Title:
BARRIER SYSTEM FOR A BODY OF FLUID AND METHOD OF FORMING THE SAME
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A float member configured to float on and cover a fluid surface. The float member includes an elongated body having a top portion and a bottom portion defining a central longitudinal axis and a periphery portion. The periphery may have a substantially flat surface. The top portion extends upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery. A width of the body is substantially greater than a height of the body. In various aspects of the invention, the float member is configured to modify a transfer of evaporated fluid or energy therethrough. A method of forming a barrier using the float members and a system of for adjusting an evaporation rate of a fluid are further disclosed.



Inventors:
Donovan, Len (San Pedro, CA, US)
Donovan, Lauri Ann (San Pedro, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/533218
Publication Date:
02/04/2010
Filing Date:
07/31/2009
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E02B15/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SINGH, SUNIL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP (PA) (Palo Alto, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A float member configured to float on and cover a fluid surface, said float member comprising: an elongated body having a central periphery portion, a top portion, and a bottom portion, the top portion extending upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extending downwardly from the periphery, wherein the periphery has a substantially flat outer circumference.

2. The float member according to claim 1, wherein a width of the body is substantially greater than a height of the body.

3. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the central periphery portion, top portion, and bottom portion are joined into a unitary structure.

4. The float member according to claim 2, wherein the width of the body is at least about 50% greater than the height of the body.

5. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the float member is configured to modify a rate of fluid evaporation therethrough.

6. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the circumference is polygonal-shaped about a central longitudinal axis of the float member.

7. The float member according to claim 6, wherein a vertical cross-section of said elongated body is substantially rhombic.

8. The float member according to claim 7, wherein said elongated body is disk-shaped.

9. The float member according to claim 7, wherein at least one of the top portion and bottom portion comprises a plurality of substantially planar surfaces projecting away from the periphery portion and meeting at a peak.

10. The float member according to claim 9, wherein the peak is domed.

11. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the float member further comprises a ballast member disposed in the bottom portion, the ballast member configured and positioned to orient the float member on the fluid surface.

12. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the float member has a mass of about 100 grams.

13. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the body is plastic.

14. The float member according to claim 1, wherein the body is composed of high density polyethylene.

15. A float member configured to float on and cover a fluid surface, said float member comprising: a periphery portion defining a major axis, the periphery having a polygonal-shaped outer circumference defined by a plurality of substantially flat surfaces; a top portion extending from the periphery portion to a top end, the top portion having substantially flat sides and a narrowing width from the periphery portion to the top end; and a bottom portion extending from the periphery portion to a bottom end, the bottom portion having substantially flat sides and a narrowing width from the periphery portion to the bottom end, the top end to the bottom end defining a minor axis, wherein the major axis is at least about 50% greater than the minor axis.

16. The float member according to claim 15, wherein the major axis is at least about 75% greater than the minor axis.

17. The float member according to claim 5, wherein the major axis is about 8 inches and the minor axis is about 4 inches.

18. A floating barrier disposed on a surface of a fluid body, said barrier comprising: a plurality of float members configured to float on a fluid surface in adjacent relationship, each float member comprising a periphery, a top portion, and a bottom portion defining a central longitudinal axis therethrough, the periphery having a plurality of substantially flat surfaces along an outer circumference, the top portion extending upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extending downwardly from the periphery, wherein a width of the body is substantially greater than a height of the body.

19. The floating barrier according to claim 18, wherein said float members are independent and distinct.

20. The floating barrier according to claim 19, wherein each float member is configured to abut and engage adjacent float members thereby forming a substantially contiguous barrier on the fluid surface.

21. The floating barrier according to claim 20, wherein a plurality of said float members are configured to interconnect to form a uniform barrier.

22. The floating barrier according to claim 18, wherein the barrier covers at least about 93% of the surface area of the fluid above which the barrier is disposed.

23. The floating barrier according to claim 18, wherein the barrier covers at least about 97% of the surface area of the fluid above which the barrier is disposed.

24. The floating barrier according to claim 18, wherein each of said float members is configured to reduce heat transfer therethrough.

25. The floating barrier according to claim 18, wherein each of said float members is configured to absorb WV light.

26. A method of forming a barrier over a fluid, the method comprising: providing a plurality of float members, each float member being adapted to float on a surface of the fluid, each float member having a central periphery portion about a longitudinal major axis, the major axis being substantially larger than a transverse minor axis; and placing the plurality of float members on a surface of a fluid thereby covering at least a portion of the water surface.

27. The method of claim 26, wherein the float members are disk-shaped and have a polygonal-shaped periphery.

28. The method of claim 26, wherein the float members are dimensioned and configured to be self-arranging and the placing is accomplished by randomly positioning the plurality of floating members on the fluid surface.

29. A system for covering a fluid body, said system comprising: a plurality of elongated, disk-shaped floating members positioned adjacent one another on a surface of a fluid, each floating member comprising: a central periphery portion; a top portion and a bottom portion defining a central major axis therethrough, the top portion extends upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery, wherein a width of the floating member is substantially greater than a height of the floating member.

