Peter von Rittinger’s Steam Pump (AKA: The First Heat Pump)

Peter von Rittinger’s biography reads like a success story created by a Victorian novelist, and his invention was a text-book example of innovation triggered by scarcity ( Bio DE / EN).

Born 1811, he was poor and became an orphan early. Yet he was able to study mathematics and physics as his secondary education had been financed by the Piarist Order. He also studied law and mining. Immediately after having graduated he was appointed as inspector in an iron ore processing plant (stamping mill), and later called a pioneer in that field and accountable for several inventions.

1850 Rittinger became ‘Sectionsrat’ (head of a division) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Mining in Vienna. He was knighted in 1863, so quoting all his titles as a public servant in the higher echelons of the Austro-Hungarian empire he was:
k. k. Sectionsrath Oberbergrath Ritter von Rittinger.

Peter von RittingerYet it seems even as an administrator he was still a hands-on tinkerer. He developed a process for harvesting salt from brine at Saline Ebensee in Upper Austria – saving 80% of input energy compared to processes used at this time. In the mid of the 19th century saltworks in Austria had been dependent on fuel: on wood available locally. Railway tracks have not been built yet, and fossil fuels had not yet been available. The ecological footprint had to be much closer to the physical area than today.

In History of Heatpumps, Martin Zogg writes:

One of the main applications [of mechanical vapor compression] is the salt production from salt brine. In order to get 1 kg of salt there have to be evaporated about 3 kg of water, which illustrates the enormous energy demand of such processes. Whole forests had been cleared for this purpose.
Peter von Rittinger … was the first to try the realisation of this idea on a pilot scale. …. He designed and installed the first known pilot heat pump for heating only with a capacity of 14  kW, … The start-up of Rittinger’s “steam pump” was in 1857.

This is the title page of Rittinger’s publication of 1855:

Rittinger, Abdampfverfahren, 1855. Title page.Translating about to:

Theoretical-practical treatise
on a novel evaporation process
applicable to all varieties of liquids
using one and the same amount of heat
which – for this purpose –
is set into perpetual circular motion by water power.
Taking into account the salt boiling process specifically.

I have created this simplified figure from the description in his paper:

Rittinger, Steam Pump, called the first heat pump.

Simplified sketch showing the principles of Peter von Rittinger’s steam pump as described in his original paper. The vessel had to be opened to remove the salt which had precipitated in the upper part of the vessel (called a brine ‘pan’ in German) and water accumulated in the lower part (‘double bottom’).

Salt brine is feed into the upper part of a vessel can be closed an has two parts: The colder, upper part contains brine mixed with water vapor at low temperature and low pressure; the lower part is separated from this cavity by a metal slab with high thermal conductivity. The colder vapor is compressed; and the compressor is driven by a water wheel. To start the process, all cavities are filled with vapor heated to 100°C at the beginning.

At a higher pressure, the evaporation / condensation temperature is higher. Thus hot, dense vapor condenses on the top of the lower cavity, releasing heat which is available in the upper cavity to heat the colder ‘input vapor’. This makes salt precipitate in the upper chamber where it was collected regularly.

In a heat pump for room heating a refrigerant running in a closed cycle is compressed by a mechanical compressor powered by electrical energy. At low temperatures and low pressures the refrigerant evaporates easily, even when in contact with a cold heat source (such as our water / ice tank at 0°C in winter). After compression, vapor condenses at temperatures higher than room temperature and thus the refrigerant is able to release the heat ‘harvested’ before. Rittinger’s steam pump is called The First Heat Pump by historians: However, in this device the water vapor mixed with salt brine is both the ‘refrigerant’ and the liquid to be heated.

In his paper, Rittinger explained that you could as well start from a brine at a temperature as low as 10°C, not needing any auxiliary heating. The system would operate at lower temperatures and pressures. But due to the lower pressures the same material would occupy a larger volume and thus the system had to be much bigger. I suppose, taking into account investment costs, this would have been less economical than using a bit of fuel to get the process going.

