Follow up on geodynamo idea

I toyed with the idea of using Earth as part of a gigantic dynamo to generate electricity previously. A few arguments were deliberately left out, to encourage you to think about it, and so that I’ll have something else to talk about here. *smile*

Jonathan didn’t think it will work. His argument was that the support structures in space won’t be able to hold (steady). And xero suggested using humans as generators. Let’s look at both of their comments.

Side effects of the geodynamo

Having a large part of the structure out in space should mitigate the gravitational pull of Earth. With some thrusters thrown in, the use of light-weight and strong material for the structure, the whole thing should work. I think.

I’m not so much concerned if it’ll work, but what happens if it does work. I’m concerned about the electromagnetic influence on marine life, on living things around the equatorial region. And most of all, I’m concerned if it will affect Earth’s rotational spin, that it will slow it even more.

As programmers, we seldom have to think about the consequences of our creations. We’re more concerned with making it work. The best examples I have right now are the social media tools, such as Twitter. The microblogging platform flourished, with consequences ranging from people complaining it’s a time-waster and productivity-drainer, to people using it as part of their business strategies, to connecting with people they would never have met.

But there’s a difference in enabling something waiting to happen, and something that’s not.

Mini dynamos. Thousands of them.

Instead of one gigantic monster of a generator, we could have thousands of mini dynamos. Human powered. The idea is to connect gym bikes to power generators. While we’re exercising, all that energy is lost, so we might as well generate some electricity.

I disagree with xero on paying people minimum wages to go exercise. Something gets optimised whenever an incentive is introduced, particularly if it’s monetary… and if you don’t agree with that, go talk to a manager. The ideal case is that people exercise because they want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and they want to help generate some alternative sources of electricity. Intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation.

On the thought of gym bikes, what about cars? We have many of them on the planet, and their wheels are spinning. And not really doing anything else.

Can we attach some power generating contraption to car wheels? If we’re burning fossil fuels to turn them, we might as well try to salvage something out of it. It wouldn’t totally negate the loss of energy (that’s almost like a perpetual motion machine), but we would waste less of it. It’s like those lights on bicycles that light up when the biker is pedalling.

Let me know what you think. And I still want my free electricity.

[If you’re Chinese, Happy Lunar New Year to you!]

  1. xero

    I’ve been thinking more about the side-effects of the geodynamo. I would think it could be difficult coming up with long lasting natural magnets large enough. If you used lots of smaller ones, then it would have to go down every so often for magnet replacements as well. That aside, the thrusters on the satellites would be kind of crazy as well. They would actually have to hold position while the two magnets came within reach of each other, which might prove to be difficult (but probably not impossible).

    Even with it all working, the power distribution might not be as great as we would first think. Getting the electricity from the source to the destination would be a long trip. IIRC, you lose some energy in the wiring, so the longer the distance to travel the less that arrives at the destination.

    It would be great if we could get volunteers to ride the bikes, but it’s hard to keep a large sustainable workforce out of volunteers. Even volunteer groups generally have paid staff. I thought that by offering some form of compensation (money) aside from helping the community or getting in shape, it would be easier to get people to use the bikes. It might also help the obesity problem in first world nations (especially the US) and general fitness problems everywhere. People that wanted, could turn it into a part time job and no longer have an excuse to not exercise. A proper diet plan could be generated for each employee as well. The employees would get fit and healthy while the plant owners made profit from the electricity sale.

    Using the cars is not a bad idea. I’m curious how the numbers would work out. Newark, NJ, has already started toying with the concept, but in a different way ( ). They’re using car batteries to store grid electricity, charged by wind power on the car and grid-plugin at home. It’s basically offsite power storage for the power plants. The reasoning behind it is a little pathetic, but if that infrastructure is there, then why not hook up dynamos to the wheels as well.

    We’ll never get free energy. No matter how we get it, someone will have to maintain the parts or the infrastructure. That means they have to pay workers wages, which means they have to charge for the services. The best we can do is require very little maintenance and thereby, very little staff. Coal power is expensive because you have to pay for staff and fuel, but it’s cheap and fast to build. Hydro is nearly unlimited fuel, but expensive and lengthy to build and maintain. Wind is a bit better than hydro for start-up and maintenance, but you can not have fuel reserves. And tidal and wave transport very far inland. Solar has a large start-up cost currently (getting better) but maintenance is really cheap and fuel is virtually unlimited. The downside to solar is it only currently comes in DC output and we may go periods of time with no light. This means storage is in the form of massive batteries and lots of energy is lost inverting DC power to AC.

    xeros last blog post..Madrid Breaks Ground on a Cylindrical Green Superstructure (via FriendFeed)

  2. Vincent Tan

    … that is a lot of research and thought, xero… your comment is even longer than my post… ahahahaha!

    I agree the geodynamo structure is a little difficult. At least for the current level of technology. Perhaps in future, it could be made viable. I don’t know…

    As for monetary incentives, perhaps the situation for working is different from exercising. Now that I think about it, the idea *does* have merits. We’ll create a whole new job genre if nothing else. Little technical skills are required (one would only need to pedal). You don’t need to work, nor is there a need, for long hours. The electricity thus generated wouldn’t be the sole source, but as a complement to existing sources.

    Right now, all the alternative forms of energy are complements. Solar, hydro, wind, tidal, geothermal and so on. No single form takes the lead, because we need *all* of them, each helping a little bit.

    Ok, fine, I guess I could do with cheap electricity instead of free… *smile*

  3. Figment Engine

    you can already get energy back from a car using “Regenerative braking”:

    or even better, along the ideas for gravity generation look no further than:
    “Tsiolkovski’s hypothetical space tower”, otherwise know as “SPACE ELEVATOR” by a certain Mr ARTHUR C. CLARKE
    “Now, you will recall that, as one ascends Tsiolkovski’s hypothetical space tower, gravity decreases to zero at stationary orbit — and its direction then reverses itself. In other words, though one would have to do work to get the payload up to the geostationary position, once it had passed that point it would continue to travel on outwards, at an increasingacceleration — falling upwards, in fact. Not only would it require no energy to move it away from earth — it couldgenerate energy, which could be used to lift other payloads! Of course, this energy comes from the rotation of the earth, which would be slowed down in the process. I have not attempted to calculate how much mass one could shoot off into space before the astronomers complained that their atomic clocks were running fast. It would certainly be a long time before anyone else could notice the difference….”

    Figment Engines last blog post..Oslo, DSL and maps

  4. Vincent Tan

    Oooh, I didn’t know about regenerative braking. Thanks!

    And I *did* encounter space elevators in my research. I even looked at space fountains. Very deep stuff…

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