Man makes life commitment to ecology project

Daniel Wade quit his job to focus on creating his downdraft dome in Edmond and contribute to science. (Garett Fisbeck)

Daniel Wade quit his job to focus on creating his downdraft dome in Edmond and contribute to science. (Garett Fisbeck)

It’s hard to imagine anyone in Oklahoma leaving a solid job right now. It’s even harder to imagine doing that to launch a project that might not be completed in a lifetime.

Daniel Wade imagined it, and he launched just such a project.

What he calls the “downdraft dome” is his passion and focus. The ultimate implementation of the concept is that a Pikes Peak-sized structure could use ocean saltwater to eventually power the equivalent of one-half of California’s wattage needs as it desalinates the water.

But first he has to prove it.

The dome would be one answer to two big ecology concerns: a need for more clean power and to make the ocean’s waters drinkable.

Early on, Wade developed computer models. Now, he anticipates completing construction of the first small-scale working model outside Oklahoma City. He is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign that could crowdfund construction of even larger working models.

What he needs over the next several months is a hot, dry summer to get “good data” from his prototype.

If the summer test produces the results Wade anticipates, he will present scientific papers on the concept over the next few years as he builds larger and larger test models.

Early inspiration

“I read Buckminster Fuller’s I Seem to Be a Verb: Environment and Man’s Future when I was 17, and it changed my life,” Wade said. “He addressed ecology optimistically.

“‘For the first time in history, man has the possibility to be a success in his environment,’” Wade quoted Fuller. “That one sentence changed everything for me.”

The further exploration of his interests and Fuller’s concepts led him to earn two degrees, he said, one in civil engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

After working for an engineering firm in OKC, he took a job with the utilities department of Oklahoma City, where he was content working, until he wasn’t. He needed to try the concept, and a full-time job would not allow it. So he quit and started his downdraft domes project as he worked freelance engineering jobs to pay the bills.

The concept

His concept calls for water mist to be sprayed at the top of a tall tower at least 1,000 feet tall, where the cooling of warm air causes it to rush down the tower. The wind picks up speed until it flows through turbine generators at the bottom of the tower.

Early models of the concept were developed by Phillip R. Carlson. Dan Zaslavsky and Rami Guetta further developed the concept for a 1,000-foot tower that is self-supported by concrete.

“A thousand feet sounds like a very tall tower,” Wade said. “But Dr. Zaslavky’s problem is he thought too small. It needs to be taller because every time you double the height, you get 11 times the power. [Even at 1,000 feet,] there’s cost, and there’s the instability when you build a tower that high. You start having very strong wind forces. You have a very, very heavy structure that is hard to support.”

Wade’s concept modification called for the use of lightweight materials for the tower itself and the use of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome design as the support in place of a rigid, heavy tower.

Wade said the geodesic dome design is strong despite weighing much less than concrete towers.

“Anything that is a network of triangles is going to be inherently stronger than a network of squares,” he said.

A geodesic dome could scale up “almost infinitely, he said, and would allow the structure to rise even higher beyond 6,000 feet in the concept and still be much more stable than a tower.

With an edifice of that height and the ability to push that much air through turbines, the downdraft dome could produce 18 billion watts, or about half of California’s energy consumption.

An added feature of the dome would be to desalinate the water used in the process. By using about 20 percent of the power produced, the structure could theoretically power a desalination plant for far less than the prohibitive cost of today’s process.

Working model

Wade is completing a working model that is about 46 feet wide just outside of Oklahoma City. He plans to have it working by the end of April and then spend the summer gathering operational data.

His Kickstarter campaign will help fund the building of the model and the instrumentation it will take to gather data.

The campaign has raised 48 percent of its $10,000 goal and ends 2:03 p.m. April 16.

Visit 405dome.com for information, photos and a link to the Kickstarter campaign.

 

Print headline: Drafty dome, A metro man devotes his time to a scientific project that could impact energy and water supplies.

Brett Dickerson

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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