Harnessing the Energy from the Earth’s Rotation

New advances in tidal power hint at the massive amount of rotational energy located within the earth. As early as the 1970s, the Soviet Union was exploring methods to harness this rotational energy directly. The prominence of the current energy crisis has sparked new research by physicists to test the ability to tap into this resource.

The amount of energy in the earth is vast - the kinetic energy of rotation alone is 2.137 x 1029 Joules. Channeling this energy would require a slowing in the rotational force of the earth. This process is continually transpiring due to frictional losses from ocean tides and tidal power. Assuming we harnessed a fraction of the earth’s rotational energy, increasing the length of a day by a mere one second, it would consistently yield 2.5848 x 1024 Joules (approximate and assumes losses to friction) of energy.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s 2006 statistics, the total American energy usage (comprising of residential, commercial and industrial) is 1.0989 x 1018 Joules per month, a fraction of the energy available in the earth’s rotation. Although these numbers are approximate, most physicists agree that the amount of rotational energy is vast if we can manage a way to harness it.

[The Equational Ingredients for Rotational Energy.]

In most energy production, one form of energy is converted to another via gears, pulleys, magnets, etc. If we consider the earth’s rotation as a form of energy, to harness it, we would need to create a ring of resistance that would covert this to electricity. Gyroscopes are privileged devices in this manner because they maintain their orientation in space. According to Physicist, C Johnson, if one could build a massive ferris-wheel type gyroscope on the North Pole, there would theoretically be a potential to harness this energy. The gyroscope would initially be started with a motor and once in motion, it would spin endlessly. Further, the gyroscope would have to be fixed to the earth – the difference between the earth’s rotation and the gyroscope would create a torque, or moment force as Johnson posits, “The Earth's rotation would externally directly drive the gear train, using the gyroscope simply as a fixed object to push against.”

Johnson’s research builds on twenty years of experiments carried out by the Soviet Union during the 1970s. The Soviet experiments were not successful because they were incurring dramatic energy loss through a system of gears that ‘speed up’ the motion of the earth. Although, Johnson’s research has fewer losses (he calculates a constant production of 587 watts), there is still a long way to go before realizing his device. There are other nascent devices that operate on similar principles but a great deal of research needs to occur due to large frictional losses and the mega scale of the mechanisms involved.

Although not technically a renewal resource of energy, the amount of kinetic energy in the earth’s rotation is abundant and would last for thousands of years. Further, it would create no pollution, greenhouse gases or deplete natural resources. It would, however, make the days and nights longer, but that doesn’t seem to be too large of a trade-off.

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