The Physics of Tornadoes

Including How they Form

An Immense Source of Energy, Far Greater than all Fossil Fuels

An indirect but very efficient method of capturing solar energy.

First Understood Feb 2000, Feb 2006. The first twenty small experimental tornadoes were made early in 2006, several dozen more made in early 2009 and about forty more were made in early 2010. First placed on the Internet May 2009

  • Beginning in February 2000, I first witnessed the basics of the Physics in tornadoes, waterspouts and hurricanes by observing several thousand vortices that form on many Spring mornings on a calm river in my backyard.

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  • This is an April 2006 short movie I made of an early morning Creek in DEAD CALM air (Air temp: 34.6°F; Water temp: 46.4°F) where THOUSANDS of tornado-like structures formed and persisted for many seconds! Click on the still photo above to see the 34-second video. The warm water and cooler air makes for a relatively common slight fog which exists for a few inches above the water. The whole scene is backlit by the early morning sun behind it, so the vortices appear as backlit white columns of spinning water vapor. Few of the vortices are actually straight vertical, as the tiniest gust of wind disturbs them. In this video, I tried to follow one spinning vortex for around 34 seconds. In the fixed frame, from about the middle of the video segment, the specific vortex is the curved vertical line just to the right of center, but in the video, it starts out near the left edge. The relatively horizontal white areas are where the backlit sunlight is reflecting off the nearly smooth calm water surface. Near the bottom of the video are reflections of the many trees on the opposite shore, and many shadows of trees appear as I was panning across to try to follow that vortex. The spinning vortices are MUCH more obvious to the eye than in these videos. You should probably enlarge the video to full screen to best see it.

  • In early 2006, I discovered the complete Physics involved in the formation of tornadoes and waterspouts, and learned how to create small artificial, self-forming tornadoes. Technically, waterspouts. I created about two dozen of them over the next few months in early 2006. I created several dozen more during 2009 and again in 2010, where close to a hundred tiny tornadoes have been created in my basement so far.

  • I saw a dark moment of humor on May 21, 2013, after the disastrous tornado that destroyed much of Moore, Oklahoma. A 'government tornado expert' was interviewed on PBS, and he admitted that 'we still don't know how the rotary motion of tornadoes begins'. Clearly he should have examined my web-pages from 2006 where I not only explained HOW and WHY they can begin spinning, but by early 2006, I had already created a couple dozen (small) artificial tornadoes. I saw it as darkly humorous that the 'government tornado expert' could not remotely do any of that TODAY (seven years later)!

  • My research and my experiments have been entirely different from the common assumptions regarding how tornadoes form. Most people believe that there must FIRST be rapidly spinning large storms called Supercells, which then can create tornadoes. My research can neither confirm nor deny such ideas, but the eighty-plus small artificial tornadoes I have made have NECESSARILY all been in DEAD-CALM-AIR (in the basement of my house or around sunrise when outdoor winds were dead calm). I have very reliably created my small artificial tornadoes within a few seconds, and I kept one operating very stably for roughly two hours.

  • No other Researchers seem to have carefully examined the energy source of tornadoes, except for recognizing that warm air and water seem to be required. What I discovered was the actual Physics of what occurs, where the ACTUAL source of all that rotational energy comes from warm humidity which condenses into slightly cooler air, thereby RELEASING very large amounts of Latent Energy. The humidity needs to continuously be supplied, so this has to occur over water or very damp ground which is significantly WARMER than the ambient air is, such that some of that warm water evaporates and carries accumulated energy from sunlight up into the air as humidity. The unique detail is that the warm humidity nearly immediately CONDENSES into water droplets to create a large supply of (new) energy, from Latent Heat in the water, in a small area. So much energy is created by all that condensation that a lot of rotational kinetic energy is created, along with a smaller amount of vertical kinetic energy. Note that NO wind energy is required or even involved, and my many experiments even suggest that windy conditions seems to tend to disrupt the creation of the vortex. Virtually CALM wind conditions seem to be required for the vortex to first form, although once it has formed, it can endure moderate wind effects.

