IET-Community: Self-organizing flow technique - introduction to booklet

by IET

This report is an attempt to understand and learn from the ideas and inventions of the Austrian forester Viktor Schauberger. Viktor Schauberger already in the 1920s warned about environmental crisis, at a time at which it was not, as today, something recognized. During his lifetime, he encountered resistance and ridicule, and his perspective may still today be labelled as unconventional and unorthodox, although much of what he wrote about our handling of waters and forests today is more relevant than ever. As he wasn't an academic, but was more of a natural philosopher, he had trouble to communicate his ideas with contemporary scientists. In this report, we'll try to show how modern research in chaos and self-organizing systems give us a possibility to shed some new light on Vikor Schauberger, and perhaps establish a deeper understanding of the phenomena he described.

Viktor Schauberger
We will call our perspective self-organizing flow, so called since the technology described exploits the intrinsic order spontaneously created by a system, during the right conditions.

Such a view was advanced in the 1920s by the Austrian naturalist Viktor Schauberger (1). Schauberger was a forester and timber-floating expert. He was no academic, but he had a long tradition of studies of nature to rely on. He also had rich opportunities to study the processes of nature in untouched areas, when it came to the handling of watercourses and the quality of water. His approach was that man should study nature and learn from it, rather than trying to correct it --- a view that was rather controversial at his time (1). He noted that mankind had a developed technology for exploitation of water, but still knew very little of the processes of natural waters, and the laws for their behaviour in an untouched state.

Schauberger gave the following example: In a mountain stream he observed a trout which apparently stood still in the midst of rapidly streaming water. The trout merely manoeuvred slightly, looking rather free from effort. When it got alerted it fled against the stream --- not with it, which at first sight would have seemed to be more natural.

On some occasions a cauldron of warm water was poured into the stream, quite a long distance upstream from the fish, for a moment making the river water slightly warmer. As this water reached the fish, it could no longer sustain its position in the stream, but was swept away with the flowing water, not returning until later. From this experiment Schauberger concluded that temperature differences is of great importance in natural river systems. He even tried to copy the effect of the natural movements of the trout in a kind of turbine, which he coined trout turbine.

By studying the gills of the fish (1), Schauberger found what looked like guide vanes. These, he theorized, would guide streaming water in a vortex motion backwards. By creating a rotating flow, a pressure increase would result behind the fish, and a corresponding pressure decrease in front of it, which would help it to keep its place in the stream (2).

1.1: One of Schauberger's log flumes. Note the egg-formed section, and how the flume meanders like a stream.

The Krampen-Neuberg flume in Austria, 1930s

Schauberger constructed a series of extraordinary log flumes that went against the conventional wisdom of timber floating of his time. They didn't take the straightest path between two points, but followed the meandering of valleys and streams, see Figure 1:1. In these flumes, guide vanes were mounted in the curves, making water twist in a spiral along its axis. This fact, together with a meticulous regulation of water temperature along the flumes and waterways used, made it possible to float timber under what was traditionally regarded as impossible conditions, i.e. with significantly less water needed than traditionally, over long distances and with a transport rate which significantly exceeded what was considered normal. It was even reported that timber more heavy than water could be floated (3) --- timber that would sink to the bottom under normal conditions. Remnants of these flumes and floating arrangements still exist today, and can be observed at different locations in Austria.

Knossos water supply
It is interesting that a water supply technology that displays some similar characteristics can be found on Crete, at the remnants of the ancient Minoan culture.

1.2: Some of the conical water pipes at Knossos. From the western part of the palace, close to the grain silos.

Early in the 20th century, Arthur Evans discovered and restored the palace of Knossos, situated at Kefala hill at the center of Crete. The oldest parts stem from around 2100-2000 BC. On the walls vortexes and spiralling patterns abound --- one wall drawing e.g. shows a Karman vortex street --- displaying that swirling water inspired the inhabitants of the place (11). Water certainly was central in Minoan mythology --- and treated as something sacred.

The water supply system is especially interesting. Conical pipes made of terra-cotta, where the narrow opening of each pipe section sticks well into the wide opening of the next section were used, see Figure 1.2. Apart from making it easy to lay out the pipes in a curved fashion, the tapered shape of each section has given the water a shooting motion (4) which would have assisted in preventing the accumulation of sediments. As noted by Evans~\cite{Evans}, this would make them more advanced than nearly all modern systems of earthenware pipes, which have parallel sides. One stretch of pipes even showed an upward slope, indicating that Minoan engineers were well aware of the fact that water finds its own level. In some channels for water, braking vanes, to brake the water at the outer curves can be seen (2).

The Stuttgart experiments
This report is based on the experiments made by Viktor Schauberger and Prof. Franz Pöpel at the Institute of Technology in Stuttgart in 1952 (31). One of the objectives of these experiments was to investigate the possibility of using different kinds of pipes with rotating water, in order to separate the water phase from a suspension of hydrophobic material.

The underlying idea was to use a vessel connected to a straight pipe from below. Water was injected tangentially and was allowed to swirl down into the pipe. A vortex would appear, and particles in the swirling flow would accumulate at the center of the vortex, where the pressure was the least. With suitably designed pipes it was then possible to separate the hydrophobic material.

