Ice Ponds for Summer Cooling

A former nuclear physicist is testing ice ponds he hopes will provide fresh drinking water and natural summer cooling to urban areas.

| January/February 1983

  • ice ponds summer cooling - Prudential Insurance ice pond
    The creation of the Prudential Insurance Company's ice pond during the winter of 1981.
    Photo by Marco Masoero

  • ice ponds summer cooling - Prudential Insurance ice pond

Most solar entrepreneurs harness the sun's warmth. But Ted Taylor — a nuclear physicist who designed bombs at Los Alamos in the 1950's and now an alternative energy researcher — has turned his attention to the use of winter's cold by storing that "coolth" in ice ponds.

Ted's frozen bodies of water — actually man-made "icebergs" — are created in winter so that, as they melt, they'll supply summer cooling (with assistance from underground conduction pipes) to nearby buildings. Perhaps the most noted of Ted's ice ponds is the one built for the Prudential Insurance Company's office complex not far from the campus of Princeton University.

Since the completion of that project, Taylor has been working steadily to refine and update his "coolers." In 1981 he and an engineering partner established a company, TDK, to design and install ice-pond systems. Right now, TDK is under commission to develop one of the frozen lakes for a dairy in western New York state. Because cooling is needed year round in the milk business, and because there are a lot of dairies in this chilly region, Ted hopes that the upstate New York area will provide fertile testing grounds for the business.

Now, besides continuing to explore the summer cooling potential of his revolutionary lakes, the physicist/environmentalist is also investigating the possibility that ice ponds could provide drinking water from the sea! This idea may have special merit for northern coastal towns (where there's limitless "raw material," of course), especially those already suffering a shortage of pure water.

Put simply, Ted's theory is that when salt water starts to freeze — at about 29°F — the first ice crystals to form will be relatively salt-free. Then, if the still-unfrozen, saline-heavy liquid can be drained off, the nearly saltless ice can serve as a stockpile of fresh water for human consumption.

The concentration of salt in seawater is about 30,000 parts per million. But once the ice crystals have formed — if the process is controlled to keep the "fresh" water solid and the "waste" salt solution liquid — what's left will be blocks of ice with an overall salt content well below the 250 parts per million that's generally considered acceptable for drinking.

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