The simple, yet brilliant, Trompe
A Trompe (also spelled Trombe) is a water powered air compressor system. This simple device was used for hundreds of years to produce compressed air for furnaces, mining equipment, ventilation systems, and even for air conditioning and ice production. Trompes were almost entirely replaced when fossil fuels, with their high energy potential, came into more general use at the beginning of the twentieth century (I believe the only large scale Trompe still in use is at the Ragged Chute plant on the Montreal River in Ontario, Canada). Unfortunately, the knowledge of these systems has been almost completely forgotten. At this time of increasing energy prices and likely post-peak oil, this is the type of information that needs to be shared and implemented.
The Trompe at the Ragged Chute Plant in Canada.
The function of a Trompe is brilliantly simple. It has no moving parts. Water is directed into a tall, vertical pipe that decreases in diameter. As the column of water is constricted from the piping, air is sucked in through ports. The air bubbles in the water are pressurized – the higher the column of water (i.e. the more head), the higher the pressure. At the end of the vertical pipe, the water with pressurized air bubbles, flows into a larger chamber (called a plenum or reservoir) where the air bubbles are released. The water flows out and the air, now compressed in a tight space, can be harvested.
Correct me if I am wrong, but from my understanding there is a loss of heat energy in this process which cools the air. Actually, the air compression is isothermal (no change in heat energy), but then the air coming out of compression is cooling. This cooling effect can then be utilized for simple air conditioning systems or refined for ice production.
The compressed air can be used directly as a power source to pump pistons or turn gears, or it can be stored in tanks and used elsewhere.
There is a lot of physics involved with a Trompe, but it is really a basic design. The higher the water origin, the greater the potential of energy produced. This is why many of the larger systems were built near waterfalls. However, I think there are plenty of smaller applications in a home or homestead where a Trompe could be used. It is time to bring this almost lost technology back to modern use.
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