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Mechanical Power Distribution

Turn things
  (+9, -8)
(+9, -8)
  [vote for,

It occurred to me that a lot of electric devices in the house use electricity just to turn things. The power plant produces electricity by turning things. So let's cut things short and just turn things.

In older factories they would sometimes have a mechanical power distribution with long belts driving the machines. I think there was one in the recent Charlie's Chocolate Factory remake. I think systems like these go back to wooden mills and later steam engine power.

I envision a power distribution system that uses long drive axles that rotate on bearings suspended by towers. These go into gearboxes to distribute power to street level. Next to your house there will be a wheel on the driveshaft and a large belt that carries the power into the roof of the house.

With electricity, there are losses due to the resistance of the cables and imperfection of transformers. To mimic these inefficiencies, my system will have friction in the bearings, some friction due to sag of the driveshafts and friction in any gearbox that might be necessary.

Inside the rooms there are driveshafts as in Charlie's Chocolate Factory. Different appliances tap power differently. I'm thinking of these, but feel free to submit other or better solutions:

vacuum cleaner: a central vacuum cleaner is used with vacuum ports in various locations in the house. A drivebelt powers the squirrel cage fan.

electric tootbrush/razor: these use a flexible driveshaft similar to a dentists drill. This is coupled to the mains driveshaft by way of a small gearbox.

area heater: a hydraulic pump that powers nothing, just produces friction. as with electric heaters, it would be somewhat inefficient to use the rotation grid for heating.

Coffee maker: a small version of the area heater.

Laundry Washer: obvious! A belt drives the tumbler, perhaps with a small transmission in between.

Lights: this will need some R&D. Perhaps we can turn a very hard needle against a very hard surface, so that it gets hot enough to produce light. Otherwise, we can use candles or use the same approach as for devices that are necessarily electric, see below.

alternative energy: conscientious consumers can add windmills to turn their driveaxle and give power back to the grid during peak ours.

Devices that are necessarily electric, such as TV: Our house does have a small electric generator that's also powered by the mains drive power.

Torque meter devices are used for utility billing.

Fuses: to protect the systems, there are fuses in various places. These are thin axle inserts that will twist and snap if torque becomes too great.

Every house has a shut off switch too, in the form of a clutch.


- Fluorescent Lights: a van de Graaff generator provides nearly continuous discharges inside a fluorescent tube. No need for a ballast or starter.

- with Mechanical Power Distribution there is no worry over blackouts caused by visitors who do not come from earth.

jmvw, Nov 02 2006

Rotation Outlet Rotation_20Outlet
[xaviergisz, Nov 29 2006]

home Mechanical energy MCarter
[M Carter, Jan 04 2008]


       I felt sure we'd done this before only on a house-wide level, but I can't find it. I like it because it's impractical and steam-punky.
angel, Nov 02 2006

       As much as I love the idea - it has already been done - rather extensively by those who experienced the Industrial Revolution. We need to improve on what has gone before, not just duplicate it.   

       Also, I'm not sure what you mean by having friction in all of your cogs, gears and bearings - I presume you mean to remove friction from all of these things. Not that easy.   

       Plus, safety issues. If you can jam even the smallest gear, the effect would be either the twisting off of that gear (as the power continues to transmit to a now-locked pinion) or the shutting down of the nationwide grid. We need ratchets (acting rather like the fuse system in the electrical grid) so that if something locks up, it wont culminate in heavy machinery flapping about wildly. Having these ratchets is bound to be hard on the non-friction target.   

       Other problems abound - that perhaps we could solve with modern technology - but we need to figure out what they are before this becomes a proper idea.
zen_tom, Nov 02 2006

       Suddenly 'gym power' begins to make sense. Bun for the image.
Shz, Nov 02 2006

       I think he intends to add friction deliberately to imitate the (unwanted but unavoidable) losses in electrical wiring. Of course, this would not be necessary; quite the opposite, in fact.
angel, Nov 02 2006

       zen_tom, I forgot the fuses! I just added them to the description.   

       I'm frustrated about the friction. These losses are something that would, unfortunately, exist. But let me point the finger at electrical resistance and tell you: it is worse!
jmvw, Nov 02 2006

       High voltage: high speed shaft
Small current: low torque

       Electrical Power transmission lines have high voltage, low current, low loss.   

       Mechanical power transmission lines have high speed shaft, low torque, but Uh, Oh, high loss (especially at the changes in direction). And it would be much harder to reverse the direction of motors (instead of swapping two wires over)?   

       But isn't it fun to imagine power distribution shafts networked across the country? +
Ling, Nov 03 2006

       I don't quite know how you convinced eight people to vote for this...
BJS, Nov 03 2006

       Can't figure out how to detect earth leakage...
Ling, Nov 03 2006

       [Ling], thanks for your input. the system is based on earth leakage: the torque is relative to the earth. I think this is ok because we're unlikely to put ourselves in harms way and be twisted (this would be grabbing a driveshaft with one hand and a fixed object with the other and refusing to let go). If you're looking for a perfect analogy to an electric system I suppose you could have multiple axles that have torque relative to each other.   

