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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Compressed-Air System Could Aid Wind Power

Technology Review
June 28, 2011

SustainX, a startup in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, has received $20 million in venture capital to test its compressed-air energy storage technology on a large scale.

The technology could allow for a wider use of compressed-air storage, which in turn could make renewable energy more attractive, since it would allow wind power generated at night to be stored until daylight hours, when demand is higher. If it's successful, the technology could decrease the need to build natural gas plants to supply peak power demand.

The need for storage is increasing as governments mandate the use of more renewable energy. SustainX has demonstrated a 40-kilowatt prototype and is now completing a one-megawatt system, slated to be deployed next year with the power company AES.

In conventional compressed-air storage, electricity is used to compress air, which is stored in underground caverns or aquifers. That air is then released to drive a turbine-generator to produce electricity when needed. Such storage costs roughly a tenth of what battery storage costs, but it isn't used much because in large part because it requires a location with underground storage space. SustainX's system eliminates this problem because it can efficiently use above-ground storage tanks rather than caverns.

Advanced Magnet Lab leads research on electric jet
June 29, 2011

The electric jetliner.

It's not a 1960s rock band, the subject of a science fiction tale or the punchline of a joke.

It is, or at least could be, a future transportation option made possible in part by a Palm Bay technology company.

Aided by a $900,000 grant from NASA, Advanced Magnet Lab's scientists will develop a computer model to tell the agency how to build electric motors and generators small yet powerful enough to drive the jet's turbofans.

NASA's goal is to reduce fuel consumption and pollution emissions.

"They're looking for the next technology," AML senior research scientist Philippe Masson said. "The whole concept relies on the validity of that (electric) motor. It's going to be very difficult to reach those goals with conventional technologies."

During the first year of the three-year project, AML will focus on computer analysis. Working models will be built in the second and third years. With the NASA grant and other projects, including a Department of Energy award that could bring in up to $700,000 for work on large wind turbine coils, the Brevard company with eight workers expects to add 50 to 100 employees during the next two years.

NASA envisions its electric airliner could be built by 2035. The 300-passenger, blended-wing design with a wingspan of 134 feet would emit 70 percent less air pollution.

Additional Information:

France Funds Rail Research Initiative

June 30, 2011

France has extended €550m funding to the European Institute for Technological Research in Rail Infrastructure to support research and development, innovation and engineering training in rail infrastructure.

As part of the project, a main campus will be set up in Valenciennes and the surrounding area, while a secondary site will be set up in the Lille area in northern France.

The campus will have a 5km rail test loop, a tramway test track, a fatigue simulation track, running trial facilities and service structures.

The project will focus on developing a sustainable infrastructure that is more reliable and intelligent, performs better and is more easily certifiable.

Work on building the research centre will start in 2015 and it is expected to be operational by 2017.

Concepts & Prototypes: Two Next-Gen Nukes

Popular Science
June 27, 2011

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in March, the appetite for new nuclear power plants slipped to post-Chernobyl lows. Regulators from Italy to Switzerland to Texas moved to stop pending nuclear-power projects, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) began to reevaluate the safety of all domestic plants. Yet nuclear power still provides 20 percent of America’s total electric power and 70 percent of its emissions-free energy, in large part because no alternative energy source can match its efficiency.

One nuclear plant with a footprint of one square mile provides the energy equivalent of 20 square miles of solar panels, 1,200 windmills or the entire Hoover Dam. If the country wants to significantly reduce its dependence on carbon-based energy, it will need to build more nuclear power plants. The question is how to do so safely.

In the 30 years since regulators last approved the construction of a new nuclear plant in the U.S., engineers have improved reactor safety considerably. (You can see some of the older, not-so-safe ones in this sweet gallery.) The newest designs, called Generation III+, are just beginning to come online. (Generation I plants were early prototypes; Generation IIs were built from the 1960s to the 1990s and include the facility at Fukushima; and Generation IIIs began operating in the late 1990s, though primarily in Japan, France and Russia.)
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The future of chip manufacturing

MIT News
June 30, 2011

For 50 years, the transistors on computer chips have been getting smaller, and for 50 years, manufacturers have used the same technique — photolithography — to make their chips. But the very wavelength of visible light limits the size of the transistors that photolithography can produce. If chipmakers are to keep shrinking chip features, they’ll probably need to turn to other manufacturing methods.

Researchers have long used a technique called electron-beam (or e-beam) lithography to make prototype chips, but standard e-beam lithography is much slower than photolithography. Increasing its speed generally comes at the expense of resolution: Previously, the smallest chip features that high-speed e-beams could resolve were 25 nanometers across, barely better than the experimental 32-nanometer photolithography systems that several manufacturers have demonstrated. In a forthcoming issue of the journal Microelectronic Engineering, however, researchers at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) present a way to get the resolution of high-speed e-beam lithography down to just nine nanometers. Combined with other emerging technologies, it could point the way toward making e-beam lithography practical as a mass-production technique.

The most intuitive way for manufacturers to keep shrinking chip features is to switch to shorter wavelengths of light — what’s known in the industry as extreme ultraviolet. But that’s easier said than done. “Because the wavelength is so small, the optics [are] all different,” says Vitor Manfrinato, an RLE graduate student and first author on the new paper. “So the systems are much more complicated … [and] the light source is very inefficient.”

ULVAC Has Launched the “Hybrid Cycle Pit,” a Battery Charging System for Power-Assisted Bicycles

June 29, 2011

ULVAC, Inc. (Headquarters: Chigasaki, Kanagawa; President and CEO: Hidenori Suwa; hereinafter described as ULVAC) is pleased to announce that it has developed and launched a battery charging system for power-assisted bicycles by integrating a small wind power generator and a solar power generator, as renewable energy sources, and a battery charger. ULVAC will be installed the power-assisted bicycle charging station, named the “Hybrid Cycle Pit,” beside the baseball field in Chigasaki City Park. Chigasaki City will put the charging station into service in July 10, 2011.

The “Hybrid Cycle Pit” charging system was developed, launched, and installed by ULVAC and is based on the integration of the company’s small wind power generation, solar power generation, storage, and charging technologies.
The newly installed power-assisted bicycle charging system is composed of a 1.6 kW solar power generator, a small 1.0 kW wind power generator (upwind, horizontal axis, propeller type), a battery pack containing a lithium-ion secondary battery, a charging and discharging control system, and a battery charger. The solar power generator has eight solar cell modules on the canopy of the battery charger in which bicycles are placed. With the ability to generate power from both solar and wind energy, and to store power in the secondary battery, this system enables stable charging of batteries for power-assisted bicycles with clean power. This system can charge the batteries of up to five power-assisted bicycles, and a total of ten bicycles a day.
The same system has been installed by ULVAC in the Tsuruminenishi Community Center in Chigasaki City, and has been put into service by Chigasaki City on April 1, 2011.

As environmental and health consciousness in society has grown, domestic shipments of power-assisted bicycles have been steadily increasing in recent years. A 2010 bulletin reported that domestic shipments of power-assisted bicycles would soon exceed the total shipments of motorcycles of domestic manufacturers (based on research conducted by the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute (JBPI) and the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Inc. (JAMA)). In response to this trend, bicycle shops, DIY stores, and consumer electronics retailers are focusing on selling power-assisted bicycles and the market is expanding significantly.

