Nikola Tesla and Renewable Energy – Discovering Hydrothermal and Geothermal Power

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla believed that the thermo-dynamic process, i.e., the burning of fossil fuels, was “wasteful and barbarous.” He foresaw the limitations on supply and the inherent dangers to man and the environment (though even Tesla couldn’t anticipate the impacts of fossil fuels on climate change). “Whatever our resources of primary energy may be in the future,” Tesla argued, “we must, to be rational, obtain it without consumption of any material.” He believed that natural, renewable, sources of energy could “eliminate the need of coal, oil, gas or any other of the common fuels.” Two of the renewable energy sources that he investigated were hydrothermal and geothermal energy.

Tesla recognized that natural heat differentials exist in all three compartments of the environment – the oceans, the earth, and the atmosphere. Tesla saw the potential for a whole new source of energy from nature.

Hydrothermal

Tesla spent a great deal of effort determining a way to harness the temperature differential of the deep seas for power. The basic idea is that the “warmth of one layer” would be “brought into contact with the cold of another, to operate great power plants.”[iii] Tesla felt that such a system was practical to develop and operate. While he does discuss other natural sources of energy in his 1931 article “Our Future Motive Power,” most of the article is dedicated to analysis of the theory and practicality of hydrothermal energy from the sea.

Tesla dove into the project with his usual zeal, determined to create something completely new. The basic system relied on an apparatus that had existed for over a century, the cryophorus (“cold carrier”). It consisted of two large glass bulbs connected by a glass tube. The bulbs are partially filled with liquid, one bulb packaged in ice, “which is evaporated in one and condensed in the other.” After many calculations he felt the system could generate massive amounts of power

Tesla was elated. What a discovery!

Geothermal

Terrestrial powerThere are temperature differentials in the earth as well. In 1900 Tesla was already contemplating what today we call geothermal energy. In a somewhat long-winded and metaphysical treatise called “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” Tesla wrote that “it is a well-known fact that the interior portions of the globe are very hot, the temperature rising, as observations show, with the approach to the center at the rate of approximately 1 degree C. for every hundred feet of depth.”

Several scientists and adventurously minded dreamers had sought ways to harness this natural energy. French astronomer and physicist M. Camille Flammarion, for example, suggested that a massive hole could be bored through the crust of the earth to “sap the inexhaustible supply of heat” believed present in the Earth’s core. Among other complications, Flammarion’s idea had one huge drawback – the opening to the shaft would need to be “two hundred to three hundred yards, supported by a heavy, thick, cast-iron lining.” Flammarion insisted this plan was “practicable and possible;” in reality it was closer to delusional.

Tesla, on the other hand, felt the basic temperature differential principle was sound and that with his own discoveries (e.g., use of volatile fluids), very small diameter holes and shallow depths would be sufficient to power populated areas. Tesla felt the only requirement still to be met was “to find some economic and speedy way of sinking deep shafts.” If that could be achieved it would “open up unlimited resources of power throughout the world.”

By this time, however, Tesla was in his 75th year and without a laboratory or funds to be doing any groundbreaking research. He decided that developing these natural energy technologies “must be left to the future” and someone else. He also recognized that our energy infrastructure had already swayed toward use of “cheap” coal and oil, and that government and financial support for fossil fuels would make development of renewable resources more difficult. Even with these realities, Tesla was already anticipating the day when “our stores of coal and oil will be eventually used up” and other more sustainable energy resources would be necessary.

[The extract above comes from my e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. The book is available for download on Amazon.]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

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Abraham Lincoln, Ballooning, and the Technology of War – Redux

Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln is the only president to ever get a patent, an ingenious, though impractical, method for lifting boats over shoals. This interest in technology served him well during the Civil War as battles increasingly relied on mechanization for transportation, communication, and weaponry.

I’ve hinted at some of these things in previous posts and will be enlarging on this as my new book develops. As I do that, here are some relevant posts you may have missed:

James L. GreenAbraham Lincoln’s Air Force – Balloons in the Civil War: A discussion with James L. Green, a Director of Planetary Science with NASA and a worldwide expert on Thaddeus Lowe and the use of gas-filled balloons during the early part of the war. Green is working on a new book on the topic and was gracious enough to host me for a lunch discussion.

Organized by the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, this exhibition explores how cutting-edge Civil War technological innovations captured Lincoln's fascination and impacted the conduct of the war.Abraham Lincoln and the Technology of War: A recent exhibit held in the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership displayed telegraphs, weapons, and other artifacts reflecting various forms of technology that helped the North win the war.

Lincoln and the Tools of War by Robert V. Bruce: My review of the definitive treatment on the technology of weaponry in the Civil War.

While you’re at it, check out these two reviews of books comparing Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, two men born on the same day who each left a lasting legacy that changed the world.

Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, by David R. Contosta.

Lincoln and Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science and Religion, by James Lander

Check back soon for more about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. BTW, did you know that Nikola Tesla and Abraham Lincoln have a World’s Fair connection? Find out more here.

David J. Kent is a lifelong Lincolnophile and is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

Reflections on My Anniversary (or, Why I Became a Science Traveler)

The Traveling ScientistOne year ago today I left behind the first half of my life.  After more than 30 years as a working scientist I had decided to give up a comfortable salary for a life of (essentially) no income. I would become a poor starving writer.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I loved my previous life. Well, most of it. But the parts I didn’t like had grown in proportion to the parts that excited me. Using my skills, my knowledge, and my personal connections with colleagues and clients, I made a large amount of money – for others. Sure, my salary was nice enough, but increasingly the benefits of my labor went to others, and those others seemed decreasingly appreciative of that fact. Abraham Lincoln’s line from his Second Inaugural Address about  “wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces” kept popping into mind. Not a perfect analogy, but close enough.

I learned a lot during all those years – about science, about business, about people. I also learned that science is often trumped by business concerns and people’s perceptions. I felt there was a growing need to communicate science to the public, and that scientists weren’t always very good at meeting that need. I decided to do something about that.

Coincident with this desire was some serendipity that led to publication of my first professional book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. As the old saw grinds, “the stars aligned, angels’ voices rang down from the heavens” and all that not-so-scientifically-accurate metaphorical interlude. In real terms, stuff fell into place and it became clear this was the time to take the risk. So I did.

So where am I this one year later? I’ve traveled a bit, though not as much as I would have liked. One highlight of 2014 is an amazing trip to Argentina, with several smaller and more local trips throughout the year. I’ll squeeze in a few more jaunts before New Year’s and am busy planning for 2015 (Peru? China? Rushmore?). Science Traveling will play an increasingly important role in my future.

I’m also writing. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity was back in Barnes and Noble stores mid-summer and was selling faster than it did last year (in fact, sales in the first 6 weeks already nearly matched all last year). To this I added a second book, an e-book exclusive to Amazon called Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. More books are in the works, including my opus on Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science. Add in some manuscript editing, magazine articles, newsletter writing, and even some grant requests (plus my blogs, which I’ll reveal more about later), and yes, I’ve been keeping incredibly busy. All in an effort to bring science to the public – to make science fun again.

Finally, as I wind down my final year of the presidential cycle for the regional SETAC Chapter, I begin my first year in a leadership role with the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia. As the director of outreach and education for LGDC I’m working with an engaged group of Lincoln scholars and aficionados to celebrate the life of Abraham Lincoln and ignite a new generation of interest. His “science geekiness” bridges my lifelong interest in Lincoln with my lifelong career in science. A perfect prelude to my forthcoming book. :)

I can confidently acknowledge that it’s a very happy anniversary indeed. The first of many.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is an avid science traveler and independent Abraham Lincoln historian.

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10 Things You Don’t Know About Edison vs Tesla

Henry Rollins from imdb.comWay back in May I was contacted by a producer for a TV series for the History Channel called “10 Things You Don’t Know About,” hosted by Henry Rollins. They were interested in doing a program on the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. I spoke with the producer and provided my thoughts on what interesting facts they could include, and although I didn’t make it into the final program, it aired on September 7, 2014.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Edison vs Tesla

Rollins talks to an interesting array of experts and gets himself zapped by The Oatmeal, deep dives to the sunken luxury liner Oregon, and checks out Edison’s handwritten notes for a planned science fiction book. He also delves into Mark Twain’s role as Tesla’s “test dummy,” Edison’s most profitable invention (it’s not what you think and is actually quite ironic), and Tesla’s inspiration from Christopher Columbus. All in all it’s a great program.

You can also check out my own “5 Things You Didn’t Know about Nikola Tesla,” including how Tesla was both a showman and recluse, his interest in renewable energy, and why some people thought he was an alien from another planet.

Search for Telsa in the box above for more things you didn’t know about Nikola Tesla. And if you downloaded my e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, please leave a short review and rating to help others discover Nikola Tesla.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

 

Vietnam for Americans – Redux

VietnamI went to Hanoi before going to Hanoi became cool. Long after the Vietnam War but before the United States normalized relations with the unified communist nation, my first major trip out of the country was to a place that remains very much foreign to most Americans.

I posted about the trip two years ago but since then much has happened and many new people have come into my writing life. So I’m linking to the two posts below for those who may not have seen them.

Part 1: Hanoi on a Half-Shell: My initial impressions, the “shoe road,” and handmade silk shirts.

Part 2: A Cup of Tea and a Conversation I Didn’t Understand: Eating noodles while squatting on the street, and the best conversation I’ve ever had in which I didn’t understand a word that was said.

