one) and then set your points to open at that point. Rotating the distributor will be by a corresponding 25-35 degrees, so put a mark where you started which will be about 8 degrees BEFORE TDC and then rotate 33-43 degrees (you add the 8 degrees on). You can use your kid‟s geometry
compass for better eyeballing too. Then don‟t forget to tighten your distributor adjustment nut!
If you have done this correctly you should be just about ready to start things up. Do check to see that your points are open at this new setting, then replace the cap and connect your spark plug wires from the cap to your relay DC IN contact points.
Electronic Ignition Systems
Most modern cars have computer controlled electronic ignition systems. If that is what you have you are screwed! Unless you are a computer specialist familiar with the programming of your on board computer system you really won‟t be able to get around all the controls and system monitoring devices. Don‟t even try.
Before the computer control systems, though, there were cars that used simple electronic ignition systems. These worked off the same distributor shaft as normal points-type distributors but used a simple magnetic field to trip the electronic circuit that triggered the high voltage discharge to the plugs. If you have one of these old type electronic ignition systems, you are in luck. You just rotate it the same way as above. It will work just the same and even better as the firing is more consistent that traditional contact points.
Most modern car engines no longer use a shaft driven distributor, but instead run the distributor directly off a timing gear that is linked to the drive shaft via a timing belt or chain. Adjusting this type of engine to fire AFTER TDC is thus a bit more difficult as the belt or chain has to be removed and reset at a different tooth setting on the timing gear. A trained mechanic should do this for you as it often involves removing the engine and then the sealed gear casing panels.
As mentioned above, the steam power produced is based on the length of the spark gap and the duration of the plasma arc. Generally this is a very short period of time because the engine RPM‟s are quite high. The trick, however, is to try to get the plasma arc to
last a bit longer so that more energy can be added to the water vapor/steam.
This is done to a small degree by the mechanical relays as there is a mechanical timing delay in the spring arms. This delay can affect the timing of the firing, but more importantly it can have the effect of increasing the length of time of the firing.
There are a couple of other tricks that can be pulled to increase the duration of the plasma arc. These deal mainly with increasing the length of time the points are open or that power is being transferred to the plug cables through the distributor cap.
Contact points can be adjusted to remain open longer by re-profiling the cam shaft that the points run on. This is a bit difficult to do and costly.
Alternatively you can increase the size of the gap on the cap contact points. You simply solder on a bit more copper to the existing copper or brass rotor head, contour the new leads properly so that the rotor arm spends a longer time passing each contact point. This is fairly easy to do, but do it on a spare rotor so that you can always go back to your original settings.
Old electronic ignition systems can also be modified by increasing the size of the magnets use to trigger the firing and by altering the cap gaps as well.
This can also be done electronically using capacitors connected to the distributor leads prior to the relay. This causes the capacitors to charge and discharge in sequence thus causing an elongated firing by holding the relays closed longer. Some experimentation will be required to develop the proper circuits to do this most efficiently.
Batteries and Alternators
The AC system you have created will draw 12 VDC at about 20 amps from your battery with each firing. This is a fairly heavy load and may drain down most normal car
batteries or wear them out quickly. To avoid this, Sir9 did 2 things: (1) he added a second battery in parallel and (2) he used a 95 amp rated alternator.
The batteries were both heavy duty deep cycle batteries that delivered the necessary 12 VDC current to the inverter but also had more amps to spare. These were rated at 1,250 amps each at cold start. This type of battery is used in truck or diesel engines or for some battery operated vehicles. Ask your battery supplier for such heavy duty batteries.
The alternator was a standard 95 amp model that came stock with his V8. This gave him more than enough power to recharge his batteries and still run all the other electronics, air conditioner, wipers and other lighting on-board.
For smaller cars running 3, 4 or 6 cylinder engines, the alternators are often much smaller and may not produce enough charging to keep the batteries properly charged and still run all other systems. Check the rating of your alternator and if it is too low, see if you can find one that is rated higher and install it.
You can also use truck alternators that you may find at junkyards or second-hand dealers. A larger alternator may also be difficult to fit into your engine thus check mounting brackets and the probable need for different sized belting. You might even be able to install a second small alternator using the tensioning arm as your mounting point.
A second battery and a bigger alternator do take up more space under the hood so first check what space you have. A second battery may go in front of the radiator or even in the trunk, but cutting a hole in your hood so that your new alternator can fit in, really isn‟t too cool. Check your space availability first.
Also remember that a bigger alternator also draws more power from your engine. This coupled with air conditioning compressors, power steering and power brakes will decrease the performance of your engine, thus the bigger your engine the better for conversions.
Cylinders (3, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12?)
As a general rule when converting a car to run on plasma steam THE MORE
CYLINDERS THE BETTER.
This is simply because there are more firings per revolution. In a 4-stroke engine the crank shaft turns around 2 times or 720 degrees with each firing. A V8 engine thus has a firing every 90 degrees of crank shaft rotation. A 4 cylinder engine fires every 180 degrees of shaft rotation. See the difference in power application?!
Smaller cylinder engines may thus be more difficult to convert and run on water as they have a longer duration between power strokes. This may result in more difficult starting and more sluggish performance.
To overcome some of these problems in smaller cylinder engines you may try using large capacity engines (say 2,000+ cc engines) and use a second spark plug in the cylinder. Boring out your heads for a second spark plug, however, may be difficult so see what space you have first before considering this option. A second plug, however, would deliver more energy to the cylinder and should improve performance.
Water to the Cylinders
Now that you have your inverter, relays, plugs and timing set, you are just about ready to crank things up, but first you must figure out how to get water into the cylinders. The easiest way is to pump it into your carburetor using your existing fuel pump.
Initially you just disconnect your fuel line leading into your fuel pump. Be sure to stop it off with a clip or just shove a pencil into the rubber hose.
Now you will have to make a water bottle with a hose leading to your fuel pump. Take an old water bottle with a plastic cap first. Then find a metal rod or screw driver about the size of your tubing, heat the rod on the stove and use it to melt a hole in the plastic cap big enough to insert your hose. You will also need to make a hole in the bottom of the water bottle for ventilation so the water can flow out. Insert the hose through the plastic cap and seal with a bit of epoxy or silicone. Fill the bottle with water holding your finger over the bottom hole and put the hose cap on. Connect the end of the hose to your fuel pump and turn the bottle upside down. You are all set…..almost.
You will still have some gasoline in the fuel line leading from the fuel pump and in the bowl of the carburetor. This should be drained out.
Now that you have your fuel hose off for draining, you can try another little trick. Take a couple feet of some copper or chrome flexible tubing the size of your fuel hose and wrap it a couple times around your exhaust pipe then run this back to your carburetor. The purpose of this is to generate some heat recovery by pre-heating the water going into your carburetor. This will add to the steam expansion and vaporization of the water.
On start-up, however, the water in the line is still cold, thus you could consider other pre-heating methods to prevent cold start knocking. Such start-up heating can be done using simple electrical immersion or filament type heater elements either attached to the fuel-water line or attached to the bowl of the carburetor. These heater elements are turned on using a dashboard flick switch or using a thermal couple switch that will automatically switch off once a set temperature is reached. (Just like your toaster switch.) This may mean that on cold starts you may have to wait a few minutes till things warm up.