Mazda sees growth with lean gas engines, not EVs

June 30, 2011

Mazda's president believes gasoline engines will still power 80 to 90 percent of the world's autos even in 20 years time, and remains confident it can grow without electric vehicles.

The comments Thursday from Mazda Motor Corp. President Takashi Yamanouchi contrast with the strategy at Japanese rivalNissan Motor Co., which is banking heavily on its Leaf electric car, one of the first mass-produced EVs on the market.

Yamanouchi said Mazda's efficient gas engine called "Skyactiv" will be a pillar of its growth strategy as the Hiroshima-based manufacturer seeks to boost sales in emerging markets, where electric vehicles and hybrids aren't expected to be as popular as in developed nations.

"Skyactiv will be one of the drivers of our growth," Yamanouchi told reporters at a Tokyo hotel, where Mazda showed a new subcompact.

Mazda currently has no hybrid vehicle in its lineup. It plans to start selling a hybrid by 2013.

Hybrids still require gas engines, and Yamanouchi said they can be counted as part of what will be the 80 or 90 percent of cars that aren't electric.

Nissan has sold about 8,000 of its Leaf electric vehicles around the world, more than half in Japan, since its gradual global rollout started in December.

That's a tiny fraction of the world auto market. But Yokohama-based Nissan is targeting production of 250,000 electric vehicles a year globally by 2015, stressing that concerns about global warming and pollution are growing.

Mazda began selling the Demio, known as Mazda2 overseas, in Japan on Thursday, offering a version packed with Skyactiv technology. It is targeting 6,000 overall Demio sales a month.

The automaker said it was not planning to sell the Skyactiv Demio overseas, but was planning the green technology for bigger models.

The Skyactiv Demio gets as much as 30 kilometers a liter (71 miles per gallon), according to Mazda. Other features, such as "idling stop," in which the engine turns off automatically while at a traffic light and other temporary stops, helps boost mileage.

Mazda is building engine and vehicle assembly plants in Mexico for small cars, such as Mazda2 and Mazda3, for markets in Central America and South America.

It has said it will stop building the midsize Mazda6 sedan at its 50-50 joint venture with Ford Motor Co. in Flat Rock, Michigan, but did not specify exactly when that would be, leaving the fate of the plant unclear. Mazda's output there has been at about 40,000 vehicles a year.

Mazda, which has lost money for the last three fiscal years, is struggling to assert its brand without counting on its longtime partnership with Ford.

No replacement partnership has been announced, and Mazda has repeatedly said Ford remains a key partner.

Dearborn-based Ford bought 25 percent of the Japanese carmaker in 1979, raising it to 33.4 percent in 1996. But Ford began cutting ties in 2008, and last year lowered its ownership to 3.5 percent.

Like other Japanese automakers, Mazda has been hurt by supplier disruptions from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. It is also hurt more than others by the surging yen because it sells vehicles made at overseas plants in Japan.

Yamanouchi reiterated the company's target for annual global sales of 1.7 million vehicles by the fiscal year ending March 2016. Mazda sold 1.1 million vehicles for the fiscal year ended March 2011.

Sensing skin’ could monitor the health of concrete infrastructure continually and inexpensively

MIT (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
June 29, 2011

In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assigned the grade “D” to the overall quality of infrastructure in the U.S. and said that ongoing evaluation and maintenance of structures was one of five key areas necessary for improving that grade. Since that time, federal stimulus funds have made it possible for communities to repair some infrastructure, but the field of high-tech, affordable methods for the continual monitoring of structures remains in its infancy. Instead, most evaluation of bridges, dams, schools and other structures is still done by visual inspection, which is slow, expensive, cumbersome and in some cases, dangerous.

Civil engineers at MIT working with physicists at the University of Potsdam in Germany recently proposed a new method for the electronic, continual monitoring of structures. In papers appearing in Structural Control Health Monitoring (December 2010) and theJournal of Materials Chemistry (April 2011) the researchers describe how a flexible skin-like fabric with electrical properties could be adhered to areas of structures where cracks are likely to appear, such as the underside of a bridge, and detect cracks when they occur.

Installing this “sensing skin” would be as simple as gluing it to the surface of a structure in the length and width required. The rectangular patches in the skin could be prepared in a matrix appropriate for detecting the type of crack likely to form in a particular part of a structure. A sensing skin formed of diagonal square patches (3.25 inches by 3.25 inches, for instance) would be best at detecting cracks caused by shear, the movement in different directions of stacked layers. Horizontal patches would best detect the cracks caused when a horizontal beam sags. The largest patch tested using the prototype reached up to 8 inches by 4 inches in size.
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Scientists at UC3M are participating in research on the robotic hand of the future

Carlos III University of Madrid’s (UC3M)
June 29, 2011

Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid’s (UC3M) Robotics lab are participating in the international research project known as HANDLE. The objective of the project is to create a robotic hand that can reproduce the abilities and movements of a human hand in order to achieve the optimal manipulation of objects.

HANDLE is a large scale “Integrated Project” that is part of the Seventh European Framework Programme FP7; Spain is a participant in the project, whose goal is to reach an understanding of how humans manipulate objects in order to replicate its grasping and movement abilities in an artificial, anthropomorphic articulated hand, thus endowing it with greater autonomy and producing natural and effective movements. "In addition to the desired technological advances, we are working with basic aspects of multidisciplinary research in order to give the robotic hand system advanced perception capabilities, high level information control and elements of intelligence that would allow it to recognize objects and the context of actions", explains the head researcher on the UC3M team working on this project, Mohamed Abderrahim, of the Madrid university’s Department of Systems Engineering and Automation. His team has already gotten very good results, in his opinion, in the areas of visual perception, and cinematic and dynamic systems, which allow the system to recognize an object in its surroundings and pass the information on to the robotic hand’s planning and movement system.

The robotic hand that these researchers are working with is mostly made up of numerous high precision pieces of mechanized aluminum and plastic, as well as sensor and movement systems. In all, it has 20 actuators and can make 24 movements, the same as a human hand. Its size is also the same as that of an average adult male’s hand and it weighs approximately 4 kilograms. According to the partner in the project who manufactures the hand, the approximate cost of the version that is currently in development at UC3M comes to about 115,000 euros.
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Scientists develop sensitive skin for robots

Technische Universität München, TUM
June 29, 2011

Robots will soon be able to feel heat or gentle touching on their surfaces. Researchers of the Excellence Cluster CoTeSys at the Technical University Munich (Technische Universität München, TUM) are now producing small hexagonal plates which when joined together form a sensitive skin for “machines with brains.” This will not only help robots to better navigate in their environments, it will also enable robot self-perception for the first time. A single robotic arm has already been partially equipped with sensors and proves that the concept works.

Our skin is a communicative wonder: The nerves convey temperature, pressure, shear forces and vibrations – from the finest breath of air to touch to pain. At the same time, the skin is the organ by which we set ourselves apart from our environment and distinguish between environment and body. Scientists at TUM are now developing an artificial skin for robots with a similar purpose: It will provide important tactile information to the robot and thus supplement its perception formed by camera eyes, infrared scanners and gripping hands. As with human skin, the way the artificial skin is touched could, for example, lead to a spontaneous retreat (when the robot hits an object) or cause the machine to use its eyes for the first time to search for the source of contact.

