The Lindbergh Foundation Believes that Innovative Science and Technology Hold the Key to Addressing Humanity’s Environmental and Productivity Challenges

Professor Robert Dell
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York City

Harvesting and Re-circulating Surplus Heat to Warm the Soil of Small Urban Gardens in New York to Accelerate Plant Growth and Extend the Growing Season

Category: Waste Management and Minimization: 2006

In New York City, more than 2,500 buildings use steam generated by Consolidated Edison, however not all of the steam is used. There is no recirculation system. The waste steam heat, in the form of steam condensate, is currently mixed with and cooled by the municipal water supply. This fluid is dumped into the sewer system creating thermal pollution, which wastes both potable water and energy. Prof. Robert Dell, Director of Mechanical Engineering’s Laboratory for Energy Reclamation and Innovation, will determine the feasibility and economic viability of recapturing the waste steam to heat the soil of small urban gardens that will prolong the growing season and significantly increase crop yields. Prof. Dell is creating a self-regulating green-engineered system of heat exchangers, expansion tanks and controls that will heat the soil while replenishing the water using a Test bed Winter 06modified drip-irrigation process. If the concept is proven to be economically viable, green gardens could be found in New York City year round, enhancing the quality of life while conserving valuable resources. This technology could then be applied worldwide, wherever there is thermal pollution.

Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. is providing technical assistance and The Albert E Nerken School of Engineering at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is providing additional space and laboratory facilities. Diversified Heat Transfer, Inc., will make its resources in Ridgewood Queens available for this grant.

This Lindbergh Grant in Waste Management and Minimization is sponsored by J. Knox Bridges.

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Honors & Awards

American Scientist:  Named one of the Top 5 Leading Professional Researchers in New York City
Keilir Institute of Technology: 
Visiting Scientist
University of Iceland Research Station:
  Visiting Research Fellow
The New York Botanical Garden
, Honorary Research Associate
C.V. Starr Research Foundation, Research Fellow
Fulbright Senior Research Fellow

Feature Articles

Tomato Plants Grow in Iceland

Prof. Dell believes a great deal of energy has been spent on large-scale solutions for addressing the energy crisis. He feels a better approach is to target micro-solutions to optimize current energy usage. Capturing and using waste heat (thermal pollution) to warm the soil of small urban gardens accelerates plant growth and prolongs the growing season. This technique can also be used to extend the growing period of food crops in harsh climates, like Iceland.

Read More

Final Report

District Heating Services provide municipal steam distribution systems for the heating of building interiors and other commercial purposes.  There is no recirculation system, so no all of this heat can be used.  This waste heat, in the form of hot water or steam condensate, creates thermal pollution.  Dell believes thermal pollution should be used to heat the soil of small urban gardens, which accelerates plant growth and prolongs the growing season.  In New York City, he used the wasted energy to heat the soil of green roofs. 

Read the Final Report