I hope you enjoy reminiscing with me…and getting a glimpse of a place most people will never see in person. I’ll have more on Vietnam (and other places) in the future here on Science Traveler.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler and is currently working on a book about his experiences traveling in Argentina. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

The Gravel Roads of Patagonia

Thump.

My leg instinctively jerks away even though this is the tenth time a rock has stung the floorboards beneath my foot. The ping strikes my ears a split second after the thump has stimulated my autonomic reaction. Thump, ping, repeat.

This is Route 40, about 250 km of dirt – no, make that gravel – that Argentina considers a highway. Gravel roads are common here in the southern reaches of Argentina, which is more than can be said for road signs. Except for signs blazing the word “Desvio;” Detour. Desvio signs are ubiquitous along this side of the Patagonian Andes. Detour. The sign itself is obvious, but the road to which you’re detouring to? Well, not so much. We’re pretty much off the grid for the next several days, with hundreds of kilometers between towns, no phone service, no internet, and as I’ve been finding out, often no road.

Gravel roads in Patagonia

This is one of the better roads

I’m traveling with my long-time friend and Argentine host, Pablo. Even he has been having difficulty following the road. Desvio signs pop up as routinely as the gravel thumps against the bottom of the car. Several times we had to stop to ask for help locating the road, something that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was traveling alone. If you don’t speak the language, it’s definitely a plus to be traveling with a native. We actually had to stop to ask the only person we had seen for many miles – the driver of a road grader leveling the mountain of rocks into a semblance of a highway.

Compounding the difficulty was that the gravel roads aren’t captured well on maps. You’ll be driving along a beautifully paved road and suddenly, with no other visible options, another sign pops up – Fin de Pavimento (End of Pavement). I should mention that we’re talking about roads that go on for tens or hundreds of kilometers with no outlets. You’re on this road going one direction, or you’re on it going the other direction. Even then, sometimes you can’t tell which direction you’re going.

Occasionally you’ll suddenly see an opening and get to pop back up onto a partially paved section in the middle of nowhere, but usually that pleasure is short-lived and you’re quickly back on gravel. The road surface ranges from packed dirt and pebbles (a rarity) to looser pebbles (more common) to coarse gravel (even more common) to what the official Krumbein Phi Scale of particle size officially calls cobble. Way too often the road is reminiscent of salmon spawning streams with rocks the size of bricks piled high in the middle of self-made tracks. These are the loudest, and scariest, clanks on the bottom of the car.

The car, by the way, is a Ford EcoSport SUV, so we sit high above the road surface. And still the stones thump.

My foot jerks away again. It actually feels like the rock is a direct strike to the bottom of my shoe.

Gravel roads are common in Pablo’s hometown of Bariloche as well, though mostly at the better end of the spectrum between “noisy but drivable” and “should be condemned as impassible.” So prevalent are gravel roads that Pablo says everyone adds one option to their new car purchase – steel plates on the underside of the car to protect the engine compartment and the gas tanks from puncture.

Thump.

But apparently not the floor boards in the back seat area. It’s a different world down here.

[For more articles on Argentina, click here and scroll down, or simply type Argentina into the search box at the top of the page]

[This is a cross-post from my Hot White Snow site while I'm out science traveling.]

David J. Kent is an avid traveler and is currently working on a book about his experiences traveling in Argentina. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

Buy a Brick for Nik – Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe

I bought a brick for Nik – Nikola Tesla, that is. And you can too. If you’ve been following this website you know of the extraordinary efforts to purchase Tesla’s last laboratory at Wardenclyffe and turn it into a science center and museum. And now you can get your name on it.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, led by Jane Alcorn:

“invites you to become a permanent part of the Center project by purchasing a commemorative brick for one of the several places on our 16-acre campus where we will be establishing paved areas, beginning with the area at the base of the Nikola Tesla statue.”

Bricks come in two sizes (4″ x 8″ and 8″ x 8″), plus a special one for corporations. You can put your name, a favorite quote, a dedication, or whatever you want in support of Wardenclyffe. All funds go toward the continuing renovation and the building of a world-class science center.

Brick for Nick Tesla

Go here directly to order a brick.

I’ve already ordered mine. You could be next!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

 

Science Traveling – Ipswich

It’s a busy week of writing – I’m working on articles for the Lincoln Group of DC newsletter, for Tesla Magazine, and for the Smithsonian Civil War Studies website. Amidst all of this I’m out science traveling. More on that in the future. Which gets me to a quick visit in Ipswich.

I previewed my most recent trip to my hometown in Massachusetts in this article. More articles are here (click and scroll down). The talk on Nikola Tesla I gave at the Ipswich Museum is here.

