It’s been over one hundred years since the Titanic undertook its catastrophic maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City – and it’s still probably the most famous ship in the world. Weighing in at over 46,000 tonnes, it can even be compared to some of today’s smaller cruise ships in size. But how do its engines compare to modern technological developments?
Two reciprocating steam engines – with a combined output of 30,000 horsepower and each weighing 720 tonnes – and one low-pressure turbine powered the Titanic. They needed the steam produced by 29 boilers, each capable of holding more than 48 tonnes of water. To keep this system going, more than 600 tonnes of coal per day had to be shovelled by hand into the ship’s 159 furnaces, which involved the 24-hour attention of over 175 labourers.
To put this into some sort of perspective, Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show average UK household energy use per year was about 19,000kWh in 2013. That amount of energy can now be generated from 2.33 tonnes of coal. So Titanic’s daily coal requirements would have supplied over 250 average UK homes for one year today.
Queen Mary 2
At the time of construction, this behemoth was the longest passenger ship ever built – and with a weight of nearly 150,000 tonnes, she was also the largest. Running on four massive diesel engines for cruising – each weighing 217 tonnes and producing 16.8MW of power – the QM2’s average speed is 24-26 knots (roughly 30 miles per hour). With a capacity of 5,350 tonnes of heavy fuel, her four cruising diesel engines together can burn approximately 12 tonnes of fuel per hour. For higher speeds of 30 knots plus (34 miles per hour), QM2’s two 25MW gas turbines are brought into play.
One of the most well-known and popular commercial airliners, the 747 burns approximately 1 gallon of fuel every second. At an average cruising speed of 567 mph, that’s only 0.15 miles per gallon – which sounds excessively wasteful when compared to the average car’s 25 miles per gallon. But when you consider that a 747 at maximum capacity can carry between 400 and 500 passengers, its fuel consumption for each person becomes more than 73 miles per gallon – making it a much more economic choice when compared to a solo car driver.
As advances in technology grow ever more rapid, gas and electricity comparisons can show us just how far we’ve come – from coal-powered cruisers to jet-powered airliners.