Instructables

Building a Hero's Engine (Aeolipile)

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Picture of Building a Hero's Engine (Aeolipile)
This instructable will show steps for creating a Hero's Engine. Also known as an Aeolipile, which translates to the Ball of Aeolus (the Greek god of wind), the device consists of a chamber that rotates due to thrust produced by tipjets. In my version of the Engine, I used a rounded steel chamber with two curved copper tubes as the tipjets. When the chamber is heated, the substance in the chamber (usually water) is converted to vapor, which then exits the vessel via the copper tubes, producing thrust and therefore the trademark rotational motion of the engine.

Please let me know if there are any ways you think I could improve this instructable, and if you have any suggestions for design or constructions modifications.

Shameless Self-Promotion: If you like it, vote for it in the Make it Move contest! Please?

Disclaimer: Multiple instruments are used within the construction of this project that are dangerous if used improperly. Furthermore, if the project is successful and the end result functions correctly, then it will spew hot steam, boiling water, flame, or any number of potentially hazardous substances. Don't hurt yourself, and its not my fault if you do.
Another Disclaimer (New videos=more uses of the engine=more minor injuries=more safety advice): Because of condensation, the method of filling the chamber, overfilling the chamber, the nature of the apparatus, and more, it is possible (read: likely [read: pretty much inevitable]) that you will have some sort of liquid (rather than vapor) discharge from the tubes. In my Engine, the drips from the tubes land right on the hand holding the torch. Although in my experience, this is significantly more likely with the water-filled vs the alcohol-filled Engine, PLEASE take necessary precautions to keep yourself safe. Furthermore, even though the alcohol-filled Engine is less likely to drip, this is by no means a reason to take fewer precautions. The risk from fire not only exists from the rather conspicuous jets of flame from the tubes, but also from the drips which primarily happen at the beginning (before the flame heats the tubes enough to vaporize them before they reach the ends). In short, make sure the area around the Engine is safe, and make sure you protect yourself adequately. One last word of wisdom: don't try to "pre-heat" the tubes with the torch. It's difficult, unnecessary, and if there is any liquid in the tube at all, the tiny amount that you vaporize will eject the rest of the volume of liquid, most likely onto some place where it will cause you pain. Trust me.

More information on Hero's Engine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile

A video of my Hero's Engine filled with water:

Alcohol-Filled Engine (the real reason you should make one of these)
 
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cdousley3 years ago
This is awesome, i made one today but mine keeps shooting boiling water out at me.
boothification (author)  cdousley3 years ago
Awesome!! I have that problem too. It can definitely be solved by using very little water, or using rubbing alcohol. It might be able to be solved by curving the ends of the copper tubing inside the chamber upwards, but I haven't tried that yet.

Thanks for the comment, please let me know if you find a solution!
You could try filling it with fog machine fluid. I dropped mine and broke it so I can't try it until I fix mine but it may turn into steam faster so it won't shoot out as much water.
Looking at your second musing: It's a neat idea, but I think the perpetuation of the heat source would lose a lot of the propelling energy by bringing the moving source to the center and decreasing the centrifugal force. Maybe if you had something with six to eight legs, two or four reflexively heating your pod and the other four or six propelling the engine.
boothification (author)  dionysus.god3 years ago
I think as long as the tubes still exerted some torque on the engine, it would be ok. One problem that I ran into with the alcohol-filled Engine (which, admittedly, I didn't mention) was that if I mindlessly heated it with the torch, it started spinning fast enough that it actually put itself out at the ends of the tubes. Obviously, the reflexive heating system would impart anywhere near the same amount of thermal energy to the mass of the engine and whatever it was filled with, but it still seems like there would be enough energy transfer to make it viable.

On a tangentially related note, I would prefer a slower, reflexively heated apparatus as opposed to one that I had to A, get near with a torch while its spewing fire, and B, constantly regulate the temperature to avoid it extinguishing itself.

One other option for a reflexive heating system would be a small hole in the bottom of the engine, with a very large, sturdy wick. The pure alcohol/alcohol vapor would keep the fluid inside the chamber from igniting (lack of oxygen) , and the outer part would reflexively heat the chamber. However, that configuration has multiple design challenges and risks.