30. The system according to claim 29, wherein each of the floating members is configured to adjust an evaporation rate of the fluid therethrough

31. The system according to claim 29, wherein the floating member has a maximum height of about 4 inches and a maximum width of about 8 inches.

32. The system according to claim 29, further comprising a netting member, the netting member configured to anchor the plurality of elongated floating members to the fluid surface.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of, and priority to, U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/085,086 filed on Jul. 31, 2008 entitled “Barrier System for a Body of Fluid and Method of Forming the Same,” the entire disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates, in general, to systems and methods for forming a floating barrier for bodies of liquid. The invention further relates to systems and methods for modifying the evaporation rate and transfer of energy and/or substances from a fluid body, such between a pond or reservoir and the environment.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Covering bodies of fluids is a concern in many industries and public sectors. The manufacturing of products in industrial applications, such as the petrochemical and plastics industries, often incorporates the use of fluids housed in vessels in several stages of production. Substantial sums of money are lost each year due to the evaporation and contamination of such fluids. Thus, there is a need for limiting exposure of the fluids to the environment.

The transfer of heat and energy to and from bodies of fluids is important in other applications. Large, heated bodies of fluids lose substantial amounts of energy due to exposure to the environment, which leads to increased manufacturing costs. In other cases, it may be required to protect a fluid body from absorbing energy from the sun or otherwise.

Other industries require protecting people and animals from bodies of fluids. In the mining industry, for example, ponds are used to store water and to collect water run-off. These ponds need to be covered to protect local animal life and birds and preserve water resources. Additionally, in the mining industry and other industries, laws, regulations, and environmental concerns require stringent control of fluids having pollutants and toxins; thus, evaporation of volatile solutions presents environmental and financial concerns.

It may also be desirable to cover natural bodies of water for aesthetic and safety reasons. For example, ponds near airports attract birds and animal life that pose a danger to air traffic in the area. Evaporation is also problematic in regions permanently subjected to arid weather or areas temporarily experiencing unusual drought conditions. The reduction of evaporation or the control of energy transfer may be critical to the viability of industry in these geographical regions.

Fluid bodies pose unique problems over solids and mixtures. Given the fluid nature, the surface shape and area continually changes. Additionally, fluids are often poured and pumped, which requires taking conventional coverings and barriers on and off each time the fluid is accessed.

Several solutions have been devised for the above problems. In the past, a thin film of oil has been suggested for covering bodies of fluid or water in order to reduce evaporation. However, oil pollutes the environment and poses a risk to birds, animals, and living organisms in the fluid. The thin film of oil also has little insulating effect and heat escapes from the body of water to the air by simple heat conduction. Furthermore, clean-up of oil can be expensive and burdensome.

It has also been suggested to cover the surface of the fluid with a single, large film of plastic, but such plastic covers are expensive to produce and costly to repair given their large size. It can also be difficult to provide full coverage for abnormally-shaped bodies or bodies with changing shapes. Such plastic film also tends to collect particles and rain water on the surface.

Additionally, the wind tends to catch such covers and pull them off the surface. In some areas, wind gusts can be extreme and pull conventional devices off the fluid and into surrounding areas. Mitigating the effects of wind gusts and the like can be especially in important when the fluid to be covered presents health concerns. Some liquid treatment applications, for example, involve storage of fluids with sulfuric acid or cyanide in vessels with open tops in desert areas with high winds.

More recently, floatable, more flexible covers have been developed. One method of controlling the transfer of energy and evaporation is to reduce the surface area of the fluid exposed to the environment. In prior art systems, hollow, plastic, spherical balls such as those manufactured by Euro-Matic of Wilson, N.C. (“Euro-Matic”), have been used to cover the fluid surfaces. The balls are each manufactured to the same dimensions. When deposited on a body of fluid, the balls arrange themselves into a cover, often referred to as a ball blanket or floating blanket.

Conventional floating barriers have several limitations. Floatable balls can approximately cover up to 92% of the surface of the fluid if all conditions are perfect, but generally have less effective coverage. The spherical configuration only allows them to engage in point-to-point contact thus creating gaps by the round surfaces. These gaps leave open space for fluid loss by evaporation, heat loss by conduction, and heat transfer by convection from the surface of the fluid. It has also been found in actual practice that, because such spherical floatable balls float high in the fluid, much less than 91% of the fluid surface is covered by the balls. Thus, surface evaporation and heat transfer are not sufficiently reduced as may be desired.

Furthermore, the spherical shape of the floatable ball allows each ball to roll freely as the fluid is agitated or exposed to wind. This rolling action produces further loss of fluid as the fluid that wets the bottom of the ball surface readily evaporates when it is rolled upwardly and is exposed to the atmosphere. The shape of the balls also has been found to make the barrier susceptible to high winds. In some cases, fluids or weights have been added to the balls to prevent them from blowing away in the wind.

Another drawback of floating balls and the like relates to shape and size limitations. Conventional floatable devices are on the order of four inches in diameter. Balls of this diameter tend to get caught in conventional pumping devices. Larger balls, however, tend to cost more to manufacture and are more cumbersome to handle. Further, larger balls tend to have reduced coverage and are more likely to get caught in wind gusts.