Such behavior is especially important for robotic helpers of people traveling in constantly changing environments. According to robot vision, this is just a regular apartment in which things often change position and people and pets move around. “In contrast to the tactile information provided by the skin, the sense of sight is limited because objects can be hidden,” explains Philip Mittendorfer, a scientist who develops the artificial skin at the Institute of Cognitive Systems at TUM.
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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Rail News " Singapore and Malaysia to Build Rapid Rail by 2018", "Construction Begins on Iran-Turkmenistan Railway" and "Alstom to Build High-Speed Railway in Iraq"

Rail Technology

Singapore and Malaysia to Build Rapid Rail by 2018June 29, 2011

Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to open a rapid transit rail service by 2018 to connect the city state with the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru.

Both agreed last year to develop the link, but hadn't set a timetable for its opening.

The electric rail will replace the current conventional railway line, which is being relocated to the northern part of Singapore from the central business district from next month, freeing the land for the project.

The rapid transit deal is part of a broader land swap beginning on 1 July that gives Singapore control of a railroad and stations owned by Malaysia; in return, Malaysia will receive six land parcels in Singapore. The two countries separated in 1965.

Construction Begins on Iran-Turkmenistan RailwayJune 29, 2011

Construction on the Iran-Turkmenistan railway project has started in the city of Ganbad Kavoos in northern Iran.

The 960km-long railroad, including 150km in Iran, will transport 3-5Mt of goods per year.

The railway project will aid tge transportation of goods throughout the region and also connect the central Asian countries to the Persian Gulf states.

An initial agreement on the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railway project was signed in 2008 and the final agreement was signed by three countries in June 2010.

Alstom to Build High-Speed Railway in IraqJune 29, 2011

Iraq has signed a preliminary deal with Alstom to construct a high-speed railway between Basra and Baghdad.

Alstom will now hold talks with Iraqi officials over the next twelve months to finalise the final agreement.

The project involves construction of a 650km rail network to allow trains to run at a speed of 250km/h through the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Moussayeb and Samawah, including trains and services.

Alstom signed another agreement in May to build a 25km elevated commuter train network in Baghdad.

GOKISO Aerospace Hub for bicycles aims to give bearings a break

June 28, 2011

If you've ever watched the Tour de France and winced as all those skinny-wheeled racing bikes bounced over the cobblestone roads ... well, you were right to do so. Not only are such hard, rough surfaces capable of bending rims, but they're also hard on hub bearings - as the axle shaft flexes ever-so-slightly in response to hitting bumps, the ball bearings that encircle it are pressed against the hub's bearing races, both causing friction and potentially damaging the bearings. Japan's Kondo Machine Corporation, however, has created a product that is claimed to minimize this problem. It's the "jet-engine-inspired" GOKISO Aerospace Hub, and we spied it last week at the 49th Paris Air Show.

The big secret to the GOKISO hub is its ability to spring under pressure. In a traditional hub, the axle shaft is unyieldingly connected to the rest of the hub. This means that any time the shaft flexes, it immediately presses against the inside of the hub. At either end of the GOKISO, however, there's a half-millimeter of space between the shaft and the hub body. While that might not sound like much, it's reportedly enough to allow the shaft to deform under pressure, without coming into contact with the inside of the hub.

Additional Information:

DARPA’S Defense Manufacturing Efforts Support White House Vision

Darpa Press Release
June 24, 2011

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recognizes that to innovate we must make and to protect we must produce. That understanding has prompted the Agency to plan to invest $1B over five years in manufacturing innovation for defense systems.

During an event today at the National Robotics Engineering Center, President Barack Obama addressed the key roles that advanced research in collaboration with government and industry can play in enhancing the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, jumpstarting job creation and the process of bringing ideas to market. 

DARPA’s Experimental Crowd-derived Combat Support Vehicle (XC2V) was highlighted as an example of the power of collaboration and the democratization of innovation at the event. The XC2V is the first crowd-sourced, militarily relevant vehicle design. The DARPA XC2V effort, asked non-traditional DoD performers, small businesses, universities and the general public to contribute innovative ideas for a vehicle body designed to accomplish the critical mission tasks of combat resupply and medical evacuation. More than 150 credible designs were submitted, with the winning design taking less than fourteen-weeks to build.

Nanoindentation: Measuring in the sub-nanometer range

June 29, 2011

Nanoindentation is derived from the classical hardness test but is carried out on a much smaller scale. It can be used to determine the hardness of thin layers as well as material properties such as elasticity, stiffness, plasticity, and tensile strength, or fracture toughness of small objects and microsystems in fields such as biotechnology. These measurements involve applying a small force to a sample using a sharp probe and measuring the resultant penetration depth. The measured value is used to calculate the contact area and hence the particular property of the sample material. Both the method of force application and the geometry of the indentation tip can be adjusted to suit the particular application.

Figure 1: Scratches in a hard nano-composite layer on silicon before (left) and after leveling.

Hardness, Elasticity and Tensile Strength Tests

The system can be used to slowly increase the load over a defined period of time ('quasi-static indentation'), or to perform a dynamic test where the tip is accelerated towards the surface, depositing a large amount of energy on contact ('nano-impact'). The wear of materials can be assessed by moving the sample slowly to produce a scratch while applying either a constant or ramped load as the sample moves along (Fig. 1). The frictional properties of the surface are measured simultaneously. The system applies the force using electromagnetic actuation.
The NanoTest (Figure. 2) from Micro Materials Ltd. is suitable for use with a wide range of materials as it can apply forces of between 30 nN and 500 mN depending on the operating mode, and it can measure penetration depths of between 0.1 nm and 50 µm. This task is carried out by a high-resolution capacitive sensor, the PISeca sensor from PI. The capacitive sensor measures the penetration depth of the tip as a function of time. In static operation, the coil current and thus the load is measured at the same time, enabling a load-displacement diagram (Figure. 3) to be compiled.

Left: Figure 2 - The NanoTest nano-indentation system by Micro Materials Ltd. Right: Figure 3 - Load-displacement diagram.

In dynamic operation, the load is derived from the effective acceleration of the loading head.

Scanning Probe Microscopy Optimizes the Evaluation

The indentation method employed by the NanoTest can be combined with an imaging technique to investigate the sample surface pre and post indentation. The indentation tip is moved row-by-row in a defined grid across the surface of the sample, that is, the sample surface is scanned. The displacement of the tip is recorded point-by-point and used to generate a three-dimensional image of the sample surface which can be evaluated with the appropriate software – also developed by Micro Materials (Figure 4).
This combination of indenter and scanning probe microscope thus provides a quick method for assessing the sample surface. It is also possible to perform measurements at different locations without a great deal of effort.
A P-527 piezo-based nanopositioning system (Figure 5) from PI provides the motions in the X and Y axes which are required for the scan. Its 200 x 200 µm scanning range allows accurate statements to be made about the properties of the contact area and its surroundings. Thanks to the positioning accuracy of less than 3 nanometers a high positional resolution for the scan is guaranteed.

Left: Figure 4 – Surface profile around the indent point of the tip, derived from a scan with the nanopositioning system. Right: Figure 5 – Integration of a piezo-based nanopositioning system with a 200 x 200 µm large scanning range with the NanoTest.

This means, critical loads are accurately assigned to a defined position which in turn allows conclusions to be drawn about the local material properties, and the high number of closely packed measuring points make it possible to investigate very small samples (Figure 6).

