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Science Technology

Making Ice Without Electricity 608

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the old-science-becomes-new-again dept.
j-beda writes "Time Magazine is running an article telling us how Dave Williams is trying to make ice for third-world applications using the Hilsch-Ranque vortex-tube effect (first developed in 1930 by G.J. Ranque), where swirling air is split into hot and cold components." The method is horribly inefficient but Williams is hoping it could yield helpful results in areas where electricity is really not an option.
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Making Ice Without Electricity

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  • Hrm. (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:03PM (#13540458) Homepage Journal

    In Winnipeg we just leave water outside for a few minutes.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The water leaves YOU outside for a few minutes.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:30PM (#13540726)
        The President leaves you in the water outside for a few days.
    • Yes, but will it make Vanilla Ice...?
      Rollin', in my 5.0 with the top left back so my hair can blow...
      • Re:Hrm. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Tackhead (54550) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:48PM (#13540902)
        > Yes, but will it make Vanilla Ice...?
        Rollin', in my 5.0 with the top left back so my hair can blow...

        I dunno. Let's find out.

        Rollin'... in my 5.0,
        With my rag top down so my hair can blow,
        The voltage is on standby, costs of icin' too high,
        (Did you stop?) No, I just froze, by
        Freon - pursuin' temp'rature drop,
        Compressor's dead, yo, so I continued to,
        George J. Ranque, Hilsch-Ranque vortex tube!

        Peltier's hot, like electrical bikinis,
        And I got no voltage from the Lamborghinis,
        Warmin' - cause I'm out thawin' mine,
        Got my compressor gauge, readin' PSI "9"
        Vaccuum - for the mods on the wall,
        Mods are actin' ill because they had their 8 LOLs
        Hissin' - through the compressor shell,
        I clamped the hose, but it was shot to hell,
        Ozone - burnin' up like real fast,
        Registration link at time-mag suckin' goat ass
        Readin' the Wiki, the 'pedia's packed,
        Thermodynamics 'bout how the fridge is jacked.

        Third law on the scene - you know what I mean,
        A million RPM? Efficiency is unseen,
        If it's a solution, this don't solve it
        Pump out the heat while the Hilsch-Ranque revolves it

        (Vanilla) Ice Ice Geeky, too cold...

    • Re:Hrm. (Score:3, Funny)

      by Surt (22457)
      Fantastic, we'll just pack it in dry ice (to keep it cold) and ship it to third world countries. Problem solved!
      • Maybe when it gets there, we should just store it in some air-conditioned warehouses?
      • Re:Hrm. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sheriff Fatman (602092) * on Monday September 12, 2005 @05:25PM (#13541796) Homepage

        You jest, but truth is stranger than fiction...

        During the first half of the nineteenth century, an enterprising Boston chap by name of Frederic Tudor made his name - and his fortune -harvesting enormous chunks of ice from frozen lakes in Massachusetts, packing them into sailing ships insulated with sawdust (supplied by the Maine timber-mills), and exporting them around the world. By the time artificial refrigeration marked the end the "frozen water trade" in the mid 1800s, they were sending 100-ton shipments of ice as far afield as the Caribbean and Calcutta.

        The whole story is told in Gavin Weightman's The Frozen Water Trade [amazon.com], if you want to know more.

    • Re:Hrm. (Score:4, Funny)

      by peculiarmethod (301094) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:24PM (#13540673) Journal
      In San Diego, we just take our beer to the beach and talk to the nearest bikini. Instant freeze.
    • Re:Hrm. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stienman (51024) <adavis AT ubasics DOT com> on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:50PM (#13540928) Homepage Journal
      The ancient egyptians did the same. In the desert [google.com].

      If you build a solar reflector, but only employ it at night the items inside will become cold, and can attain temperatures below freezing.

      Doesn't work as well on cloudy nights (you are essentially 'beaming' the heat out into the great heatsink called space) and it has to be well insulated from the environment around it (ground, air, etc).

      -Adam
  • to make that "high rate of rotation (over 1,000,000 rpm)." Better use the ice on your legs after.
  • by technoextreme (885694) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:05PM (#13540480)
    How about we try and ensure we give them clean water first. The only use for this is in refrigerators and keeping food fresh.
    • by Khashishi (775369) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:22PM (#13540652) Journal
      freezing water causes a lot of impurities to come out, so these are not contrary goals. Keeping food fresh is pretty important, though.
    • Dude, you have a really messed up view of the third world (which is most of the world btw).
    • or keeping samples of biological material fresh for discerning things like the cause of an outbreak, or criminal guilt. it would make researchers jobs easir if they didnt have to bring a freakin fridge to a site.

