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Science News

Water Now More Awesome Than Previously Thought 708

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-like-you-can't-live-without-it dept.
Dan writes "Wired has a great article about a guy who thinks we can provide unlimited energy , accelerate crop growth, desalinize and purify drinking water, obtain health benefits and provide air conditioning, all by pumping up water from the depths of the ocean."
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Water Now More Awesome Than Previously Thought

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  • by coop0030 (263345) * on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:34PM (#12640467) Homepage
    This is a fantastic idea, except for one flaw. This would only work for cities near the coast. Where I'm from (Minnesota) I don't see how this could possibly work (Lake Superior is very cold though, that is a possibility).

    I like how he irrigates the farms. The sweating of the pipes below ground is a great idea. It seems much more efficient than spraying water everywhere, and having a lot of it evaporate.

    He may be a nut (or not, I'm not a good judge of character), but he does have a great way of looking at his environment.
  • by CypherXero (798440) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:37PM (#12640494) Homepage
    "You see, I apply cold temperatures to different parts of my body in three bastings. The third is the most complicated - I ice the terminuses of my lymphatic system. My body heals itself. Look at these hands," he says, opening and closing his fists. "I have no joint pain of any kind!"

    You're just numbing the pain. Idiot.
    • Amateur. (Score:5, Funny)

      by JonTurner (178845) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:50PM (#12640604) Journal
      I've been applying icy cold beverages (usually beer) to the INSIDE of my body for years, and let me tell ya what, after a six'er, let me assure you I'm feeling no joint pain at all. I do tend to have a headache the next day though...
      • by repvik (96666)
        This is caused by the body's natural heat regeneration features. You will find that applying the same icy cold beverage will make the headache go away.
        This continuation-technique is also known as "repairing", which is a slight misnormer since it doesn't actually repair, but instead reinstates the body in the wanted state of painlessness ;-)
        • by JonTurner (178845) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:46PM (#12640958) Journal
          Sort of like the old phrase "no pain, no gain" eh? Well, we all know that beer makes the drinker smarter and I believe the headache problem is the drinker's awareness of the weak brain cells dying off. In the interests of science and a higher IQ, I'm prepared to work through the pain and set my sights on the lofty goals beyond. After a few keggers, I shall be left with only the smartest, most capable neurons and without those inferior, weak brain cells to get in the way, I will undoubtedly be the smartest person I know.

          That little headache problem was due to my prematurely stopping the drinking cycle too early, causing pain. Well, friend, I won't make that mistake again. I pledge to you that I will drink, nonstop, from here on.

          Slashdot, I salute you!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:50PM (#12640607)
      Seriously, cooling parts of yourself with ice causes the body to react and change bloodflow to the cooled area, usually increasing it markedly. The extra circulation does help healing.

      Funny thing is, heat kinda does the same thing, albeit not as effectively. Most folks don't like the ice and go for the heat for injuries, though, because heat "feels better". Icing an injury can actually be painful - drop a sprained ankle into a large bucket of ice and water for ten or twenty minutes and the first minute or so will have you twisting and turning and writhing as your foot hurts like hell from the cold water. The pain does go away though after a minute or two.

      Heat won't cause that pain. But heat will increase the internal bleeding from an injury if it's not fully healed yet, making the injury worse. Icing an injury will help stop any internal bleeding.

      At least that's what my college football trainer told me one time as I was sitting waist-deep in a whirlpool of ice and water to treat a pulled groin muscle. Talk about having your balls shrivel up...
      • by lax-goalie (730970) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @11:03PM (#12641800)
        Well, yes. Yes I have,,,

        The poster's exactly right. Applying both ice and heat to an injury manage the circulation to the area.

        When you have an acute injury, say, a sprained ankle, you get an inflammatory response -- swelling. That's nature's way of splinting and immobilizing the injury. That problem is that all that swelling later turns to scar tissue, in essence, crippling you afterwards.

        What you're trying to do is to use cold to decrease circulation during the acute phase of an injury (to reduce swelling), and to use heat and motion to increase circulation during the chronic phase (to help break up scarring and create new muscle and bone). The rule of thumb is ice for the first three days, then heat, but really, you want to ice as long as there's heat coming off the injury.

        Both ice and heat will make you feel better. In my experience, ice is initially less comfortable, but WAY more effective in the end. And, ice combined with Aleve is even better. :-)

        As an aside, ultrasound therapy works the same way as heat, albeit in a more focused and comfortable way. You never want to use it acutely, but for things like old hamstring injuries, it's the freaking bomb.

