Sail Over Mountains of ICE…

Anthony Repetto
9 min readJan 2, 2023

~ constant winds carry ships FAST on Arctic ice-highways, easily made! ~

TL;DR Ice Ships are frickin’ insane. With a mast and sail, a wide flat body, and innumerable skates, these sailboats are able to haul tonnage across frozen lakes and glaciers at up to 85 miles per hour! They regularly attain 5x wind-speeds; an 8mph breeze across the North shores of Canada and Russia would propel huge fleets 40mph with NO FUEL. An Ice-HIGHWAY covering the beaches of the Arctic shores could replace much of international shipping! Get rid of that huge fuel-cost, AND go carbon-neutral. All while traveling more than TWICE the speed of normal container ships, along a route from Finland to just north of Japan in less than five days — a SHORTER distance than the Suez circuit! So, how do you pile all that ice onto the land? Enough ice to sail over the TOP of a mountain in Siberia? Easy:

Reflect the sunlight of summer with thin Mylar tarps to bake limestone, and add a little water to that lime powder in the winter (infinitely re-useable ‘quicklime’!), to power spray-nozzles held high on aluminum frames. A single square yard of Mylar, in one summer, can power enough pumping and spray to lay Hundreds of TONS of ice, EACH winter. In less than a decade, a few tens of thousands crewmembers could build and operate transit from northern Norway and Finland across all of Russia, inland to Yakutsk, down the coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk toward Japan, as well as across the Bering Strait to Alaska and then down the side of Hudson Bay to connect with the Great Lakes/Mississippi canal systems. Europe, Asia, and North America, with their Gigatons of shipping per year, would only need an ice-highway a few miles wide, a couple years to build at each site. That’s the bulk of international shipping, which is a BIG slice of the Carbon-Pie. And speeding-up those routes increases their value, while allowing the same number of ships and crew to deliver MORE goods, making more money and offering lower shipping rates, which help everyone. Details, next…

Ice Sailing

Ice Boats began popping-up in the Great Lakes more than a century ago; at the time, they were the fastest vehicles on earth. Huge ships were built, to haul tonnage between the major ports of the northern States and Canada, efficient to operate and able to carry heavier loads in proportion to their structural demands — the load is carried by the skates on the ice, and the wide, low frame. In contrast, a ship in water feels the continual surface-pressures everywhere, being submerged in water, which require all sorts of cross-members to prevent the walls from folding-inwards! Ice-boats are more ‘capital-efficient’ — they pay for themselves faster. Especially by traveling twice as fast, at minimum! Consider this: if your shipping company does $1,000 in business, at ‘5% margins’, meaning you had to spend $950 on operations & fuel, then your profits were only $50. Yet, you switch to ice-ships, delivering TWICE as many loads, WITHOUT fuel — you earn $2,000. If you still spend $950, then your profits are now $1,050… that’s a lot better than $50. You’re doing twice the volume of business, but earning 21x as much profits!

The main draw-backs of ice-sailing are — poor conditions (ice-surface AND wind) and a lack of ice *connecting* important locations. Well, we can solve those with good engineering and design. By manufacturing smooth-surface ice on *land*, instead of waiting for the lakes to freeze, we can connect the high Arctic… which is *constantly* windy, due to the ‘Polar Vortex’. If we build the ice along ‘narrow’ paths to connect with major oceanic ports and rail networks, keeping the surface clear and smooth, then international shipping can go green, cut costs, and re-build a few glaciers all at once.

Making Ice

You’ve probably seen videos of people pouring water outside when it’s really cold. That’s the gist of it. But bigger. You can pump water just a short distance from shores and rivers, lakes, spraying it into the air to mix with the sub-zero chill quickly. How much ice are we talking about? Let’s check: there’s 1.2kg of air per m3 volume, so in a 10m/sec wind, spraying to an elevation of 10m, then EACH single meter-wide stretch of spray-wall is able to interact with 100m3 of air per second (because 10m tall sees 10m pass through it per second, the wind speed), which is 120kg of air. If the air temperature is -10c then that’s >40kJ/kg of heat it can absorb, even from near-freezing waters. 40kJ/kg… multiplied by 120kg/sec… is 4.8 MEGAjoules of heat-absorption per SECOND. And that’s just from a 1-meter long stretch of a spray-wall covering the shoreline.

But, how much energy would we be *using* to pump that spray? The air steals-away 4.8 MegaWatts for us, but if we have to *spend* megawatts to do it, it’s no benefit. Well, 4.8 Megajoules is enough to freeze 15kg of water… so a single meter length of spray-wall would need to pump 15kg every second, during the windy winter. Spraying to a height of 10m requires 100joules/kg… so 15kg/sec spray needs only 1.5kW — that’s a 2 horsepower pump. Dinky!

Recap for a moment, before we tally up the big numbers: We use a 2 horsepower pump to spray 15kg of water every second, up to 10m into the air, which absorbs 4.8 Megajoules of heat into the air every second. And that is from a 1 meter-wide section of aluminum-scaffold spray-wall. Spending 1,500 joules every second, we freeze 4,800,000 joules every second; that is, for every ONE unit of energy we spend, we receive 3,200 units of energy toward ice-formation. 3,200-times more is a pretty good energy ratio. :)

So, if that 1 meter wide section of aluminum spray-wall is pumping 15kg a second, for the long 6 months of cold above the Arctic Circle, then that’s 15,000,000 seconds, for 225,000 TONS of ice, in ONE winter. You could let the wind lay the drift of frozen droplets a mile-wide, and it would still stack, compressed, 400 feet DEEP. From a sprayer & frame only three feet wide.

