The elcari invented the steam engine (lyuggm) as far back as -3500; it's said that steam-powered catapults and primitive moving tanks facilitated their victory over the múrtani around -3000. As wood was a precious resource in their territories, the engines were powered by mined coal.
Naturally enough, the principle uses of steam engines among the elcari are drills and crushers for mining and excavation, pile drivers, pumps, bellows, and iron and steel production. Excess heat is used to warm the khak (elcarin settlement). The machines are typically very large, generating enormous power. There has been little interest in using the technology for textiles or for transportation. They prefer hand-crafted fabrics, and except when fighting múrtani, there are no long distances to cover.
Elcari are fiercely protective of their secrets, and though humans were aware of the elcarin use of steam, it is unlikely that humans ever knew enough about it to borrow it directly.
Perhaps because the idea at least was in view, there have been many experiments with steam over the centuries among humans. Most of these attempted to make use of escaping steam as a direct motive force: either jets of steam caused a wheel or ball to rotate, or fixed jets were applied to vanes which themselves moved.
The first of these methods was good for little beyond toys; a Skourene tinkerer used it to create a moving model of the universe; the Axunemi used it to create musical instruments. (One of the most elaborate consisted of an array of pipes; an operator would turn a crank which selected which pipe received the jet of steam.) The second had more practical uses, such as turning spits or paddle wheels.
There was considerable experimentation with steam in the 3200s, first in Kebri, then in Érenat, Verduria, and Flora. The steam jet devices were reinvented, as well as simple water pumps, which either forced water out of a closed chamber, or created vacuum pressure by condensation. These were of particular interest on Kebri, which has no native elcari and has thus developed a human mining industry. The Verdurian Navy experimented with steam-powered cannons: water was introduced into a heated chamber, and the subsequent conversion of steam used to propel a projectile.
Early devices had a tendency to explode; as an example of the dependence of technology on technology, further development required the use of stronger iron or steel plating.
The first commercially successful steam pump (pezate mepuyaś) was devised by Menum of Sabarei, a Kebreni mining engineer, in 3361. It consisted of a furnace supplying steam alternately to one of two cylindrical copper tanks. The steam would be shut off and condense, creating a vacuum which was used to draw water up from a supply pipe; the steam would then be reintroduced, forcing the water up through a relief pipe. The two tanks alternated filling and discharging water, several times a minute.
He created a demonstration pump in Laaven, which attracted investors. The pump turned out to be most useful for wells; several Kebreni and Floran cities used them for this purpose. For the intended use, draining mines, they were less useful: they could raise water no more than 10 meters, which required using several machines in deep mines; this was expensive both in material and in fuel, and led to the occasional disaster if the pressure grew too high, exploding the boiler.
An Érenati, Civea Nëronpável, created an engine which used steam to raise a piston, which was locked into place with a lever, and the steam inlet closed. The steam condensed, forming a vacuum; when the lever was released the piston dropped, and a through a gear raised a weight. He foresaw great advantages, but little came of it, perhaps because his demonstration project (3397) was so small that only about 15 kg could be lifted, much less than a man could carry.
The next step was taken by a Verdurian blacksmith, Licor Epražo, who worked with his employer's Menum pump, and studied reports of Nëronpável's machine. In 3407 he received a royal patent for his mepuyoš ab duhen (steam-powered pump), though it was generally called mepuyoš Epražei.
The pump also used a piston raised by steam and lowered by suction. Epražo's improvements were a water jet which sprayed cold water into the cylinder, speeding up the condensation process, and a set of levers which opened and closed valves automatically at the right time. These improvements allowed the engine to deliver 15 strokes a minute, several times faster than Nëronpável's engine; he also worked on a larger scale, allowing a much larger weight to be lifted. As the pump itself (powered by the piston) did not rely on atmospheric pressure, water could be lifted much higher.
Epražo's pump was so successful that it showed problems with the patent system, domestic and foreign.
Verdurian rivals resented the 40-year term of his patent. He successfully sued several of them for infringement-- it was difficult to hide a steam engine-- but in 3425 he lost a case to a manufacturer who claimed to have modified Nëronpável's machine himself years before. This was overturned by the Esčambra in 3428, but the legislators also changed the term of patents (including existing ones) to 25 years, so Epražo's protection lasted only four more years.
Abroad, the problem was the lack of patent protection; the many installations in Kebri and Érenat, and even machines built in Flora and Ismahi, were of no benefit to Epražo. This had not much mattered for previous inventions, which were too small to be very lucrative; but steam pumps were big business. Verduria negotiated an international convention with Érenat and Flora instituting mutual recognition of patents-- though even these partners waited to sign it till 3434, after Epražo's patent had expired.
Kebri refused to join, figuring that it had more to gain by adopting foreign inventions. But Kebreni manufacturers did not like seeing their own inventions stolen, and known infringers were punished by foreign firms. Individual firms began negotiating agreements with foreign manufacturers, and finally Kebri joined the patent pact in 3453, a year after Ismahi.
Technology is as much a matter of incremental improvements as great leaps forward. Over the decades many persons, in all the northern countries, improved on Epražo's design. Boilers were built of iron plates rather than copper, allowing greater pressure. The fitting of piston to cylinder was improved, as was drainage of the condensed water. Larger and larger engines were built; a portable engine was constructed.
The modern engine
Two major improvements have been made in recent decades. On Earth these were made by one man, James Watt, but on Almea by two different firms in two countries. Together they produced the modern niru ab duhen, no longer a steam pump but a steam engine.
To be generally useful, the engine must deliver smooth rotary motion. This problem was solved by a Zeiri firm and its engineers, the brothers Suvoney, by means of a crank and flywheel, patented in 3451.
Rotary motion allowed the engines to power mills and lathes, and they were soon adopted to provide power to textile machinery (parallel to our own spinning jenny). The Suvoney brothers were soon the richest men in Zeir, and the elder's son Lino was named a baron.
The mepuyoš Epražei was extremely fuel-hungry. A Kebreni woman, Harec Raasum, inherited a small mine when her husband died. By economic necessity she became her own chief engineer, and as she had studied science at the University of Lädau, she applied the žuysë onteca to the problem. She soon realized that the principal loss of heat occurred during the condensation stage: most of the steam's heat served only to re-heat the cylinder. She therefore created a separate condenser.
This was easier said than done, and the mine was slowly failing. She solved this problem in an eminently practical fashion: she married a Kebropol banker, Boṫenum Veṫeu.
Finally she found the way, by reversing the motion of the piston: the piston is raised by a counterweight, not by the steam. Steam in the cylinder is induced to flow from above the piston to below it. Now hot steam is introduced from the boiler into the top of the cylinder, pushing the piston down, and the previous cylinderful of steam down into the condenser. A separate pump, connected to the overall mechanism, empties the condenser with each stroke. The cylinder remains hot at all times (and is kept so by insulating it); the engine uses only about a fifth as much fuel as Epražo's.
The new engine was available by 3459, marketed under the name of Veṫeu. In 3466, in an unusual but astute maneuver, Veṫeu and the brothers Suvoney cross-licensed each other's innovations, each retaining exclusive sales rights in their own country.
Not a few inventors attempted to put Epražo's engine on a boat. These remained expensive demonstration projects till the more efficient Veṫeu-Suvoney engine became available.
In 3476 Živmey Araric crowned a long period of experimentation by inaugurating a regular service from Verduria city to Vyat, using steam-powered paddle boats. Not to be outdone, the Kebreni have started a service from Kebropol to Laaven.
Demonstration projects have been constructed with moving carts, but no practical land vehicle has yet been developed.