Steam-Powered Raspberry Pi Zero Doesn’t Get Any More Steampunk

Steampunk usually involves sticking a few old valves on your laptop and riding a penny farthing, but [Alexzpro] understands the real thing: he just created a steam powered Raspberry Pi Zero (translated).

His setup is a little lashed together, but works it’s a throwback to electricity generation of old and deserves the steampunk moniker. A steam boiler drives a steam turbine, which turns a motor, generating electrical power. This feeds into a regulator and a bank of capacitors that smooths the voltage out to a nice even 5 Volts, which powers the Pi.

It’s not exactly efficient, but running the steam boiler using two propane blowtorches sure makes us grin. Usually we see people trying to go the opposite direction and power their projects with renewables. We can appreciate this for what it is too, and it’s certainly not the first time we’ve see a Raspberry Pi burning through electricity for little apparent gain.

22 thoughts on “Steam-Powered Raspberry Pi Zero Doesn’t Get Any More Steampunk

  1. To call this Steampuke implies that someone stuck some gears on a Raspi case. This has gone full on Metal.
    Back of the napkin calcs would put efficiency of this below 10%, but hey…it works. The author’s face at the end says it all!

    1. I guarantee you, efficiency is <1% if he is using two blowtorches to produce what, 5 watts tops of power?

      A typical candle supplies 80 watts of thermal power, a blowtorch is probably close to 2 kW.

      1. My plain cheap hardware store propane torch drinks about 1 lb/hr at full burn, so that’s around 5-6 kW.

        Those look like butane canisters in the video. They might deliver half that power before freezing up so, yeah, 2-3 kW each.

        On the upside, he’s built a very effective humidifier!

        I do like that sweet looking engine. I wonder what that pump-like thing on the side is doing? Unused condensate pump? Oil pump?

  2. That’s not a steam turbine — that’s a twin cylinder steam engine, looks like it has sliding block valves. turbine wouldn’t have cylinders or valves.
    a turbine would be more efficient, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of this project.

    sometime I wonder if y’all deliberately put these sorts of errors in, to drawn reader engagement…

    1. I agree. The setup as shown is probably WAY less than 10% efficient, with the bottleneck being that little motor being used as the generator. I’d say most of the power is lost in just turning the steam engine. A brushless DC motor made for serious power would be much better. Then you could run a whole Bitcoin farm of R-Pis with it!

    2. Maybe use a stepper motor. They put out quite a kick although they are not as smooth to drive when under load. They don’t need to be driven as fast so gearing could come into play. Perhaps allowing for more than one motor to be used to generate the electricity.

  3. I too often spend a few days or more without power, solar works great in summer but in cloudy and rainy winter where we already have a kerosene or propane heater and lanterns going I have wanted to do either a water boiling heat sunk TEG or steam motor (or a small propane generator). There are the Jensen model steam motors but I doubt they are big enough and are expensive. Does anyone know a reliable inexpensive motor and a good match generator or dynamo with enough capacity to kick out at least 10-15W over USB to get online with wireless and keep batteries charged between steaming?

    1. A Stirling engine might be “better” in the sense it can be more efficient than a steam engine at lower temperatures and pressures, doesn’t actually require steam, and can use the heat source directly.

      “Better” in the sense of efficiency or power-to-weight would be to use an internal combustion engine and use that butane fuel directly.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks to You all for giving this so much attention. It was a really fin project to build and won the schools best project of the year :) //Alexander Edvardsson aka Alexzpro :)

  5. A bit late to add this but: the Stuart D10 produces a nominal maximum power of about one tenth of a horsepower, I think that’s about 75 watts, ample for a Raspberry Pi. The boiler needs to be able to deliver that, naturally. During WW2 the British produced miniature generator sets powered by the slightly larger Stuart Sirius engine and dropped them to Resistance fighters to charge radio batteries. Congratulations on your project Alex!

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