As always, comments/feedback/constructive criticism much appreciated. Thank you for your comment!
Have an air inlet along the way, like on a torch head. So the flame hovers in the protected part of the tube while still having air. Or hook it up to an oxygen tank and put some nozzles on the tubes =).
boothification (author)  _Scratch_3 years ago
I tried housing the end of the small diameter tube in a short section of a larger diameter tube, but the effect was just a much lower velocity (if that make sense) flame... more like an oversized cigarette lighter than a propane torch, especially when compared to the original, small diameter resultant flames. This is still an aspect of the project that I'm very interested in, so any ideas on design are much appreciated and will probably be field tested, so long as they are possible for me to make as attachments/non-permanent mods to the engine.

Thanks for the idea!

(Also, as entertaining as charging the entire assembly with O2 would be, I don't have any blast shields, or and gimballed nozzles =/ )
Wow. Didn't even think about it blowing itself out. I bet that was annoying to deal with!

And no prob. Glad to be of service.
then you would also have to have a gigantic tank, which means that you'd need even more heat
boothification (author)  DannytheGreat3 years ago
You wouldn't necessarily need more volume within the chamber. There would be more fuel consumption, clearly, but that could easily be rectified by using smaller openings for your tipjets (aka, tapping the ends of your copper tubing with your trusty hammer). One word of caution on reducing the size of the "nozzles"; as I mentioned above, the engine does have the potential to spin fast enough to put itself out, as the alcohol vapor has to mix with airborne oxygen, and if it spins too fast, the flame cannot keep up with the volume containing a viable alcohol/air mixture. Reducing the size of the nozzles reduces the speed as which the engine will self extinguish.

Thank you for your comment! Any other ideas you have are much appreciated!
hornbadoing3 years ago
What if you added an extra 2 tubes off the top down the sides and aimed up at the bottom so it would sustain itself once the alcohol is lit??
boothification (author)  hornbadoing3 years ago
Again, I really like this idea, and have already discussed it at length with dionysis.god and others in the posts below. Any new insights, of course, are always appreciated. Especially if they aren't too labor intensive =D

Thanks for the comment!
hi,
i havent seen one of these in a long time (few years or so),
its a slightly different take on the one i saw.

here is a link to one like the one i saw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBh8cHZvE9U

lol for the safety, hope the water didnt get you

5/5
and the Metho is a realy neat trick
boothification (author)  thelastonekills3 years ago
Yeah, I'm still pondering designs for one like that. With the one I made, the chamber to hold the water is the same as the chamber to be heated, and thus the chamber to eject the steam from. The other version would be really cool to make, but would require a design that would allow the chamber to spin on a stand, and the stand would have to have hollow supports that allowed the steam to flow into the rotating chamber. While this is by no means impossible, at this point its a little bit beyond my skill and design level. But I'm working on it.

Thanks for the comment and the compliment!
djokimaki3 years ago
I think your aeolipile is cool! I also think that if you insert your thruster tubes fully to the center, and bend them so the inside ends are at he very top/center of the chamber; you might be able to more effectively vaporize the liquid thus reducing the amount of spitting dangerously hot liquid! How many RPM can it generate?
boothification (author)  djokimaki3 years ago
I do think that would reduce the irritating problem of boiling liquid spewage, but by the time I figured out that it would be a problem, the chamber was already soldered together, and I did not want to crack it apart for more experimental design changes. I don't think it fully solves the problem, because you still have condensation that forms before the tubes are fully heated, but it would definitely attenuate the problem. I will make a notation in the instructable for this advice.
The RPM is variable on the fluid being used and the heat level. I felt like I had more RPM with the alcohol, but that was probably because it was exciting and on fire. I would say that the alcohol-filled engine gets to about 60 (or a little under) RPM before it blows itself out. In my relatively few tests (I was more interested in the flaming version) of the water-filled engine, I definitely got it above 60 RPM, and probably could have gotten it faster, but I still hadn't figured out a good way to keep heating on the vessel without burning my hand (if you look at the water-filled video on the introduction page, each time the torch flinches/moves away is me getting hit with very hot water).

