The Hydro Medusa:
Free water, energy, fuel, and communications anywhere on Earth

David Noel
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.

The Hydro Medusa: free water, energy, fuel, and communications anywhere on Earth
Almost everywhere on the Earth's surface has an adequate supply of free water and energy within 10 kilometres! Unbelievable as this may seem, this article shows how this may be brought about.

What is the Hydro Medusa?
The Hydro Medusa consists of a tethered, hydrogen-filled balloon structure, with devices to trap solar and wind power and gather water from moisture in the air. Some of the power generated is used to make hydrogen from the water, and water and hydrogen in excess of that needed to maintain the device is piped to the ground.

In this initial concept plan, the Medusa is maintained at a height of about 1 kilometre above the ground. At this height, it would be an excellent communications structure for television broadcasting transmitters and mobile phone repeater towers.

In addition to the electricity generated from solar cells and wind turbines, more power may be generated from hydroelectric turbines connected to the water-down line.

The Hydro Medusa. Graphic by Erik Montes. From [1]

Extracting water from the atmosphere
The atmosphere always contains water vapour, up to about 1 %, depending on circumstances. In rising atmospheric air, water vapour tends to condense out as liquid water, and then may fall as rain. Here is how it is expressed in [4].

Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets or ice crystals. The droplets and crystals are very light and they can float in the air. Clouds are formed when warm air rises, expands and then cools. This cool air can't hold as much water vapor as the warm air. The vapor will then begin to condense and form itself around dust particles that are floating in the air. When billions of these particles come together, they form a cloud.

How clouds form. From [4]

In humid climates, with their high atmospheric water content, rainfall is generally high. In dry climates there is still always water in the air, but extracting it may be difficult. In deserts, plants develop highly specialized forms which are efficient at extraction.

Typical of these forms are cacti, but botanically unrelated desert plants evolve very similar characteristics to cacti. The mechanisms involved are interesting. It has been found that swollen water-holding structures in such plants are one of the main methods of condensing water -- this appears to be their main function (rather than one of "tiding over the plant during dry times"). Another mechanism depends on the sharp points of cactus thorns.

Water vapour condensing on the ends of cactus spines. From [2]

A non-routine explanation of how desert plants extract water can be found in [2]. Another method of extraction, for human purposes, is with mist nets, as used in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. This is one of the driest places in the world, with negligible annual rainfall. A row of mist nets generates a line where plant growth is possible.

Collecting water using mist nets, in the Atacama Desert, Chile. From [5]

The Hydro Medusa uses the mist-net principle to collect water from the atmosphere in its shrouds. These collectors will be particularly efficient up in the sky, where clouds or incipient clouds are forming or close to forming -- a cloud is like a ground mist, high in the sky. Normal clouds are drops of water or crystals of ice which have condensed on tiny particles of dust or similar, the mist-net material can be an excellent condensation surface.

It may be possible to enhance the shroud's collection ability by amending its surfaces or structures. Coating the fabric with tiny sharp particles might act like the cactus spine points. Interweaving very fine wires to which a charge is applied might also be effective. This is a very open area for research, for which lessons might be learned from cloud-seeding or aircraft wing icing mechanisms.

Gathering electricity
The collection of electric power from solar panels and wind turbines is routine stuff. With the Medusa, a novel point is that the electricity is immediately used to generate hydrogen from collected water using electrolysis or an equivalent technique. Only a small amount of this hydrogen will be needed to maintain the Medusa at height, the rest can be piped down to the ground station for use as fuel.

Further electricity can be generated, and used to produce more hydrogen, from turbines at the base of the water line. While the amount of water flow is not high, its potential energy is large -- a fall of 10 m is quite respectable for a dam turbine, here the fall is 1000 m. The energy in rainfall is not usually thought about, as individual drops are slowed by air resistance, but even so is sufficient to cause significant erosion of soil surfaces. Water travelling in the water-down line would encounter little loss of energy through air resistance.

There is also the possibility of gathering the electricity from clouds usually expressed as lightning -- the amount of energy in a lightning storm is surprisingly high. Drawing off this electricity could be an effective lightning-rod mechanism with good use of a normally-wasted power source.

The Medusa as a communications centre
A communications relay centre positioned 1000 m up the sky would be of great value for mobile phones and television broadcasts, effectively bridging the gap between towers and satellites. For television, the line-of-sight reach would be around 180 km, and its situation on high would avoid problems of shadowing by buildings.

For mobile phones, the relay signals could be concentrated in a cone reaching down to the desired coverage area, rather than in a 360-degree field. And with a minimum separation from users of 1 km, there would be no concerns about possible harmful health effects of nearby phone towers.

Designing and commissioning a real Hydro Medusa
Design and trial work would obviously be needed to build a functioning Medusa. The balloon material might be ETFE, a tough and impermeable plastic used in building the Water Cube swimming centre for the Beijing Olympic Games.

A new Medusa might be put together on the ground, and primed with a little water. As power was produced from the solar cells, this would be used to make hydrogen from the water, and the balloon would gradually fill and gain lifting power. Once in position, it would start generating its own water.

Placing a Medusa at 1 km up is a nominal position. Positions higher than 1 km would be good for tapping higher clouds, but might start being an obstacle for aircraft, and of course longer down-lines would be needed. Higher positions, above low clouds, would be more efficient for trapping solar rays.

Why is it called a Medusa?
The Hydro Medusa is named after its resemblance to a Medusa Jellyfish, with its spheroidal body and trailing shrouds (holding stings used by the jellyfish to stun its prey).

A Medusa jellyfish. From [3]

A multiple-purpose device
The Hydro Medusa concept deserves examination as a potential source of water, power, and fuel in most parts of the world, including in isolated and remote locations difficult to service with power grids and trucked-in fuel tankers. While perhaps not practicable in high mountain locations, they do have theoretical application even here, as hydrogen balloons can reach heights of 20 km or more.

Hydrogen gas is an excellent fuel, with 2.8 times the energy content of an equivalent weight of standard motor fuel. Surprisingly, it is actually a considerably safer fuel to use than motor fuel. Go to [6] for an analysis of usage and safety aspects of hydrogen.

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References and Links

1. Wanted, artist's impression for Hydro Medusa extracting water, electricity, and fuel from the air.
2. How cacti trap water from the air.
3. The Medusa jellyfish. .
4. Clouds. .
5. Mist Fishing in the Atacama. .
6. The HydroSolar package -- The complete answer to concerns about energy shortages, oil crises, greenhouse gases, global warming, power station pollution, and environmental headaches? .

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