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Will Science Harness Sun Power?

By DR. FRANK THONE

O
NCE the present world-wide orgy of destruction has come
to an end, there will be a tremendous-job of reconstruction
. to do. Ruined cities, factories, power stations will have to
be rebuilt, wrecked railroads and highways rclaid, blasted
mines and oil wells reopened, sunken ships replaced.
So vast docs the task loom even now, with perhaps the worst days
of wrath still to come, that many despair, and can see only the Hag-
narok, the cud of Occidental civilization that Spengler and other
prophets of doom ottered us in their, nightmares of a couple of dec-
ades ago. Such pessimists talk of a lapse into a new Dark Age period,
like the centuries of stagnation that followed the Fall of Home;
It is not easy to' maintain a cheer- . Jn the immediate task of reconstruc-
tul front in the lace of the whirl- tion that must follow the.last cannon-
winds of evil that-are now wasting the shot, we shall have to make use of
world. Yet historical-minded persons every available crumb of natural en-
may get some comfort from the fact eigy we can capture, to ease the snort-
that the last time the human race ages in coal, oil, water-power caused'
went through a period resembling the by the vast waste of war, and the.self-
present, Western civilization emerged sabotage of mines, wells, .dams com-
into a century of material progress mitted by hard-pressed defenders to
and prosperity that surpassed anything prevent their use by advancing ag-
that the world had ever seen. gressors.
Europe, and the then young nations It is not remarkable", therefore, that
of the Americas, came out of the era of men are again squinting up at the sun..
the French Revolution, and the Na- pouring forth a flood of energy into
poleonic wars that followed, in bad space, and wondering if something
shape. Manpower had been decimated cannot be done to capture and use at
in battle, cities and farms burned in least a little of it. H is the same kind
a score of lands, money dissipated in of feeling that seizes all of us when we
nearly a quarter-century of strife. Na- stand at the brink "of a waterfall that
tional debts, of seemingly bankrupt- hurls itself unchecked and unhar-
ing weight, had became permanent nessed from a high cliff, spending its
institutions. energies in empty thunder instead of
nut the return of peace let some-
thing loose in lull scope_ that had only
been felt in an initial', limited way
before the long series of wars had
put the brakes on more constructive
human effort. Social scientists call it
the Industrial Revolution. Basically, it
meant simply the application of me-
chanical power, especially steam, to
work until then done mainly by the
muscles of men and animals: spinning,
weaving, blacksmithing, freight haul-
ing, passenger transportation.