Systems have been developed that more completely cover the fluid surface and/or prevent rolling present with floating balls. An exemplar of such a device is U.S. Pat. No. 3,998,204 to Fuchs et al. (“Fuchs”), incorporated herein for all purposes by this reference. Fuchs describes a plastic and metal floatable ball-“spheroid”-having flat surfaces surrounding its equatorial plane. The flat surfaces allow the spheroids to pack closer together on the fluid surface.

The Fuchs spheroids are intended to cover fluids at elevated temperatures to prevent heat loss and reduce energy costs. The top portion of each spheroid is made of clear plastic, and the bottom portion is made of metal-filled black plastic or metal which aids in absorbing energy and provides ballast to vertically orient the spheroid in the fluid. The top surface of the metallic bottom also includes black coating for absorbing radiant energy. Thus, the spheroids are significantly more complicated than simple, plastic floating balls and consequently far more expensive to manufacture.

Although the spheroids achieve better surface coverage than balls, the spheroids have several limitations. The odd shape of the spheroids greatly increases the manufacturing complexity. Floating balls are typically manufactured by joining two simple blow-molded hemispheres. By contrast, the spheroids have complicated shapes and additional components like heavy metal forming the bottom of the spheroid. Some embodiments include complicated devices like lenses on the top of the spheroid. Thus, the incremental increase in coverage leads to exponentially higher manufacturing costs. The height of the Fuchs spheroids also presents similar problems in high winds as floating balls.

What is needed is a device and method which overcomes the above and other disadvantages. What is needed is a simple, cost-effective device for covering bodies of fluid. What is needed is a device to provide a barrier or cover for the fluid with little or no gaps.

Further needed is a method and system for modifying and controlling the flow of energy, particles, and fluid to the fluid body and from a fluid body.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In summary, various aspects of the present inventions are directed to a float member configured to float on and cover a fluid surface. The float member includes an elongated body having a top portion and a bottom portion defining a central longitudinal axis and a periphery portion. The periphery may have a substantially flat surface The top portion extends upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery. In various aspects of the invention, the float member is configured to modify a transfer of evaporated fluid therethrough.

The width of the body may be substantially greater than a height of the body. In various embodiments, the width of the body is at least about 30% greater than the height of the body. In various embodiments, the width of the body is at least about 50% greater than the height of the body. In various embodiments, the width of the body is at least about twice the height of the body.

Various aspects of the invention are directed to a float member having a polygonal-shaped periphery about a longitudinal axis. The periphery may have one or more substantially flat surfaces along an outer circumference. The periphery may be hexagonal-shaped. A vertical cross-section of said elongated body through the longitudinal axis may be substantially polygonal. In various aspects of the invention, the body is disk-shaped and has low-profile top and bottom portions and a central portion therebetween around the periphery.

Various aspects of the invention are directed to a barrier disposed on a surface of a fluid body. The barrier includes a plurality of float members configured to float on a fluid surface in adjacent relationship.

Other aspects of the invention are directed to a method of forming a barrier over a fluid. The method includes providing a plurality of float members, each float member being adapted to float on a surface of the fluid. Each float member includes an elongated body having a top portion and a bottom portion defining a central longitudinal axis and a periphery portion. The periphery may have a substantially flat surface. The top portion extends upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery. In various embodiments, a plurality of float members are placed on a surface of a fluid, and the plurality of bodies self-arrange on the surface to cover at least a portion of the water surface.

Other aspects of the invention are directed to a float member formed to provide a fluid barrier. The float member includes an elongated hollow body configured to float on the surface of a fluid, the body enclosing one of a fluid, gas, solid, or combination of the same. The body includes a central portion having a plurality of substantially planar surfaces extending around a perimeter of the body; a conical-shaped top portion, the top portion having a plurality of substantially planar surfaces projecting upwardly from the central portion and meeting at a peak; a bottom portion substantially symmetrical to the top portion and extending downwardly from the central portion; and a ballast positioned adjacent to the bottom portion, the ballast configured to orient the hollow body on the fluid surface. A width of the elongated hollow body is substantially greater than a height of the body.

Yet other aspects of the invention are directed to a system for adjusting an evaporation rate of a fluid. The system includes providing a plurality of elongated bodies to float on the fluid surface. The bodies include a top portion and a bottom portion defining a central longitudinal axis, and a central periphery portion, wherein the top portion extends upwardly from the periphery and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery, a width of the body being substantially greater than a height of the body. The plurality of bodies are disposed on a surface of a fluid and each body is disk-shaped. In various embodiments, a longitudinal cross section of the float members or bodies forms a rhombus.

In another embodiment, a float member formed to provide a fluid barrier is provided, comprising a disk-shaped body structure configured to float on a surface of a fluid, the body structure formed of a plurality of substantially straight legs defining a volume. The body structure comprises a central periphery portion; a top portion projecting upwardly from the central portion to a top end; and a bottom portion projecting downwardly from the central portion to a bottom ends wherein the legs are configured to adjust an evaporation rate through the body structure. In some embodiments at least a portion of the legs are filled with one of a low-density fluid, gas, solid material, and combination thereof. In some embodiments a ballast is provided in the bottom portion of the body structure. In other embodiments a width of the body structure is substantially greater than a height of the body structure.