       I'm not convinced losses would be greater then with electricity. Modern bearings are amazing and without shock loads they'll do even better. This is probably a good application for the very hard ceramic bearings. There will also be some losses in between bearings, due to flexing of the axles. The span between bearings would be determined by the trade off of friction in the bearing and friction due to driveshaft flex.   

       You mentioned reversal of direction. I can only think of laundry washers needing this. They would only need a single extra gear to be able to reverse and washers probably need a gearbox anyway for spin cycle.   

       Why do you see high voltage as equivalent to high speed and not high torque?
jmvw, Nov 03 2006

       //Why do you see high voltage as equivalent to high speed and not high torque?// Because volts can be applied without current, with no transfer of power, in the same way as torque can be applied without movement, with no transfer of power. Volts are sometimes referred to as potential, and I think that torque is the potential that finally causes the speed (current).
Ling, Nov 03 2006

       That's true and well formulated, but it's high torque then and not high speed.
jmvw, Nov 03 2006

       So it is! Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Let's forget the analogies, then. <Not so subtlety sweeps everything under the carpet>. What I was thinking was that the transmission lines ought to have skinny shafts running at high speed, to be cheap, instead of huge shafts with very high torque. That's what got me thinking of high speed: high voltage. Then when I got into another mode of thinking, I said the opposite! No I didn't. Yes I did. There, you see: I did it again.
Ling, Nov 03 2006

       For DC electric motors at least, torque=amps and speed=volts. Of course, there's a complicated relationship between the two, but changing voltage changes the speed of the motor, and changing the torque load changes the amps drawn.
5th Earth, Nov 03 2006

       I just think this would be way to impractical, and expensive, and prone to failure, and so on, and so forth.
BJS, Nov 03 2006

       That's exactly what Thomas Edison told George Westinghouse!
jmvw, Nov 03 2006

       Sounds like a good tv/movie show idea. But in reality of any distance mechanical resistance especially in belt driven systems is very high. Electricity is mathematically more efficient.
nustada, Nov 04 2006

jmvw, Nov 04 2006

       Yes, Mathematically.
BJS, Nov 04 2006

       I don't believe it. Tell me something about this mathematical efficiency.
jmvw, Nov 04 2006

       Pff-HAHAHA !   

       God that was a good read.   

       Assuming that the power co. would even be able to find the money, never mind the manpower, to set up that kind of a huge endeavor, you've still got all the functional problems. E.g., have you ever been anywhere near a high voltage line ? They really aren't that hot. That's because the metals (don't quote me on this) they use are reasonably conductive, and don't convert to much heat. Most of the loss is found in the transformers (e.g. why birds don't oft land on those). A nation-wide system like this would be a collosal waste of power. And at the scale that I believe you're thinking of, even the minute air resistance caused by those bearins moving will add up.   

       Heh. Good for a laugh though. [-]
Raithah, Nov 04 2006

       Glad you liked it! I never touched a live high tension wire to see it was warm and I'm not planning to do this in the near future. "Electric Power Transmission" on Wikipedia says this: "Transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 7.2% in 1995, and in the UK at 7.4% in 1998". Also, keep in mind that there is considerable loss during conversion from heat to rotation and some from rotation to electicity. This process is only around 36% efficient. I don't believe that a mechanical system would really be more efficient; I'm just enjoying the possibility of such a system. And wouldn't it be nice if we could compare it against electricity, with numbers?   

       I will unveil the main and ludicrous advantage of mechanical power distribution in a day or two, when I will post my next idea, an idea I had as a child.
jmvw, Nov 04 2006

       "Dear Whirlpullaway,
I was assured of the the standardisation of my new appliance when I recently bought it in the UK. So, you can imagine my horror when I plugged it into the drive socket in the US and, not only did it go backwards, it did so at half the speed. Please let me know how I can get my appliance changed for the correct one.
Thank you for your attention,

       "Dear Ling,
We have enclosed a handy adaptor in the crate that this letter came with. It includes a reversing gearbox, that also steps up the speed. We think that at only 10kg, this is indeed a really handy and portable device, which can be used for all manner of other equipment that you may have from the UK, such as bench-top shred-sheets, and terra-vision.
Thank you for using our products, and don't forget that we are also one of the leading manufacturers of Flexible torque shaft extension cables.
Best regards,
Ling, Nov 05 2006

       Ling, thank you. Please remember to change the oil in all your appliances every month for continued warranty coverage.   

       Now that I have posted my car idea, I would like to add another advantage of the mechanical power grid: no anxiety over blackouts caused by travelers from outer space. They may not exist, but that doesn't make them less dangerous.
jmvw, Nov 07 2006

       if it is more mechanical, it will be more prone to breakdowns. if you don't want to go electrical, go pneumatic. i'd just stick to electrical. why not use it? CO2? just offset.
twitch, Nov 07 2006

       Fred and Barney can help on your install , of course they will wonder why your using a mechanical vacuum cleaner and clothes washer instead of a mini woolly mammoth and a pelican.-
pydor, Nov 07 2006


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