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Regional Environmental Remediation: Energy Harvestings Role in Future Cities

By Garee Henderson,Ph.D.AD,PM Director of R&D Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.

August 2012

     
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Abstract: Regional Environmental Remediation:

 

Two important trends are colliding resulting in significant threats to health and commerce. The trends are increased population concentration and increased energy diffusion. As populations exceed the regional hydrological cycle’s ability to provide water, absorb solid and gaseous wastes, and impact natural balances such as surface and atmospheric albedo, regions can quickly become less habitable to all forms of life. Increased population concentrations also concentrate energy diffusion from industries, vehicles, HVAC, and other un-natural energy conversions. As these trends meet both can be deleterious to the regional environment, unless energy diffusion can be harvested in the service of environmental management and pollution remediation.


Summary:


Regional environmental remediation: Energy Harvestings Role in Future Cities


i1 out of every 2 people in the world today live in and around urban centers. Studies forecast that over the next 2 decades almost all of the world's human population growth will be in urban areas, and much of it in the still developing world.ii At the same time, as affluence rises among city dwellers there is an even more rapid growth of overall resource utilization by humans and livestock worldwide. One highly visible aspect of this is that the usage of motorized transport has increased at rates more directly correlated with population density that with actual population growth. This growth is typical for various forms of resource utilization which is directly tied to increasing populations’ concentrations, which include; treated water & sewage, indoor and outdoor lighting, processed and imported foodstuffs, meat consumption, HVAC, and life extension due to improved health care.


At this point let me note one word of mixed hope. This rapid evolution of populations to greater densities will in the longer term be mitigated by a number of other trends, such as increasing productivity. Automation and robotics will gradually change the nature of work and diminish the need for human energy transfers as manual labor or distributed activity. Another positive trend, which we will discuss in greater detail later, is the rapid dissemination of energy efficient devices like LED and automated systems which manage systems more effectively thereby reducing energy outputs.


The challenge is that while human population densities increase, nature cannot keep up and there is no time for an offsetting evolutionary change of nature's resources. As a result water and sewage must be pumped, winds are insufficient to clean the air, and the earth cannot absorb the heat and vibrations generated by these vast human settlements. These mega-cites become concentrated energy sources like a burning cigarette on flesh of the planet. An apt analogy is mold and yeast concentrations. Micro-organisms’ like mold and yeast are free floating in the atmosphere and are generally innocuous and unnoticed. Yet traditional bread makers pull yeast out of the air with a series of concentration methods. It is only when these organisms grow in large communities that they begin to impact their environments. This also follows the modern view of illness, in that infection is the concentration of a pathological organism beyond the body's carrying capacity.


The natural energy absorption of earth is around 120 Watts of sunlight per square meter. When we consider other natural energy sources such as animal and plant life, geothermal energy emanating from the ground, wind, and evaporation, this number can conservatively be increased to 240 watts per square meter. These levels of energy can successfully be managed by the naturally evolved eco-systems for;

  1. the cycles of life,

    1. birth: conversion of organic and in-organic materials sufficient to induce ATP kick start [animation],

    2. growth: conversion of organic and in-organic materials into organic materials

    3. life: conversion of organics, sunlight and in-organic materials to support stasis [life]

    4. death: diffusion and breakdown of organic materials as organic foodstuffs and the conversion of organic compounds into in-organic materials,

  2. dissipation of fluid concentrations (via gravity based winds and other fluid flows), and

  3. The dissipation of heat and vibration.


At these levels the integrity of the eco-system is maintained along the route of natural evolutionary accommodation of diverse complementary life.


Dense human communities dramatically add to the energy burden of the environment. Although no studies are referenced, it is easy to see where the energy burden is increased 10 to 100 fold. HVAC maintains a significant portion of the city space at temperatures comfortable for humans by introducing 43 watts per meter squared of energy. Vehicle traffic adds another 990 watts of burden over the roadways. When we estimate the total average, western nation business hours, burden above natural levels to be 2,000-3,000 watts per meter squared (considers multi-story structures). This additional energy burden is largely derived from fossil fuels. A mitigation is that a significant portion of the pollution generated by the combustion of these fuels is located at distant generation plants, yet the transmission of these energies introduces a significant wattage as EMF all along the transmission route.


In a city the size of Beijing this totals 14-21 megawatts of energy which must be dissipated into the environments each second. While this figure represents only a fraction of the total energy usage of a large city, much of the energy consumed is converted into other forms, including physical products, mechanical activity, and human consumption. This figure represents our best estimate of the energy over burden on natural environmental systems, such as fluid and gas flows, vibration absorption by the earth, heat dissipation.


