Channeling Thomas Edison – Solar Chimneys

Thomas Edison would think this technology slick. Solar aficionados would probably brand it cool; and engineers would think it elegant and sophisticated. They would all be right, and also impressed by the size of the application.

Time for a mental picture…ready? Think of a several square mile in size circular greenhouse array where hot desert air enters the edge of the greenhouse. Rising from the center of the circular greenhouse is a chimney-like structure, perhaps twice the size of the Empire State building. Hot air rises, and in this design, quite rapidly - fast enough to spin electricity generating turbines at the base of the chimney, probably enough to generate 100-200 MW of power, enough for maybe 100,000 to 200,000 homes.

If you have ever felt a rush of air up a fireplace chimney, or exited an elevator in a tall office building and experienced a rush of air around the elevator chase, then you know what I am talking about here. Solar chimneys [often referred to as solar towers, or solar updraft towers] take this effect to much greater levels.

Check out this video:

This technology is not new, dating back to the turn of the last century, with several early designs built and tested in the 1930s. All that circular space at the bottom of the chimney can be used to grow crops and maybe ornamental plants. Locating these systems in arid or desert areas would be ideal; and might be a very useful power generation option for sun-soaked, resource poor developing countries.

Solar Chimneys - Channeling Thomas Edison

How It Works

Solar Chimneys - Channeling Thomas Edison

Design Concept

Solar Chimneys - Channeling Thomas Edison

Greenhouse with Plants

The incorporation of solar absorbing materials inside the vast greenhouse area, something as simple as black containers holding water, stone or cement floors, could extend the daily hours of operation past when the sun sets-a kind of thermal flywheel.

In the next several years, sites in Arizona and West Texas could host demonstrations of this technology.

Editors Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

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Edison and Tesla – Experts Weigh in

It seems somewhat fashionable today, especially among young folks, to believe Thomas Edison took unfair advantage of Tesla … but it’s not true. The experts and archivists at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ cannot find anything on file to indicate acrimonious exchanges between these two great inventors. For a brief period of months, Tesla worked for Edison at one of his New York City shops on a specific project, and when that project was closed down, Tesla left. He did not even work directly for Edison. Somehow, the conspiracy theories continue to grind out all sorts of terrible things that Edison was purported to have done.

Edison versus Tesla: The Truth Behind the Edison/Telsa Controversy as Discussed by Experts

A very well documented book [Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age] by W. Bernard “Bernie” Carlson, noted technology author and professor at the University of Virginia, carefully analyzes this complex man. Consider some salient points Carlson makes about one of America’s first celebrity scientists.

Tesla was an astute self-promoter and gifted showman who cultivated a memorable and dramatic public image as an eccentric genius. He promoted his inventions by creating [fanciful and perhaps unrealistic] visions of future peace and prosperity. Unlike Edison, who started with an idea and drove it all the way through to establishing companies to manufacture his products- a classic vertically integrated entrepreneurial approach- Tesla preferred to patent, promote, and sell his inventions to investors and businessmen. What escaped Tesla was the need to do the nuts and bolts engineering, manufacturing optimization, and incremental improvements needed to make a product customer worthy.

Edison and Tesla saw the world very differently. Edison practiced what is called market-pull innovation, letting the demands of the customer drive the economics and such. Tesla practiced knowledge-push innovation, creating a vision for his technology and selling it that way.

Tesla advocates, often young folks, tend to see Tesla as the ultimate geek, unsullied by profits and debased by the give and take of the business world.

In many ways we have a need to cast comparisons of Tesla and Edison as good versus evil, but Carlson shows it is just not that kind of comparison. They are two men who looked at the world of invention from two distinctly different standpoints. Both men helped propel a young America forward, stimulate technological development and instill in millions of Americans the benefits of technology. Both men…giants of the times … succeeded … and, that is really what we need to remember.

See for yourself in the video below what the experts say about these two giants of electricity. Bernie Carlson and Leonard DeGraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, recently shared the dais at the Mark Twain historic home in Connecticut to discuss the Edison-Tesla interactions. Enjoy.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others … I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

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Cleaning the Environment with Plastics – An Edison-like Innovation

Consider this equation:

Carbon bearing waste streams + Human ingenuity
= Plastic + Cleaner environment

Any waste stream containing carbon now can be used to make plastics-no longer requiring oil based plastic technology. It cleans the air and reduces the need for petroleum-based chemistry/products. Who would not want to salute this?

It all started 10 years ago in a dorm room in Princeton, University. The chemistry has been known for quite some time, but some very ingenious young folks make it economically possible … just like Edison when he beat out about 20 international invention teams to make the electric light bulb commercially practical.

Pellets of plastic produced by the process

Pellets of plastic produced by the process

The heart of the innovation is bio-catalyst technology, a very powerful chemical enabler. Carbon bearing gas is first captured, and then liquefied. The catalyst is added and grabs the carbon out of the liquid, helping re-arrange it in long hydrocarbon chains … plastic … a plastic that resembles polypropylene.

AirCarbon™ is a naturally biodegradable polyester that can be recycled in multiple use cycles, and can be formulated into both biodegradable and non-biodegradable grades according to the durability and carbon capture needs of a given application.

The motivator for the young entrepreneurs was to reduce global warming. The young entrepreneurs call their product AirCarbon™; and they worked long and hard at odd jobs to keep their idea alive. Their company is Newlight Technologies, LLC of Irvine California.

Independent lab testing confirms this process removes more carbon from the atmosphere than their manufacturing emits-carbon negative. First products to be made from this will include chairs, food containers, auto parts, and cell phone cases.

Come to think of it, Thomas Edison’s favorite science was chemistry. He would have had a blast with AirCarbon™ technology!

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “When I have finally decided that a result is worth getting, I go ahead on it and make trial after trial until it comes.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.