Nanometrology: Capacitive Position Sensors

The absolute measuring capacitive sensors operate with resolutions down to the sub-nanometer range, and provide depth information without coming into contact with the sample. They operate without wear and hysteresis, and do not affect the application itself.
A simple physical principle is at the heart of capacitive metrology: When a voltage is applied, a homogenous electric field is produced between the plates of a capacitor. When the gap between the plates changes, the output signal from the metrology electronics changes proportionally. Capacitive position sensors are available in two different basic designs, i.e. as one-electrode or two-electrode systems. The NanoTest uses sensors with only one electrode. A conductive disc mounted on the rear of the indentation tip serves as the second electrode.

Figure 6: Precise positioning of indentations measuring 60 nm across and 10 nm deep.

About Micro Materials

A particularly flexible nano indentation system originates from Micro Materials Ltd. based in Wrexham/UK. The Nano-Test (Figure 2) is used as an informative testing system in various fields world-wide. It is not only used in research and development but also in production and the testing of finished products.
The current MML NanoTest system offers a range of methods for materials characterization, including nanoindentation, nano-impact and nano-scratch and wear measurements. It is in use in leading universities and industrial laboratories all over the world.

Additional Information:
Copyright from Nanowerk

Cooperative Robots That Learn = Less Work for Human Handlers

National Science Foundation (NSF)
June 28, 2011

Researchers are developing a robot language so 'bots' can cooperate with each other

Learning a language can be difficult for some, but for babies it seems quite easy. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), linguist Jeffrey Heinz and mechanical engineer Bert Tanner have taken some cues from the way humans learn to put words and thoughts together, and are teaching language to robots.

This innovative collaboration began a few years ago at a meeting at the University of Delaware. The event, organized by the dean's office, brought recently hired faculty in arts and sciences, and engineering together; each gave a one-minute slide presentation about his or her research.

"That's how we became aware of what each other was doing," says Tanner. "We started discussing ideas about how we could collaborate, and the NSF project came as a result of that. Once we started seeing things aligning with each other and clicking together, we thought, 'Oh, maybe we really have something here that the world needs to know about.'"

One goal for this project is to design cooperative robots that can operate autonomously and communicate with each other in dangerous situations, such as in a fire or at a disaster site.
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EADS showcases VoltAir all-electric propulsion system concept

June 22, 2011

  • No carbon dioxide emission during flight
  • Next-generation energy storage
  • Ultra high density electric engines
  • Enhanced passenger comfort
Flying High with batteries – EADS Innovation Works, the corporate research and technology network of EADS, is showcasing an allelectric propulsion system concept at Le Bourget. The VoltAir technology concept platform supports the vision of a zero-emission air vehicle which could become a reality 20 years from today. VoltAir is one of the projects that are grouped under the name of eCO2avia by EADS Innovation Works as part of the EADS Group’s research towards achieving the aviation industry’s climate protection goals.

The VoltAir’s next-generation electric energy storage system (batteries) will power highly efficient superconducting electric motors which drive counter-rotating, shrouded propellers. Combined with a radical approach to airframe design, the expected promising developments in electric propulsion technologies could pave the way towards ultra-quiet and emission-free flight.

“VoltAir is an upstream research concept, not a near-term commercial approach”, said Jean Botti, Chief Technical Officer of EADS. “Our research is very forward-looking and could be beneficial in different applications. As a systems architect for aircraft, we are pushing the envelope in this research to stimulate new ideas. The objective here is to push the envelope to move towards more electric, emission free propulsion.” Boosted by the large demand for automotive applications and emerging hybrid and fully electric cars, high-density electric energy storage systems achieved impressive advances in their capabilities during the last decade. The capabilities of today’s batteries are still far away from what is theoretically possible. New materials with promising capabilities for a new generation of energy storage are currently being investigated. Some of them are based on lithium-air and lithium-sulphur combinations.

Scientists expect these batteries to exceed energy densities of 1000 Wh/kg within the next two decades, which would mean more than doubling today’s performance. The VoltAir concept is based on the assumption that the required level of energy density can be achieved within the timeframe mentioned.
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Additional Information:

Israeli innovators build new 'Silicon Valley'

June 28, 2011

With a concentration of start-ups just behind that of Silicon Valley and an impressive pool of engineers, Israel is becoming the new standard for high-tech, with a unique business model.

Internet-related activities contributed 9 billion euros (12.6 billion dollars) to the Israeli economy in 2009, representing 6.5 percent of GDP, according to a report from management consultancy McKinsey.

The sector is worth more than the construction industry (5.4 percent of GDP) and almost as much as health (6.8 percent).

The web economy has also created a total of 120,000 jobs, accounting for 4 percent of the country's workforce, McKinsey says.

From Microsoft to Intel through Google, IBM and Philips, almost all the giants of the Internet and technology have set up important research and development centres in Israel, spawning products and systems used worldwide.

"Israel is the country with the most engineers in its population, and it ranks second behind the United States in the number of companies listed on Nasdaq," said David Kadouch, product manager at Google Israel, which opened its R&D operation in 2007 and currently has 200 employees.

"It's really a second Silicon Valley. Besides the multinationals, all the major American investment funds are present," he said.

"The scientific community is very active, there is plenty of manpower and especially an entrepreneurial culture. There is a huge ecosystem around high tech, and what is fundamental is that here we think global."

Some 500 start-ups are created every year in the country of 7.7 million people, which grew by 4.7 percent last year according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development against an average of 2.8 for its member countries.

The OECD forecast for Israel in 2011 is 5.4 percent.

Israel's higher education institutions, particularly the Technion, the prestigious technological university in the northern city of Haifa, must take a large share of the credit for this creativity.

"All the groups have set up subsidiaries here because of the proximity of the talents of the Technion university where there are (people with) excellent CVs," said Yoel Maarek, president of Yahoo Research Israel, which employs about 50 people.

"I myself have studied at the school of bridge engineering in France but when IBM hired me it was thanks to my degree from the Technion," he said.

The huge Technion campus comprising 19 schools for 12,000 students trained 70 percent of the country's current engineers and 80 percent of the executives of Israeli companies listed on Nasdaq.

"Many students... are already snapped up by large foreign companies," said Ilan Marek, professor of chemistry at the Technion.

"In the early 2000s, we broke down the barriers between the four classical branches of science, allowing the students to move between fields and have a more global vision," he said.

"The key to the development of a country is to train leaders in science."

Saul Singer, co-author with Dan Senor of the book "Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle," believes the often maverick nature of many Israelis also plays a role.

"The lack of respect for authority is typical in Israel, it's a cultural thing, in line with start-up creating. There is no authority, it is very informal. There are two big factors, drive and determination, and taking risks. We have a very exciting business model," he said.

"In Israel there is a constant struggle with all kinds of adversity," he added. "These adversities are a source of creation and energy. Israel is a country with a purpose, a mission."

Splitsville for Boron Nitride Nanotubes

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)
June 28, 2011

For Hollywood celebrities, the term “splitsville” usually means “check your prenup.” For scientists wanting to mass-produce high quality nanoribbons from boron nitride nanotubes, “splitsville” could mean “happily ever after.”

Scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, working with scientists at Rice University, have developed a technique in which boron nitride nanotubes are stuffed with atoms of potassium until the tubes split open along a longitudinal seam. This creates defect-free boron nitride nanoribbons of uniform lengths and thickness. Boron nitride nanoribbons are projected to display a variety of intriguing magnetic and electronic properties that hold enormous potential for future devices.