        During rehab, (and frankly, if you're playing competitively, you're ALWAYS in rehab) you end up using both heat and cold. Usually, that's heat beforehand (to increase flexibility and circulation) and cold afterwards (to reduce inflamation from the trauma to old injuries). After a while, you just get used to the routine -- although spending a half hour with your balls in an ice whirlpool is never any fun.

        No, I'm not a doctor or a physical therapist, but after a broken leg, a blown hamstring, one remaining ligament between two ankles, twenty five years in the cage, and a trip playing in the World Games, you get to know these things...
      • Hello? This is slashdot.

        Which brings up the question: why are you here?
    • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug AT geekazon DOT com> on Thursday May 26, 2005 @12:48AM (#12642222) Homepage
      Submitter deserves a golf clap for getting a Slashdot story accepted with a Fark headline.
  • by B00yah (213676) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:37PM (#12640496) Homepage
    That /. would post a story on the awesomeness of water shortly after ThinkGeek begins selling a Water Powered Clock [thinkgeek.com] and a Mini Water Dispenser [thinkgeek.com]

    Stupid planted articles...I'll buy what I want!...oooh...clock...
    • Re:Convenient... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MustardMan (52102)
      I have one of the water clocks. Cute idea, but I have enough trouble remembering to water my plants. Watering my clock is a royal PITA. The clock is also annoying to set, so when it loses power and you have to refill it, you get to go through that fun of settng it all over again.
  • by mindaktiviti (630001) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:38PM (#12640505)
    Best. Headline. Ever.
    • I see a flaw. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tehdely (690619) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:40PM (#12640518) Journal
      Doesn't pumping up water from the ocean consume lots of energy?
      • Re:I see a flaw. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:00PM (#12640676)
        I think he is counting on inertia, or some more subtle effect I can't think of.

        The articale mentions that once the system is primed, it takes very little energy to keep pumping.

        Think about it. You're not pumping water up into the air, you're pumping water above other water. Without any pumping, the water will automatically lift the water to, you guessed it, sea level. You only neet to lift it the extra 30 feet to your beach side farm.

        Getting the system started probably takes a lot of power as you have to get all the water in your pipe moving fast enough so the water won't warm up by exchanging heat with the outside water, but one it's moving, inertia will help you keep going. You only need to make up for friction, and for the fact that cold water is slightly less dense.

        Then again the article mentions that the pipe acts like a siphon, so maybe there is some other effect I can't think of. Maybe the decreased pressure because of the pump makes water freeze and therefore rise? dunno.
        • Re:I see a flaw. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Old Wolf (56093) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @11:35PM (#12641951)
          ...so the water wont warm up by exchanging heat with the outside water

          Insulate the pipe?

          ...the fact that cold water is slightly less dense


          Cold water is MORE DENSE than warm water. In fact the point of maximum density is about 4 degrees C, below that it gets less dense again (unlike most substances). But I didn't see the article mention the actual temperature of the water that's being extracted here, so maybe it is sub-4.

          My concern is, what if the pipe sucks up all these exotic bottom-dwelling fish?

      • Re:I see a flaw. (Score:5, Informative)

        by peacefinder (469349) * <alan...dewitt@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:07PM (#12640718) Journal
        That's what I assumed at first, too. But according to TFA it allegedly sustains itself like a siphon. It's mostly a one-time problem to get the flow started, I guess... then the siphon does most of the work. (Presumably with some level of ongoing pump assistance.)

        If true, that is a truly neat hack.
        • Re:I see a flaw. (Score:3, Informative)

          by kesuki (321456)
          it's not a siphon it's an inertial pumping system. once you start the flow of water, it's easy to sustain, and more electricity can be generated from the cold water than is used in pumping it to the surface. The problem with inertial pumping is that you never want to Stop pumping water, because the energy required to start it back up is so much greater. if you're in a warm enough climate, that's fine, but in colder climates like the midwest there are going to be 'complications' in using such an 'always on'
        • Re:I see a flaw. (Score:3, Informative)

          by gumbi west (610122)
          It is a siphon. [wikipedia.org] It doesn't matter how far down the pipes go, all that matters is how far above the top of the ocean the water goes. All you have to do is build a ditch (below sea level) and then it (the atmosphere) will pump to there. Then you just have to move it from there. Well, there is some friction.
    • In this house we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics!

      tm

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:40PM (#12640517)
    Be careful! Dihydrogen Monoxide [dhmo.org] can be a dangerous thing! Spread the word.
  • ocean temperatures? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by victorl19 (879236) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:40PM (#12640519)
    Wouldnt excessive use of this method perhaps alter ocean temperatures?

