Submission to the Open Hardware Summit

The second annual Open Source Hardware Summit is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2011 in New York City. The summit examines open hardware and its relation to other issues, such as software, design, business, and law. Since I can’t make it out to Factor e Farm that weekend and New York City is only a few hours away from where I live, I thought I’d submit a talk proposal: Biography Mark Norton is a long time contributor to open source software efforts like the Sakai and Kuali Projects (course management and university financial software). Recently, he has shifted his organizational skills and development experience to supporting the Open Source Ecology project founded by Marcin Jakubowski in 2003. Mr. Norton is the project leader of the Open Source Ecology ( Steam Engine Project. Talk Description Leveraging the core principles of OSE including open source, modularity, scalability, repairability, etc., we are seeking to build a small, single cylinder uniflow steam engine based on a bump valve control mechanism. Full plans are being developed that will enable a suitably equipped shop to combine off-the-shelf components with newly fabricated ones to build a working steam engine. The talk will cover some lessons learned as we head towards building the first prototype (likely before OHS). See the Open Source Steam Engine page for more information. Importance The Open Source Steam Engine is one of the 50 tools being developed as part of the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). The GVCS collection provides a basis for local industry capable of producing housing, supporting agriculture, generating power, and providing transportation. The Steam Engine, combined with a solar concentrator and a battery storage system (both part of the GVCS-50) provide a complete power generation and storage system.

Proposals are being accepted until June 24, 2011. – Mark


  1. Chris

    Awesome! It’s good to hear that OSE will have some representation at the summit! Let us know if you need anything

    Any other OSE fans/collaborators thinking about joining Mark in NY at the summit?

  2. Max K

    Though bump valves are simple and easy to build my research online for a DIY steam engine indicates they are not reliable long term, indeed they wear out quite quickly both the valve and seat. How will this be overcome?

  3. Mark J Norton

    Bump valve designs have been proven in designs such as the White Cliffs Solar Power Station project. A decent steel valve should handle wear at reasonable speeds. However, other designs are being considered as well.

  4. Max K

    I am familiar with the white cliffs design but have never found details regarding what they meant by “satisfactory materials and hardness matching”. Have you determined the materials and hardness criteria? If so please share the info.

    1. Mark J Norton

      Sadly, these details were deliberately removed from the White Cliffs report. Intellectual property associated with the solar concentrator and steam engine were sold to Power Kinentics, Inc. of Troy, NY. The current thinking is that low speed will limit damaged cause by impact. However, the bump valve design has other problems, chief of which is the compression of air after steam has vented. This was handled by the White Cliffs folks by putting a vacuum on the exhaust vent. For this, the reasons you brought up and others, we are investigating an alternative design that uses rotating valves. See This eliminates all of the bump valve design problems but does complicate things by requiring stepper motors and computer control.

  5. Max K

    For a bootstrap technology why is added electronic technology being considered? Finding the technology in sub saharan Africa, for example, is unlikely, repairing it virtually impossible. A similar effort with water pumps left thousands unusable when a part broke and couldn’t be repaired locally. Let’s learn from that and KISS this project. Every part should be readily available and manufacturable locally.

    1. Mark J Norton

      Well, simple is better. I can’t argue with that. Certainly there are other designs possible. Slide valves on a continuous flow engine is a classic approach dating back well over a hundred years. To be honest, I was asked to flesh out the bump valve design. It was Marcin’s choice and I followed that direction. Now that we have a better understanding of steam engines (though no build experience yet), other ideas are starting to suggest themselves. Personally, I think that an electronically controlled engine would be a great experimental platform that would allow us to tinker with timing, sizing parameters, cut-off, etc. It might not be the best model for Sub-Saharan Africa, but it could teach us a lot. I view this as a process, Max.

      1. Mark J Norton

        Perhaps the rotating valve could be operated by a linkage off of a shaft eccentric? I believe the Corliss valve engine uses a rotating valve, though I could be wrong.

  6. Max K

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the steam engine idea, but I’ve done a lot of research on DIY Steam and the sicking point has been a robust valve design thats readily available and long lasting. I haven’t found one yet but have looked intensely at the options so know most of the pitfalls.

  7. Max K

    For mechanical rotary valves look at the Corliss Steam Engine.

  8. Max K

    The timing of the Corliss also has the advantage of being variable.

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