Nanoribbons are two-dimensional single crystals (meaning only a single atom in thickness) that can measure multiple microns in length, but only a few hundred or less nanometers in width. Graphene nanoribbons, which are made from pure carbon, carry electrons at much faster speeds than silicon, and can be used to cover wide areas and a broad assortment of shapes. Boron nitride nanoribbons offer similar advantages plus an additional array of electronic, optical and magnetic properties.

“There has been a significant amount of theoretical work indicating that, depending on the ribbon edges, boron nitride nanoribbons may exhibit ferromagnetism or anti-ferromagnetism, as well as spin-polarized transport which is either metallic or semi-conducting,” says physicist Alex Zettl, one of the world’s foremost researchers into nanoscale systems and devices who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division (MSD) and the Physics Department at UC Berkeley, where he is the director of the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS).
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Inkjet printing could change the face of solar energy industry

Oregon State University
June 28, 2011

Inkjet printers, a low-cost technology that in recent decades has revolutionized home and small office printing, may soon offer similar benefits for the future of solar energy.

Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way for the first time to create successful “CIGS” solar devices with inkjet printing, in work that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent and will significantly lower the cost of producing solar energy cells with some very promising compounds.

High performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low cost, thin film solar electronics should be possible, scientists said.

The findings have been published in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, a professional journal, and a patent applied for on the discovery. Further research is needed to increase the efficiency of the cell, but the work could lead to a whole new generation of solar energy technology, researchers say.

“This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field,” said Chih-hung Chang, an OSU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “Until now no one had been able to create working CIGS solar devices with inkjet technology.”

Part of the advantage of this approach, Chang said, is a dramatic reduction in wasted material. Instead of depositing chemical compounds on a substrate with a more expensive vapor phase deposition – wasting most of the material in the process – inkjet technology could be used to create precise patterning with very low waste.
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Graphene's new layered look

MIT News
June 28, 2011

Graphene, a form of pure carbon arranged in a lattice just one atom thick, has interested countless researchers with its unique strength and its electrical and thermal conductivity. But one key property it lacks which would make it suitable for a plethora of new uses is the ability to form a band gap, needed for devices such as transistors, computer chips and solar cells.

Now, a team of MIT scientists has found a way to produce graphene in significant quantities in a two- or three-layer form. When the layers are arranged just right, these structures give graphene the much-desired band gap — an energy range that falls between the bands, or energy levels, where electrons can exist in a given material.

“It’s a breakthrough in graphene technology,” says Michael Strano, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. The new work is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, co-authored by graduate student Chih-Jen Shih, Professor of Chemical Engineering Daniel Blankschtein, Strano and 10 other students and postdocs.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Navy, Marine Corps Tests Autonomous Zero-Power Bathythermograph Sensors

U.S. Naval Research Lab Press Release
June 27, 2011

Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division and the Physical Acoustics Branch of the Acoustic Division, the Zero Power Ballast Control (ZPBC) is a technology that relies on microbial energy harvesting developments to enable unsupervised underwater sensing with subsequent surfacing and reporting capabilities.

With an ultimate goal of producing simple, small, power-efficient data harvesting nodes with variable buoyancy the device will be able to monitor ocean temperatures with a stay time ranging from weeks to months and eventually years, providing a longer term than other mechanisms such as the Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT).

"Preliminary trials were successful in many ways," said Dr. Justin Biffinger. "The device surfaced and submerged periodically as designed via hydrogen gas produced from the microbial inoculum and growth medium, proving the device generated gas in sufficient quantity to produce buoyancy."

During testing of two ZPBC systems, the rise and fall of the devices were supported by on-board pressure and temperature sensor data and direct observation. The bacterial fuel source (inoculated gas production vessel) was then attached and the two ZPBC devices were deployed in situ off a military pier in Sattahip, Thailand, and held in place by mooring lines for seven days.
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New Material Promises Faster Electronics

University of Technology (TU Vienna)
June 27, 2011

The novel material graphene makes faster electronics possible. Scientists at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) developed light-detectors made of graphene and analyzed their astonishing properties.

High hopes are pinned on this new material: Graphene, a honeycomb-like carbon structure, made of only one layer of atoms, exhibits remarkable properties. In 2010, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of graphene and its behavior. At the Photonics Institute at the TU Vienna, the electronic and optical properties of graphene are the focus of interest. Viennese scientists could now demonstrate how remarkably fast graphene converts light pulses into electrical signals. This could considerably improve date exchange between computers.

Nissan sharpens focus on emerging markets

Financial Times
June 28, 2011

Nissan, which last year overtook Honda as Japan’s second-largest carmaker by sales, has unveiled ambitious plans to expand its global market share over the next six years by focusing on emerging markets.

Carlos Ghosn, who heads Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault, said on Monday that Nissan would seek to increase its market share from 5.8 per cent to 8 per cent by the financial year ending in March 2017.

Most of the hoped-for growth is to come from countries such as China, where Nissan is the most popular Japanese brand, outselling its larger rival Toyota.

Nissan aims to increase its share of the Chinese vehicle market – the world’s largest – from 6.2 per cent to 10 per cent.

“We are definitely on the offensive,” said Mr Ghosn.

In addition to its ambitions in China, Nissan is aiming to increase its share of the biggest south-east Asian markets from 6 per cent to 15 per cent over the next six years.
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Continental Achieves Highly-Automated Driving Using Production-Ready Technologies

Volkswagen Press Release
June 21, 2011

Continental, the international automotive supplier, will today be presenting an Architecture Migration Demonstrator at the EU-sponsored HAVEit research project's final event; the demonstrator is equipped with production-ready technologies which allow highly-automated driving. Using a co-pilot system, the automated demonstrator can maintain a set speed or the distance from the vehicle in front and keep to its lane while, at the same time, using a camera to carefully monitor how attentive the driver is to the traffic situation. "The software developed as part of the HAVEit project could soon, i.e. within about five years, be developed into a production-ready, fully-integrated system covering the initial automated driving functions", said Holger Zeng, Continental's HAVEit project manager.

Driving without a Driver – Volkswagen presents the “Temporary Auto Pilot”

Volkwagen Press Release
June 21, 2011

Today, at the final presentation of the EU research project HAVEit (Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Executive Director Volkswagen Group Research, is presenting the “Temporary Auto Pilot” by Volkswagen: Monitored by the driver, the car can drive semi-automatically up to a speed of 130 kilometres per hour on motorways. It represents a link between today’s assistance systems and the vision of fully automatic driving.

“Above all, what we have achieved today is an important milestone on the path towards accident-free car driving,” emphasises Leohold at today’s final presentation of the EU research project HAVEit in the Swedish city of Borås. The Temporary Auto Pilot (TAP) bundles semi-automatic functions, i.e. functions monitored by the driver, with other driver assistance systems. It combines such automatic systems as ACC adaptive cruise control, the Lane Assist lane-keeping system and Side Assist lane-changing monitoring into one comprehensive function. “Nonetheless, the driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control,” continues Leohold. “The driver can override or deactivate the system at any time and must continually monitor it.” TAP always offers the driver an optimal degree of automation as a function of the driving situation, acquisition of the surroundings and driver and system states. It is intended to prevent accidents due to driving errors by an inattentive, distracted driver. In the semi-automatic driving mode – referred to as Pilot Mode, for short – TAP maintains a safe distance to the vehicle ahead, drives at a speed selected by the driver, reduces this speed as necessary before a bend, and maintains the vehicle’s central position with respect to lane markers. The system also observes overtaking rules and speed limits. Stop and start driving manoeuvres in traffic jams are also automated. With TAP, it is possible to drive at speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour on motorways or similar roads. Drivers must still continually focus their attention on the road, so that they can intervene in safety-critical situations at any time.
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SolarSinter Project: Solar Powered Glass Cutter

June 28, 2011

In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance.