The device and system of the present inventions have other features and advantages which will be apparent from or are set forth in more detail in the accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and form a part of this specification, and the following Detailed Description of the Invention, which together serve to explain the principles of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a float member in accordance with some embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a front view of the float member of FIG. 1 illustrating the float member floating on the surface of a body of fluid;

FIG. 3 is a front view of the float member of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a front view of a float member similar to that of FIG. 1, the float member having open sides for modifying exposure of the fluid to the environment in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 5 is a front view of the float member of FIG. 4 illustrating the float member floating on the surface of a body of fluid;

FIG. 6A is a top view of the float member of FIG. 4;

FIG. 6B is an enlarged view of a leg of the float member of FIG. 6A illustrating the leg structure formed with a filler material;

FIG. 7 is a front view of a float member similar to that of FIG. 4 illustrating the float member floating on the surface of a body of fluid;

FIG. 8A is a top view of a barrier formed of a plurality the float members of FIG. 1, the barrier arranged on a surface of a body of fluid; and

FIG. 8B is a top view of the barrier of FIG. 8A, illustrating a supplemental anchoring device in accordance with the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Reference will now be made in detail to the preferred embodiments of the invention, examples of which are illustrated in the accompanying drawings while the invention will be described in conjunction with the preferred embodiments, it will be understood that they are not intended to limit the invention to those embodiments. On the contrary, the invention is intended to cover alternatives, modifications and equivalents, which may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

Turning now to the drawings, wherein like components are designated by like reference numerals throughout the various figures, attention is directed to FIGS. 1 to 3 and FIGS. 5A and 8B illustrating a float member generally designated 30. “Float member” is used interchangeably with “floating member”, and in some cases, “body”. The float member is configured to float on a surface 32 of a fluid body 33. In various embodiments, the fluid body is a body of water and the float member is filled with a substance having a lower density or specific gravity than the water. In various embodiments, the float member is filled with air or an inert gas. As will be described below, the float member may be configured in various manner to enable floating on the fluid surface.

In various embodiments, a plurality of float members 30 are configured to form a “floating barrier,” generally designated 35, on fluid 33 (best shown in FIGS. 8A and 8B). The exemplary float members are formed of a plastic enclosing air and thus have a lower density than the surrounding fluid which causes them to float on the fluid surface on which they are to be placed. The float members are formed as distinct and individual members which together act to cover the fluid surface. Because the float members are separate from each other, the “floating barrier” acts in a fluid manner to conform to the movements and changes of the fluid surface.

Barrier 35 is generally disposed on the surface of the fluid body with a portion of each float member submerged in the fluid and a portion above the surface depending on the buoyancy of the float members in the fluid. The float members float on the fluid surface in adjacent relationship. The manner in which the float members float on the surface may be varied depending on the specific application and configuration as will be understood from the description herein.

In various embodiments, float member 30 includes a body 37 having a top portion 39 and a bottom portion 40 (FIG. 3). In the illustrated embodiment body 37 has an elongated shape and is also referred to as “elongated body,” however other shapes may be used. Top portion 39 and bottom portion 40 define a central longitudinal (vertical) axis 42 through body 37 from top end to bottom end (FIG. 2).

In various embodiments, body 37 has a periphery portion 44. The periphery portion is defined as being the equator around the longitudinal (vertical) axis of body 37. Put another way, periphery portion 44 defines the “waist” section of the float member body or the portion having the largest diameter of the body. The top portion extends upwardly from the periphery portion, and the bottom portion extends downwardly from the periphery portion. The periphery portion is generally defined by the portion having the maximum width of the body.

In the illustrated embodiment and other embodiments, top portion 39 and bottom portion 40 are configured to be symmetrical. Top portion 39 projects upwardly from periphery portion 44 into a frustoconical shape. The top portion converges at a peak 46, which when situated on the fluid is substantially parallel to the fluid surface. In various embodiments, the peak is domed or convex. The dome shape promotes sliding of one float member off another and also reduces the chance of stacking when positioning the float members on the fluid. The exemplary float member includes a top portion having six substantially flat faces 47 circling the peak. By “substantially flat” it is meant that each of the faces generally defines a plane. The exemplary faces each have a slight dimple shape whereby the center of the face is depressed and the edges protrude slightly. The dimple shape serves several purposes. The dimple shape decreases wind resistance and thus minimizes the affects of wind on the float member. The dimple shape promotes adjoining float members to slide off each other.

Periphery portion 44 may be defined as a joint or intersection of top portion 39 and bottom portion 40. In the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 1 to 3, for example, the periphery portion is formed as a central portion of the body and may have a height defined by an outer wall area. One will appreciate that the periphery portion does not need to be centrally located. In various embodiments, the top portion and bottom portion having different shapes and/or dimensions and the periphery portion is not centrally located. In some cases it may be desirable for the periphery to be formed at an angle relative to the floating member body such that the floating member floats “off-axis.”

