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Invisible gas consisting of vaporized water. When mixed with minute droplets of water, it has a white, cloudy appearance. In nature, steam is produced by the heating of underground water by volcanic processes and is emitted from hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and some volcanoes. Steam also can be generated on a large scale by technological systems, such as those using fossil-fuel-burning boilers and nuclear reactors. Modern industrial society relies on steam power; water is heated to steam in power plants, and the pressurized steam drives turbines that produce electric current: thermal energy is converted to mechanical energy, which is converted into electricity.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on steam, visit Britannica.com.