    Maybe it will turn out like windmills- they take negligible energy out of the wind.
    • by werdnapk (706357) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:57PM (#12640655)
      Hydrothermal events (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent [wikipedia.org]) exist in the oceans and pump out water at temperatures very close to, if not, at boiling temperatures. Pumping warm water back into the ocean is not going to make that much of a difference on the oceans.
      • by fireduck (197000) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:21PM (#12640806)
        Pumping warm water back into the ocean is not going to make that much of a difference on the oceans.

        Perhaps. Perhaps not. In Huntington Beach, California, for the past several years, the beaches have had to be closed during the summer due to bacterial pollution. The obvious cause was the wastewater treatment plant dumping partially treated sewage 7 miles off shore, and that was somehow coming back onshore. Models, however, demonstrated that this was very unlikely because of water column stratification based on temperature (colder water, more dense, can't come up).

        One factor not included in the models was an electrical generator station on the beach that drew in ocean water for cooling. It would discharge the warm water back to the ocean. However, it discharged the warm water at depth. Warm water, being less dense, rose to the surface, creating a nice thermal pump that would carry with it the colder water at that depth, some of which was certainly co-mingled with the discharged sewage. (this wasn't the entire reason for the beach pollution, but certainly was a contributing cause.)

        So, yes, discharging warm water back into the ocean can have unintended effects.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @09:22PM (#12641226)
          Us out here in the east coast know this problem pretty well, and when i was in highschool i was part of a research program that went out onto the ocean water and collected samples.

          Turns out the problem is when it rains, the sewage treatment plants reach compacity and dump untreated sewage into the ocean(this is pretty prevalent in the long island sound and would happen anywhere there is sewage treatment facilities and rain).

          Overflow spillage happens much closer to shore usually than any pipe they send out and 7 miles seems way excessive as the outflows i visited were at best 3 miles from the plant, most much much closer, like 4 - 8 hundred yards.

          The algae bloom and nitrate concentration near these pipes was insane. In fact in the long term this increases algae so much surface algae becomes so thick once vibrant life deeper down gets no light, dies, creates more bacteria and it can become a run away reaction. Eventually the algae bloom can cause massive amounts of fish to die, then mammals and so on.. quite nasty.

          But the problem happens without any warm water being added back into the ocean. Likely its just not understanding that its compeltely raw sewage overflowing because the plant cannot handle rain load and sewage load at the same time.

        • by birge (866103) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @10:28PM (#12641617) Homepage
          So, yes, discharging warm water back into the ocean can have unintended effects.

          No, discharging sewage into the ocean can have unintended effects. That's the real problem.

    • by Kafka_Canada (106443) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:05PM (#12640705)
      Oceans are big - really big - you just won't believe how vastly, hugely mind-bogglingly big they are. You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to oceans.

      (ref. [brainyquote.com])
    • by hoka_hey (837488)

      There is a global circulation system called "Thermohaline Circulation". Basically some amount of water, North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW), sink around Labrador Sea, due high salinity and low temperature, until sea bottom (or almost there) and then spread around the world following the Stommel-Arons model.

      Due mass continuity, some amount of water must source that water and this is made by surface water, which is much warmer than that cold deep water. So, North Atlantic export cold water and import warm one,

  • OTEC? Old news... (Score:3, Informative)

    by neiffer (698776) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:40PM (#12640520) Homepage
    OTEC, as a concept, has been around for quite some time. Prototypes have been built and tested around the world. Old news!
  • dude (Score:5, Funny)

    by thesalodonkey (855820) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:40PM (#12640528)
    it's way more awesome than you even know... now where did i put my bong... what? no way! that uses water too! sweeeet!
  • by Altima(BoB) (602987) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:46PM (#12640567)
    Be careful who you disclose water's potential to... before you know it you'll have Keanu Reeves trying to outrun blue shock waves on motorcycles...
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:48PM (#12640585)
    The efficiency of these system is extremely low because the temperature difference is so miniscule. For thermodynamic efficiency purposes temperatures are measured in Kelvin and temperature differences are only a few percent. The maximum efficiency of these plants in an ideal world is only 6%. When you account for the very large amounts of energy needed to pump huge volumes of water, the real efficiency is only 2-3%. This FAQ covers this and other issues. [poemsinc.org]

    Yes, you can get energy, but not much.
    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:27PM (#12640841) Homepage Journal
      But since you're not paying for the heat, the only effect efficiency has on the economics is the cost of the plumbing.

