I’ve been taught stewardship and environmentalism are not only beneficial, but essential, from a young age. Some of the teachings came from my maternal grandfather, who, as a farmer, was connected to the land. Some came from my parents, boomers who rejected the me-me-me cry of many of their peers and instead listened to the conserve/scrimp/respect/make-do coda of their depression-era parents. Some came from ex-hippie earthy/crunchy teachers in grade school.
One such lesson is especially vivid. I remember a 1st grade classmate finding either a stick bug or a praying mantis in the woods behind our elementary school playground. He was utterly amazed at this oddity of nature and scooped it up to show the teacher. The teacher quickly gathered everybody nearby to look. One obnoxious kid said it was weird or gross and we should smash it. The teacher admonished him not to do it, and said stick bugs (or mantises) were endangered, and that if we killed one, we’d have to pay a $100 fine for doing so. Moreover, she said, destroying something so rare and wonderful was wrong. For such young middle-class kids, a hundred dollars was a princely sum–high enough a penalty to dissuade the obnoxious kid from carrying out his threat.
Now, I don’t know if mantises or stick bugs are endangered, but that’s not the point. What I learned from that situation was that nature’s forms are myriad, and that all are precious. I stumbled along the way, burning some ants with magnifying glasses and other boy stuff, but I think I emerged as an adult who understands we humans, as the top of the food chain, have an obligation to preserve nature for our descendants.
I live in a rather odd part of Massachusetts, the rural west, where there is a strong Republican contingent and lots of center-right Democrats. When gasoline hit $4 around here the past summer, I saw some truly ugly behavior. For weeks I heard people all around me, at work, shopping, parks, family gatherings, etc, extirpating the “environmentalists” and the “Democrat” party. These idiots were ready to put nukes, derricks, and mines anywhere and everywhere in US land or coastal waters–save their backyards–as long as they got their cheap gas back. I was worried that high gas prices, ironically, would keep the “drill here, drill now” crowd–Big Oil and Big Coal’s chief enablers–in power.
You know the rest of the story: despite a bunch of factors that usually send oil prices through the roof (summer driving season, Georgian invasion of its breakaway republics, tensions with Iran, unrest at African refineries, piracy, collapse of financial services industry, etc.), the cost of a barrel of crude continues to fall–currently in the mid-to-low $40’s range. “Drill baby, Drill” lost is relevance. Obama got elected. Palin ultimately embarrassed the GOP powerbrokers with her diva behavior and outright kookiness (the base continues to adore her, though). The economy continues to flounder.
Amid the daily reminders of how awful our situation is, there are glimmers of hope. Here in western Massachusetts, the family of an Italian-American inventor are nearing production of an innovative split-cycle internal-combustion engine that produces double the gas-miliage with negligible emissions at only a slightly higher cost than the current versions of engine. It is seen as the first breakthrough improvement of the internal-combustion engine since the late 19th century. Researchers like Qteros are racing to make 2nd-generation bio fuels (non-food crop-based) abundantly available and reasonably affordable. Scientists and engineers like the folks at FloDesign Wind are bringing game-changing technologies to the wind power market, with turbines that are smaller, easier to transport, allow greater numbers to be deployed in smaller footprints, and operate more-efficiently at both higher and lower wind speeds than current models.
But, perhaps most promising of all, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan may have discovered the “Holy Grail” of clean tech power generation: the VIVACE system. It is a principle said to be theorized originally by Da Vinci: water moves around fixed bodies and creates destructive energy in the form of vortexs and shedding. Some very smart guys think they’ve found a way to harness that energy.
From Vortex Hydro Energy:
VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations Aquatic Clean Energy)
A novel approach to extract energy from flowing water currents. It is unlike any other ocean energy or low-head hydropower concept. VIVACE is based on the extensively studied phenomenon of Vortex Induced Vibrations (VIV), which was first observed 500 years ago by Leonardo DaVinci in the form of “Aeolian Tones.” For decades, engineers have been trying to prevent VIV from damaging offshore equipment and structures. By maximizing and exploiting VIV rather than spoiling and preventing it, VIVACE takes this ‘problem’ and transforms it into a valuable resource for mankind.
Vortex Induced Vibrations (VIV) result from vortices forming and shedding on the downstream side of a bluff body in a current. Vortex shedding alternates from one side to the other, thereby creating a vibration or oscillation. The VIV phenomenon is non-linear, which means it can produce useful energy at high efficiency over a wide range of current speeds.
Vortex Induced Vibrations Oscillates Objects in Fluid Currents.
VIVACE devices have many potential advantages, which improve installation survivability in the hostile underwater environment and enable low-cost power production by decreasing capital cost and minimizing maintenance.
- High energy density – permits low cost energy to be produced from relatively small installations – requiring up to 50 times less ocean acreage than wave power concepts.
- Simple and rugged moving parts – allows for robust designs that can operate for long periods in the underwater environment with minimal maintenance.
- Low dependence on ocean/river conditions – application of non-linear resonance permits useful energy to be extracted over a wide range of current speeds.
VIVACE and other renewable energy technologies also face regulatory hurdles. Again, VIVACE is advantaged by salient benefits over other technologies.
- Non-obtrusiveness – installations can be positioned beneath the surface, thereby avoiding interference with other uses, such as fishing, shipping and tourism.
- Compatibility with marine life – VIVACE utilizes vortex formation and shedding, which is the same mechanism fish use to propel themselves through the water.
Prototype, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office Naval Research, is currently operating in the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory at the University of Michigan. This device has met and often exceeded expectations; thereby, providing strong evidence to proceed to the next scale, a multi-kilowatt field demonstration.
These technologies can move us towards energy independance, but we need a real effort from government during this bleak economic period to make sure these projects are funded and nurtured until they are able to eclipse oil and coal. We need President Obama to be onboard with this, because, quite frankly, if we don’t kick our oil habit this country will be completely parceled off and sold to the highest (foreign) bidder, and if we don’t kick both oil and coal were going to destroy the planet’s ability of sustain life.
I remain hopeful. When I read about VIVACE and Qteros and FloDesign Wind, and ponder the possible implications of widespread use of their technologies, I don’t feel like my often-grumpy self, but like the 1st grader I was staring at a strange and wonderful insect, marvelling at the beauty and variety of nature.
Read more about the Scuderi split-cycle engine here
Read more about Flodesign Wind Turbines here
Read more about Qteros revolutionary Q microbe here
Read more about VIVACE hydro power here