Tag Archives: energy

Wonderful Things: The Mill Engine

“Is it a time machine?” replied a very excited student when I asked him what he thought the Mill Engine was. In a way, I suppose it is a sort of time machine.

The Mill Engine was constructed in 1903 by the Burnley Ironworks Company for Harle Syke Mill inLancashire. So, how does this contraption work? Well, here’s the science bit:

The mill engine is a cross-compound engine. It uses high-pressure steam first in a high-pressure cylinder and then in a low-pressure cylinder, before expanding it into a vacuum in a condenser. Both cylinders drive the flywheel (the massive red wheel), from which ropes turned shafts on the mill’s different floors. These shafts were connected to the individual looms.

The Mill Engine was at the heart of the factory...

Mill workers’ conditions were bad. The close proximity to moving heavy machinery contributed to many accidents, and inhalation of the cotton dust often developed into fatal illnesses.

 Mill engines were used up until the 1930s before mills were converted to electric power after being faced with increasing overseas competition and more efficient spinning methods.

A young girl in a Lancashire cotton mill in the 1880s

A young girl in a Lancashire cotton mill in the 1880’s

 Steam power caused a revolution in electricity generation. Steam turbines formed the heart of a new electricity-generating network that we still rely on today. Whether the steam is generated using coal, gas, oil or nuclear reaction, steam turbines still deliver 75% of our power needs at home and at work!

Every school walks past this impressively huge object with its complex system of pulleys, shafts and belts on their way into the main Museum. Maybe next time you pass the engine, take a moment to let yourself be taken back to a time of steam and spinning in Lancashire cotton mills…

  • Could you convert this engine to run on renewable sources? What would the best renewable resource be?
  •  Should factories have to monitor and address their environmental impact?
  • If you ran a factory, would you be more concerned with keeping the cost of production to a minimum to maximise profits?

See the Mill Engine on the ground floor in Energy Hall, then take a trip to our interactive Energy – fuelling the future gallery on the second floor to discover how we are going to meet our future energy demands.

-Denise Cook

Royal rubbish

Loved it or loathed it, the Royal Wedding was a big to-do a couple weeks ago… from dresses to banquet to honeymoon to I CAN’T BEAR TO HEAR ANYTHING MORE ABOUT IT,  everyone seemed to have something to say on the subject. Did you also wonder how much energy was spent on it? Linking current events and topics your students are buzzing about, to the themes you need to cover in lessons is a great way to hook them in. Make a connection between things they are interested in and things you NEED them to take an interest in.

Perhaps this is something you can get your class to focus on- what was the carbon footprint of the Royal Wedding? Working it out to the exact gram of carbon dioxide equivalent might be a bit tricky, but you could get your students engaged in discussing the climate cost of the event by identifying where and how energy was used on the big day. How could they have made the wedding greener?

William and Kate tie the knot

William and Kate tie the knot

From rubbish cleanup and recycling, to the wedding enthusiasts’ travel to London; from the RAF buckingham palace fly-by to the cost of producing commemorative tat for tourists, it was an energetically expensive affair! In fact the international event is meant to have generated over 1,230 times the annual emissions of an average UK household. And as a TV viewer (which you probably were) guess when the power demand surges and drops to the national grid occurred? (Hint- think about those key moments!)

Anyway, maybe William and Kate are offsetting it by taking an eco-honeymoon. Camping, anyone?

The Debate rages on

Japan’s nuclear crisis will be on everyone’s minds right now. There are fears for the Japanaese people, for the risk of radioactive contamination traveling further afield, and for our own nuclear future.

The debate rages on about the future of nuclear power

Nuclear energy has been controversial ever since its beginnings in the 1950s- and the news coming from Japan is bound to strike an emotional chord. “Haven’t we had enough nuclear disasters?” people might be asking (thinking also of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island), ”without building more nuclear power stations here too?” 

So the debate has been reignited, with great force. In these times of increasing consumption, nuclear stations could really be the answer, providing plenty of carbon-free electricity to feed our insatiable energy appetites! But is investing in nuclear technology distracting from the real issue? Shouldn’t we be spending that research money improving our ways to harvest the renewable energy all around us? And can nuclear power really be called ’green’, given the massive risks if things go wrong? While the debate rages, France has been safely producing over 75% of its electricity from nuclear reactors, and there are plans for construction of about 60 new reactors across the world.

This also really highlights the importance of a scientific, research-based approach and open discussion to decide what our future will look like.