Thanks for the ideas!
bknight23 years ago
Paint the chamber black, put a reflector dish under it and put it in the sun. Put a check valve in the top and mount a water bottle over the top with a hose running into the chamber.
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
I like the ideas here, especially the black chamber and reflector dish, but I do see a few problems with the water bottle feed.
First of all, barring sturdy attachment to a really nice ball-bearing rotational stand, the assembly would have to be suspended, ideally exactly through the centers (for rotational symmetry and its attendant stability), making the water bottle, and more importantly the hose and check valve assembly, load bearing.
Furthermore, you would have to be able to somehow regulate the flow rate of the water, so that you didn't flood the chamber initially (one thing to note would be that if you had enough water flow, the water out of the tubes would provide the same thrust, but I doubt that's what you're looking for), and so that you got enough water flow through it to matter.
However, I do think that the black chamber and reflector would work great with just the liquid in the chamber.
If you get some water bottle feed apparatus working, I would love to see pics/descriptions.
Thanks for the ideas!
No offense intended . But there is no need for a check valve on the water bottle. If you mount the water bottle upside down on top of the engine, simply run a dip tube from the bottle down to where you want the top of the water pool in the engine. Think of a office water cooler, as water is removed air is allowed into the bottle and water out as needed.

Have a good (Safe) weekend everybody ;-)
Gordy
bknight2 Gordyh3 years ago
Unless you increase the heat and restrict the output valves
and experience
BACK PRESSURE INTO THE WATER SUPPLY TANK,
which is what the check valve is intended to stop, not regulating water coming out into the expansion tank. so you'd orient the check valve that way,
sorry if that was unclear.
You don't want hot gas feeding back into the supply and pressurizing it.
Of course, I'm talking about the ridiculous notion of making it powerful instead of what the OP may intend. Pay no attention at your pleasure.
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
Although the original idea wasn't power-centric, I always want it to be more powerful...
boothification (author)  Gordyh3 years ago
If there is no regulation, it seems to me that its possible for the water to just run out of the tubes, which would provide propulsion, but not in the manner I was looking for. The check valve assembly would also be able to be a stepping stone to the pulsejet idea mentioned in another post.
Thanks for the comment!
For the water bottle idea:
1. Make a string harness for the base of the water bottle that will tighten when placed around it and the bottle suspended upside.
2. Attach the 'motor' to the bottle. The rotation will now be generated at the base of the bottle rather than the engine.
3. Small hole in top of motor for water line attached to a valve which is attached to the bottle.

The opening or closing of the valve controls water flow and the the whole motor will spin on the string attached to the water bottle harness.
boothification (author)  shantomken3 years ago
I like these ideas, but I do worry about two things about them:
1. The Engine would have to be used with a solar arrangement (which does not yet exist outside of theory), as it does not seem very torch-proof
2. The flow of the water into the chamber would, ideally, be just enough to keep the pool in the chamber roughly the same size. As the engine heats up, more and more vapor is expelled, which means a variable flow would be necessary to keep the pool the same size (less at the start, more as the chamber heats up). However, I do think that this would greatly extend the time it can turn itself, even without a way to vary flow during operation.

Thanks for your feedback!
With the addition of three valves this engine would be capable of operating along the same lines as a pulse jet. Put two "exit only" valves on your arms and the third "entrance only" valve on a tube leading to a larger water reservoir. The heat will vaporise the water, which will have to leave through the arms. The little remaining steam inside will then try to recondense and draw fresh water in through the feed line, and the cycle repeats.
boothification (author)  lperkins3 years ago
One version that seems similar to this idea is this assembly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aeolipile_illustration.JPG

The vaporisation in that assembly takes place in the lower chamber rather than the upper chamber, but the principle is roughly the same.
To further streamline your design, it would be great if the feed line was actually a relatively large diameter tube topped with a sealed bearing: this way it could be both the base/stand of the chamber and the feed line. The only problem with this would be if the negative pressure from the attempted recondensation of the steam would be enough to pull a sufficient amount of water/vapor from the reservoir.