  • At the time, I thought it was a useless ability. I also had no idea whether it could be controlled at all, and so it seemed to me to represent the tremendous danger that natural tornadoes present.

  • However, in mid-2009, I realized that it is the core of an immense potential source of energy for mankind. A tornado or waterspout is essentially solar energy, in a compact and extremely efficient form.

  • A small artificial tornado, containing 10 horsepower or 7.5 kiloWatts of (solar) energy, inside a farm silo structure, should be safe. The spinning humid air could be easily ionized, such that spinning electrical charges would be moving within the silo, and where coils of wire on the inside silo walls could capture the alternating magnetic fields to produce electricity.

  • In early 2010, I did a variety of experiments in creating a number of 50-Watt miniature tornadoes, and slightly ionized several of them with ultraviolet light, and I generated just under one Watt of electricity (in very crude experiments). One of my artificial tornadoes of March 2010 operated constantly and continuously for slightly over two hours before I ended the experiment. It seemed clear to me that I could have had that mini-tornado continue spinning for weeks or possibly forever. It remained surprisingly constant in diameter, shape, spin speed and height during that two-hour experiment, and during the other experiments of those months. Due to safety precautions, I restricted the energy supply to around 1/20 horsepower in all my experiments.

  • We know that natural tornadoes contain spectacular amounts of energy and power, believed to be on the scale of 500 million horsepower, mostly as kinetic energy of rotation.

  • It has always been realized that the tornado got that energy from solar energy, but no one ever knew how it occurred. There have been many theories, most of which tend to defy known facts.

  • I had discovered that it is all rather simple and natural!

    • WARM DAMP GROUND or puddles or a warm shallow lake is REQUIRED. A very warm area of open ocean is also fine. This actually provides ALL the energy which is used in forming the tornado, waterspout or hurricane.

    • It is critically important that the damp land or water be around 10°F to 12°F warmer than the air immediately above it. That air must also have rather high humidity, which naturally occurs due to the warm water immediately below it. The air also needs to be relatively motionless, in a near Calm. The common assumption that there must be circulatory motion in the air is wrong.

    • The warm water now evaporates, especially in the presence of sunlight (or, in my experiments in my basement [where absolutely calm air could be ensured], a 50-Watt electric heating pad under a shallow pan of water). Each pound of water that evaporates from the puddle, lake or ocean takes nearly 1000 Btus (or 0.3 KiloWatt-hours) of Latent Energy up away from the water, due to the Change of State from water to water vapor. If a pound of water evaporates every two minutes, that is around 9 kWh of power which has been extracted from the water. By choice, the 50-Watt heat power supply I used limited my experiments to only being able to evaporate a maximum of about three ounces of water per hour, an interestingly small amount! Only moderate heating of the water pond was necessary to create this rate of evaporation.

    • This water vapor now SLOWLY rises into the slightly cooler local air.

      The fact that this (saturated) water vapor is immediately in air which is significantly cooler than it is, means that it had dropped below its Dewpoint. This immediately causes some of the water vapor to now condense into tiny water droplets, as fog or mist a few inches above the surface. This has to occur when the water vapor has dropped below its Dewpoint, where the local humidity needs to go above 100%. This is another Phase Change, back to water, which now releases that 1000 Btus of energy (per pound of water). In my mini-tornado experiments, around half of the humidity I had just created commonly promptly condensed into fog droplets, which therefore released around 25 Watts of
      Most of the rest of the energy remained as evaporated water, or humidity.

    • This large new supply of energy cannot disappear (Conservation of Energy, which is also called the First Law of Thermodynamics), and it cannot easily convert into any form except Kinetic Energy. A small fraction of this new Kinetic Energy generally goes into causing the air column to rise, which occurs relatively slowly. (In my experiments, often only two to three Watts of power was carried away in this way).