In various embodiments, periphery portion 44 has a series of substantially flat faces or surfaces 47 around its circumference. In various embodiments, the periphery portion is polygonal as viewed from above (e.g. plan view shown in FIGS. 8A and 8B) or in cross-section. The exemplary periphery portion has an outer circumference which is generally hexagonal about the longitudinal axis of the floating member. Such a shape allows the floating members to press closely against one another in a honeycomb-type configuration (shown in FIGS. 8A and 8B). By contrast to floating balls, periphery portion 44 of float members 30 allows for closer packing on the fluid surface. It has been found that under ideal conditions floating balls allow for only up to 91% or 92% coverage whereas the float members of the present invention allow for a higher percentage of coverage per unit area. As shown for example in FIG. 5A, the exemplary hexagonal-shaped float members allow for only small gaps, if at all. Most of the periphery's circumference abuts against adjoining float members.

The exemplary floating member has somewhat rounded edges to promote sliding of one floating member off another. A closer packing of the floating members may be achieved by forming sharp edges. In various embodiments, the floating members are dimensioned and configured to form a barrier with at least 93% coverage of the respective fluid surface. In various embodiments, the floating members are dimensioned and configured to form a barrier with at least 95% coverage of the respective fluid surface. In various embodiments, the floating members are dimensioned and configured to form a barrier with at least 97% coverage of the respective fluid surface. The shape and configuration of the float members may be modified as would be understood by one skilled in the art from the present discussion to achieve greater coverage, and in some cases nearing 100% coverage such as with a perfect honeycomb configuration.

The float members may also be configured to interact with each other as part of barrier 35. Each float member may be configured to abut and engage adjacent float members. In various embodiments, the float members are dimensioned and configured for close interengagement. As used herein, “close interengagement” refers to gaps in a floating barrier formed by the float members being less than 8% of the space covered. One will appreciate that the geometric shapes of the float member may be selected to reduce gaps between the edges of adjacent float members. In various embodiments, the float members are configured to interconnect such that the barrier forms a substantially contiguous cover. The float members may have sides configured to interlock with adjacent members or may have means for attracting adjacent float members to prevent gaps from opening. Such interlocking may be accomplished by conventional mechanical fasteners, adhesives, magnetics or electrostatic attraction, and the like. Other modifications may also be made depending on the application.

In various embodiments, body 37 is elongated and shaped like a disk with a cross-section having a rhombus shape. The body has “low-profile” whereby the waist or width is substantially larger than a height of the body. Such a low-profile shape is to be contrasted with a sphere or cube. “Substantially greater” in this sense refers to a relation between the maximum width and maximum height. In some respects, “substantially greater” refers to the maximum width being at least about 30% greater than the maximum height. In some respects, “substantially greater” refers to the maximum width being at least about 50% greater than the maximum height.

It has been found that the “low-profile” shape of exemplary body 37 provides increased surface coverage per unit of material. The shape also orients the float member 30 on the surface in a stable manner, prevents undesirable stacking, and reduces the influence of wind on the floating members.

Body 37 may be configured with myriad shapes and configurations. In various embodiments, a vertical cross-section of the body through the longitudinal axis is substantially polygonal. Referring to FIGS. 2 and 3 as an example, the cross-section of the body through the middle of the body has the shape of a polyhedron with facets or substantially flat sides.

Barrier 35 composed of float members 30 may be configured for various functions. In various embodiments, the float members are configured to modify a rate of transfer of evaporated fluid therethrough. The float members may allow evaporation of the fluid or may reduce the evaporation rate. As will be described below, the float members may be configured to structurally cover the fluid without significantly affecting the evaporation rate. In some applications, the float members may be configured to maintain a temperature of the fluid by regulating energy transfer to or from the fluid. The float members may also be configured to absorb energy from the sun or otherwise and transfer the energy to the fluid. In some embodiments, the float member may modify the transfer of particles from the fluid, for example, by allowing evaporation but limiting the transfer of solid particulates from the fluid. Such modifications may be accomplished as would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art from the foregoing including by selection of materials and/or use of coatings and similar treatments. In the exemplary embodiments, float members 30 are substantially hollow which reduces the evaporation rate of the fluid when place thereon.

Although the float members are described as modifying, adjusting, or controlling an aspect of the interaction between the fluid and the environment in a broad, general sense, “modify” and similar language as used herein denotes a statistically significant change from what would occur naturally. By way of example, in various embodiments the float members are described as being configured to reduce the rate of evaporation. Thus, the evaporation rate with the float member on the fluid is reduced by more than a negligible amount from the rate observed when the fluid is completely open to the environment. Put another way, “modify” is to be understood in the context of the function to which the float member is adapted.

Float member 30 may further include other elements to facilitate the accomplishment of various functions in accordance with the present invention depending on the application. In various embodiments, body 37 may be formed as a wall of material having a substantially hollow inside volume or enclosing a volume of substances 49. Enclosed substances 49 of float member 30 may include a fluid, solid, or combination thereof such as a mixture or solution. In various embodiments, the float member encloses a mixture of air and water. In various embodiments, the float member encloses one of a liquid, solid, frozen liquid, and combination of the same. In various embodiments, the float member encloses a foam or gel. In some embodiments, the enclosed substances 49 act as a ballast.

