Coal-burning Steamship RoRo Ferry: Great Lakes Future Uncertain

By George Backwell at March 09, 2013 05:02
Filed Under: Ferries, History, Steam

A coal-burning steamship ferry of some 400-feet in length, the car and passenger RoRo SS Badger, was amazingly still in commercial operation on Lake Michigan last summer after fifty-nine years, but whether she’ll make her sixtieth anniversary depends upon the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


SS Badger: Photo courtesy of Lake Michigan Carferry Service

Presently the last coal-feed steamship in operation on the Great Lakes, the  Badger was honoured, amongst many organisations, by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as a ‘Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark’. The citation reads:

‘The two 3,500-HP steeple compound unaflow steam engines powering SS Badger represent one of the last types of reciprocating marine steam engines. Built by the Skinner Engine Company, most unaflow engines are single expansion. These feature tandem high-and-low-pressure cylinders separated by a common head. The Badger’s four Foster-Wheeler Type D marine boilers, which supply 470-psi steam to the engines are among the last coal-fired marine boilers built.’

In fact, it is understood that it is those boilers that are central to the difficulties with the EPS, whose dispensation is needed for the operators to dump into the lake up to 4-tons of coal-ash residue from the average 55-tons of coal they burn over the two Lake crossings every day; surely not an insurmountable problem. Perhaps exhaust soot emission more of one.

Skinner's ‘Steeple’ Design Compound Steam Engines
Compound engines – engines with more than one expansion stage for the steam – were developed to take advantage of higher efficiency, higher pressure boilers. In the design used on the Badger, there are two expansion stages through two cylinders using a single piston rod. The high pressure cylinder with a 22.5 inch diameter piston is mounted directly above a low pressure cylinder with a 55 inch diameter piston, giving the arrangement the appearance of a church steeple, hence, ‘Steeple’ design. The two pistons are rigidly attached to a single piston rod which completes a 26-inch stroke in each cycle. A cut away view of this arrangement is shown below.


Steeple-design Unaflow Steam Reciprocating Engine: Image courtesy of Skinner Engine Co.

The Coal-fired Boilers
The Badger power plant includes four coal-fired marine boilers manufactured by the Foster-Wheeler Company. Each boiler has a total heating surface area of 7675 square feet. The boiler systems include Foster-Wheeler economizers which pre-heat the water going into the boiler using exhaust gasses from the burning of the coal, and Foster-Wheeler superheaters which superheat the steam coming out of the boiler.

The boilers are rated at 500 psi and tested to 750 psi. They normally operate at around 470 psi. Superheated steam at 750°F and 470 psi is supplied to the engines at a rate of 29,500 lb/hr. The boilers can supply up to 44,000 lb/hr.

Coal is burned in the boilers, and combustion requires both induced draft and forced draft using mechanical stokers manufactured by the Hoffman Combustion Engineering Company, and here can be seen one of the few places where modern control technology has been added. Electronic controls have replaced vacuum tube controls to monitor steam pressure in the boiler and control the flow of coal to the boilers through the stokers.

The boilers actually provide more steam than is required by the engines. Only three boilers are needed to power the vessel; the fourth is on standby and is fired only to replace a boiler down for repairs.

In an understatement, ASME observed that the power plant in SS Badger is a fine example of a well designed mechanical system using an energy source not normally used any longer.

 

 

Comments (7) -

I'd like to see the ship stay in service, she's an interesting mechanical/maritime relic, but don't see any valid reason the ash can't be collected and offloaded to a proper ash dump, rather than being dumped in the lake.

Alan Muller |     3/13/2013 10:08:15 AM #

Ashes to ashes, coal ash is just ash, it's used carbon returning to mother earth.

Just another Obama/EPA over reach, never looking at the unintended consequences of their political ideaology.

Cash for Clunkers, ruined the low end used car business, doubling the prices of the clunkers left behind, (Econ101 at work, supply and demand) which effected only the low income folks looking for a set of wheels and and also causing used car parts to said clunkers to skyrocket.

Tell the government to go F themselves.

Roman C. Esparza |     3/13/2013 12:57:14 PM #

Since it is only one ship, I don't see how the environmental impact is of concern. I think the ship should be grandfathered in until it is otherwise not deemed safe as a Great Lakes transport, keeping in mind its historical significance.

Ronald B. Hoel |     3/13/2013 1:40:53 PM #

Yes it should be grandfathered in.  Just like the SS Delta Queen should have retained her exemption.

And it is a shame that our idiot Congress allowed the 'grandfather' exemption for the SS Delta Queen to expire.  She never carries passengers 'at sea', since she never leaves the river and is always within 100' of land, not in the middle of an ocean.  One sailing I was on a crewmember got injured.  There is no hospital on board, she just pulled up to the shore, dropped the gangplank, the ambulance took him away, and he was in a regular, fully equipped hospital in minutes.  No ocean liner can provide that service.

Walter Stumpf |     3/15/2013 6:58:43 AM #

I've been a passenger on this ship.  It is a pleasant cruse and part of great lakes history.  I don't think that there are any major environmental issues with the ship. It should be preserved and the EPA should be shut down. The Obama EPA has helped raise the cost of gasoline from below $2.00 to over $4.00.  A sneak tax every driver user has to pay for.

DICK CLARK |     3/13/2013 2:49:03 PM #

I've been a passenger on this ship.  It is a pleasant cruse and part of great lakes history.  I don't think that there are any major environmental issues with the ship. It should be preserved and the EPA should be shut down. The Obama EPA has helped raise the cost of gasoline from below $2.00 to over $4.00.  A sneak tax every driver user has to pay for

DICK CLARK |     3/13/2013 2:49:56 PM #

A valuable antique using Americas most proven abundant energy. A Technology we should not lose.

rcrane |     3/14/2013 8:32:38 PM #

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