Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A superheater is a device in a steam engine that heats the steam generated by the boiler again, increasing its thermal energy and decreasing the likelihood that it will condense inside the engine. Superheaters increase the efficiency of the steam engine, and were widely adopted. Steam which has been superheated is logically known as superheated steam; non-superheated steam is called saturated steam or wet steam. Superheaters were applied to steam locomotives in quantity from the early 20th century, to most steam vehicles, and to stationary steam engines including power stations.
In locomotive use, by far the most common form of superheater is the fire-tube type. This takes the saturated steam supplied in the dry pipe into a superheater header mounted against the tube sheet in the smokebox . The steam is then passed through a number of superheater elements—long pipes which are placed inside special, widened fire tubes, called flues. Hot combustion gases from the locomotive's fire pass through these flues just like they do the firetubes, and as well as heating the water they also heat the steam inside the superheater elements they flow over. The superheater element doubles back on itself so that the heated steam can return; most do this twice at the fire end and once at the smokebox end, so that the steam travels a distance of four times the header's length while being heated. The superheated steam, at the end of its journey through the elements, passes into a separate compartment of the superheater header and then to the cylinders as normal.
The steam passing through the superheater elements cools their metal and prevents them from melting, but when the throttle closes this cooling effect is absent, and thus a damper closes in the smokebox to cut off the flow through the flues and prevent them being damaged.
A superheater increases the distance between the throttle and the cylinders in the steam circuit and thus reduces the immediacy of throttle action. To counteract this, some later steam locomotives were fitted with a front-end throttle —placed in the smokebox after the superheater. Such locomotives can generally be identified by an external throttle rod that stretches the whole length of the boiler, with a crank on the outside of the smokebox.
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