In the illustrated embodiment, the float member includes water as a ballast member, and the water is positioned adjacent peak 46 of bottom portion 40. The heavier weight of the water causes it to fall to the bottom of the float member and act as ballast. An inner wall of the body may also be configured to position or control movement of enclosed substance 49 and/or a ballast member 53 inside the body. The inside of the body may be configured in various other manners as determined by the application. The inner portion of the body may include, but is not limited to, ribs, walls, and the like to position the ballast member and other elements within the body. One will appreciate that the inner volume of the float member may act as a ballast and supplement the function of the float member. In various embodiments, the float member is filled in part with a substance having higher specific gravity for ballast and a relatively high capacity to retain heat.

The embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1 is a hollow body enclosing a volume of fluid and air. The body includes a tube-like aperture 51 provided to allow insertion of enclosed fluid 49 therethrough. Although shown as a solid wall of material, the body may also be provided with apertures, membraneous materials, and similar configurations to control movement of fluids and substances into and out of the body during manufacturing and use.

In addition to the substances enclosed by body 37, the body itself may be configured for particular functions. In various embodiments, the body is painted camouflage so animals or birds are not attracted to the fluid. For example, it may be desirable to cover the surface of a pond near an airport to prevent the gathering of birds. The material forming the body and/or enclosed substance 49 may also be opaque to visually cover or hide the fluid.

The float member, and in particular the enclosed substance or body, may be treated to prevent the transfer of energy to the fluid. For example, the float member may be W-treated to prevent chemical reactions in the fluid or to prevent heating of the fluid. The float member may also include an encased gel that is transparent to or absorb light within at least a part of a solar radiation spectrum.

Enclosed substance 49 may also be a gas. For example, if the fluid has a low density, it may be desirable to enclose a gas with lower density within body 37. In various embodiments, the body encloses foam. In various embodiments, the enclosed substance is a frozen solid such as ice. The body may also enclose combinations of substances in various configurations such as a foam material, water, and air.

In various embodiments, float member 30 includes a ballast member 53. Enclosed substance 49 may be configured as the ballast member as described above. In some embodiments, the ballast member is a portion of the bottom of the body having a heavier mass. For example, the ballast member may be integrally formed with the bottom. The ballast member may be a separate member apart from or even outside body 37. For example, the ballast member may be a plumb weight secured to the bottom of the body. Ballast member 53 provides a counter-weight to orient the float member vertically in the fluid. In various embodiments, a ballast member may be unnecessary. For example, the body may be shaped and configured such that additional means for orienting the float member on the fluid surface are not necessary. By way of example, the body may have a low-profile, diamond shape configured to orient the point in the fluid with the top of the diamond balanced on the fluid surface. The float member may be configured in other manner to maintain its orientation in the fluid other than with use of a counterweight or distinct ballast member.

Suitable materials for body 37 depend on the application. In several embodiments, the body floats on a chemically active fluid and is composed of an inert plastic to prevent any interaction with the fluid. In some embodiments, the body is composed of a thermoplastic plastic including, but not limited to, HDPE, ABS, polypropylene, and polyvinylidene fluoride. In various embodiments, the body is composed of high density polyethylene (HDPE), is filled with air, and has a total mass of about 100 grams.

The type of material may vary depending on the temperature, sunlight exposure, and properties of the fluid and environment where the float member will be used. In some applications, such as in the copper mining context, the fluid may contain toxins such as sulfuric acid. In the gold mining context, for example, the fluid may contain toxins such as cyanide. It may be desirable, therefore, to select a material that does not interact with the toxins and will prevent the toxins from being exposed to the environment above barrier 35.

The size and dimensions of the float member may be influenced by the particular application for which it is to be used. By example, float member 30 may be disposed in a liquid treatment vessel. In such cases, it may be desirable to dimension or configure the float member such that it can not pass through pump intakes and the like. Conventional pumps of intakes are generally smaller than 8 inches but often are larger than 4 inches. Thus, in various embodiments, the minimum width of the float member is sufficient to prevent the float member from entering such pump intakes.

With continued reference to FIGS. 1 to 3, the exemplary float member will now be described in greater detail. Float member 30 has major axis length, LMaj, of 8 inches from side of the periphery portion to an opposite side. The exemplary float member is polygonal-shaped with a periphery portion having a hexagonal-shaped profile. One will appreciate therefore, that the float member has varying widths. In this case, “major axis” refers to the maximum width of the periphery. In the exemplary embodiment, the widths are between about 7 inches at the narrowest (i.e. side-to-side) and about 8 inches as the widest (i.e. edge-to-edge).

In the exemplary embodiment, when viewed from a side profile, the periphery portion has an effective height of about 0.5 inches. The edges of the exemplary float member are rounded. “Effective” is to be understood as generally used in the mechanical arts and refers to the position of the average or middle of the rounded edge. The periphery portion has a polygonal-shaped circumference. In other words, a horizontal cross-section of the periphery is a polygon shape. Each of the sides of the polygon is about 4 inches in length.