What I found intriguing about Rittinger’s work – and perhaps about the way research publications were written back then – was the combination of hands-on engineering, theoretical modeling, and honest and ‘narrative’ reporting of difficulties. Zogg’s history of heat pump quotes quite a number of Leonardo-da-Vinci-style inventors with diverse interests and an obviously ‘holistic’ approach.

Martin Zogg notes that using today’s technology, such ‘steam pumps’ easily obtain a coefficient of performance of 15 – more than 3 times the COP of a heat pump used for room heating. Mechanical vapor compression is state-of-the art technology in salt processing. The reason for the high COP is the lower temperature difference between hot and cool brine vapor. You just need to provide for a sufficient temperature gradient to allow for heat transport from the hot to the cooler cavity, and to overcome the change in evaporation temperature (according to Raoult’s Law).

I could not find the figures in the original paper that Rittinger referred to. The following image is a link to a clickable, larger version of the figures Rittinger had added to a later paper dated 1857, on the actual results of his experiments:

Figures attached to Rittinger's paper of 1857, steam pump experiments(Provided by the digitized archive of Polytechnisches Journal, by University of Berlin, under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 3.0)

What looks like a top view of spaceship Enterprise is the vessel seen from the top. On the left, the corresponding side view shows that it was rather tall. What had been described as a simple separating wall-style flat heat exchanger was actually built as a system of several cylindrical cavities (to increase the heat exchanger’s surface). In the figure the cavities containing high-pressure vapor are denoted with b/c/d. The steam pump / compressor is denoted with E, Dampf-Pumpe, and shown to the right of the vessel in the side view.

Though the numbers were in line with his theoretical calculations, Rittinger’s pilot system did not work well: This was an unreliable batch process, as the vessel was opened regularly to remove the precipitated salt. Rittinger made some suggestions in his original paper, on how to harvest salt continuously. From experience he knew that salt crystals should easily glide downwards from a tilted plane. But among other issues, Rittinger noted in his research report from 1857 that salt crystals behaved quite differently in his vessel, and he attributed it to the higher temperatures in the closed vessel: Instead of being able to harvest the loose crystal at the tip of the conical vessel, all vertical planes have been covered with a crust of salt that resisted also the strongest chisel.

His epigones finally solved such issues – quoting Zogg again:

Probably stimulated by the experiments of Rittinger at Ebensee, the first truly functioning vapour recompression salt plant was developed in Switzerland by Antoine-Paul Piccard the University of Lausanne and the engineer J.H. Weibel of the company Weibel-Briquet of  Geneva in 1876. In 1877, this first heat pump in Switzerland was installed at the salt works at Bex. It was on a larger scale than Rittinger’s apparatus and produced around 175 kg/h of salt in continuous operation.

Travelling Like Spam Poetry

We have an anniversary.

In the summer of 2005,
the Chief Engineer and I set out to visit every Austrian village
whose names started with the letter Z.

It was a straight-forward idea given that we lived in a z-village. Our universe of websites contains the virtual equivalent –, a German website chronicling the adventures and musings of two fearless settlers – calling themselves Subversive Element and Irgendwer (Somebody Doing Anything Nobody Wants to Do). These setters are on a mission to discover myth-enshrouded z-village. Today the z-village website is an epic tomb, but we link to it on our blog: punktwissen – Professional Tinkerers and Restless Settlers, tagging it with How it all got started. Perhaps that’s why not every reader recognizes this blog’s business-y nature.

Now, after I have scared everybody off with weird links (…. wait, I forgot to mention that it was the other members of our EPSI circle that suggested this trip!), here is the story:

We used the official list of z-villages from Austria’s statistical service – 247 places in total in a manual approach to optimization: Trying to visit as many as possible in one round trip. In the end, we managed to see 100 z-villages, driving 2000 km in about 10 days.

