Century-old water valve invented by Nikola Tesla could have modern use

A one-way water valve without moving parts invented over 100 years ago by Nikola Tesla could possibly be adapted to pump fluids around motors using otherwise wasted energy.

Tesla patented his “valvular conduit” in 1920. It really is essentially a pipe with an intricate internal design that forces fluid relocating one direction to loop back on itself at various points along its length. When water flows in to the mouths of the loops, it becomes turbulent and decreases, halting the flow. But in the event that you run water in the other direction, it doesn’t enter the loops and flows freely.

Leif Ristroph at New York University and his colleagues built a 30-centimetre-long version of the valve, following Tesla’s original plan, and measured the flow in both directions at a variety of pressures.

Although Tesla claimed in his patent that the valve will make water flow 200 times slower in one direction compared to the other, the researchers discovered that their version only managed to get two times slower. “He was a very imaginative guy,” says Ristroph. “It’s a little unclear whether he actually made and tested it. I suspect so, but there’s no documentation of this.”

Although the effect was lower than Tesla claimed, the valve continues to be a good design, says Ristroph, especially since it has no moving parts so could possibly be maintenance-free.

“It’s been known about and has been found in some applications, or at least proposed for use. But no one had ever really done the thorough hydrodynamics work on it to determine how it works, how well it works,” says Ristroph.

Read more: New type of pipe for pumping blood is merely liquid without pipe

The team found that there is no difference in resistance between forward and reverse at low flow rates. Instead the valve abruptly activates above flows of around 1 centimetre per second and drastically resists reverse flow.

Ristroph believes that Tesla, who also had a patent for an AC to DC electrical converter, conceived of the valvular conduit to accomplish the same thing for fluid currents. AC electricity sees electrons constantly reverse their direction, but when changed into DC they effectively flow in a loop. His team made a ring of Tesla’s water valves to mimic Tesla’s electrical converter and discovered that it successfully took oscillating water sloshed backwards and forwards by a piston and converted it right into a steady flow of water in a single direction – effectively making it a pump.

The team believes that the look could harness the vibrations in engines and other machinery to pump fuel, coolants, lubricants and other gases and liquids.

“Imagine if you had those fluid pump systems basically take the vibration from the motor that’s there anyway, and also have that circulate it. It does not have any moving parts. There’s nothing to break,” says Ristroph.

Journal reference: Nature Communications , DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23009-y

More on these topics:

  • fluid dynamics

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