Top portion 39 and bottom portion 40 project upwardly and downwardly, respectively, from periphery portion 44. In the exemplary embodiment, the top portion and bottom portion are generally of the same size and shape such that the float member is symmetrical. The top portion is generally of a frustoconical shape but has sides which are substantially flat as described above. The sides of the top portion correspond to the sides of the periphery portion. Each side or face is shaped as an equilateral triangle with edges 4 inches in length. The peak 46 of the top portion to the peak of the bottom portion defines a minor axis length, LMin, which corresponds to the height. In the exemplary embodiment, the minor axis is about 4.25 inches. Thus, the width (LMaj) is nearly twice the height (LMin), which determines the “low-profile” shape of the float member. “Major axis” and “minor axis” are to be understood as used in the mechanical and mathematical fields. As used herein, “major axis” refers to the longest distance from edge to edge in one direction and “minor axis” refers to the longest distance from edge to edge in another direction. In the exemplary embodiment, for example, major axis is determined by the long width in a transverse direction and minor axis is determined by the next long distance in a longitudinal direction orthogonal to the major axis.

As will be understood by one skilled in the art based on the description herein, the size and dimensions of the float member may be modified depending on the application. Applications requiring covering of natural bodies of fluids will likely differ from covering vessels filled with fluids. The size and dimensions may vary depending on the application and various economic, environmental, and process considerations among other factors.

In the illustrated embodiment, the body is black in color. The body may also be colored or treated to match the environment in which it will be used. In the case of covering a pond, for example, the body may be dyed to match the color of the soil surrounding the pond such that birds and the like do not notice the pond.

The shape of the float member 30 and body 37 may be modified depending on the application. By example, the body may have an oblong shape whereby the minor axis defines the periphery portion. The diameter of the longitudinal major axis may be substantially larger than the diameter of the lateral minor axis such that the body has an egg-like shape.

Float member 30 may be manufactured using conventional methods as would be understood from the foregoing. In various embodiments, the float member is formed by injection molding the top and bottom portions separately and joining them together. The body may also be formed by blow molding the entire volume such that the body is monolithically formed. After forming the body, enclosed substances 49 may be inserted into the body through aperture 51. Thereafter, the aperture is sealed using infrared heat sealing, ultrasonic welding, or other processes.

The method of forming a barrier using float members 30 in accordance with the present invention will now be described. A plurality of float members are provided as described above. At the location of the fluid to be covered, the float members are placed on fluid surface 32. In various embodiments, the float members are “self-arranging” such that the float members may be haphazardly or randomly put on the fluid surface. “Self arranging” refers to the tendency or ability of the float members to arrange themselves into an ordered pattern on the fluid surface (e.g. shown in FIGS. 8A and 8B). As described above, the float members may be dimensioned, shaped, and configured to cause individual float members to slide over one another such that they form a single layer cover over the surface with one member adjacent to another. When randomly thrown onto a fluid surface, the disk-shape, low-profile, and other features of the exemplary float members causes the float members to slide over one another and float to positions adjacent one another. In this manner, the members self-arrange and close the gaps therebetween without the use of additional aids or effort by a user.

In operation and use, a system, generally designated 54, for covering or modifying the transfer of energy and particles to a fluid is provided. The system includes a plurality of float members 30 on a surface of the fluid. The float members are arranged such that a substantially contiguous barrier is provided on the surface. “Substantially contiguous” is to be understood as used in the mechanical arts and generally refers to a barrier with negligible gaps.

Each of the float members are provided with a body configured to adjust an evaporation rate of the covered fluid, control the transfer of energy, or perform other functions as would be understood from the foregoing. The plurality of float members may be configured or modified in other manner depending on the application. In various embodiments, the float members are configured to engage with one another to minimize gaps.

Float members 30 and system 54 may also be provided to stunt or reduce algae growth and/or formation of toxins. With standing pools of fluid, in particular water, exposure to the sun may foster algae growth. The presence of algae may consequently cause problems if the water serves as a reservoir for industrial applications. Additionally, the formation of toxins may be a problem when bodies of water are exposed to the sun. For example, bromide and other elements are naturally present in water, and chlorine is commonly used to kill bacteria. When exposed to the sun, however, harmful chemicals (e.g. bromate) can form when such elements are exposed to the sunlight. Therefore, in various embodiments, the float member may be configured to cover the fluid and limit exposure to sunlight.

In various embodiments, an anchoring device, such as netting 80 (shown in FIG. 8B) is provided to keep the float members in close arrangement. The netting is similar to conventional netting, and in particular “bird netting,” but may be configured for use with float members as will be understood from the description herein. In the exemplary embodiment, the lines of the netting are spaced every 4 inches. Alternating sections of the netting may be configured with material or closer-spaced line. In this manner, the netting forms a checkerboard pattern over barrier 35. The netting is anchored at ends with stakes, weights, or other devices. Suitable materials for the netting include, but are not limited to, plastics, fabrics, and rope.

Such netting may be advantageous in high-wind areas or similar applications where there is a risk of the float member being moved or pulled off the fluid surface. In particular, some natural bodies of water may be exposed to periodic wind gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour in which case the weight of the float member and surface tension may be insufficient to anchor the float member in the fluid. The netting may also be configured to allow users to pull in the float members off the surface such as with mechanical devices and the like.

