Sea Rex, Tesla coil and fire tornado

I visited the Singapore Science Centre in June last month.

Here’s the July issue of Singularity

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!]

How can we have free electricity?

I was travelling on the bus. My thoughts were flying around doing their flights of imagination. “It would be wonderful to have electricity available everywhere.” Then came “It would be even more wonderful if it’s free. Or at least cheap.”

Then I wondered, “How can we have free electricity?”

“We would need something to generate it.” And my next immediate thought was “A dynamo!” I was remembering my physics lessons long ago, when we were playing with magnets. One of the interesting things I remembered was a spinning magnet as part of a dynamo to generate electricity.

So, we need an easy way to do rotation, preferably on a big scale. And the biggest thing that rotates? Earth.

I was thinking of building some structure to house some magnetic material along the equator. Earth is spinning at about 465 metres per second. That should count for something. As the Earth rotates, that structure “rubs” another supporting structure above it, using the theory of the dynamo, we’ll get electricity!

Geodynamo structure

I don’t even know if the theory behind it is sound. Assuming it is, what’s going to hold the upper structure? It can’t be supported by the Earth, because that would defeat the purpose, since it will spin along too. Then came my next breakthrough.

Supporting structures in space.

Geodynamo space supporting structure

There will be satellites holding up the structure. I thought of having just one single structure, but the mechanics of holding it steady might be tough. Have you ever played that game where you have to hold a rod of metal with a loop, and slowly pass it through a maze of metal wires without touching the wires? You need steady hands.

Metal zapper game
Ok, that drawing was bad… I hope you get the idea.

Anyway, several separate satellites to hold up the structure might be better. Now that I look at the diagram carefully, I’m not even sure if the structure would hold up… perhaps some super light material…

Assuming this works out fine, I imagine physicists (theory), engineers (building it), mathematicians (calculations) and other scientists would be involved. Programmers too, for the software used to run the satellites and the structure. Biologists too, for the effects of such a large scale of electromagnetic energy on living things near the equator. Particularly the marine biologists, since most of the structure is over the ocean.

Alright, fine. It’s probably not going to work. I’m just saying, what if it works? What if we can get cheap, even free electricity generated this way? What if you can come up with some other way?

What if…