A University of Utah meteorologist received $50,000 in "seed" money Thursday for experiments that could develop new fog-control technology.
The grant from Geneva Steel will allow the researcher, Norihiko Fukuta, to perform his anti-fog experiments in the vicinity of the company's plant near Orem.The experiments, called the Mountain Valley Sunshine Project, are to perfect a new cloud-seeding technique that could disperse cold fog. It could be used anywhere that cold-temperature inversions form, as in northern Utah.
After an article about the Utah project was published in Popular Science magazine last month, officials of Northwestern states and cities contacted the university.
The check was presented by Joseph A. Cannon, Geneva's president and chief executive officer. Cannon said Geneva has a special interest in dispersing the fog, which holds in air pollutants from the plant during winter inversions.
"Professor Fukuta is an example of the hordes of people up here who have ideas, and he's out to see if his idea is a good one," University of Utah President Chase Peterson said.
Fukuta thinks spraying liquid carbon dioxide from an airplane would be vastly more effective than seeding with the familiar crystalline "dry ice" form of carbon dioxide. He made some test flights over the Great Salt Lake last winter and said he has the photographs to prove how successful it can be.
"Initially it's just like a thread," he said. The stream of liquid CO2 is almost invisible behind the plane.
But this stream diffuses rapidly, rotating as it moves, widening at "about the same speed as walking speed," he said. The CO2 forms millions of minute ice particles, to which the fog clings.
As the particles grow, they become large enough to precipitate as snowflakes. They clear out the fog in lower levels as they fall.
The stream becomes a gap in the fog bank, growing deeper and wider. Soon, he said, "they give the impression you create a Grand Canyon in the fog."
He estimates the natural reaction of the fog to this seeding generates as much heat as 10 atomic bombs of the Hiroshima size. In addition, because the fog is cleared out, enough new sunlight will strike an area like Salt Lake Valley every day to equal 10 times as much energy.
With the new sunlight warming the air and ground, "pollution will be lifted upward," Fukuta said.
The savings in heating costs alone would be enormous, under this theory. So would the savings in lives, when drivers find themselves in the clear again, or when ill people are able to breathe fresher air.
Indeed, with the cold inversion cleared away, people would not use wood-burning and coal-burning stoves as much, reducing this dangerous type of air pollution.
If the experiments succeed and the new cloud seeding is successful, Peterson said, "it will be a monumental thing for this state."
He likened the effect to moving the nearby mountains by five miles. The Wasatch Front mountains form a barrier to air circulation, helping to lock in cold, foggy, polluted air during temperature inversions.
Peterson cautioned that the technology is not proven. Still, he said, it is "very promising. Now we just need to move on to this high-tech testing."
"We are very concerned about air pollution," said Cannon, who himself is a former top official of the Environmental Protection Agency. If the technique works, it could help the state become a much more attractive place to live, he said. "We really are anxiously awaiting the results."
The results must wait for two things: the right weather conditions and preparing an aircraft for the study. That may be several months away.
Peterson noted that laboratory tests are promising. But if the experiments don't work, nobody should condemn the university in five years, he said.
The purpose of the flights will be to test the theory, not to demonstrate proven technology.
Should the tests work as hoped, the next step will be to develop a better application device, using a long tube that could stick from an aircraft down into a cloud bank. The device could cost $400,000 to develop over about two years of work.
"If we develop a new seeding device, that possibly might be patented for the university," Fukuta said. Then the school would get royalties from it whenever it was purchased.