    • The great majority of the newly created Kinetic Energy can only be converted into (counter-clockwise) rotary motion of the vortex of air. For a 30-foot (10-meter) tall vortex which averages one-foot (1/3-meter) in diameter, there is around 5 pounds (2 kg) of water droplets, water vapor and air spinning. Rotational Inertia is therefore around 0.15 kg-m2. The energy supply of 9 kW per hour is the same as 2.5 Watts per second. Using standard rotary energy formulas, this results in an angular velocity of about 40 radians per second or about 400 rpm for the induced vortex rotation. It is actually faster than this due to dynamic effects of the continuous addition of power from below and various frictional losses within the vortex. These numbers are just to show that a small-solar-pond-heated vortex actually does contain a good deal of energy and power.

    • Careful Energy Audits have confirmed that this sequence of events accounts for all the energy and the air velocities, for small vortices like I have studied for many years. My experiments have permitted good analysis of the dimensions, rotary velocities and vertical rise rates of the air, water vapor and fog droplets in the vortices, where Energy Conservation has been confirmed. This seems to also be true for the EARLY stages of tornadoes, waterspouts and hurricanes. (Once the larger vortices develop, they create larger convective vertical motions of surrounding air, which causes the air right near the surface to become even cooler, which causes this sequence to have even more Change of State Energy to work with, and so later growth in large scale vortices is somewhat enhanced from the very early stages described here.

    • The actual calculations for each of these processes are presented below.

    • Therefore, the WARM pond, lake or ocean water first EVAPORATES from the available water surface, and nearly immediately CONDENSES again into tiny dew or fog droplets, which releases enormous amounts of Latent Energy. That large release of energy, in a rather small space, overwhelms conventional methods of using up that energy in natural rising, and the Conservation of Energy REQUIRES that much of that energy become Kinetic Energy of rotation. THIS is the reason that such phenomena spin, and why they can begin spinning amazingly quickly, and with no apparent reason.

    • The same process occurs when damp soil supplies the necessary evaporation, to create what are commonly called dust devils, but those phenomena are generally extremely short-lived due to lack of sufficient surface moisture to evaporate to power them.

    • The temperature differential between the water surface and the air immediately above generally establishes the STABILITY of the early vortex. The overall temperature of the water establishes the size, the scale of the vortex. My Research and my experiments indicate that if the water is around 50°F, the vortices are consistently between 0.5 and 1.0 inch in diameter near the water surface. If the surface water temperature is around 60°F, the vortices tend to be around 3 inches in diameter near the water. I found it harder to get stable vortices under these conditions, mostly due to the air not being cool enough.

      You can actually confirm the science I have described here. You just need a flashlight, a standard drinking glass with an insulating sleeve around it, and a cool and somewhat dark basement! You will need DEAD CALM AIR to confirm these things! You might need to erect a windscreen around your glass of warm water to see the effects if your basement has any air drafts. You fill the glass with WARM water, around 80°F or 85°F, to the top, and set it on a table in the cool basement. And then turn the flashlight on BEHIND the glass of water, shining through the air above the glass, toward you. And then WATCH! The warm water will evaporate and that air will rise above the glass. As soon as that air gets half an inch above the warm water, the cooler basement air chills that air and some of the water in it CONDENSES, due to it dropping below its DEWPOINT. Immediately, you see a column of foggy air rising above the glass. You also see this above a hot cup of coffee. In most rooms, there are a lot of air drafts so the visible column of fog droplets gets wiggled all over! But if you have done this carefully, you will see that NO drafts are present and the narrow column rises straight up! If you watch carefully, you will see that this visible column starts to ROTATE (naturally) as it rises! This experiment only allows you to SEE the rising, rotating air for about six to nine inches, when the humid air cools enough so that no more condensation occurs and so no more moving fog droplets are visible in your flashlight beam. But the rising air continues to rotate.

      If the surface water temperature is about 80°F or 85°F, and the air above it is again cool enough, this apparently can or will result in an actual self-sustaining large tornado or hurricane, although my experiments have not confirmed that effect of scale, due to safety issues.

      Again, once a tornado or hurricane becomes larger and stronger and has a faster rotating vortex, there is a much faster upflow of air inside which results in significant convective downflow of cool air from up high to be right near the surface of the water, which tends to enhance the self-sustaining characteristic of both tornadoes and hurricanes.