    • The only use for this is in refrigerators and keeping food fresh.

      Which is a major advance of civilization. It's not as if all areas that lack electricity are equal. Some already have clean water, but a lack of refrigeration would allow more local storage of perishable food for one thing. I'm sure there's many other benefits to the economy I'm not aware of.
  • This guy is in Engineers Without Borders [ewb-usa.org] so it appears his intentions are good, but what's the deal? How much would it cost to make one of these devices and who's fronting the cash?


    • Well clearly Tanqueray is fronting the cash, and as long as it costs less than fifteen locals on Gilligan generator bikes hooked to a Sub-Zero, they're going ahead with it.
  • useful indeed. (10000000 rpm could be acheivd with mules and huge gears?)
  • by DogDude (805747) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:06PM (#13540493) Homepage
    I think that we all know that it's already been tried, and baaaad things happened as a result:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091557/ [imdb.com]
  • From the Wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex_tube [wikipedia.org]):
    > The vortex tube, also known as the Hilsch-Ranque vortex tube, is a heat pump with no moving parts
    > ressurized gas is injected into a specially designed chamber and accelerated to a high rate of rotation (over 1,000,000 rpm).


    How can you rotate anything without moving parts???
    • by SiliconEntity (448450) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:09PM (#13540524)
      How can you rotate anything without moving parts?

      The gas moves into the chamber under pressure. The chamber is shaped to send the gas into a whirling vortex. Then the hot molecules go one way and the cold ones go the other. But I think it takes very high pressures to produce the required speeds.
    • But I presume that the gas is injected into the side of the chamber at an angle, so that it rotates around due to collision with the rounded walls. Not too mysterious. I'm just wondering about that high rate of rotation.
    • Ach, stupid me... The air rotates, not the drum... but then, how would you "rotate" air to such obscene speeds? It mentions a compressor, but if I had the energy to operate a compressor, why wouldn't I have the energy to to run a freezer?

      I thought of that right after posting, yet despite "excellent" karma, I still have to wait 5 minutes before posting...
      • It mentions a compressor, but if I had the energy to operate a compressor, why wouldn't I have the energy to to run a freezer?

        Because, presumably, the compressor isn't located anywhere near where you're trying to do this at. And there's no grid to move the power from point A to point B.

        Consider the pressurized air cannisters as a form of battery. A hideously inefficient, highly limited form (although pressurized air may be superior to electric power in some ways, this isn't one of them).

        Of course, I questio
  • Dr. Brown (Score:2, Funny)

    by 3CRanch (804861)
    Didn't Dr. Emmit Brown invent something like this back in 1845 or so? You know, shortly before Marty arrived...
    • Re:Dr. Brown (Score:2, Informative)

      by petabyte (238821)
      Ok, not to be pedantic, but it was 1885 - you know, 100 years before the first movie which was 1985.

      He also perfected that machine that made breakfast automatically in the morning which was a mess when he tried it in 1985.

      Oh and yeah, a time machine powered by steam but thats the only part of the movie I didn't find plausable ...
      • Re:Dr. Brown (Score:3, Informative)

        by OverlordQ (264228)
        No the time machine wasn't powered by steam (if you're referring to BTTF:III), the whole steam loco was used to get the car up to the required 88 miles per hour, not to generate the power for the flux capacitor.
  • I read TFA, and... (Score:5, Informative)

    by arhines (620963) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:10PM (#13540529) Homepage
    ... Time really needs to get its story straight with regards to scientific reporting. This method is a) not innovative b) not practical and c) REQUIRES SIGNIFICANT ENERGY INPUT. Vortex tubes have been around forever, and they are not some form of perpetual motion. It is a well-understood effect, and one which does not violate any of thermodynamics. You put in a lot of energy via compressed air, and get output in the form of a thermal differential. The key point is that you need a lot of high pressure input...where is this going to come from? Electricity. Unless you use a combustion engine to turn the crank on a compressor, in which case that's your energy source. What are villagers in rural india going to do? Blow really hard through the tube?
    • Instinctively I'd consider the possibility of using a stirling engine before trying this method.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 12, 2005 @04:01PM (#13541023) Homepage
      and let's ignore that it's worthless.

