India-Born Aerospace Engineer Moots Novel Technology To Reverse Global Warming
Dr Narayanan Menon Komerath has been awarded a US patent for his invention ‘Glitter Belt’ that will help reduce solar radiation reaching the earth, which in turn will decrease global warming over vast stretches.
India-born US based aerospace engineer and long-time Georgia Tech professor, Dr Narayanan Menon Komerath has suggested a novel — but very doable — way of reducing solar radiation reaching the earth, helping to reduce global warming over vast stretches. He has recently been awarded a patent for his invention, ‘Glitter Belt’, by the United States Patent Office (read patent here).
Born in Thrissur, Kerala, Dr Komerath studied at IIT Madras obtaining a BTech in aeronautical engineering in 1978. He then went to the Georgia Institute of Technology where he obtained a PhD in aerospace engineering (turbulent combustion) in 1982. He retired on 1 January 2020 after 41 years at Georgia Institute of Technology, the last 25 as professor at the Daniel Guggenheim School of aerospace engineering.
His invention describes a method to deploy and operate an array of ultralight reflective sheets using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) 100,000 feet above the earth. Flying round the clock for an indefinite period far above winds and clouds, the sheets reflect sunlight back into space at full intensity. ‘Glitter Belt’ is named for how they appear from space. Glitter Belt’s ‘Flying Leaf’ UAVs generate their aerodynamic lift from the sheets, steadily moving north or south to stay with the peak summer sun.
The reflective sheets do double duty: In addition to reflecting the sun’s rays away from earth, the bottom surfaces of the sheets which are painted black, absorb night-time radiated heat from the earth, warm up the sheets and dissipate this heat into space. The ‘leaves’ can be launched from and recovered from any open ground, even a cricket field, says Komerath.
Even at the extreme size needed to reverse ‘global warming’ into ‘global cooling’ at the current rate (roughly 3 watts per square metre of the earth's surface area, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the cost will not be too high for the benefit achieved — it only needs national and international will to help tackle global warming, the inventor suggests.
Considering the climate skepticism in his current home, the US, Komerath feels India with its known commitment to global climate initiatives, is best placed to take the lead. “For starters, solar heating can be reduced and over time, radiation out from earth will reduce the heat retained in the atmosphere, reversing at least some effects. This will buy time for reforestation to catch up and remove excess carbon dioxide, sequester carbon and release oxygen,” he says.
Dr Komerath has already opened some channels of communication in India: He developed and taught a course at Georgia Tech (engineering) and Kennesaw University (business school) on micro renewable energy systems which he condensed into a 10-day intensive course at IIT Madras in 2015 under the G.I.A.N. (Global Initiative for Academic Networks).
He published a book titled, Micro Renewable Energy Systems and organised and co-chaired the First Abdul Kalam Conference on Sustainable Growth at Sustainable Cost at IIT Madras in July 2019, which went further in charting solutions from India. He has created a website to share information about his invention.
India Is An Ideal Base
In a special communication to this writer, Dr Komerath suggested that India was ideally situated to anchor the first major mission which could cover a swath from Kanyakumari to the Antarctic Circle and back, because the route is all above the ocean. “Perhaps the first Antarctic version (focused on the edge of Antarctica) should be from the Indian Antarctic Base as well. Putting reflectors over the Himalaya is more difficult due to international issues and the need to get the cooperation of neighbours.”
Reducing sunlight is very effective in reducing global warming. Glitter Belts girdling the globe might provide one answer. It is a task that governments should initiate, reaching out to commercial entities to manufacture, operate and scale up, Dr Komerath feels. And India has a unique opportunity for leadership in addressing global warming: “This could be "Atmanirbhar Bharat" at its best”, he suggests.
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