      What scares me is the environmental impact. These plants will pump a lot of bottom water back out near the surface. Because of the low efficiency, it will be a huge amount of water compared to the capacity of the power plant. Water near the bottom is oxygen poor because nothing can photosynthesize in the abyssal dark. It's nutrient rich because there's a steady rain of dead things from above. Dump that into hot oxygenated surface water and you're making an ecological change, which means the results are unpredictable. If you're lucky you get better fisheries from a fertilizing effect.
    • by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:27PM (#12640843) Homepage
      The maximum efficiency of these plants in an ideal world is only 6%. When you account for the very large amounts of energy needed to pump huge volumes of water, the real efficiency is only 2-3%.
      A 2% efficiency isn't a problem. Efficiency tells you the ratio of the energy you can sell to the energy you put in. But if the energy you put in costs zero, then efficiency is an utterly unimportant number.

      What's more relevant is to compare the cost of building the plant to the money you can make by running the plant over its planned lifetime. That's the relevant figure of merit for a nuclear power plant, and I think it's the relevant one for an OTEC plant as well.

      The problem is that fossil fuels are artificially subsidized. Say I increase my energy use, and use an extra megajoule of energy derived from burning coal or gasoline. Well, I don't pay anything extra for the damage I'm doing with global warming, and I also don't pay enything extra for all the wars in the Middle East that the U.S. keeps getting into.

      • What's more relevant is to compare the cost of building the plant to the money you can make by running the plant over its planned lifetime. That's the relevant figure of merit for a nuclear power plant, and I think it's the relevant one for an OTEC plant as well.

        Absolutely! The cost of the plant must not exceed the total value of the energy provided by the plant. The efficiency does enter into this calculation because these plants extract such a small percentage of the heat energy latent in the water.
    • by lheal (86013) <lheal1999NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:36PM (#12640893) Journal

      There are several factors that make up for the inefficiency in power generation:

      1. the "fuel" is free.
      2. the water is used at least twice, which decreases the relative pumping costs
      3. power generation is just a positive side effect of supplying fresh water.

      Places like Saudi Arabia and Chile, which have lots of sun and salt water, but almost no fresh water, should jump on this. Saudi Arabia in particular, which has all the power it needs, could really benefit.

  • by dacarr (562277) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:53PM (#12640634) Homepage Journal
    He's 80, so he can't be lasting very long from here on out. I hope he wrote something down then.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @07:58PM (#12640666)
    Check out 'Blind Man's Bluff', which is about the post-WWII craziness that was Cold War submarine espionage. This guy is smart, smart, smart.
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:00PM (#12640680)
    Conventional wisdom is that exposure to cold water causes arthritis, not cures it! Having worked one summer in a fish packing plant, I can attest that people do in fact hurt very much after spending 8 hours working with cold water...

    In theory cold-water energy works; anytime you have a temperature differential it can be harnessed to create energy according to the laws of thermodynamics. In practice, I'd question whether the constant pumping and maintenance (saltwater is highly corrosive) wouldn't require more energy than you get out of this system.

    One more thing: it's all fun and games until you suck a whale into the input pipe! But seriously, if you pump up nutrient-rich soup from the deep, in a few years your pipe is going to be so clogged up with marine critters that your flow rate is going to tend towards zero...

    • by Altima(BoB) (602987) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:47PM (#12640968)
      One more thing: it's all fun and games until you suck a whale into the input pipe! But seriously, if you pump up nutrient-rich soup from the deep, in a few years your pipe is going to be so clogged up with marine critters that your flow rate is going to tend towards zero...

      Not to mention it'll be damn traumatic for anyone who digs out some of the deep sea's scarier denizens [oceans.gov.au] from those pipes...
    • One more thing: it's all fun and games until you suck a whale into the input pipe! But seriously, if you pump up nutrient-rich soup from the deep, in a few years your pipe is going to be so clogged up with marine critters that your flow rate is going to tend towards zero...

      Sounds like the perfect place for a Sushi bar.
    • Conventional wisdom is that exposure to cold water causes arthritis, not cures it!