Ipswich is the “Birthplace of American Independence,” the home of the famous Ipswich clam (aka, steamers), the Clam Box, Crane Beach, and “The Castle.” It’s also home to more first period houses than any other place in the United States. In short, it’s pretty cool.

Some of the more famous houses include the Whipple House:

Whipple House, Ipswich

The John Heard House (now home to the Ipswich Museum), typical of the wealthier folks in town:

John Heard House, Ipswich

Directly across the street from the Heard House is a reconstruction of a simple timber frame structure called the Alexander Knight House, circa 1657. This was the kind of house that most families lived in during early Ipswich days (incorporated 1634):

Alexander Knight House

And then there is this yellow house. I actually don’t know much about it even though it has stood on this prominent rise overlooking the main downtown area for my entire life. I’ll  dig up more information for a later post.

Big yellow house, Ipswich

There is much more to Ipswich than these glimpses. I’ll write more later but for starters you can check out the Stories from Ipswich blog by Historian Gordon Harris.

And don’t forget – if you downloaded my e-book, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, please leave a rating and review.

Come back on Thursday for more science traveling from Argentina. I’ll also post from the road as internet connection allows.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler and is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook, Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

Did Nikola Tesla Harness Energy from the Rain?

Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its TimeNikola Tesla is well known for harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. But did he also figure out how to harness power from the rain? Whereas hydroelectric power is limited to areas with significant natural drops like Niagara or artificial drops like Hoover Dam, the rain falls everywhere.

So one of Tesla’s wilder ideas was to foresee getting electrical power from rainy days, an energy source he thought was essentially unlimited, at least in theory. He argued that the practical energy from rain would “represent over one-half a billion horsepower,” more than six times greater than the total horsepower that could be garnered from harnessing all of the waterfalls in the United States.

Did he succeed? Find out in Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time, now available as an e-book on Amazon.

If you were one of the more than 500 people who have already downloaded the book, please take a moment to leave a review or rating on Amazon and Goodreads. Doing so helps spread the word about Nikola Tesla to as many people as possible.

To leave a review on Amazon, go here.

To leave a review on Goodreads, go here.

In related news, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity is back in Barnes and Noble stores and is selling even faster than anyone anticipated – almost 5000 copies in less than three weeks! That’s half of the entire first print run that took six months to sell out. Get yours while you still can, either at Barnes and Noble stores, BN.com online, or Amazon.com. Or order a signed and inscribed copy directly from me.

Thanks again for reading about Nikola Tesla. And watch for the next book soon!

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Nikola Tesla and Abraham Lincoln – The World’s Fair Connection

Though Nikola Tesla was born only nine years before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and half a world apart, there nevertheless are an uncanny number of connections between the two great men. One of them involves a World’s Fair (two, actually).

Nikola Tesla’s first big break in the war of the currents with Thomas Edison was at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Up to this time Edison dominated the growing electricity business with his direct current (DC) systems. But DC had some severe limitations and Tesla favored his own alternating current (AC) system. Edison brutally protected his DC turf with a campaign to discredit AC, even supporting the development of the first electric chair to show how dangerous AC could be.

But Tesla had teamed up with George Westinghouse and the combination of Tesla’s AC system and Westinghouse’s business acumen allowed them to win the bidding to light up the Chicago World’s Fair – the first attempt to electrify at this scale. It was a huge success.

Chicago World's Fair 1893

The World’s Fair grounds were designed by some of the greatest architects of the time, including Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmstead. The canals, pools, and massive buildings – the White City – were tremendous, but the centerpiece was a 65-foot tall sculpture called the Statue of the Republic (nicknamed “Big Mary”). With its stone base it stood 111-feet high over the Grand Basin.

Lincoln Memorial

The connection to Abraham Lincoln? Well, “Big Mary” was designed by none other than Daniel Chester French. French, of course, went on to design the seated statue of Abraham Lincoln that dominates the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, Daniel Burnham, the architect who supervised the design and building of the Chicago World’s Fair and who selected French to design “Big Mary,” was also on the Lincoln Commission tasked with designing a fitting memorial to our 16th President. Burnham strongly lobbied for another architect, Henry Bacon, to build the Lincoln Memorial. In fact, Bacon did design and build the Greek Doric temple that houses French’s famous statue and serves as one of the world’s most visited monuments.

Meanwhile, French’s original Statue of the Republic was destroyed by fire only two years after the fair ended. French was later commissioned to create a smaller version – only 24-feet high and gilded in bronze – for the 25th anniversary of the fair. Appropriately, it now stands on the site of the original World’s Fair Electricity Building, the place where Nikola Tesla first brought alternating current into the modern world.

Tesla exhibit 1893 World's Fair

Oh, there’s another World’s Fair connection between Nikola Tesla and Abraham Lincoln. I’ll talk about that in a later post. :)

David J. Kent is a lifelong Lincolnophile and is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.