      I make ice and keep things cold EVERY time I go camping without electricity. in fact I make a fire to make things cold.

      that type of freezer/fridge has been around for decades and are pretty efficient now compared to electric units.

      I use maybe 10 pounds of Propane to run my RV fridge for 3 months straight.

      I'm all for inventing new ways of doing it, but to "help the poor in africa" is not the way to try out new stuff.

      give them a fridge with a coil plate they can build a fire under or will allow an oil lamp burner to keep it running (yes this works) and use that old tech that simply works.
  • Where, oh where would it be more efficient to use this crazy scheme than to generate electricity by various conventional means, then make ice with it?
  • According to TFA, it uses 35x the amount of energy as an electric freezer. That's a lot of juice. And you need that juice to move the compressed air around (right?) You can't just hook a tube up to a windmill and magically have ice come out.

    It seems entirely counter productive to me. This kind of phenomenon seems like it's usefull in situations where you aren't worried about energy cost, but mabe some other concerns (like rapidly cooling something?)
  • 1. It is very inefficient.
    2. You still have to have the energy to compress the air.
    3. High pressure air systems do not take abuse well and can be very dangerous.
    4. This thing will be noisy as all get out.

    Yea he says that you could use wind, water, and or solar to power this thing but you could do the same with conventional cooling systems as well. Solid state cooling systems would be far more sturdy and a conventional compressor based system far more efficent.

    • 1. It is very inefficient.
      2. You still have to have the energy to compress the air.
      3. High pressure air systems do not take abuse well and can be very dangerous.
      4. This thing will be noisy as all get out.


      You forgot:

      5. ???
      6. Profit!

      I think Step 5 goes something like this:
      To continue reading the complete article, login or subscribe below and get free instant access. Get 6 issues of TIME for only $1.99

      Kapiche?
  • by mikew03 (186778) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:11PM (#13540547)
    If you can spin something at 1,000,000 RPM why not spin a copper coil inside a magnetic field and make electricity instead? Quite useful stuff I've heard.
    • by RapmasterT (787426) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:19PM (#13540620)
      If you can spin something at 1,000,000 RPM why not spin a copper coil inside a magnetic field and make electricity instead? Quite useful stuff I've heard.
      BINGO!!! We have a winner of the "Find the Logic Hole in the Seemingly Reasonable Idea" game!

      There's a reson why electicity is a freakin' universal component of modern societies people. It's EASY to produce, so easy that's it's just about goddamn trivial since there's dozens of different ways to go about it, and NONE of them involve ridiculously ineffcient and complex methods like "ice without electricity" does.

      Hell, why not work on "masturbation without enjoyment" too, that should be just as useful.

      • Hell, why not work on "masturbation without enjoyment" too, that should be just as useful.

        I've already done that, it's called sex with my spouse.

        "Don't knock masturbation; it's sex with someone I love."
        ---Woody Allen---
      • by Sialagogue (246874) <sialagogue@gBOYSENmail.com minus berry> on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:42PM (#13540856)

        Or, we have found First and Second Prize winners in the "Talk out your ass without knowing anything" game.

        If either one of you had bothered to look into this device for even a moment, oh I don't know, maybe here [cockerill.net] for example, you'd know that they aren't spinning anything at a million RPM. It is a device that has no moving parts. Basically, and I'll boil it down for you, you blow in one end and two streams come out, one hotter and one colder. It's the vortex inside that can reach a million RPM.

        If you can find a way (and this, I assume, is what he's still working on) to get enough air through it then you can get the cold stream very cold indeed, which is useful.

        I've never been to anywhere that qualifies as Third-World, but I assume that simple is better. With no moving parts this is as simple as it gets, if a way can be found to get enough gas through it. Perhaps it's wind, or volcanic gases, or storing composting gas, or simply the hot air generated by your armchair engineering, the point is that he's looking into it to try to help people, and you didn't look into it and are helping no one.

      • I always get a kick out of things like that.

        a car alternator can be ad anywhere, fix a sproket to it, modify a bike and BINGO!! you have a electricity generator. get tricky and put a battery and a 12V inverter in the mix (all of which can be had extremely cheap and easily acquired in any country) and you have what you need to run a plethora of electrical devices.

        everyone keeps missing one really important thing.
        most everyone in villages in africa could care less if they had electricity. they have lived fo
  • by Anonymous Monkey (795756) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:12PM (#13540556)
    I read the article, and the wikipeda entry, and am left with a question. Without electricity and fule how do we get the compressed gas to run this thing?
  • Sounds like the sort of invention Jimmy Buffett (as opposed to Warren Buffett) might be interested in.