      Conventional wisdom is an oxymoron. It also tells us that, e.g., tomato juice gets rid of skunk oil. (It doesn't; it just overloads the nose so you can't smell it.)

      Having worked one summer in a fish packing plant, I can attest that people do in fact hurt very much after spending 8 hours working with cold water...

      Well, yes. Prolonged exposure to cold water isn't good for the body. That still doesn't mean chilling is never
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:01PM (#12640685)
    For all you Engineering Types, here is a page with an animation which shows the basis for the technology:

    http://www.ocees.com/mainpages/Powersystems.html/ [ocees.com]
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:12PM (#12640747)
    Water is way more awesome than most people realize - because of hydrogen bonding -

    It is a key component in life; it's solvency and structure are what makes biochemistry work.

    It has about the widest range of temperature as a liquid of any simple material - making life possible over the face of the earth.

    It is the closest thing to a universal sovent we will ever see.

    Since it expands on freezing ice floats - just think what a mess the oceans would be if they were made of something that shrank when it froze, and the ice sank. The planet would have much wider extremes in temperature just because of that small fact.

    Wate has an immense heat capacity compared to other liquids... moderating our weather

    The beat goes on; it's unique chemistry and physics are whe we live off of every day.

  • Cold Shower (Score:5, Funny)

    by Adam Avangelist (808947) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:17PM (#12640784)
    No wonder my girlfriend always tell me to take a cold shower.

    Faster growing fruit + unlimited energy + free air-conditioning = multiple orgasms (profit!!!)
  • by limabone (174795) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:30PM (#12640853)
    There are several office buildings in downtown Toronto that are cooled via cold water pumped from lake Ontario. http://www.enwave.com/enwave/view.asp?/dlwc/energy [enwave.com]
  • by SleepyLab (887071) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @08:56PM (#12641026)
    See http://www.enwave.com/enwave/dlwc/ [enwave.com]
    Anyone who has been to Dubai (I spent a few years there) knows that desalinization in such large capacities is both financially and technically sustainable... Irigation is a no brainer... Creating surplus energy, though ??? That does not sound plausible...
  • by danharan (714822) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @09:01PM (#12641069) Journal
    As reported by the CBC last August, Lake Ontario water cools Toronto offices [www.cbc.ca]

    Sure, this guy is doing all sorts of neat things at once with the water. For getting it to market and economically proven though, I'd rather see a demo that shows that one of the features is useful than trying to make a whole range of things work.

    Even more troubling is that he proposes to pay off investors in seven years- not a great ROI given the risks.
  • by spamchang (302052) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @09:09PM (#12641128) Journal
    well aside from the aforementioned points of questionability raised about OTEC, i'd like to point out that even if you do grow crops more than three times quicker than normal, your limiting factor will be soil nutrition, which will mean either quick depletion of nutrients or massive importing of fertilizer. (unless you use all that rich dead stuff from the bottom of the ocean to fertilize, but you'll have to give it a while for bacteria to fix its nitrogen.)

    in all seriousness, a cool way to get fresh water and possibly some electricity out of it, if the efficiency problems can be solved. fresh water is scarce enough of a resource as it is.
  • Schauberger? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sunwolf (853208) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @09:31PM (#12641280)
    Interesting - this looks like it has the influence of Viktor Schauberger, commonly known as the water wizard, behind it. Blueprints for an ocean water pump is in Living Water [amazon.com].
  • OTEC = old tech (Score:3, Informative)

    by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday May 25, 2005 @11:10PM (#12641842) Journal
    Hawaii went whole hog for OTEC back in the late 70's. They sunk a pipe and hauled cold water up to use it as a heatsink for a steam engine driven by alcohol. The warm surface water would heat the alcohol to boiling, they'd run the vapor through a turbine and then use the cold water to condense the alcohol vapor.

    Long story short, it didn't work very well. My physics prof pointed out that the theoretical limit on their technology was

    (303-273)/303
    or about 10% where 303 is the boiling temperature in Kelvin and 273 the cold water temperature in Kelvin. After subtracting the various inefficiencies, there wasn't enough power left over to do anything with.

    All was not lost however, the Hawaiians ended up using the cold, nutrient rich water to feed aqua culture enterprises that would use it to grow lobster, abalone, kelp and nori (the seaweed you wrap sushi in.) Aqua culture was so successful that the farmers started sinking their own pipes because the state couldn't meet the demand for cold water.

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