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Human Turbocharger

Improving human altitude performance
  [vote for,

Humans and other air-breathing creatures show degraded mental and physical performance at high altitude. This is because there is less oxygen. There's less of everything else too, but we don't need to worry about nitrogen and the CO2 situation may help a little. Anyhow, the problem is low atmospheric pressure causes low O2 partial pressure that diminishes the extent and rate of O2 movement from lungs across all the gooey bits to hemoglobin.

One way climbers or specialist aircrew solve the problem is to supplement with pure O2. This increases the partial pressure of O2 by increases the percentage. This works but is inconvenient and expensive. Regular airliners solve the problem by simply compressing air with a turbojet, this is clearly the cheaper and more sustainable option.

What's happening in the jet engine itself is super interesting. Jet engines and turbocharged car engines don't really suffer from the effects of altitude. At high altitude, more energy is needed to compress the air to the required pressure, BUT as air moves from the combustion chamber through the turbines to the atmosphere that extra energy can be re=captured. The beauty is that it's always proportional.

Let us consider humans as a candidate for turbocharging. The human, like an engine, can simply be considered as an air pump. Now, we have a tidal intake and exhaust moving through the same tubing and addition of a valve train and a camshaft is possibly an upgrade for the future, but for now we will have to deal with that. The typical turbocharger uses an extremely high-speed centrifugal compressor and turbine sections that are not suitable to the human lubrication system*. Instead, a Wankel or vane pump/turbine is the way to go.

So, you breathe out, your diaphragm increases pressure in your lungs. The air moves up and out through the tubing into the SCUBA-style mouthpiece. Here a one-way valve directs air to the turbine. Air turns the turbine that is linked to the compressor. The compressor feeds a polymeric variable-volume pressure storage tank** where it waits until the exhalation ends and the intake is initiated. Again, a one-way valve opened by a partial vacuum is the way to go.

Now the lung pressure can be maintained at an advantageous level making Everest an easy stroll.

*more upgrade potential here. **A balloon with a logo and $200 mark up.

bs0u0155, May 16 2019

Transhimalayan Geese https://www.pnas.org/content/108/23/9516
[bs0u0155, May 16 2019]


       This is presumably great up to the moment when your alveoli all rupture.   

       Surely all this mechanization is a bit passé? Many species cope quite well with much lower oxygen pressures than we do, and in some cases this is because they have a different haemoglobin, optimised for altitude. It would be far eleganter to swap out our haemoglobin genes than to install all this mechanical gubbins. We should probably start by looking at those geese that migrate over mountains.   

       Now, if you really must tinker mechanically, I'd suggest a more organic approach, and go for some sort of countercurrent exchange mechanism. This might need a bit of re-plumbing, but any decent vascular surgeon could knock this up using spare bits of leg vein.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 16 2019

       //swap out our haemoglobin genes//   

       Ah, I see. Increase the affinity of hemoglobin and the O2 leaps enthusiastically onto it. Of course the O2 will then steadfastly remain on the hemoglobin on its travels through the various tissues. You'd need to up the affinity of everything downstream.   

       //those geese that migrate over mountains//   

       Presumeably there must be a mechanism as I doubt geese have 2-3 fold excess aerobic capacity.
bs0u0155, May 16 2019

       Supposing, that is, you have a spare leg or two ...   

       Both approaches strike us as lacking in flair and imagination.   

       One of the waste products of respiration is water.   

       Use a condenser to collect liquid water from the exhaled gases. From a Seebeck-effect device attached to the user, convert body heat to electricity. Use the electricity to electrolyse the water. Feed the oxygen back to the intake side via a demand valve. Burn the hydrogen in ambient air and use the heat in another Seebeck-effect generator to boost the electrolysis. Et viola ! A portable oxygen enricher with no moving parts.   

