The Power of Gravity
by Markus Haastert, Anne Kathrin Kuhlemann, Malte Plewa
Background: What are vortexes and how do they function?
Most rivers and creeks (at least those outside of industrial centers) are surprisingly clean without applying any human-made filtering system. Even in big cities like Berlin it is possible, although not necessarily recommended, to swim in rivers. How is this possible?
Water cleans itself with the help of currents and vortexes. When water drains from a bathtub, one can see very well how such vortexes develop. Using the power of vortexes, fish are able to stay in one point in the middle of a fast floating river. Water enters their jaw and leaves them by their gills in the form of a vortex, which gives them the necessary stability.
Vortexes can clean water, as their rotational speed is higher at the bottom than at the top. In this way, particles are sucked down the vortex and can leave the water by a vacuum created at the end. Furthermore, the water is set into a chaotic state. The constant swirl presses air out of the water and sucks it back in, so that microorganisms are stimulated or die.
A few years ago a group of scientists developed the idea to reproduce such vortexes artificially to use the natural potential of the water.
Based on the ideas of Viktor Schauberger, who had the opinion that nature actually contains all solutions for anthropogenically created problems, and who developed formulas which can calculate that, a group of Swedish scientists developed a tube in the form of a vortex which imitates the natural movement of water.
This technology is not to be confused with expensive vortexes that dubious websites promote to customers, propagating that they would “harmonize”, “revitalize” or bring back the water to a “virgin state”. On the internet one can read the most bizarre promises about vortexes. These attempts of fraud should however not discourage people to realize the real potential the physical use of vortexes has.
Innovation: from ice rinks to energy
Vortexes have astonishing characteristics – they can, depending on the method used, either supply water with oxygen or remove oxygen from the water and filter particles from the it.
The first artificial vortexes were built manually in 2004. They were, however, not used for water purification but in a completely different area – on ice rinks.
As the vortexes can pump oxygen bubbles out of the water, crystal clear ice with higher density can be made. Usually, ice contains air in tiny bubbles. Air is a natural insulation. Vortexes remove this air, so that the water freezes more quickly. Because of the reduced freezing-time, less energy is needed. Air-free ice is also much more stable1. As the ice is transparent, advertisements can be installed under the ice which can bee seen from above. In that way, income could be generated with the innovation. (watch video here)
But the potential of vortexes was not only identified in Swedish hockey stadiums. Also in the construction business an ever growing number of vortexes are used. In this context, vortexes are also used for the preparation of cement. The quantity of air bubbles is reduced, and in that way the hardness and stability of the cement is increased2. Numerous companies around the globe are already promoting this technology.
Another rather unconventional area of application for the all-round-talents is on golf courses. Nowadays, a usual court needs up four million liters of water everyday. Often, chemicals are added to the water which reduce the surface tension, so that the water infiltrates the ground more quickly. Using a vortex, chemicals become unnecessary and the amount of water needed can be reduced by 20 to 30 percent. In this context, vortexes can really replace chemicals.
Vortexes can also remove algae from standing water bodies, such as ponds or pools, which are usually treated with chemicals, such as chlorine.
And even for energy generation vortexes can be used. In Switzerland, Austria, Germany and other countries, water-vortex-power plants have been build and generate almost completely CO2-neutral electricity. This technology is actually very simple. Water from a river flows into a cement-barrel, in which a vortex is placed at the other end. The vortex starts to move through the water and generated electricity. This technology is simple, climate-friendly and environmentally soun3. A model project from Switzerland shows how clean energy can be produced and simultaneously a habitat for aquatic organisms can be created. Formerly impassable cataracts can no be passed, as th vortexes move very slow and terraces are formed in the river. The biodiversity around the power plant has continuously been increasing since its installation in 2009. (watch video here)
Also in thermal energy production vortexes are used in order to filter iron particles from the water which enter it in the process of energy production.
Potential: the future of the drinking water?
In less than ten years, a niche-technology for ice rink has developed into a modern way of environmentally friendly energy production.
An interesting question is now, if one can really produce clean water using these vortexes, to increase the availability of drinking water. At the moment research is going on to find out if vortexes can be used in sewage plants.
Sewage is usually enriched with air to provide the necessary oxygen to the microorganisms which they need to decay organic matter. The pumped air also leads to a mixing so that microorganisms get into contact with the organic material they are supposed to decay. 30 to 75 percent of the energy costs of sewage plants result form this artificial air supply.
First experiments have shown that by a targeted use of the vortex-technology, water can be enriched with the needed oxygen. This has the potential to reduce the energy consumption of sewage plants drastically.
One of the fastest growing areas of the water technology sector is the transformation of saltwater into drinking water, using reverse osmosis. The investment volume has been estimated to reach more than 18 billion US$ in the next five years4.
The largest plant applying this technology cost more than one billion US$ and is located in Barcelona. The plant is able to transform 200.000m³ of saltwater daily. Vortexes are used in this plant to solve the problem of biofilm. Biofilm grows on filters, which reduced their efficiency. This leads to a close down of reverse osmosis plants every two weeks to remove the biofilm chemically. This increases the costs and reduces the efficiency. Vortexes remove the air from the water and thus destroy the habitat of the bacteria.
Water purification is an immense business around the globe.
The global water consumption increases twice as fast as the world population grows. It has been estimated that the worldwide water consumption doubles every 20 years5. Between 2010 and 2015 the global investments in water supply and sewage treatment will rise to 145 billion US$6.
More research will be necessary to assess if vortexes can really replace chemicals in the drinking water production. Sporadically, they are already used in purification and treatment systems. If attempts to develop a water purification technology which is independent from chemicals and complicated filter systems, the water supply of remote areas which suffer from water shortages can be revolutionized. In that way, waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid could be successfully tackled.
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