There are around 10,000km of coastlines, scoured by glaciers, with sparse vegetation that grows only 80 days a year, minimal diversity, barren. We should put those glaciers BACK, in a way that gets rid of a chunk of global carbon exhaust! 10,000km of spray-nozzles and aluminum frames, weighing perhaps a few hundred kg per meter of distance traveled, would weigh an entire Megaton in total. That is actually small, compared to global construction — the Three Gorges Dam was FIFTY Megatons of concrete. This spray-wall equipment would be small-potatoes, in terms of infrastructure demands, while they would *create* a massive ice-infrastructure at low cost. 225,000 Tons of ice EACH year, from a few pounds of Mylar and framing, covering only 1 meter of shoreline. For a whole 10,000km highway, that’s 2.25 TRILLION tons of ice per year.

To avoid hauling-in fuel for the pumps, we need to *re-use* limestone. Once you bring enough tons of limestone to the site, you NEVER need to bring more fuel. Each summer, Mylar reflectors gently bake the limestone, causing a chemical reaction that converts it into ‘quicklime’. This can be stored safely, without LOSING any energy, until deep in winter. When you add water to the quicklime, the chemical reaction reverses, releasing HEAT to power an electric generator. Once the quicklime has absorbed all the water, it has converted back into hydrated lime. Just bake it next summer, and you can use it all over again, a stable thermal battery at ultra-low cost. Limestone is also found in huge deposits scattered all over the place, so you don’t have to ship supplies from far away, and there won’t be any shortages. (Entire regions of continents are covered hundreds of feet deep, and you never need to get MORE because you keep re-using the original lime you brought.) Quicklime is NOT an efficient fuel — but it’s scalable, local, stupefyingly cheap, and Mylar makes the summer sun an efficient *local* source of power. In the summer, the sun is out extra-long, so tilting arrays of Mylar works even better than normal!

Sergei Yurko has been testing innumerable innovative designs for cheap, simple Mylar power systems — and he has costs down to less than a dollar per square meter. To power the 1.5kW spray mentioned earlier, we would need 150 meters depth of mylar reflectors, running parallel to the ice-highway initially. Once the ice has been laid, move the solar reflectors on TOP of the ice, during the summer, to keep the ice shaded and cool. The amount of sunlight reflected equals ‘energy that you DON’T need to spend re-freezing the next winter’; Mylar reflectors count *double* as fuel AND shade that prevents melting. For the 10,000km of ice-highway, that’s 1.5 billion m2 of Mylar, at Sergei’s price of $1 per m2: $1.5 Billion, to power the creation and maintenance of 6,000 miles of super-highway. That is dirt-cheap infrastructure! Boston’s big tunnel cost $14 Billion, nearly TEN times more expensive than Sergei’s solar reflectors for the entire ice-highway I propose. The spray-equipment for making the ice will cost a bit more, but that still puts the project well below the cost of Texas’ new sea-wall upgrade billed at $30 Billion, to protect some portions of their coastline.

Volumes of Traffic and Efficiencies

If a ship hauls 500 tons at 50km/hr from North of St. Petersburg across some 10,000km of ice to Yakutsk, then over the mountains to Okhotsk, it will take them 200 hours to cover the distance — just four days and four hours. So, if ships are ‘crowded’ in their lane at a distance of 2km highway per ship (a stopping-distance of 2km would give them more than two minutes to maneuver or halt)… then we have 5,000 ships x2 directions, each hauling 500 tons every five days. (10,000 ships x 500 tons x 70 trips/yr) = 350 Megatons/yr delivered. And, that’s per *lane* of shipping. An ice highway can be miles wide, quickly, providing DOZENS of lanes, frequent rest stops, etc. If most of the materials moving between Asia, Europe, and North America are upon ice-floes, that immense volume of traffic will be worth providing services en-route. With a bit more than 10 billion tons of goods loaded on ships every year, globally, we can split those between the Russian and Canadian lines — then, each ice-highway needs only 15 lanes to carry everything we currently carry on the seas! Of course, a large portion of global shipping is still necessary for everywhere ELSE, so I would consider the ice-highway ‘completed’ with just ten lanes in each direction. If each lane is 200m wide, that’s 4km. Add the slopes on either side, which melt more in the summer — a 3-mile wide glacier-highway is plenty for the whole world.

That’s 50,000 km2 of surface to maintain, across the Finland-to-Yakutsk route alone. But, you can plant enormous Zambonis on such thick solid ice, packed onto the frozen ground. If you Zamboni 5 square meters per second, then in a 2,000hr worker-year (7.2 million seconds) you’ll have touched-up 36 square kilometers — about 14 square miles per driver, each year. So, the entire highway’s maintenance needs 3,500 Zamboni-drivers, to sustain 10 Gigatons of shipping… an average of 1 driver-year’s salary and mech, for every 3 Million TONS of cargo. That’s cheap maintenance! And, every year the sun bakes more limestone, to pump more water, to make the ice that much thicker. Scaling is easy.

[[Oh, and while we’re at it: can we please put massive arrays of Nuclear Reactors in the center of Greenland? Out on top of 2 miles of ice, any melt-down will become frozen, held safe. So, we don’t have to over-engineer for safety as much, which brings costs down *dramatically*. We could cheaply build dozens of Gigawatts of power out there, and use that energy, plus air and water on-site, to produce AMMONIA — the production of ammonia for fertilizers globally uses a big chunk of our energy, carbon emissions! Denmark owns Greenland, and I hear they like green energy… if you know of any Danes, I’d love to nudge their brains in that direction!]]

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