So the process was:

Try to find the next z-village shown in your print-out of Google maps or referred to in other sources. Most of these villages were small settlements rather than political entities, comprised of houses with addresses like z-village 7, and finding those was like trying to follow a yellowed old treasure map.

z-tripz-tripFind a place-name sign.

z-trip, found sign.Take a weird photo of the sign (Collection).


Take to our heels when local life-forms start wondering. Sometimes it was scary, like Indiana Jones meeting the cannibals. In the north of Austria near the border to Czech Republic  – places typically picked for stereotype dark-family-secret-in-rural-village crime stories – the locals were especially suspicious.

Look, these guys are taking a photo of the sign ????!!!

z-trip, scary place

I realize, it might be hard to see the fun in this. You need to be part of it. Later I proposed this type of travelling to become part of life coaches’ outdoor training offerings. In jest of course, but as usual some people took it seriously.

Via the silly rule implied by the list of names we were forced to travel to places you would never pick for any type of vacation: They were neither advertised to tourists nor intriguing to maverick adventurers. It was like clicking form one hyperlink to the next and having to pick one line for poetry.

In the years before the z-trip our travelling was mainly for business. I mainly saw airports, train stations, motorways, and corporate headquarters. Though it should not have been a secret, the z-trip showed us that we live in a country comprised of fields and forests, of land not completely sealed by the tokens of 20th century’s civilization.

z-trip, as in the bucolic cliché

z-trip, magic well

z-trip, wind farm

We had to neglect some z-villages in the Western, Alpine regions to keep kilometers to a reasonable level. Nevertheless, we saw enough small villages that made us wonder how people can cope with tons of snow.

It was like in these movies portraying New Yorkers travelling to the wilderness of Alaska for the first time, having to deal with harsh weather and raccoons. I realized how clichéd, biased, and distorted some of my views were (… and yet, I use more clichés now to make my point!).

z-trip, wild animals

We both quit our corporate jobs the day after we had returned from that trip.

z-trip, settlers' selfie

Travelling like this was like using the internet in the pre-social-media era: Jumping from one obscure private website – designed by Microsoft FrontPage, with pink marquee taglines – to the next, not sharing and commenting on it.

I crafted my first website in 1997 – with FrontPage, I admit, and for business – but I was very reluctant to enter the interactive social web for a long time. My reluctance was the topic of my very first WordPress post. Since three years I have been exploring Web 2.0, and I am now returning to the z-travelling style of using the internet.

z-trip, mystic river

z-trip, bumpy road ahead

Google Translational Poetry – Austrian Christmas Edition

I am at the nadir of my online reputation – my Google page impressions plummeted by a factor of about 100. This is very liberating, and I start enjoying the irony of being considered a notorious link scammer. Now I will harvest Google for any weird purpose whatsoever. For poetry nobody will read.

The title says it all. I am running – already questionable – ‘experimental internet flarf poetry’ through multiple languages in Google Translate, in order to enhance it even more. The set of source poems is the second batch of five poems from the Raffle Mop series, Google-powered poems seeded from Google-powered images.

Here are the languages, used in this order:

  1. English
  2. Zulu
  3. Maori
  4. Haitian
  5. Greek
  6. Vietnamese
  7. Icelandic
  8. Latin
  9. German
  10. Esperanto
  11. English

The original poem is displayed to the left, the resulting poem to the right. I try to unveil the hidden Christmas-y aspect in each of them and illustrate it accordingly. In particular, I hope to find an image on Wikimedia both related to that Christmas-y message and to my home country. Just to add some highly educational content.


since the earliest times

Cosmic Patriarchs
Oh, oh, oh,
This is so inspirational !!

off the most memorable
Congrats for gaining strength!

Follow Along
Web beacons may be used


Ho, ho, ho,
Where is wonderful !!

Thanks to the power!

You may use web beacons

Well, who would not spot that Ho, ho, ho that Oh, oh, oh has been turned into? As if I ordered this for Christmas! Here you see Santa Claus in front of an Austrian police helicopter. I don’t know what he did wrong.

