Betz The Limit
Subtitle: The Ultra Hyper Totally Amazing Push Me Pull You Supercavitating Surface Effect Flying Machine · Part I
Blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the back roads headin’ south
# Idiot Wind
To understand The Ultra Hyper Totally Amazing Push Me Pull You we first need to understand how the wind blows. In this first part, we’ll look at how energy is gathered from a wind turbine and the constraints on the total energy available. Every second, the sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen into 616 million metric tons of helium, releasing energy in the form of photons. Multiply the missing 4 million metric tons of mass times the speed of light squared () and you get the energy generated every second,
A photon at the center of the sun takes about a million years to reach the surface, but only another 8 minutes 20 seconds to get to the Earth. Most of this light is in the visible spectrum, but after absorption at the Earth’s surface, energy is re-radiated in the infrared band causing local warming.
Because the warming isn’t uniform, the atmosphere heats more in some places than others resulting in different pressures. The pressures want to equalize and the only way for that to happen is for the wind to blow.
Kinetic energy is the mass of the air times the velocity of the wind (squared) and we’ve been capturing some of that energy for a long time to propel sailing ships and to power wind turbines. These posts will look at the possibility of combining those two ideas to make The Ultra Hyper Totally Amazing Push Me Pull You, the most astounding boat ever imagined.
First, we need to get an idea about how much energy is available and how much we can extract for useful propulsion.
# Eine Kleine Nachtphysik
Mozart and a friend go to visit a third friend. When they get to the door the first friend asks, “Shall we ring the doorbell?” and Mozart replies, “Nah, I’m inclined to knock”.
Some basic physics. Kinetic energy is the energy of an object due to its motion, defined as one half the mass times velocity squared,
In physics, work is defined as the change in kinetic energy usually due to a change in velocity,
where and are the initial and final velocities.
Force is mass times acceleration,
and acceleration is the rate of change of velocity (how fast velocity is changing during a short time ),
Power is the rate of doing work and is also the derivative of force applied through a distance, with units of energy per unit time,
Momentum () is mass times velocity,
Sometimes it’s useful to be able to write the change in velocity as a function of distance. The final velocity is the initial velocity plus acceleration over a time interval,
During constant acceleration, the distance traveled is the average of the initial and final velocity,
and the distance can also be written as
Multiply both sides of by twice the acceleration to get
Now, expand to get
and notice that the right side of is the exactly the and terms of so we can make a substitution to get
What makes this form useful is that we can get the final velocity in terms of the initial velocity and the acceleration through a distance without having to know explicitly the time required.
# Albert Betz
Albert Betz was a German physicist interested in wind turbine technology. In 1920, he published a paper, “Das Maximum der theoretisch möglichen Ausnutzung des Windes durch Windmotoren” which demonstrated the upper limit for extracting wind energy from a turbine. English engineer Frederick Lanchester published similar results in 1915 and Russian mathematician Nikolay Joukowsky did as well in 1920, making this another example of Stigler’s Law of Eponymy - a scientific discovery named for someone other than the original discoverer. For his Ph.D. thesis in 1919, Betz studied ship propellers and showed how to optimally design them for minimum energy loss.
Betz’ Law is surprisingly easy to prove. Here’s a picture of wind flowing through the rotor disk of a wind turbine drawn by David Watson.
If the diameter of the rotor is , then the swept area is
As the wind blows through the swept area of the turbine, energy is extracted and converted into either mechanical or electrical energy. In the process, the velocity must decrease so that the average velocity through the disk is
The mass of the air passing through the disk during one second (assuming and are measured in meters per second), is the density of air times the average velocity times the disk area,
The density of air at sea level is approximately
The force acting on the wind turbine by the moving air is
where is the average velocity through the turbine.
As I explained above, power is the rate that work is being done or the derivative of force through a distance,
but power is also the rate change in energy (in this case kinetic energy) per unit time,
after expanding and factoring out .
Let , so
Taking the derivative with respect to ,
This will have a critical point (either a maximum or a minimum) when , which happens when
This has roots at and , so the only physically meaningful solution is the first root, meaning . The maximum power then is
In other words, the maximum power that can be extracted is of the power available in the free stream.
So there we have it. With a carefully designed wind turbine, we can get almost of the energy out of it. Except …
# CFD Messes Up Everything (Idiot Wind)
In 2001, Russian physicists Aleksandr Gorban, Aleksandr Gorlov, and Valentin Silantyev published a paper, “Limits of the Turbine Efficiency for Free Fluid Flow”. This is a picture of Gorban, and just look at the smirk on his face
because they had applied Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to Betz’ Law. CFD uses numerical analysis to study fluid flows and can provide more accurate solutions than the Betz method above. Because Betz didn’t have access to the powerful computers available today, he made some assumptions,
- The rotor has an infinite number of blades and they produce only lift, not drag.
- The airflow into the rotor disk is perpendicular to the disk (there’s no rotation as it passes through).
- The air is incompressible, and there is no heat transfer.
- The rotor experiences a uniform thrust across the disk.
With CFD methods, Gorban, Gorlov, and Silantyev were able to show that the air mass spins up as it passes through the disk, thus wasting energy. Their maximum turned out to be of the total available energy. In “Wind Turbine Power: The Betz Limit and Beyond”, Mahmoud Huleihil and Gedalya Mazor found that the maximum thermodynamic efficiency is . Nevertheless, wind turbines do work, they extract useful energy and we can use them to power The Ultra Hyper Totally Amazing Push Me Pull You.
Photons bounce around like crazy inside the sun, in a path called a random walk, or Brownian Motion. The average distance traveled during a random walk is the mean step size times the square root of the number of steps. The distance traveled during each step is very short, so many steps are required to get to the sun’s surface. ↩︎