Water and Energy from Wind

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This article was published by PristinePlanet.com Newsletter, issue #31, 2007-05-10.

Energy and potable water are two resources essential to human civilization, and they are both experiencing worldwide increasing demand, decreasing supply, and thus increasing monetary costs. Ready access to affordable energy and freshwater is critical to communities of all sizes, including nations. Even the most inept of governments are well aware of this, and are thus readying for the natural resource wars of the future and the present — some of which have been going on for decades now, and have recently flared up with the conflicts over access to oil and natural gas on several continents. (Only the most naive at this point would believe that the US invasion of Iraq had anything to do with finding weapons of mass destruction or spreading democracy. American leaders began finalizing their plans for securing our access to Iraqi oil not long after Saddam Hussein began his planning to reprice that oil in euros instead of US dollars.) Competition for water rights is already in evidence among US states, especially those in the Southwest that are experiencing growing drought conditions.

The profound energy and water problems that we face now — and that have every indication of worsening in the future — can and should be contemplated by people of all nations, cultures, and geographic locations. For instance, in a desert somewhere in the Middle East, a sesame farmer may be well aware of the diminishing sea of oil that lies hundreds of feet below his farmland, but he is likely more concerned with the diminishing local water tables, and the growing demand for electricity in his village. His leaders may talk of future desalination plants, to extract potable water from the nearest ocean. But without refineries, how will they get the tremendous amounts of energy required? The sun is already performing desalination, in the form of evaporation, but without rain, how will the farmer and his community get the water? How could they harness the wind's energy if they cannot afford any industrial-level turbines, all of which require significant levels of wind in order to operate?

There now may be a solution to all of those problems — a solution developed by an inhabitant of a continent equally in need of affordable energy, and experiencing worsening drought conditions: Australia. In an article published on the website of The Australian on 27 January 2007, Phillip Adams describes the captivating progress made by Max Whisson, an ingenious and industrious resident of Western Australia. He has apparently developed a windmill that not only can run on a fraction of the air current required by conventional windmills, but also continuously extracts water from the air that flows over its blades.

The Whisson windmill would give us the ability to convert airborne moisture — which we typically experience as humidity, and sometimes as rain — into surface water. These devices could be utilized worldwide, because there is untold amounts of water suspended hundreds of kilometers up in the atmosphere, all over the globe, even in the driest of regions. Above the head of our sesame farmer is a sea of potable water, waiting to be tapped. Unlike the aquifers and water tables that have been dropping at alarming rates and can take ages to replenish naturally, any airborne water that we were to extract, would be quickly replaced by the evaporation taking place over the world's oceans, seas, and other bodies of water.

But how much water can these new windmills extract from the air, especially in extremely dry regions of the world? Apparently, just a single Whisson windmill, small enough to fit on top of the suburban house, could provide all of the water needed by the typical household. They also estimate that large turbines atop of office buildings, would allow those buildings to be completely independent of municipal water services. Imagine the reduction in cities' demands upon surface and subsurface water supplies. If used in sufficient quantities in rural areas, such windmills might eliminate or at least drastically reduce the current water needs of farmers, who consume a sizable portion of our freshwater supplies — often requiring it to be sent from other states.

An additional benefit of this new windmill technology, is that the air that passes is cooled. Even though not mentioned in the aforesaid article, is easy to imagine that this cooling process could help to reduce, however slightly, the air-conditioning costs of a building that has a large enough Whisson windmill mounted on top. In fact, it is this cooling process that is the key to the water extraction.

The engineering details of the Whisson windmill are being kept under wraps, until they are patented. But it is revealed that the new design does not have the turbine's blades facing the oncoming wind, as has been used for centuries in traditional windmills. Instead, each blade is as aerodynamic as an aircraft wing, using lift to get the whole windmill spinning. The blades are organized in a vertical column, thus allowing them to take wind from any direction — thereby allowing greater flexibility than conventional wind turbines.

The potential for this new windmill design, should it prove out, is profound — for both water and energy supplies. Let us hope that such a resource will be used wisely, and will help the earth restore the aquifers and water tables which have been overexploited why humans for far too long.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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