The importance of the design of the inlet vessel was also studied. By using a rectangular and a round vessel, two rather different cases could be studied. Not only straight pipes were used, but also conical and spiralling pipes were used. Pipes made of different materials, such as glass and copper, were studied as well. The experiments were extended into investigating the frictional losses of different pipes and materials.

The results were rather astonishing. Schauberger and Pöpel observed that the frictional resistance decreased the more conical and spiralling the pipes were made. Pipes made of copper had a lower flow resistance than pipes made of glass. The spiralling copper pipe produced an undulating friction curve as the flow was increased. At some flows a negative friction was observed, as if water seemed to lose contact with the walls and fall freely through the pipe. How to interpret this remains to be seen.

A basic principle that can be deduced from the Stuttgart experiments is a rotation of water around its own axis, while it is flowing along a spiralling path with decreasing radius. The rotational velocity increases towards the center where a sub-pressure exists.

Let us study a "bath tub vortex" to illustrate the issue at hand. With a slow enough flow water flows more or less straight down into the pipe. But at a critical flow a transition takes place, a bifurcation, and water starts to swirl in a vortex.

In order to make water organize itself into this kind of flow, we only have to create the right conditions, which in turn will generate the spontaneous emergence of a subpressure axis. This could be arranged by using a suitable geometry of the vessels, or by introducing different kinds of guide vanes, pressure sinks etc. (More generally, we have to look at the system and its interaction with its surroundings as a whole.) The system then is in a state of dynamic equilibrium, where it is always changing but where its structure is yet stable.

A new perspective
This is a perspective that is very similar to that of Viktor Schauberger's way of reasoning. He early observed that untouched watercourses had a kind of structural stability. From those observations he suggested methods for river regulation --- based on the perspective of giving water impulses for self-organization to take place. By using suitable guide vanes and by taking into account the effect of the surrounding vegetation on water flow and temperature, he could make a watercourse self-organize into a stable riverbed.

This way of regulating rivers and watercourses differs from the traditional, which tries to steer the flow, and which disregards the 'eco-system' which the flowing water and its interaction with riverbed and vegetation makes up --- with floods and bank erosion as the natural result. Schauberger e.g. noted that the sediment transport capacity of the flow affected sand and bank development, which affected vegetation, which in turn affected the flow image of the water, through among other things the vegetation's cooling effect. The system bites itself in the tail, as it were.

A problem has been to interpret the language of Schauberger, as it was more that of a naturalist than of a hydrologist. He more looked at the wholeness of the system, than to its detailed composition, and focused on its flow image, without knowing or modelling the underlying mechanisms.

Such a perspective does not look for as detailed a model as possible, but for the simplest model that has the same kind of fundamental properties as the system. It is a perspective that is close to that of modern chaos science. It has shown that disparate and seemingly complex behaviours often can be captured by (ridiculously) simple models (5). This is due to the fact that dynamical behaviours at e.g. phase transitions are universal, and appears in a wide range of systems (14, 43). This is the perspective we will bring with us, as we in this report reinterpret and re-examine parts of the Stuttgart experiments and some of the possible applications. We will replicate some of these experiments, and from this try to evolve useful models, which can help to bridge the perspective of Viktor Schauberger with that of the modern natural sciences. This leads naturally to some of the main applications --- water treatment and restoration of watercourses. We will take a closer look at these in this report.

(1) This was at a time when central European forests were cut down at large scale and, as a consequence, mountain streams were clad in concrete in order to limit the severe erosion by floods).
(2) E.g. a pulsating jet of toroidal vortexes could develop, aiding the fish in thrusting against the stream. Schauberger also held the view that small amounts of trace materials, such as copper, were significant in these processes.
(3) Winter hewn beech and larch
(4) By giving the peripheral water a vaulting toroidal flow.
(5) Consider by contrast the complexity of a traditional approach at modelling a highly non-linear system such as free surface flow with an air funnel.

Litterature references:
(1) Alexandersson, Olof, Living water, Gateway Books, 1990
(2) Alexandersson, Olof, Private communication
(11) Evans, Arthur, The Palace of Minos --- a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos, Vol. 1, London, 1921, p. 141-43, 225-230, 371-75 and Vol. 3, London, 1930, p. 233-61
(14) Gleick, James, Chaos --- Making a new science, Viking Penguin, N.Y., 1987
(31) Pöpel, Franz, Rapport över preliminära undersökningar av spiralrör med olika form, Institute of Ecological Technology, Sweden, 1986. (Originally published as, Bericht über die Voruntersuchnungen mit Wendelrohren mit verschniedener Wandform} Internal Report, Institut für Gesundheitstechnik, Institute of Technology in Stuttgart, 1952. Published in English in, The Energy Evolution, Viktor Schauberger & Callum Coats (ed.), p. 222-47, Gateway Books, Bath, 2000)
(43) Waldrop, M. Mitchell, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of order & Chaos, Penguin, 1992

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