In this project sunlight and sand are used as raw energy and material to produce glass objects using a 3D printing process, that combines natural energy and material with high-tech production technology.

The Solar Sinter aims to raise questions about the future of manufacturing and triggers dreams of the full utilisation of the production potential of the world’s most efficient energy resource the sun. Whilst not providing definitive answers, this experiment aims to provide a point of departure for fresh thinking.

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Students design cars the get 1000 MPG+
June 27, 2011

When you think about the design team for an ultra-fuel efficient vehicle, on that can get more than one thousand miles per gallon of gas; you probably picture a professional design lab outfitted with the most modern technology available and the best minds in the industry, not a group of school children.

Nevertheless, that is the case. A group of students in the United Kingdom pulled from regional schools and universities recently participated in the annual Mileage Marathon Challenge near Leicester, England. Though, many of the students did work on the prototypes with the help of design or engineering firms. The goal of the challenge is to create a vehicle with a new record in as mileage efficiency as the vehicles race around the track. The cars, which are allows the cars to coast some of the way, sets a minimum speed of 15 miles per hour.

Two of the cars came in at over 1000 miles per gallon. The winning car of the competition has a recorded fuel efficiency of about 1,980 miles per gallon and it was drive by Sam Chapman-Hill age 14. The car weighed about 100 pounds and was constructed primarily of plastics that were reinforced by glass. Another car, driven by an 11-year-old girl named Kitty Foster, reached 1,325 miles per gallon with a design that featured a Cambridge Design Partnership oxygen concentrator and micro-diesel engine along with some smart technology. The use of a GPS tracking system helped her to decide when to put the pedal to the metal and when to coast.

While no direct prototypes are likely to come out of the race and onto the production line they do give car manufacturers a lot to think about. After all, if an 11-year-old can design a car that is this fuel-efficient then why can't professional engineering and design teams come up with a car that can do better than 40 miles per gallon on the highway?

Tiny ring laser accurately detects and counts nanoparticles

Washington University
June 27, 2011

A microlaser no bigger than a pinprick can accurately detect and count individual viruses, the particles that jumpstart cloud formation or those that contaminate the air we breathe.

A tiny doughnut-shaped laser is the latest marvel of silicon microminiaturization, but instead of manipulating bits it detects very small particles. Small particles play a big — and largely unnoticed — role in our everyday lives. Virus particles make us sick, salt particles trigger cloud formation, and soot particles sift deep into our lungs and make it harder to breathe.

The sensor belongs to a category called whispering gallery resonators, which work like the famous whispering gallery in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where someone on the one side of the dome can hear a message spoken to the wall by someone on the other side. Unlike the dome, which has resonances or sweet spots in the audible range, the sensor resonates at light frequencies.

Light traveling round the micro-laser is disturbed by a particle that lands on the ring, changing the light’s frequency. The ring can count the touch-down of as many as 800 nanoparticles before the signals begin to be lost in the noise. By exciting more than one mode in the ring, scientists can double-check the accuracy of the count. And by changing the “gain medium,” they can adapt the sensor for water rather than air. 

Asia Leads Research Output in Materials Science, According to Study from Thomson Reuters

June 27, 2011

Rapidly growing research fields have potential to transform 21st century
manufacturing and innovation

The volume of research papers published in the field of materials science is currently being driven by Asia and in particular China, which has overtaken the U.S. and Japan to become the largest single-country producer in the world, according to a study released today by Thomson Reuters.

The study, Global Research Report: Materials Science and Technology, uses data from Thomson ReutersWeb of Knowledge(TM) to examine the most productive and influential countries, research institutes and universities, and topics in the field of materials science and technology - a core area of research for many economies due to its potential contributions to manufacturing processes and innovative products.

The findings show that much of Asia's dramatic rise in materials science and technology comes from China, which produced more than 55,000 papers over the last five years after publishing fewer than 50 papers in 1981. By comparison, the U.S. produced 38,189 over the same period but since the early 1980s, its world share in this field has fallen by nearly half. A similar decline is also reflected in the European Union.

"Although research output from the U.S. has dwindled, its materials science papers are on average still cited twice as often as those from China, a reasonable indicator of their influence and significance," says Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation at Thomson Reuters. "But as experience creates expertise among thousands of new materials researchers in Asia, the gap in citation impact between Asia, on the one hand, and Europe and North America, on the other, is starting to close."

In terms of the number of papers produced and by number of citations, Asian institutions in China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea dominate those in other countries.

Distinct research fronts, denoted by citations, exist within materials science. Included in the study's list of the top 20 research fronts from 2006-2010 are the electronic properties of graphene, polymer solar cells, and multiferroic and magnetoelectric materials. These specialty areas and others in the list illustrate the multidisciplinary nature of the field, which extends into chemistry, physics, engineering, and biomedicine.

While research fronts represent areas of quality in materials science research, the study also analyzes three special topics that have recently seen explosive growth in volume of output: graphene, metal-organic frameworks and electrospun nanofibrous scaffolds. The use and development of these materials offers the potential for revolutions in electronics, energy storage, and biomedical engineering.

Global Research Report: Materials Science and Technology is one in a series of Thomson Reuters Global Research Reports that illustrate the changing landscape and dynamics of scientific research around the world. In recognition of the close ties between materials science and chemistry, the study was released to coincide with the International Year of Chemistry and is the first of the series to have a topical focus rather than a geographical one.

The Global Research Reports draw on data found in the Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge platform - the world's largest publication and citation environment of the highest quality scholarly literature.

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Low investment stifles competitiveness

Independent Online
June 27, 2011

Spending on research and development in South Africa has yet to reach the goal of 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – but is not far behind at 0.92 percent, according to the National Survey on Research and Development for 2008/09.

The survey, compiled by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) with Stats SA and the Department of Science and Technology, released this week, shows the figures on research and development (R&D) spending and trends in government, tertiary education and the private sector.

According to the department, the report, when viewed with previous reports, will provide indicators on South Africa’s failings and successes in the fields of science, engineering and technology, and ultimately global competitiveness.

The survey notes an overall increase in R&D spending of 1.3 percent – up from R18.6 billion in 2007/08 to R21bn in 2008/09. However, in addition to falling short of the 1 percent goal in 2008/09, the country only had a nominal increase in full-time equivalent researchers – from 19 320 in 2007/08 to 19 384 in 2008/09.

“Engineering sciences was the research field with the highest proportion of R&D expenditure. R&D expenditure in this field increased from 22.5 percent of total R&D expenditure in 2007/08 to 24.4 percent in 2008/09.”
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Dynamic Fuels Supplies Renewable Jet Fuel for Commercial Flights

Geismar LA (SPX)
June 27, 2011

Dynamic Fuels will help make aviation history when KLM Royal Dutch Airlines begins commercial operations on fuel produced at Dynamic's Geismar plant. In September, KLM will begin flying a series of more than 200 commercial flights between Amsterdam and Paris powered by renewable jet fuel.

These commercial flights follow rigorous renewable jet fuel testing and certification work conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Rolls-Royce Group, and Cessna Aircraft Co., on fuel produced by Dynamic Fuels.