    Margaritaville without electricity...
  • Ammonia based gas absorption refrigeration works well with heat source, such as kerosene [nh3tech.org] or propane [lpappliances.com]. I often thought about ways to focus solar radiation to do the trick, as well.

    There was even a pretty cool movie [imdb.com] made based on it.
    • Yes, there has been an article on the homepower website on a solar powered ammonia based ice maker. The one in the article was constructed in Alabama, and would use solar heat to drive the ammonia into an absorbant, then at night, it would freeze water to make ice. Very scalable, the only nasty part about it is the ammonia. And that is fine as long as it is in a sealed system (which this was). No moving parts, very simple construction (if I recall correctly). If only knowledge was shared (and easy to f
    • by MajorDick (735308) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:43PM (#13540870)
      My mothers house has 2 ammonia Air Conditioning units built in the mid to late 40's they were "Overage" for a bank and made their way into my grandfathers new home, since it is a hot water heated house its great, let me tell you these things will even chill the upstairs of the house , at 2000 ish square feet to push cold up is not a bad trick, the volume they output is the key.

      The funny part ? They still work flawlessly, and have not been serviced since at least 1977 ( In know this for a fact as thats when my grandad passed away)

      Their electric consumption is actually minimal, running both all month equates to about a 60$ electricity increase. Unreal if you ask me, I kept thinking we were on an electric budget the first summer I fired em up in 20 years as it was way to hot for my grandma without air so I told her I would cover the bill. it never went up....

      The beauty is these units will spill the ammonia outsie through the exhaust should the coils ever rupture (I doubt it since they are about 1/8 in thick copper :) Designed well, and built like German tanks...
  • Want ice without electricity? Drive the compressor with a small diesel power plant.
  • What's the big deal? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gigabit Switchman (16654) <drew DOT vanzandt AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:15PM (#13540583) Homepage
    Why try to develop something entirely new, with the resulting time and money requirements? A few solar cells + Peltier coolers + some insulation and an ice tray. Yes, Peltiers are inefficient... but they're solid-state, at least, which I think ought to do for remote areas as far as durability. I would think you could assemble a decent mini-freezer out of things portable enough to carry anywhere:

    1) Flexible solar panels (less efficient but more portable than glass)
    2) A handful of Peltiers... they're pretty small
    3) A couple of cans of "Great Stuff" spray-in insulation, or cans of A-B component expanding insulation

    One of my friends went to Peru to assemble a non-electric solar water purifier, and anything they couldn't carry on their backs on 30-mile-a-day hikes for a week didn't go. Now that's a design constraint!
  • 1. Wind turbines used to create it and charge batteries at the same time.

    2. Solar cells used to create it and charge batteries at the same time.

    Inefficiency is in the eyes of the beholder.
  • This method requires a lot of compressed air, and ultimately, a lot of energy. If electricity "is not an option," (presumeably because of remoteness from a reliable grid) then where is the energy to make the compressed air coming from?

    Because it would be far more efficient to just hook the energy source right up to a conventional refrigeration compressor, surely.

    All in all, it sounds to me like the Sun Frost [sunfrost.com] people have a better plan, as far as sunny places go, at least.
  • Is it just me, or does the fact that an alternative use for this process is the enrichment of uranium seem like a bad idea for the third world (read terrorist training ground)?
  • Clearly this still takes power, even if it's coming from a user turning a crank.

    It is an inefficient system, so why not use the same power source for something more efficient like a peltier junction?
  • How inefficient? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oddRaisin (139439)
    How inefficient is horribly inefficient? The gas motors that powers all our vehicles is only 30% efficient, but that's when it's at its peak output (pedal to the metal). Most of the time it averages 17% efficient (17% of the energy generated actually makes it to the wheels).
  • by HPNpilot (735362) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:24PM (#13540670) Homepage
    Couldn't read the full article as it is now "premium content" but if you can make compressed air you can make electricity, and use that electricity for more than refrigeration. The comments about the vortex tubes' inefficiency are correct, so even if you figure the inefficiencies of (solar/labor/water power) to electric then operation of either a freon or Peltier cooler, you are better off.


