Since I love Frostpunk and digging through industrial archaeology reports, I figured I'd share my own take on what the Generators are, how they function, and how the tech tree improves them.
First of all, consider this: as the captain of your city, you are not privy to the engineer's explanations of how the generators work. Your job is to balance resources and human concerns, not fiddle with thermodynamics and hydraulics. So our first step in understanding the Generators is to peel back the game's layer of simplicity: the Generator and Steam Hubs do not, in the practical sense, produce heat for your buildings. They produce steam, which remains insulated and useful up to a certain range from where it was produced, and beyond which your engineers insist there are too many losses and leak risks to extend further (without the proper technology). This range is the Heat Zone.
So what powers the Steam Hubs? Coal Gas, or to be accurate a selection of manufactured gases all deriving from coal. This is what is meant by Generator: a Gas Generator. The gas is passed through a water scrubber to extract tar and ammonia, then pumped into the rest of the city, which is why all industries require road (utility) connections to function. The limit on heating power is dictated by the maximum throughput of the pipework and the energy content of the fuel, which can be improved with technology.
Here is brief overview of the first two tiers: Producer Gas and Mond Gas.
- Producer Gas is the simplest fuel: Coal is manually or automatically loaded into the central, ball-like chamber and ignited, then the airflow is minimized to produce carbon monoxide and some hydrogen products. 100 BTU /ft3
- Mond Gas is the first upgrade: by injecting steam into the airflow the resulting gas from the coal contains a higher proportion of hydrogen. 200 BTU/ft3
- Water (or as I call it, Steam) Gas: This third upgrade instead places coal in vertical retorts, or sealed heating chambers. When heated a hefty hydrocarbon-rich fuel gas is driven off and the coal becomes coke, which then drops into the central fueling chamber to alternatively produce more heat and provide more hydrogen, as the air supply switches from ambient air (generating heat) to steam (generating hydrogen). 300 BTU/ft3
- Complete Gasification (or, as I call it, Advanced) gas. Through ingenious engineering the coal can be made to undergo multiple gasification reactions in the same vessel as it moves down through the vertical retort, being belted with heat, steam, and air as necessary. This maximizes the fuel extraction. 400 BTU/ft3
Lastly, each form of gas can have its energy content increased sharply, but at a cost. By processing the removed coal tars with waste heat, a coal oil is derived which can be sprayed directly into the gasflow before it is stored at the top of the Generator. This process is called Carburation and can improve the energy content by 100 to 200 BTU/ft3. The game refers to this as Overdrive.
However, Carburation causes tar damage throughout the distribution system, which can clog relief valves, create thermal weak spots, and put the entire Generator at risk. In an emergency, someone small could reach manual relief valves located under the storage tank (and unfortunately surrounded by scalding machinery ready to blow), or the gas could be pumped through a makeshift cleanser, providing some relief at the cost of permanently warping or clogging priceless precision machinery (a steam core). The alternative, of course, is an exploding Generator.
Now, as I said before the purpose of Steam Hubs is to convert ice and condensed water back into steam for heating homes and businesses, but the Generator itself is a little different. It does NOT generate its own steam. To maximize coal efficiency and reduce the number of failure points in the event a Generator needed to start up in the middle of winter, the IEC designed the Generator steam supply (and the accompanying "Heat Zone") to come from geothermal energy. This is why Generators require underground piping and why Generator Range technology is separate from Steam Hub Range technology: one is based on pre-heating and super-heating geothermal steam so it can travel farther, the other is based on better pipe insulation.
Does this explain why the Generator Range upgrades are so bad? No. Sorry, there's no excuse for that. Frankly, the Steam Hub Range upgrade should apply to both the Generators and the steam hubs, increasing each belt from 2 to 3 ticks.
Why are (gas-powered) heaters only built in industries? Probably because of fears of gas leaks, this is still a pretty shoddy system after all. As potentially the last city on Earth, dying in the night from carbon monoxide poisoning is unacceptable.
Why are (gas-powered) heaters limited by a separate technology tree? I assume the heater components have maximum temperature ratings that the engineers rarely have time to come and fix.
What does this mean for Frostpunk's lore if any of this is true? It means the Generators aren't magic and they don't necessarily need giant holes dug for them. If New London can build automatons and steel mills, they can build new Generators.
Thank you all for coming to my winter-themed NED Talk
Edit: don't mix bold and superscript, folks.
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