Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mad Genius from Bottom of Sea

This posting has nothing to do with IT or software architecture. But given today's tumultous world where gasoline prices are at record highs and reports are appearing about the "Downing Street Memo" which details the minutes of a July 2002 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers that cast substantial doubt on the honesty of claims made by the Administration to Congress and to the American people about the Iraq war, it's nice to report on something truly upbeat and optimistic.

Imagine Creating a Deep-Sea Oasis on Dry Land -- converting the ocean's thermal energy into an environmentally sustainable, virtually inexhaustible supply of electricity, freshwater for drinking and irrigation, even air-conditioning. That promise of unlimited energy by tapping the icy waters of the deep is described in a Wired Magazine article by Carl Hoffman entitled The Mad Genius from the Bottom of the Sea that tells the story about John Piña Craven, a PhD in ocean engineering with a law degree who served a stint as chief scientist for the US Navy's Special Projects Office.

Clockwise from top left: Power generation, desalination, irrigation, refrigeration
Craven's system exploits the dramatic temperature difference between deep ocean water -- perpetually just above freezing -- and the much warmer water and air above it. That temperature gap can be harnessed to create a nearly unlimited supply of energy. The key to Craven's cool world starts by sinking a pipe at least 3,000 feet deep and then pumping up seawater. Here's how it works:
Cold seawater circulates through a closed loop of pipes that replace the coolant and compressor found in conventional air-conditioning units.

Pipes carrying cold water run beneath fields of crops, sweating freshwater to irrigate plants and chilling their roots, promoting faster crop cycles.

Cold seawater passes through Craven's "skytowers," which contain closely packed radiator-like networks of pipes. The frigid pipes sweat in the tropical heat, producing­ freshwater condensate

Power Generation:
Pipes draw warm water from the ocean surface and cold water from the seabed. The warm water enters a vacuum chamber and is evaporated into steam that drives an electricity-producing turbine. The cold water condenses the steam back into water for drinking and irrigation.

John Craven is a visionary. He's effectively demonstrated his pilot approach on a small scale, and who knows where it will lead?


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