"This relationship demonstrates continued success building Dynamic Fuels, and further illustrates the promise of advanced biofuels," said Bob Ames, vice president of Renewable Energy for Tyson Foods.

"The production of 'drop in' renewable fuels which are a direct replacement for petroleum based fuels is a major milestone in the commercial deployment of advanced technologies," said Jeff Bigger, senior vice president of Business Development for Syntroleum.

The plant uses Syntroleum's Bio-Synfining Technology to produce the renewable fuels from feedstocks produced or procured by Tyson Foods.

U of T engineers crack solar challenge

University of Toronto
June 27, 2011

In a paper published in Nature Photonics, U of T engineering researchers report a new solar cell that may pave the way to inexpensive coatings that efficiently convert the sun’s rays to electricity.

The researchers, led by Professor Ted Sargent of electrical and computer engineering, report the first efficient tandem solar cell based on colloidal quantum dots (CQD). “The U of T device is a stack of two light-absorbing layers - one tuned to capture the sun’s visible rays, the other engineered to harvest the half of the sun’s power that lies in the infrared,” said lead co-author Xihua Wang, a post-doctoral fellow.

“We needed a breakthrough in architecting the interface between the visible and infrared junction,” said Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology. “The team engineered a cascade - really a waterfall - of nanometers-thick materials to shuttle electrons between the visible and infrared layers.”

According to doctoral student Ghada Koleilat, lead co-author of the paper, “We needed a new strategy - which we call the graded recombination layer - so that our visible and infrared light harvesters could be linked together efficiently, without any compromise to either layer.”

The team pioneered solar cells made using CQDs, nanoscale materials that can readily be tuned to respond to specific wavelengths of the visible and invisible spectrum. By capturing such a broad range of light waves - wider than normal solar cells - tandem CQD solar cells can in principle reach up to 42 per cent efficiencies. The best single-junction solar cells are constrained to a maximum of 31 per cent efficiency. In reality, solar cells that are on the roofs of houses and in consumer products have 14 to 18 per cent efficiency. The work expands the Toronto team’s world-leading 5.6 per cent efficient colloidal quantum dot solar cells.
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UK government looks to fund new marine power technology

The Engineer
June 28, 2011

Up to £20m of government money will go to funding new marine power technology, the climate change minister announced today.

The funds from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are designed to help two wave or tidal devices progress from current large-scale prototypes to bigger installations in the sea.

Climate change minister Greg Barker said: ‘Marine power has huge potential in the UK not just in contributing to a greener electricity supply and cutting emissions, but in supporting thousands of jobs in a sector worth a potential £15 billion to the economy to 2050.

‘Britain can be a world leader as we have decades of expertise in offshore industries and the most advanced devices are already being developed here.

‘Our geography gives us access to rich marine resources that act as a natural laboratory to test and run devices in realistic conditions, especially in Scotland and the South West where innovative work is already being carried out.’

Marine energy could provide 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, offering a resource worth 36GW of power, according to trade body RenewableUK.

The new scheme is expected to open in spring next year and, subject to a value-for-money assessment, will support two projects to test prototypes in array formations.

This is the final development stage in generating large-scale electricity from marine power prior to commercial roll-out.
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AC Propulsion powers Yokohama-sponsored electric vehicle
June 27, 2011

AC Propulsion announced that the Yokohama-sponsored electric race car using AC Propulsion's proprietary electric drive system broke its own 2010 record at the 89th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The AC Propulsion-equipped vehicle won the hill climb's Exhibition Class and set a new EV record with a time of 12:20:084, besting last year's record-breaking time of 13:17:575 by nearly one minute. It was also the race’s fastest EV among both cars and motorcycles.

For Team Yokohama's winning EV race car, AC Propulsion engineers developed a high-performance cooling system for the vehicle's 200-kW induction motor so it could operate at maximum output throughout the ascent up the mountain and break the record set last year with the same motor. (That motor powered the Yokohama-sponsored EV that beat the previous EV record set by Jeri Unser in 2003 by 65 seconds.)

This year's Yokohama EV, a rear-wheel drive, open-wheel race car, was built by Summit Motorsports and driven by Japan's Ikuo Hanawa. It used fuel-efficient Yokohama BluEarth tires and SANYO Electric Co. lithium-ion batteries. The Pikes Peak AC-180 motor, rated at 268 horsepower (200 kW) at 6000 to 7000 rpm and 258 lb.-ft of torque from zero to 5000 rpm, is a high performance version of the AC Propulsion AC-150 motor found in the BMW MINI E. The drive system utilizes the proprietary tzero-technology that also powered the MonoTracer MTE-150 to a first place victory in its category and achieved the highest efficiency overall in the 2010 Progressive Automotive X PRIZE.

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Battelle licenses body measurement technology for apparel, fitness applications

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
June 27, 2011

Battelle has granted an exclusive license for a technology that will help clothing shoppers find better fitting clothes easily and quickly, as well as assess their overall fitness.

Unique Solutions Limited plans to revolutionize the apparel industry by introducing scanning kiosks near retail locations that provide quick and accurate sizing information. The kiosks will inform shoppers — at no cost — on the best fitting and most flattering styles from many of the largest brand name apparel lines. Unique Solutions has launched this service at the largest retail shopping mall in the United States — King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania. Additional installations are planned around the country and ultimately Unique Solutions is expected to have the largest database of body measurements in existence.

The 3-D body holographic technology employed in the kiosks is based on scanning technology initially designed to protect air travelers. The technology, which was developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., utilizes harmless millimeter waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off of the body, sending signals back to a transceiver. The transceiver then sends the signals to a high-speed computer, which then can reconstruct them to create a visualization tool for security applications or compile a detailed series of body measurements for clothing fitting and health/wellness applications.

Power grid change may disrupt clocks

June 28, 2011

A yearlong experiment with the nation's electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.

The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

Officials say they want to try this to make the power supply more reliable, save money and reduce what may be needless efforts. The test is tentatively set to start in mid-July, but that could change.

Tweaking the power grid's frequency is expensive and takes a lot of effort, said Joe McClelland, head of electric reliability for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

"Is anyone using the grid to keep track of time?" McClelland said. "Let's see if anyone complains if we eliminate it."

No one is quite sure what will be affected. This won't change the clocks in cellphones, GPS or even on computers, and it won't have anything to do with official U.S. time or Internet time.

But wall clocks and those on ovens and coffeemakers — anything that flashes "12:00" when it loses power — may be just a bit off every second, and that error can grow with time.

It's not easy figuring what will run fast and what won't. For example, VCRs or DVRs that get their time from cable systems or the Internet probably won't be affected, but those with clocks tied to the electric current will be off a bit, Matsakis said.

This will be an interesting experiment to see how dependent our timekeeping is on the power grid, Matsakis said.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. runs the nation's interlocking web of transmission lines and power plants. A June 14 company presentation spelled out the potential effects of the change: East Coast clocks may run as much as 20 minutes fast over a year, but West Coast clocks are only likely to be off by 8 minutes. In Texas, it's only an expected speedup of 2 minutes.

Some parts of the grid, like in the East, tend to run faster than others. Errors add up. If the grid averages just over 60 cycles a second, clocks that rely on the grid will gain 14 seconds per day, according to the company's presentation.

Spokeswoman Kimberly Mielcarek said the company is still discussing the test and gauging reactions to its proposal, and may delay the experiment a bit.