YTTHF.N the present war broke, many
of the best minds among our sci-
entists and engineers thought they
saw the beginnings of another Indus- MAKING SUNSHINE WORK-This battery of three trough-shaped solar heating- units will capture enough energy
trial Revolution that would make the to run a one-half horsepower motor. Expansion of this idea into vast sunshine sathcring groups of reflectors may
one or the mh century look small and solve energy problems. '
tame. That a group of madmen in one
European country should choose to ihe sun's rays just as effectively, are the end of the Napoleonic wars, only •pHE search lor practical and profit-
misapply the early forms of these new lighter, easier to make, cheaper. So 125 years ago, and compare" them with
most solar heating devices use reflec- able means for developing power
energies to the task of killing and con- the monsters of today, who will be from sunlight is .not being left to the
quering and enslaving their neighbors, tors rather than lenses. so rash as to prophesy that these in-
Many such devices have employed zeal and enthusiasm of any single sci-
they hold, is an unfortunate, but tem- fant solar power plants will never entist. Continuity in the research pro-
porary interlude. After the lunatics circular reflectors, more or less like the reach full stature?
great saucer-like mirrors of reflecting gram has been assured by an endow-
have been subdued and put into their While we may have to wait a while, ment of 5547,000, given to the Massa-
proper cells, we cnn get back to the telescopes or the reflectors of search- however, .before we see teri-ihuusand-
lights. These, of course, bring the rays chusetts Institute of Technology by
job of capturing new forces of nature horsepower solar power plants fur- Dr. Godfrey Lowell Cabot.
and setting them to do the uscful'work to focus at a point. nishing current for whole towns, it is
that rational men may demand of It has occurred to some experiment A program of investigations into
already possible for the ordinary three ways of converting sunlight into
them. ers, however, to use trough-shapet. householder to capture and use some
rather than saucer-shaped reflectorr power, by • chcrr.ical, mechanical and
of the solar energy that is poured on electrical means, is now under way.
These focus the .light along a line in- his roof every sunshiny day. Dr; Ab-
stead of at a point. If a black pip^ It is estimated that the work will go
bott has devised solar cookers in which on for at least 50 years.
containing a liquid is placed where he has prepared many a tasty meal.
that line of blinding light and blister- While most of the solar power plants
ing heat will strike it, its temperature thus far constructed are based on trie
RUSSIAN MODEL—Here Is a TN various sunny parts of this coun- idea of using focused heat in the gen-
Soviet engineer's dream of a huse will be raised accordingly. try, especially in the Southwest and . eration of steam, that is not the only
Eolar-ptm'er plant. Acres of mir- in Florida, many property owners are possibility, It :has Been, shown 'that
rors penerale power. pROMINENT among the scientists saving themselves money by using
who have experimented with solar light falling On a metal plate coated
solar heat to keep their hot-water' with "a "film of copper oxide will pro-
power plants built on this principle is tanks to the desired temperature. Re-
turning wheels and lighting lamps. Dr. Charles G. Abbott, secretary o£ the duce at least a weak current of elec-
cently Dr. F. A. Brooks of-the Call- tricity directly. Up to now, this prin-
Of course, some didactically-minded
bystander is sure to remind us that ciple has not been used for driving
all the forms of energy at present used anything bigger than "one-fly-power"
on earth were originally sun-power. motors, but there is no telling what
Coal and oil were once parts of plant When the world stops destroying may come of it in the end, if more
efficient photoelectric plates can be
tissue, formed through the capture of
developed.
sunlight by chlorophyll. Water-power
is possible only because the sun evap- and starts rebuilding, vast new One of the greatest drawbacks in
orates water from the ocean and re-- present-type solar power setups is the
great area required for the mirror
leases it as rain on mountain tops, to
run downhill and turn turbines. Even sources of power will be needed. surfaces. For a power plant supplying
the wind that turns windmills blows the needs of even a small,town, sev-
because the sun warms air somewhere
and causes it to rise, letting othur air
Cc» the sun supply that demand? eral acres of reflecting surface would
have to be kept exposed. This would
flow along the ground. .And so on. of course run first costs up consider-
But this docs not satisfy the modern ably, and upkeep of the mirrors, espe-
power-minded sun-worshiper. He S m i t h s o n i a n Institution. He has cially keeping them bright and un-
fornia Agricultural Experiment Sta- tarnished, would also be a considerable
wants to see something more direct worked on them for. many years, con- tion, Davis, Calif., made a survey, of
done about it. item.
stantly bringing them to higher effi- such domestic solar-heating installa-
ciencies, until he states he can now There would also be the large num-
tions, and estimated that there are at ber of heating uni's, each with its
PROJECTS for capturing sun-power produce electric current, at least on a least 50,000 of them—maybe as many
by direct means usually depend on small scale, for costs comparable with .connection: to be kept leak-proof.
'as 100,000. , ' Simplification ami increased efficiency
focusing the diffuse heat in sunlight those of a small steam-engine setup No special reflectors are needed for
on some selected spot, making It hot using conventional solid or liquid fuel. must be the constant goals of solar
these relatively low-temperature in- power engineers for a long time to
enough to raise steam and thus run an The liquid in the pipe on which Dr. stallations. A long, shallow box, come.
engine or other source of usoful work. Abbott focuses the sun's heat rays is glassed on top and insulated with rock
This idea is the readiest and most like- not water, hut a thicker fluid with a Science has proved sun power can
or glass won! on sides and bottom, be put to work, just as Watt harnessed
ly to occur to anybody who has ever considerably higher boiling point. This contains several coils of black iron
set fire to a bit of paper with a hand- is slowly circulated through the pipe, steam and Faraday brought electricity
pipe. It is laid on the sunny slr.pe of out of the atmosphere into the fac-
lens. and brought into contact with water the roof, usually facing south. Con-
Several solar heating plants have in 9 small boiler near one end of the tory. But the application of steam
nections bring cold water to the lower and electricity to man's work w<Js not
actually been built, in which the focus- trough-shaped reflector. This has been end of the coil, carry warmed water
ing device consisted of n bp.ttcry of found to be a moro vmcient way of accomplished overnight. The capture
away from the upper end to the stor- and direction of sun power may take
big lenses, so set as to converge their raising steam than the direct circula- age tank.
beams on a small boiler. One of them, longer.
tion of water past the line of focus. No pump is needed; the natural dif- At least, we have a start. Return
at le.isl, failed because the heat was so How long it may lake for little pow- ference in density between warm and
great that it weakened the steel of the er plants like this to grow into big to normality will provide opportunity •
cold water keeps it moving. Warm for developing the idea. Don't laugh
boiler wall, and the machine blew up! ones it is hard to guess. But when we water stored during the day is usually,,
EARLY DESIGN—Dr. Cliarlcj G. Abbnlt, pioneer In converting solar Lenses are heavy, hard to make, ex- V8t .the. possibility, of the sun pushing
cnrrsr inlo useful work, displays one of Ills first generators. look back at the steam engines and sufficient fonrll' household heeds until your car." The "world has a habit of
pensive. Concave mirrors, which focus stcamthips that the world knew at the following morning.
(Evcrj-WceIt Mnsazlne and Sole:ncc Service—Printed In U. S. A.) ridiculing those who do the most for it.