      In the case of tornadoes, if either they pass over drier land or they rise high away from their energy source, they rapidly get weaker in strength. The same is true of hurricanes, where passage over land denies them their energy source while also providing objects which remove frictional energy from the circulation. Open seas, and especially, WARM open seas are what enable hurricanes to grow.

      My Research has not found any causes for the jumping that tornadoes seem to commonly do. It might be related to the extreme amounts of kinetic energy present, where more might have to go into vertically rising motion of the entire vortex. But that is yet uncertain.


    • Researchers and meteorologists do NOT yet know how to predict tornadoes, partly because they make wrong assumptions about how they begin. My Research seems to give a wonderful new tool regarding knowing EXACTLY where and when a tornado can and will form! (1) recent rainfall must provide a good deal of moisture to the ground; (2) the ground MUST be rather warm, generally from an afternoon of hot sun; and (3) the LOCAL air temperature at ground level MUST be at least around ten degrees (F) cooler than that water temperature. Relative humidity is also important, but I do not yet know the specific requirements.

    • A natural process which I had observed thousands of times since the Spring of 2000, and discovered the Physics of in 2006, appears to explain the genesis of hurricanes and tornadoes. The process involves CALM air, WARM moist ground or water and high local humidity in COOLER air just above the water supply where significant amounts of water can evaporate from the warm moist ground surface rapidly, using heat from the water, which earlier came from the Sun. (the math is included below). The air above it needs to be relatively stationary, calm, and significantly cooler than the water, where that recently evaporated water quickly condenses into tiny water droplets, fog or dew, thereby releasing the latent energy of the phase transformation. This provides a significant energy supply which is then within a very specific and very limited location, which then provides the energy for the circulation of the incipient vortex. The Coriolis Force aids in initiating the tight circulation patterns. These tiny water droplets and the air surrounding them retain a small amount of the heat, which causes the air in the vortex to slowly rise. The presence of the water droplets can also make this phenomenon visible under some lighting conditions, but dust in the air can also make the vortex visible as well.

      The amount of energy provided by the water vapor condensing can be many times greater than the energy needed to give vertical velocity to the air and water droplets. THIS "excess energy" is what needs to become used (to Conserve Energy) and it becomes the kinetic energy of the rotary motion of the vortex. The math is impressively consistent with Conservation of Energy.

      This is QUITE different from what all researchers and meteorologists assume to be true. They believe that fast moving air is REQUIRED, which is not the case at all!


    • .
    • I now realize that a CONTROLLED artificial tornado/waterspout should be able to be injected with some ionized gas.

    • The result of that would be many charged ion particles rapidly revolving in circular paths. That is essentially the definition of an electric current. Such a circulating current always forms a magnetic field.

    • This vaguely resembles the Dynamo Theory by which the Earth's Magnetic Field is believed to arise, and also the operation of virtually all dynamos, generators and alternators.

    • If coils of wire would be placed around the artificial tornado in specific orientations, then an EMF (electrical potential) will be induced in those coils of wire, and electric power would be created.

    • This reasoning all hinges on whether the artificial tornado/waterspout could be controlled, which is certainly an important issue. I now believe that if the system is kept INSIDE a metal farm-style silo, and the POWER available in the warm water is controlled to be a few thousand watts, this might represent a wonderful new source of electricity!

    • So the working premise is that IF solar energy can be captured in a pond of water, within a building which had DEAD CALM AIR, it MAY be possible to create and control a STABLE small tornado/waterspout. Say that one with one one-millionth of the power of an average natural tornado could be created, or around 500 horsepower of mechanical rotation. If even 10% of that power could be converted into electricity by the method suggested above, that would be around 35,000 Watts of electricity, enough to supply several dozen homes!

    • An even smaller system of maybe 15 horsepower (10 kW) of solar energy is provided to a farm-silo application, enough electricity for a single home (3 kiloWatts continuously) should be realistic.

    • The concept is intriguing!

    • It might be able to be built in underground chambers to provide some additional safety and control.