ORF & BMI Nikolaus ~

I’m still working

What a fun & interesting adventure

It was a culture shock
Ut tellus dolor, dapibus eget, elementum vel

getting a hold of me might be a bit difficult
Name is required

This is for me

The Outlook Me
Fun and adventure that is

It was a shock competition
Go Lands iPhone bikes

I get a little heavy
name required

That fake Latin from the original poem (a snippet of the classical ‘Lorem Ipsum’ filler text on the source website) has turned into Go Lands iPhone bikes. We live in an era of consumerism for sure. The latest iPhone for Christmas!

I searched for an Austrian iPhone or Apple store but all I found were images of the traditional Austrian (or German) Baked Apple. This goes better with Christmas traditions anyway!

Bratapfel 2


he won it handily

It was a perfect mix.
repaving the roadway
What’s happening?

find your own voice
You can join the conversation
Have the time of your life.

Join The Flock
use public transit to get to work

taking undeserved criticism for way too long
you’ve tried everything and nothing’s worked

adventurous spirit trickles in to the boardroom
you can improve your mental space.


This is a good mix.
What has happened?

find their own voice
You can turn the discussion
Often in your life.

Work, public use

Enough time to check
Nothing works tries

Reduction in new cabinet
Duis spiritual space.

This requires more historical, theological, and cultural context – which is out of scope here. But there is spiritual space, and there are sheep (the latter translated from Join the Flock – a hidden encouragement to join a cult?). The logical pick is an image of a Nativity Scene (Christmas Crib). To tell you the truth, I find those creepy – especially if they have plastic sheep. But here is a nicer one – in a nutshell:


a wealth of experience

we can keep up our hard work.
flush the solid waste to the ocean.


Work with us our problems.
Get active
How strong the open sea.

This was a real challenge. First, we see again how the values of our ancestors (wealth of experience) have been transformed into shallow show-off (Display). The traditional hands-on and accountability (we can keep up our hard work) turned into a vague statement that sounds like the scrambled version of a management consulting company’s mantra (Work with us our problems). On the other hand, we see horrid environmental pollution (flush the solid waste to the ocean) replaced by responsible use of natural resources and by even assigning human values to resources as the sea (How strong the open sea). So all I would need is an image showing a management consultant who works as a Greenpeace activist in his spare time. This image would need to be taken at some ocean-protection event on the December 25. I think I have to skip the illustration challenge.

This is the best I can do – trying a different cascade of weird mental connections: A skeleton of a prehistoric fish (?), exhibited in Vienna’s museum of natural history. Actually, the fossil had been found in a village very close to where I live. Actually, carp is or has been a traditional Christmas dinner in some regions of Austria, and I would not recognize the difference in skeletons perhaps.

NHM - Scorpaena prior~

he is amazing

paint a thin layer on the background
capture the emotional essence of a person
whimsically poignant

The World Unites!
outspoken 24/7 force of nature
in the truly classic sense

We are not responsible for the content


A thin layer of paint
use capricious

Men’s tirade world!
The power of nature and the mouth 24/7
The most common reason

Fermentum no sourdough white
We are not responsible for the content

The last line stands out: We are not responsible for the content. It seems phrases from legal terms are immune to cascaded translation. Maybe the appropriate disclaimer that should be put on pyrotechnic stuff sold before New Year’s Eve.

See an image of Vienna’s maybe most famous cathedral. From  the description of this  image on Wikimedia (which I read after I had already selected the image) the law-abiding citizen learns something:

‘Of course, fireworks within that area of the town (its center, and UNESCO World Heritage!) are disallowed by law. Nevertheless, it would hardly be possible to prevent all those people from igniting consumer pyrotechnics.’

New Year's Eve, Vienna 2009-2010 ZEROMerry Christmas, eveyone! Thanks for listening in.

Thanks, Bing, for indexing so nicely!