       What could possibly go wrong ?
8th of 7, May 16 2019

       Using a turbine/compressor pair will lose a lot of efficiency. Since the system is "oscillating" (it's only ever in OR out flow, never both at once), you can use a simple pressure- exchange, like a solid container with a movable or flexible membrane in the middle. Exhalation into one side pressurises the other side, which opens for inhalation (with breath-operated valves and such...).
neutrinos_shadow, May 16 2019

       // like a solid container with a movable or flexible membrane in the middle.//   

       I thought of that. Problem is, it's a little simple and would necessitate the removal of both complexity and the word "Wankel" from this idea.
bs0u0155, May 17 2019

       Goingback to our water-splitting idea, there's an improvement ; since hydrogen is just protons, use them to make more oxygen from the abundant atmospheric nitrogen by just adding a proton to each nitrogen nucleus; you even have a spare electron to keep the charge balanced.
8th of 7, May 17 2019

       //O2 will then steadfastly remain on the hemoglobin// Well, not necessarily. Our own haemoglobin changes its oxygen affinity in response to (I think) CO2 concentrations or pH or something. That affinity shift just needs to be greater.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2019

       // Burn the hydrogen in ambient air //   

       The exhaust of said burn might perhaps be ducted to the rear of the user during events such as running or mountain climbing, to boost them forwards, closer to the goal and thus less in need of oxygenated air.
whatrock, May 17 2019

       //oxygen affinity in response to (I think) CO2 concentrations or pH or something.//   

       CO2 is part of the altitude story. Because of the low pressure, it moves off hemoglobin into the gaseous phase easily. That leads to a systemic alkalosis which can mess with the hemoglobin affinities in the tissues.
bs0u0155, May 17 2019

       Well, the solution to systemic alkalosis is obviously to include a larger-than-usual slice of lemon in the G&T.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2019

       //include a larger-than-usual slice of lemon in the G&T//   

       There's no free lunch. The increased acid from the lemon will drive CO2 out of solution in the tonic. The CO2 is already racing out of solution due to the reduced pressure. Since it would be prudent to increase the percentage of Gin as a precaution against freezing, that decreases CO2 solubility. There's almost everything working against bubbly tonic here. For high altitude operations, I think there's something to be said for the sheer efficiency of a well-mixed martini. Losing the anti- malarial efficacy isn't such a problem on mountains.
bs0u0155, May 17 2019

       //a well-mixed martini// so, just the gin, then? Yes, I can see that working. I'm prepared to do the proof-of-concept studies.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2019

       //just the gin,then?//   

       Blimey. It's difficult to maintain the venier of civilization if you've resorted to swilling straight gin. No, a well mixed martini is cold gin, in a glass, with 3 olives. If you want a stiff drink, you can always reduce the olive count.
bs0u0155, May 17 2019

       I was taking the olives as a given.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2019

       The alveoli rupturing could be suppressed by a corresponding increase in blood pressure.   

       Portable oxygen concentrators are baked, but I wonder if you could build a hand-cranked one? Probably a bit demanding but if you were only aiming to partially increase the oxygen concentration it might be acceptable.
mitxela, May 17 2019

       Would it not, all in all, be easier to bring whatever it is down to a lower altitude so we can look at it in comfort? I'm thinking that the top, say, 20ft of Mount Everest could make a very nice water feature for someone. And, as a bonus, the actual mountain would be 20ft easier to climb, and would have a nice flat top so you could stop and have a cup of tea.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2019

       That suggestion makes table mountain and the anomalous kilimanjaro look suspicious.
bs0u0155, May 18 2019

       Some measurement on the pyramids might be in order. Never trust an Egyptian builder.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 18 2019

       I would think there could be a solid business case for flying a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest, scooping up some of whatever material the top of Everest is made of, and bringing it back. The material could be ground and made into little flat tiles perhaps 12" square. Gullible rich people could spend a serious wodge of lolly on buying one, and having it Installed in their home or garden so that they could enjoy their G&T "standing on the top of Mount Everest".
pocmloc, May 18 2019


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