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This presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 2009.


Here is the scientific description of the process as I now understand it.

In mid-2006, once I basically understood the Physics behind how and why tornadoes form, I made a few small artificial tornadoes. That was primarily done to confirm to myself that the Physics and the math was valid. I did NOT then think there could be any practical usage of such knowledge, and I primarily filed it away. However, in mid-2009, I was thinking about ionized gases in various natural and industrial processes, and it dawned on me that by simply ionizing the rotating gases in an artificial tornado, and mounting fixed coils of copper wire on the walls of a surrounding farm silo, that EMF can be induced in those coils due to the rotating magnetic fields, and electricity can be generated.

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I only started doing serious research regarding it beginning around September 2009. As of April 2010, I have built several dozen new custom-built, very small, artificial tornadoes (inside my basement, to reduce effects of outdoor winds). I have discovered that by altering the temperature of the water under it, and the temperature and humidity of the air involved, and the amount of heat power that I provide for it, I can create a variety of different diameter mini-tornadoes, which have a surprising range of characteristics of radius and stability, but which are both duplicable and stable for as long as I have chosen to do such experiments. The longest so far have been around two hours, which makes them the world record duration for any tornadoes! My experiments have all been with very low amounts of power, for safety reasons. Once this set of experiments is complete where I can Engineer a specific tornado, my intention is to rent an old abandoned farm silo, clean it out and use it to contain a more significant-sized artificial tornado, possibly in the 10,000 Watt energy range. IF that second-stage experiment is able to produce 2 kW or 3 kW of electricity, continuously and potentially forever, I will consider the series of experiments to be a success. It would indicate that any homeowner would be able to install a silo and produce all the electricity needed on that property.

Theory of Formation of Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Waterspouts

(1) WARM water evaporates. This increases the local humidity. That process must proceed to a point where the humidity is fairly high. (2) The warmth causes a small amount of the local air to get warmer, due to the absorbed heat from the water. That causes a moderate updraft of the air, but the amount of energy consumed in this way is relatively limited. (3) The humidity then increases in the COOLER air, where it must rise to the Dewpoint, 100% relative humidity. IF the air is cooler still, then the air can no longer contain the entire amount of moisture in it, and (4) so some additional water must condense out on dust particles. (5) As this additional water condenses out of the air, it releases very large amounts of energy from the Phase Change from water vapor to water droplets. (6) These two sources of warmth (convection from the water's surface and the far greater heat released in the phase change) causes the air to rise. (7) The amount of heat released is far larger than the amount of heat which can convert to vertical rise speed. (8) The excess of this energy also becomes kinetic energy, but energy of rotation rather than rising. (9) The rotation of the Earth causes the Coriolis Force which causes this rotation to occur in a counter-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere. (10) We now have a spinning motion which also slowly rises, where the bulk of the energy that had been removed from the water as heat is now kinetic energy of counter-clockwise rotation. (11) This phenomenon becomes visible if ambient lighting is sufficient and there are particles in the rotating air where either water droplets or dust particles can be seen rotating.

The mathematical basis for these steps is very simple and straightforward, and calculations generally seem to confirm the Energy Audit regarding velocities observed.

I had initially minimally experimentally tested most of this concept, for two primary reasons. First, until it would be learned how to control the growth of the artificial tornadoes, there could be immense danger in creating them. Second, there are a number of variables which would need to be defined for efficient performance, and many experiments would certainly be necessary to determine their values. In late 2009, I began to do testing on extremely small-power experimental vortices, in order to try to determine the optimal parameters for most efficient operation. Roughly a hundred of vortices were created in the basement of my house during 2006, and at least as many again in 2009-2010! This latter set of experimental runs has been providing wonderful data regarding maximizing the efficiency of the process.

