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December 2004

Biosphere 2 Depends On Copper

Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert.

Photo Courtesy of Biosphere 2.

High-resolution version of this photo.

In Southern Arizona, just outside Tucson, lies a massive glass building as big as an airport hanger, stretching across 3.15 acres of desert. The structure houses seven ecosystems, including a desert, rainforest and one-million-gallon ocean with its own coral reef.

Modeled after Earth, it was designed to be completely self-sustaining and capable of supporting human, animal and plant life. In the early 1990s, eight volunteers signed on to live inside the dome for two years - completely sealed off from the outside world.

You may have heard of this well-known research project, Biosphere 2. But do you know the important role that copper plays in its operation?

Due to its excellent heat transfer properties and reliability, copper tubing is used in climate control — a big job in the biosphere, considering that the all-glass structure attracts a lot of sunlight.

"Biosphere 2 is a large solar collector. We don't need to add heat - we are always removing it," says Clark Reddin, facilities director for Biosphere 2.

Copper tubing is used in the biosphere's extensive air handling and heat exchange systems, says Reddin. Copper tubes filled with chilled water cool the air, while simultaneously absorbing the sun's radiant heat inside the dome. Copper is also used in the electrical wiring, motors and fans needed to distribute the cooler air.

Engineers and scientists supervise the biosphere's life systems using 1,000 sensors networked through copper Category 5e telecommunications cable. In addition, special copper cables are used in the ocean biome to monitor and control temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, ensuring the health of the fish and coral living in the waters.

Currently, Biosphere 2 is a popular tourist attraction. But it will take a long time for it to surpass the popularity of Biosphere 1 — Planet Earth. Cu

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