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

Tomato Plants Grow in Iceland

Prof. Robert Dell

In New York City, where Professor Robert Dell originally conducted his 2006 research project entitled, “Harvesting and Re-circulating Surplus Heat to Warm the Soil of Small Urban Gardens to Accelerate Plant Growth and Extend the Growing Season,” the municipal steam distribution system used for heating buildings and other commercial purposes did not have a recirculation system. This means that not all of the heat that was generated could be used.

As a result, thermal pollution is created in the form of wasted hot water or steam condensate. Thermal pollution is often disposed of by mixing it with municipal water to cool it. Finding a purpose for thermal pollution decreases the waste of potable water.

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. Dell points out that heated soil agriculture,

although experimental, has been proven to be successful, however it is often impractical because of the high costs of energy, materials and labor, not to mention the pollution from producing the necessary energy. This research addresses the cost factor by re-purposing and reusing a resource previously considered waste.

Prof. Dell’s research has confirmed that thermal pollution can be used to heat the soil of green roofs. This allows a further reduction in the carbon dioxide levels in urban environments, especially as more green roofs are put into use. When thermal pollution is used to support small urban and roof-top gardens, the environmental benefit increases further because the plants can help reduce the heat island effect that makes cities hotter in the summer.

Professor Dell’s project in New York City was so successful, he requested an extension so that he could bring his methods to Iceland where they could be tested further. Iceland uses geothermal hot water to heat its buildings and it is already circulated in plastic piping under driveways and sidewalks to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. However, the resulting thermal pollution is cooled and released in the Bay of Reykjavik.

Flowers flourish outside the Cooper Union in
Winter 2006 from waste steam heat in NYC

During his project in Iceland, Prof. Dell successfully used waste heat from geo-thermal sources to grow tomatoes plants – outside – something that has never before been accomplished. He has proven that the system works — and works well.

He has received $33,000 in funding from Consolidated Edison to continue this research.Prof. Dell is a Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Iceland’s Research Stations.

He has just been notified that the Engineering School of The University of Iceland is applying for funding to study the economics of having 25% of the homes in Reykjavík use geothermal wastewater to heat outdoor gardens using Prof. Dell’s sytstem. There is also great interest in using the system for a larger agricultural production facility at a recovery health center in Hveragerði that serves its residents organic vegetables.

Prof. Dell continues to give lectures about his work at The University of Iceland and plans to bring several students to work in Iceland this summer. Several students have worked on the project, and some have made aspects of the work the subject of their Masters Thesis.
Geothermal heated garden in Iceland,
Feb. 22, 2008
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