A modern city is analogous to a large group of fighting dinosaurs being trapped in a small building from the perspective of the environment. Just imagine the noise, the vibrations, the impacts on other life forms, and stench of rotting flesh. City dwellers have adjusted to many of the privations of city life, although we have not had time to evolve sufficiently to prevent this environment from making us sick. Once again the vision of a colony of mold on a piece of bread comes to mind.


Long term solutions which can address the energy dissipation requirements of modern cities must be implemented.


Fortunately, as with many human problems the solution is energy and energy-efficiency. Through greater energy-efficiency we can reduce this un-natural burden on the environment. Policies which dictate fewer, smaller, more energy-efficient vehicles will help. Gradually raising the pressure on manufacturing industries for greater energy-efficiency in vehicles, durable goods, and lighting have proven effective. I often enjoy watching the desperate visions of the earth today through the eyes of film makers from the 70's and 80's, who forecast that by the year 2000 the cities would become un-inhabitable due to pollution and crime. The award winning movie from the 80's called Blade Runner predicted that by the year 2010 Los Angeles would be dark and damp from the collective effects of decades of pollution. Of course Los Angeles today is brighter, sunnier, safer, and cleaner than ever, due to corrective actions and the cultural evolution of its citizens. It would appear from this that the future of cities is bright, until we consider the rising costs and scarcity of key resources such as water, power, and resource stability.


Cities today are forced to look farther away geographically for key resources such as potable water, foodstuffs, and energy. This is a function of the growth of city populations, increased affluence and therefore resource utilization, and of the depletion of local resources. City landfills all around the world are being closed due to capacity. Water supplies dictate that massive dams and other diversions route water to the cities, placing extreme stress on rural and agricultural communities. These agricultural stresses increase the cost of foodstuffs, and further damage the regional environment with the logistics of feeding large populations from increasingly remote sources. The increasing energy needs of dense cities are also a huge tax on remote communities, as often coal fired electrical generation plants are constructed to feed the voracious city.


The solutions to these problems must put rising populations either in check, or in sync with the regional environment.


HVAC and regional groundwater are examples of how a greater synchronization with nature could easily mitigate the growing problems of energy and water supplies. iiiThe widespread usage of near-surface geothermal energy [energy derived from the stability of the earth below the frost line] can reduce the energy requirements and the concomitant pollution of HVAC.


Local water supplies can also be improved by more judicious use of regional precipitation. ivThese methods include many governmental policies, and construction techniques.


Yet, as population densities continue to increase these measures will be increasingly inadequate. The solution is to convert some of the energy dissipated by city dwellers and road users into environmental remediation and mitigation.


Many cities are located near large brackish water sources, yet they must expropriate water from distance rural sources at exorbitant primary and secondary prices. If only a small portion of the energy dissipated into the environment by city dwellers was applied to water desalination, the water needs of the city could easily be met by its population. Such a solution would grow with the problem.


Another portion of this destructive waste energy could be used to actively treat air and water pollution, as well as remediation of past damages. Waste water and sewage can readily be treated with sufficient energy sources, by employing modern forced filtration and evaporative methods. Air pollution can be targeted near its sources on the roadways and particulates removed, given that enough energy can be applied to the task.


Significant portions of the destructive waste energy of modern city life can be harvested with modern energy harvesting techniques. At Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc. of the US, we have developed a variety of robust fluid pumps, which are ideal for water and sewage movement, gas compressors, and roadway control systems that harvest the energy dissipated into the roadways by city traffic. These devices are grid and fuel independent, yet they provide the dense energy on demand that is required for synchronization between city energy usage and mediation of the resultant pollution. These devices can divert megawatts of energy away from roadway stress and decay, into the power needed for greater geothermal HVAC, water desalination, air pollution mitigation, and many applications yet to be conceived.


This move to waste energy harvesting is growing in industry and agriculture. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technologies are now considered as best practice in many industries, especially those located near power stations. However, energy harvesting potentials are not limited to waste heat. At GSE we have developed systems which convert the vibrations of vehicle movements across rigid structures, such as bridges, into electrical energy for lighting and signage. Our researchers are also looking at methods to convert atmospheric heat into mechanical energy.


The most important point that I can make is that population density is both a blessing and a curse. It is a curse to the local and regional environments, yet with modern energy harvesting technologies it can bless us with almost unlimited useful dense energy.


i Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability by Barney Cohen of Committee on Population, National Research Council, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20001, USA

ii IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

iiiAlternative energy for retail establishment, GSE 2011 by Garee Henderson

ivCauses and solutions of drought, GSE 2011 by Garee Henderson


     
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