Great idea, thanks for the comment!
Exactly.
If you're monitoring it, you could just remove the mirror. OR, you could make it so that it runs on AIR by superheating the air. Steel bolted engine, copper or steel pipes for jets. You could make it run on oil, just have the jets push one way and an internal guide so that the centrifugal force puts to oil toward the center of the chamber, that way it won't shoot out hot flaming oil.
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
Check out the video of the alcohol-filled Engine, and let me know if you still think I need an oil-based system =P I think the alcohol is plenty energetic...
But more volatile to handle and solvent.
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
Agreed, but its not so volatile that it causes a problem, and within the confines of the project, its solvency is not an issue. And its readily available. And fun =D
gimble mount the entire assembly from the top or bottom, but put the water bottle on top, centered, and I think that once it begins heating, if the opening in the check valve or bottle is small enough, the back pressure should keep it from opening until the engine starts to die, hen only a little will get through til the pressure subsides again. Maybe. Probably
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
That sounds to me like it would work, but I would worry about the check valve functionality as the Engine dies... It seems like if you wait for back pressure to drop enough to have more fluid enter the chamber, then the pool of fluid in the bottom of the chamber will be very small (or non-existent), leading to a (relatively) superheated bottom, which would cause the fluid to flash to steam, creating a small pressure wave, but one that it seems to me would inhibit good function of the check valve as a feeder. Furthermore, if the bottom gets way too hot (without the pool of fluid), you have a chance of having the steel be hot enough to melt the rosin holding the chamber together, which would be something approaching a disaster...
Let's keep brainstorming though, I like where this is going.
jdougherty23 years ago
If you had the nozzles pointed slightly down as well as out, would you achieve lift in addition to rotation? Also, if you attached the chamber to a hollow axle with a stationary gas feed pipe centered in it, would you be able to convert the flat rotation to horizontal rotation via gears, etc.? (centered gas pipe to keep from having to hold the torch.)
boothification (author)  jdougherty23 years ago
If the nozzles were pointed down as well as out, the pull of the Engine on the string would decrease, but by no means would there be enough thrust to fully lift the engine.

If you had some sort of feed system that allowed the chamber to rotate on an axle rather than a string, I see no reason why you couldn't put bevel gears on the axle to transmit the motion to a horizontal axle, but practical application, as far as I can tell, is limited to a steampunk rube goldberg machine, or something equally novel.

Thanks for the comment!
I can envision a group of small, craft sized mirrors, focused on the bottom of the engine so when the unit is aimed at the sun, it would run without any other heat source.
Also, sheet copper would look great in this application.
GREAT WORK!
boothification (author)  GrumpyOldGoat3 years ago
Great Idea! You would need to have some sort of stand to hang the Engine from where it could still be in the sun. It might also be useful to use a liquid with a lower vapor pressure so that you would have more effect with the lesser heat.

Also, about the sheet copper, I agree that it would look great, but I worried about whether or not I would be able to hammer it into an appropriate shape (a big enough chamber) without tearing or other holes.

Thanks for your ideas!
Most HVAC/sheet metal shops will have scrap pieces of copper sheeting that they will share at minimal cost if not FREE. They will have varying thicknesses as well, so there would be no problem with holes.
Hammering is only one option to mold soft metals, using the back side of a spoon shaped object and pulling from the center towards the outside with plenty of pressure will give excellent results and you can shape flutes into the shell.
Print out the PDF and show it to the sheet metal shop foreman and ask for help with methods of shaping the boiler, as well as tips to solder it together cleanly so the solder won't show when you polish it for your science fair.
You could just buy two cheap stainless steel mixing bowls for the motor chamber, mark the centers, drill and bolt them together with a heat gasket made from oven gasket and sealer, run one copper pipe through the chamber centered, make sure the pipe has a big hole in the middle so the steam gets to get in and come out both sides for the jets, Then the heat won't be a problem.
The check valve;'s opening is regulated by back pressure, so if you can get the opening the right size, when it lets in the liquid it can be a substantial enough amount, but, it will probably achieve some form of pulse oscillation.
boothification (author)  bknight23 years ago
That's a really good idea, but if you got big enough mixing bowls, it seems like the point of a water-bottle-feed-system would be moot. Also, with the tube, you what i did on my first try with the engine (which didn't work, but not for this reason) was just use the Dremel cutting wheel and cut a series of lines into the tube. That solves any issues with drilling a round tube (which I'm sure I would have plenty of). Also, if you got the bowls big enough, it seems like you could just have a slow drip (or trickle) into the chamber, without worrying about complicated back pressure valve systems and avoiding any pulse oscillation. I like the look of mine, for now, but I will probably be making a mixing bowl based engine in the future (aka, a giant scale up), with huge pipes and possibly a ball bearing or gimbal type stand and feed system.

Thanks so much for the ideas!
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