Mielcarek said in an email that the change is about making the grid more reliable and that correcting the frequency for time deviations can cause other unnecessary problems for the grid. She wrote that any problems from the test are only possibilities.

In the future, more use of renewable energy from the sun and wind will mean more variations in frequency on the grid, McClelland said. Solar and wind power can drop off the grid with momentary changes in weather. Correcting those deviations is expensive and requires instant backup power to be always at the ready, he said.

The test makes sense and should not cause too much of a hassle for people, said Jay Apt, a business professor and director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

But Tom O'Brian, who heads the time and frequency division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, expects widespread effects.

He said there are alternatives if people have problems from the test: The federal government provides the official time by telephone and on the Internet.

Monday, 27 June 2011

UK's biggest solar energy farm connects to national grid

The Guardian
June 27, 2011

Britain's biggest array of solar panels has begun generating in Oxfordshire. The first large ground system to feed into the national gridwill benefit from the tariff scheme paying a premium for supplying clean electricity.

Howbery business park's companies specialise in engineering, environmental and water research and development and its 3,000-panel array generates up to 682 MWh a year, a quarter of its needs, and thereby save 350 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Derry Newman, chief executive of Solarcentury, the company that supplied the solar photovoltaic modules, said that the UK's famously overcast weather did not make it an unsuitable place for solar power.

"Solar works on daylight, not necessarily [direct] sunlight and it gets light every day in Britain," he said. "Of course it generates more on a very bright day than a dull day. If you average over the year, the amount of cumulative daylight, energy per square metre, is very well known and is very predictable. Over the life of the system, the amount of energy produced is very predictable."

Though the biggest in Britain, Howbery is dwarfed by those in Spain or Italy, up to 10 times bigger. Solarcentury, the panel maker, has similar projects due online next month, but these could be the UK's last big solar farms for some time. In February, the government announced a review of feed-in tariffs for anyone generating more than 50kW of power and cut the rates payable for large ground-mounted solar installations by more than 70%.

Obama announces National Robotics Initiative; NASA, NSF, NIH, USDA partner to develop advanced robotics

Military and Aerospace
Jun 27, 2011

Officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are partnering on the National Robotics Initiative (NRI): “The realization of co-robots acting in direct support of individuals and groups,” introduced by President Obama. The NRI is designed to accelerate U.S. development and use of robots that work beside or cooperatively with people.

“The purpose of this program is the development of this next generation of robotics, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas,” reveals the NSF program solicitation.

The NSF will lead the NRI, with help from NASA and support from the USDA and NIH. Investments in the initiative from NASA, NIH, NSF, and USDA are likely to reach $40 million to $50 million in the first year; funding is expected to grow as other agencies and industry partners join the initiative.

"To help everyone from factory workers to astronauts carry out more complicated tasks, NASA and other agencies will support research into next-generation robotics," President Obama said in his speech Friday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"NASA has been focused on human-robotic interaction for more than a decade, leading to the flight of our newest crew member on the International Space Station, Robonaut2," says NASA's chief technologist, Bobby Braun. "Our challenge today is to develop robotics technology that can increase the effectiveness and safety of humans in space and deliver cutting-edge science. Through our participation in the National Robotics Initiative, NASA will create the new knowledge, technology and capabilities needed for our future space missions while benefiting life here on Earth, today."

Seeing Robotics with New Eyes

Technology Review
July / August 2011

Since Microsoft launched its Kinect motion-detecting system for video games, hackers have been eagerly repurposing the $150 device. Garratt Gallagher, a robotics engineer at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, used it to build a robot called the Bilibot that he is selling online for $1,200. The device, which is small enough for Gallagher to carry in his arms, can perceive its surroundings, move around, and manipulate objects. The Kinect is a key element, Gallagher says, because it can detect its environment just as well as a sensor that costs $5,000.
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Cheaper High-Efficiency Solar Panels

Technology Review
June 24, 2011

Chinese solar-panel manufacturer Suntech Power has developed a new process for making silicon wafers for solar cells that could cut the cost of solar power by 10 to 20 percent.

The most efficient silicon solar cells use wafers consisting of a single crystal of silicon. When made by the new process, these high-quality "monocrystalline" wafers cost about the same as lower-quality multicrystalline wafers, or potentially half as much as monocrystalline wafers made by conventional processes. (Wafer cost is only part of the cost of solar power, which is why a process that may cost half as much only reduces the overall cost by 10 to 20 percent.)

The idea underlying the process was patented more than 20 years ago but never commercially developed by the patent owners. The patents expired about three years ago, and several companies—JA Solar, LDK Solar, and Renesola, in addition to Suntech—recently announced that they had succeeded in making the process work.
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Compact SUVs shift gear for leaner times

Financial Times
June 26, 2011

Sport utility vehicles and more compact crossovers are selling briskly in developed economies and finding new buyers in markets such as Russia and China despite higher fuel prices and leaner times.

To meet strong demand for the high-riding, brawny-looking vehicles, carmakers are extending ranges, and in doing so, stretching the definition of an SUV.

Sales of larger vehicles have grown faster than small ones in Europe this year, partly due to the distorting effect of “cash for clunkers” incentives that promoted demand for smaller cars.

But the segment had been expanding, driven largely by a proliferation of compact SUVs, or crossovers. SUVs’ share of the European market rose from 7 per cent in 2006 to 11.5 per cent last year, according to JD Power, the consultancy.

In China, the largest car market, SUV sales last year were double the 2009 level. Their share of the market has doubled from 7 per cent in 2006 to 14 per cent last year.
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Generator groups power up

Financial Times
June 27 2011

Energy shortages across much of the world – particularly in emerging markets – have resulted in a boom for companies that hire out temporary power generators, which fill the gaps.

It is a global trend that has helped a Scottish equipment rental company become the FTSE 100’s best performing stock of the past five years and convinced one of Britain’s best-known entrepreneurs to make his latest investment.

“It’s relentless,” says Rupert Soames, chief executive of London-listed Aggreko, which builds and operates temporary power stations for clients such as utilities, armies and mining companies. The sector is apparently so attractive that the acquisition vehicle of Hugh Osmond, co-founder of PizzaExpress, has snapped up APR Energy – Aggreko’s biggest global rival – for $850m (£525m).

The deal raises the question of whether it would make sense for other investors to follow Mr Osmond into an industry that has enjoyed strong returns in recent years. Shares in Aggreko have already rallied 563 per cent since June 2006. Has Mr Osmond bought at the top of the market?
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Berkeley Scientists Pioneer Nanoscale Nuclear Materials Testing Capability

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
June 26, 2011

Nuclear power is a major component of our nation’s long-term clean-energy future, but the technology has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of Japan’s recent Fukushima disaster. Indeed, many nations have called for checks and “stress tests” to ensure nuclear plants are operating safely.

In the United States, about 20 percent of our electricity and almost 70 percent of the electricity from emission-free sources, including renewable technologies and hydroelectric power plants, is supplied by nuclear power. Along with power generation, many of the world’s nuclear facilities are used for research, materials testing, or the production of radioisotopes for the medical industry. The service life of structural and functional material components in these facilities is therefore crucial for ensuring reliable operation and safety.

Now scientists at Berkeley Lab, the University of California at Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratory have devised a nanoscale testing technique for irradiated materials that provides macroscale materials-strength properties. This technique could help accelerate the development of new materials for nuclear applications and reduce the amount of material required for testing of facilities already in service.