I did NOT devote very much time or effort to it in 2006 because I then thought it was an entirely pointless and worthless concept. Given the temperature of the water and air, the relative humidity, and the total heat energy provided to the water, it is possible to calculate the evaporation rate of the water from the supply. By estimating the size of the footprint of the vortex, I have been able to estimate the total amount of energy removed from the water by the evaporation process. Using the latent energy value, I have then been able to estimate the actual quantity of water involved, which has turned out to be a logically consistent amount. And then when most of that water is condensed into water droplets in the vortex, it is possible to estimate an upper limit regarding how much kinetic energy could be produced, using some standard values for frictional coefficients between the vortex and the calm air around it. These values have also given results which seem logically consistent with the other energy values. This seems to be a crude validation that the process is actually the one which is creating the start of the vortices and by implication, waterspouts.

I certainly have the capability of creating very weak artificial tornadoes or vortices, and certainly believe I could create far more powerful ones, ever since early 2006. It is not obvious yet how the gases might be efficiently ionized, but a number of standard approaches seem logically obvious to try.

I suspect that later, larger-scale experiments should be performed within an extremely sturdy structure, a super-bunker, for the reality that unexpected things would certainly sometimes happen. It would be terrible if anyone would lose their life in such experiments. I could neither afford to build such a bunker nor want to do so.

Finally, this concept is technologically far beyond the capability of anyone less than a mega-Corporation, and I have long insisted on NOT providing such Corporations any additional methods where they can grow their greed and their single-minded focus on profits above any actual good that might occur for mankind.

Therefore, until and unless such Corporations greatly change their ways, to actually developing motivations which are more compatible with Christian values, I cannot imagine ever helping them create this sort of device. Since this is MY invention, I do not and will not provide any authorization to any corporation to try to develop this device or this system. Since I truly doubt that they have the capability of developing this themselves, I suppose that this concept will likely not be seriously pursued for a few decades or more.

If some Corporation should ever figure out how to reliably create tornadoes, they may have a chance of building and testing this concept. But since tornadoes are universally considered dangerous phenomena, profit-pursuing Corporations generally do not waste their money in doing research on such subjects!


Like many of my other energy-related inventions, this one is primarily intended to be used by INDIVIDUALS. Giant Corporations seem to rarely have interest in anything which might enable individuals to become less dependent on the Corporation's products or services. So I tend to doubt that the giant Utility companies will have any interest in advancing this concept, as it might cut into their billions of profits!

But I am willing to describe a few details regarding future usage of this concept for production of electricity of individial houses. The 'metal farm silo' needs to have some significant modifications. The floor area inside must contain a shallow pond for the entire area, where water would always be between two inches and four inches deep there. If the silo is eight feet in diameter, this then involves between 50 and 100 gallons of water in that pond.

That water needs to be WARM, at least 12°F warmer than the outdoor air temperature at that moment. In order to warm that water, I designed two lengths of INSULATED 1.25" poly black irrigation watering pipe, which connect both sides of the pond with somewhat larger sized (12 feet in diameter or 110 square feet area) enclosed flat tank outdoors, which has a black color top (to collect sunlight).

A standard car water pump is in that plumbing, driven by a small (electric) motor, to recirculate the water, to constantly keep re-warming the water in the pond to be warmer than the air temperature.

The silo also has to have a small rectangular area cut out of its sidewall, near the ground level, and oriented such that local wind could enter the silo as needed, and where that entering air might have a slight COUNTER-CLOCKWISE motion tendency inside the silo. Finally, the silo needs to have a small area of the roof cut away, which is to allow that entering air to have a Chimney Effect to rise inside the silo and then to exit at the top. This would then draw a small amount of additional air in through the ground-level entry slot. This also ensures that the air just above the pond is significantly COOLER than the pond water itself, which is really important to having this system work!

On a nicely sunny day, each square foot of the black surface receives around 100 Watts of sunlight energy. Since we are using 110 square feet of area, this is around 11,000 Watts of incoming sunlight. Some does not get captured and some heat is wasted, but we might plan for around 9,000 Watts of heat to be constantly added to the water in the pond inside the silo.

We can estimate the Chimney Effect, due to the floor being maybe 30°F warmer than the local air which enters the silo, and given the height and diameter of the silo in standard Chimney Design formulas.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 2009.


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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago