23 Aug 2006

Flying on a Wing and a Prayer


Currently there is a great deal of research and development work going on into flying wing and blended wing body concepts in aviation (for example, the Boeing X-48). These ideas are centered around the goal of getting more passengers into each individual plane, and therefore increasing efficiencies and reducing costs - not to mention lessening runway congestion.

At the same time, emissions from air travel are a big bone of contention and there is no simple way to make air travel carbon-free. There is simply no viable alternative to aviation fuel.

However, there may be a way to increase aircraft efficiency still further, utilising the flying wing concept.

Imagine a flying wing with a capacity for 480 passengers on two floors, 20 rows deep, 12 seats across. This doesn't use most of the large capacity of the wing. Instead, the wings are filled with helium bags. The helium makes the plane lighter so that it can take off on a shorter runway and gain cruising altitude using less fuel. However, it doesn't have the air resistance of a blimp, and can reach the high speeds of conventional airliners.

Obviously, I'm no aircraft designer. But if planes augmented by helium lift to make them lighter are more efficient, then perhaps the idea deserves looking into. Certainly, a comparison between the relative merits of extra seats and filling the space with helium instead should be made. The balance point in benefits may be zero helium, or it may be 25% or more helium, but I'd like to see a study.

There are some hybrid blimp-plane concepts:

But they are more agile blimps than light airplanes.

I am, of course, not the first blogger to look into these matters.

17 Aug 2006

Floating Oases of Sinking Carbon


While reading Lovelock back in March - The Revenge of Gaia - one area he talks about got me thinking.

He states that the ocean surface layers, when they are hotter than 10 degrees C, are largely unmixed with the nutirent-rich lower layers, and so microscopic life is virtually absent - vast areas of ocean are barren unless storms or coastal run-off changes the situation.

Thus when the ice ages retreat, and the planet warms during an interglacial, the area of ocean that contributes to carbon sequestration is reduced.

Now that we are heating the planet beyond the interglacial maximum, the cool areas of ocean are shrinking further, and limited to regions with restricted sunlight. As a result, the loss of algae is exacerbating global warming.

Two things occured to me.

  1. We should be grateful for more hurricanes as it promotes microbial lifespans in the tropical oceans.
  2. There must be a way to pump nutirent-rich water to the surface and create oases of life that sequester carbon and (in theory at least) generate cloud-cover that cools the planet.

So another thought-invention:
A weighted tube, manufactured as cheaply as possible.
The heat difference between the bottom and top is used to drive a motor.
The motor drives a pump, which pumps cold water up from 200 meters below the sea surface to the top.
The cold nutrient-rich water feeds algae all year round as it floats around the oceans.

Drop a few billion of them into the oceans and we can cool the planet down again.

Variants - as pumping water takes a lot of energy, the heat difference might not be enough.

  • Instead, the wave energy at the top might be harnessed to drive a pump, as the bulk of the machine will be below the waves and can be made to stay static relative to them.
  • Alternatively, tether them to the sea bed (where it is shallow enough) and mount a wind turbine on top to drive the pumps.
  • Pump air downwards to bubble up and create an upwelling current. Has the added benefit that some of the air will dissolve in the water.

I found out a couple of days later that a scientist has already studied a similar concept and published his paper here. This uses a fixed coastal installation, but if a small, self-propelled unit can be manufactured cheaply enough, then they can be used to 'buy' carbon credits and will pay for themselves.

As always, comments and criticisms welcomed.

9 Aug 2006

Boron Boron Boron


This is a rough copy of the boron cycle published in New Scientist 29/7/2006. It outlines an efficient process by which solar power can be turned into motive power for vehicles via boron and hydrogen. Effectively the car runs on water and sunlight!

Bring on the Boron machines!