The use of netting in accordance with the present invention has several advantages over conventional devices. Whereas netting without float members poses a risk of entangling birds and wildlife which are attracted to the body of water, the system in accordance with the present invention covers the body of fluid and can also withstand high winds.

The float member and barrier system of the present invention provides several advantages over conventional devices and systems. By contrast to the complex device of Fuchs, the present invention provides a simple, effective system for adjusting the transfer of energy and covering a fluid body. An inherent drawback of the Fuchs device and conventional floating balls is that greater efficiency in terms of coverage comes at an increased cost. Larger balls (spheroids) have larger coverage but are more expensive to manufacture. With the Fuchs device, increased size also tends to increase interaction with the wind. The float member of the present invention provides a greater coverage area per unit of material than the spheroids discussed by Fuchs or balls of Euro-Matic. It is contemplated that covering an equal surface area with such spheroids would require approximately 3 times as much material and labor units with such conventional devices in comparison to the present invention.

In contrast to conventional floating barriers and devices, system and float members of the present invention are more resistant to wind gusts and other environmental elements. The low profile of the float member and other features such as the dimpled top portion minimize the effects of the wind. Indeed, the greater surface contact and minimized wind interaction means the float member experiences greater surface tension forces and less wind disturbance forces.

The shape and configuration of the float member in accordance with the present invention also provides for improved arrangement of the float members into a fluid barrier. Among other features, the shape of the top portion, bottom portion, and periphery portion promotes sliding of the float members into a single-layer of float members in juxtaposed relationship. In contrast to devices such as those discussed by Fuchs, the device of the present invention does not need complicated orienting means to arrange the members into a barrier.

In one embodiment of the present invention, float member 30b and body 37h are similar to float member 30 and body 37 described above but include a cage-like structure with open sides as shown in FIGS. 4 to 6B. Like reference numerals have been used to describe like components of float member 30b.

Float member 30b includes a plurality of legs 56. In various embodiments, each of the legs is substantially straight and forms a cage-like structure. The legs are joined at joints 58 to form a body structure 37b which defines a hollow volume.

Referring to FIGS. 5, 6A and 6B, the body structure is configured to float on a fluid surface 32b. At least some of legs 56 are formed with one of a fluid, gas, solid material, or a combination of the same, generally referred to as an additive or filler substance 60. In various embodiments, air or gas is added during the injection molding process to decrease the density of the material. The resulting material, such as gas-filled resin, forms the legs and other components of the body structure. The filler substance is configured to provide a buoyant force on the fluid. In various embodiments, the filler substance is of a lower density than the fluid on which the body structure will be positioned.

Filler substance 60 may be also configured for various functions. In various embodiments, the filler substance is a structural member or adds rigidity to the legs. For example, the legs may utilize a sandwich, thin film, or similar construction to enhance particular characteristics.

In various embodiments, a buoyant member 61 is provided to cause the body structure to float. The body structure may also be provided with a ballast member 53b to orient the structure on the fluid.

In contrast to float member 30, float member 30b does not have a solid body with solid faces between the legs. Rather, body structure 37b defines a hollow volume open to the environment. Although float member 30b is not a solid wall of material enclosing a substance, a substance similar to substance 49 described above may be provided within the legs. Body structure 37b may also be provided with a portion of the volume within the legs being enclosed within wall members.

In operation and use, float member 30b is used in a similar manner to float member 30 discussed above. Because the structure is open to the environment, however, the float member allows the fluid to evaporate through the structure. Thus, placement of a plurality of float members 30b on a fluid surface creates a physical barrier without significantly affecting the evaporation rate. In various embodiments, barrier 30b deters wildlife and/or limits the risk of exposure of elements to the fluid but does not affect the rate of evaporation.

In one embodiment of the present invention, float member 30c is similar to float member 30b described above but includes a truss-like structure as shown in FIG. 7. The truss-like structure of legs 56c provides improved structural integrity to the float members and barrier. In some embodiments, the legs have smaller dimensions because the truss-like architecture limits bending forces on the legs. In various embodiments, the float members are configured to engage one another such that barrier 30c is able to carry a load. The truss-like architecture may also be used with a solid or hollow float member similar to that described above.

For convenience in explanation and accurate definition in the appended claims, the terms “up” or “upper”, “down” or “lower”, “inside” and “outside” are used to describe features of the present invention with reference to the positions of such features as displayed in the figures.

In many respects the modifications of the various figures resemble those of preceding modifications and the same reference numerals followed by subscripts “a”, “b”, “c”, and “d” designate corresponding parts.

The foregoing descriptions of specific embodiments of the present invention have been presented for purposes of illustration and description. They are not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise forms disclosed, and obviously many modifications and variations are possible in light of the above teaching. The embodiments were chosen and described in order to best explain the principles of the invention and its practical application, to thereby enable others skilled in the art to best utilize the invention and various embodiments with various modifications as are suited to the particular use contemplated. It is intended that the scope of the invention be defined by the Claims appended hereto and their equivalents.





 
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