Internal combustion was a major technological breakthrough that doomed the bulky ineficient steam plants to extinction.
Nuclear power brought back steam only because water
makes a good moderator, and fission primarily produces heat, and the sheer bulk of heat produced negates the losses from the sheer ineficiency of a steam system.
All steam, (heat), engines are limited in efficiency by the Carnot equation which calculates the difference between the incoming temperature, and the reduced, (output) temperature, the greater the difference, the higher the possible efficiency. That is why steam powered vessels run at the highest possible temperatures, as the base difference is the condensation
point of water
Internal combustion engines get around this by bringing in room temperature liquid fuel
, and relying on the burning of that fuel
to create the temperature difference needed.
The basic problem of all external combustion engines is the the need to carry a heat transfer medium, (hundreds of gallons of water), the fuel doesn't transfer all of it's heat to the medium, (it would have to be burned in the core
of a completly insulated, and contained boiler, and no mechanism has yet to be invented to completly extract all of the heat back to room temperature, (remember the giant cooling
towers of a nuclear plant?)