View Full Version : Oil-based steampunk? (Not dieselpunk)

2013-05-10, 09:36 PM
So I was reading a steampunk-based thread today and had a (possibly) crazy idea that I'd like to examine without derailing said thread.

If I took a steampunk setting and ran things on oil instead of coal, would it make a major difference?

Now let me explain: I'm not talking about internal combustion engines. I'm talking about steam engines that burn oil to produce steam.

Such engines do exist (link at the bottom) so I know that it'd work. I'm basically wondering if any of you can think of major differences this would make in a steampunk setting besides saying "Yeah, this one runs on oil." The only things I can come up with right now are incredibly basic: oil doesn't take up as much space as coal, and there would be oil drills (again, incredibly).

Can anyone think of anything that would be different besides that?

This link is doing dumb things. Just click it, then click the link beside "Did you mean:" Sorry.

2013-05-10, 10:16 PM
I suspect it would considerably more environmentally friendly and considerably more difficult to gather. By that token, it would also be considerably more expensive. At the end of the day though, it's still steam-tech.

2013-05-11, 04:46 PM
sounds like the city of new York in a steampunk campaign I played. In the campaign our ship was literally the latest tech, I mean it doesn't get much more advanced then mounting a fusion engine, steam turbines rather than pistons, wireless radio, Radar, helium balloon.
here's how the game master described it roughly:
Welcome to New York, or 'Hydrocarbon city' as you approach the docks you notice many newly built freighters taking on pipes to and from their hull. to the south side of the harbour there is a great facility belching smoke, to the North the shipyard. the Docks are relatively clean and well kept. a number of ships, clearly warships new American models with topside traversing turrets (our ship only had traversing turrets on the underside). they have only a single funnel, and no clear coal deposit door.

that's all I can remember

2013-05-11, 08:20 PM
there is one thing that i dont hear much about

the reduced risk of catastrophic explosion. The problem is the coal bunkers( the place where the coal is stored) over time acquire a dust residue. When this thrown into the air in the right consecrations it can be set off with a spark. under the right circumstances a mushroom cloud can be generated. With liquid fuel bunker(oil) this is less likely to happen.

A real world life example:

One of the theorys for the sinking of the Lusitania was a coal bunker explosion.

2013-05-14, 01:31 PM
Can anyone think of anything that would be different besides that?

There are at least a few advantages of coal as a heat source...

1) Oil requires a lot of refining to be an efficient heat source. ...Not even talking about refining to gasoline, just to remove the impurities that would clog up a feed system, cause inconsistent burn temperature, not burn at all, or release potentially deadly side-products. Coal can usually burn as-is and the remnants are safe to discard.

2) Oil is less transportable for practical, day to day uses. To transport coal all you need is a bag. If you spill your coal, you just pick it back up. This is a problem on a personal scale as well as industrial (oil spill suck).

3) Coal is harder to ignite (this is a good thing for a fuel source) and will almost never burn unintentionally. If you are using oil for a fuel source and it leaks at all, you risk destroying whatever it is powering and more.

The biggest advantage of oil that I can think of is that, since it is liquid, it can flow at a controlled rate into a machine. This means that one could easily have a large reservoir that can power a machine for days or longer. It would be much more difficult to have a setup that fed coal in the same manner.

None of these things need to be critically important in a game world, although I think coal makes for a more practical solution if you're going for realism in the flavor. Out of curiosity, why do you want to use oil?