    If someone wants to do something really interesting for the third world, make an adsorbtion freezer using solar concentrators for the heat source. This article discusses some issues: http://me.sjtu.edu.cn/english/scientific_research/ tpad.htm [sjtu.edu.cn]
    • If someone wants to do something really interesting for the third world, make an adsorbtion freezer using solar concentrators for the heat source.

      And while you're at it, a solar concentrating mirror (or foil arrangement), without a greenhouse-forming glass layer, pointed at a cloudless night sky, makes ice REALLY well.

      The night sky (absent clouds and above the atmosphere) is four degrees absolute - and it's not THAT much warmer from ground level even with the mostly sub-zero greenhouse gas layers floating a
  • Full article (Score:3, Informative)

    by nstrom (152310) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:26PM (#13540691)
    The full article seems to be available in the print-only version here:
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816, 1101299,00.html [time.com]

    You're not missing much, though -- I'm guessing this one was a sidebar blurb, as it's only two paragraphs anyways.
  • by chill (34294) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:28PM (#13540715) Journal
    The Romans used to make ice in the deserts of Palestine and North Africa. It seems to me they were around before electricity and Frigidaire.

    http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/nov99/9417235 40.Sh.r.html [madsci.org]

    Of course, the large temperature difference between the day and night in the desert it what drives it. That method probably won't work in tropical climates.

      -Charles
    • by value_added (719364) on Monday September 12, 2005 @04:00PM (#13541012)
      The Romans used to make ice in the deserts of Palestine and North Africa. It seems to me they were around before electricity and Frigidaire.

      All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health, and making ice without electricity, what have the Romans ever done for us?
      • "All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health, and making ice without electricity, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

        They arranged for the disposal of that inconvenient rebel known as 'The Christ'?
  • by isorox (205688)
    Perhaps they could do with this in LA [foxnews.com]
  • Article text (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    When he isn't snowboarding or volunteering for Engineers Without Borders, Dave Williams spends his days thinking about something most of us take for granted: ice. As he discovered on a volunteer trip to Haiti in 2002, ice can be a godsend to a poor village, keeping fish fresh on a journey to market or preserving vaccines. But how do you make it without electricity, without access to coolants like Freon or fuels like propane? Williams, 26, knew that forcing compressed air through a hole in the middle of a pi
  • Where would you get the compressed air?
    This doesn't work with wind.
  • by Cyclotron_Boy (708254) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:34PM (#13540770) Homepage
    For those who didn't read TFA, and haven't ever read about the operation of these devices, Tim Cockerill [cockerill.net] wrote his thesis [cockerill.net] about them. He provides an excellent reference for the thermodynamic operation of these devices. You can put down your tinfoil hats, as they do obey classical thermodynamics perfectly well.
  • by dwight0 (513303) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:34PM (#13540773) Homepage
    here is a picture of one. it makes it easier to see how it works.
    HERE [google.com]
  • 1.000.000 RPM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashflood (697891) <{flow} {at} {howflow.com}> on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:34PM (#13540777) Homepage Journal
    How can you rotate anything without moving parts???

    10000000 rpm could be acheivd with mules and huge gears?

    To make that "high rate of rotation (over 1,000,000 rpm)." Better use the ice on your legs after.

    If you press a gas into a cylinder with a specific angle, it starts to rotate at a very high rpm. Here is the construction [freeserve.co.uk].

    Please RTFM first.
  • by RealityMogul (663835) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:34PM (#13540779)
    Create a 10 mile high structure. Send water to top. Bring ice back down.
  • I can see it now, the second generation freezer: It would be 35 times more efficient to crank a compressor. So for the Mark II freezer, instead of employing the whole village to crank one vortex freezer, with a compressor he would only need one guy ==> rampant unemployment...
  • Ive been wondering if I'd ever see someone try to find a practical application for this. Ever since I saw it used in my science class, Ive heard that screech in the back of my head and tried to think of a way to use it.
  • by DaoudaW (533025) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:54PM (#13540965)
    Back when I lived in an African village, 1989-92, we had a kerosene refrigerator. All I had to do was trim the wick occasionally and keep feeding it fossil fuel and it kept things cold/frozen for me. A co-worker of mine in another location converted his to burn butane by putting a bunsen burner in place of the kerosene wick.

    Although we certainly used our fridge for food and ice, it was also very important to refrigerate meds for the clinic in our village.
  • by Comatose51 (687974) on Monday September 12, 2005 @03:55PM (#13540967) Homepage
    Making ice without any electricity happens everytime I try to talk to a girl.

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