engine designers treat the atmosphere exclusively as a place
to dump waste heat. But engines using heat from the surrounding
atmosphere were manufactured and operated over a hundred years
1890, the H. K. Porter Company built air locomotives which
were quickly adopted by the mining industry. By 1900 Porter
had 90% of the market for these machines. Over 400 compressed
air locomotives were built before the company went bankrupt
in 1939 after a long decline during the Great Depression.
realize the extent to which atmospheric energy increased the
output of Porter's locomotives. As much as 60%
of the power produced by these engines came from atmospheric
heat. And the machines were incredibly powerful. Many
developed as much motive power as steam engines and hauled
large tonnages of mined ore along steep inclines for long
periods between recharging.
such engine is shown in the image above. An atmospheric heat
absorber (reheater) is visible running the length of the air
tank near the top. Air is drawn in the front of the absorber
and pulled through the heat exchanger by an exhaust air ejector
at the back. Air powering the pistons is heated part way through
the expansion by this absorber and atmospheric energy is converted
to mechanical power before the air is exhausted through the
versions of this old technology have increased the amount
of energy extracted from ambient air and replaced compressed
air with liquid
nitrogen. Compressed air locomotives are long gone but
experimental automobiles equipped with this technology have
taken their place. All these machines extract solar energy
from atmospheric air and the engineering requirements for
doing so are now well known.
examples show that the technology for processing atmospheric
heat has been around for a long time. But the key to unlocking
this source of power is a viable means of releasing solar
energy from the atmosphere directly rather than simply restoring
heat previously removed by compressors and gas liquifiers.
mistakes of the past, many critics incorrectly cite the Carnot
theorem for closed cycles
as "proof" that atmospheric heat energy from the
sun can't be converted into useful work. Though frequently
made, such assertions are not valid because they proceed from
the wrong initial assumptions and fail to account for ubiquitous
evidence to the contrary.
Natural heat engines would not exist if energy could not be
released from ambient heat. The ability of these systems to
convert such heat into mechanical energy and electricity has
been amply demonstrated over and over again, at times spectacularly.
Close attention to the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon
shows quite clearly what is required to duplicate the process
by artificial means.
Specifications presently exist for manufacturable devices
that overcome the twin problems of low temperature levels
and heat rejection. Beyond
that, applications have been identified where such technology
makes commercial sense.
technology is not any sort of "silver bullet" but
merely another one of the many options available for solving
a variety of energy production problems with a range of solutions
geared to specific situations.