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Friday, 29 July 2011

How Design Software Will Shape Manufacturing's Future

Technology Review
July 29, 2011

Autodesk, a multinational software company based in San Rafael, California, makes 3-D design software used by everyone from automotive manufacturing giants to Hollywood studios. Now it is betting that those digital tools will have an increasingly powerful role in what happens on factory floors, enabling manufacturers to embrace more flexible strategies that deliver more customized products.

Buzz Kross, who heads the company's manufacturing industry group, says the manufacturers he works with see an opportunity in new technology at a time when they sense that the boom in outsourcing to China has run its course. "There have always been companies that differentiate based on their ability to manufacture most efficiently, and others based on design and invention—it's the difference between GM and Tesla," says Kross. "Now a lot of manufacturers are leaning more to the design model."

Kross says that rising costs in China's maturing economy and high-profile problems with out-sourced components, like those that plagued Boeing's 787, are making the model of high-volume, low-cost outsourced production less economically attractive. The result is that a wider range of companies are considering adopting a more flexible, premium approach to manufacturing that has previously been limited to a relatively small niche. Kross is trying to help that trend along with software such as Inventor, which provides a way to digitally prototype and test mechanical designs, and Streamline, which enables engineers, designers, and managers to collaborate on a design. Both are intended to speed the journey from digital drawing board to factory floor.

"You don't need to center everything on making millions of the same thing at the absolute cheapest price anymore," says Kross. He cites the growing popularity of a model known as ETO (engineer to order), in which businesses buying from manufacturers order by referring to a list of general rules, not a catalogue and price list. For each order, a manufacturer makes and assembles a product very specific to the customer's needs. That approach also cuts costs, because raw materials and parts don't have to be held in stock; rather, they can be purchased to match the latest order. And the customized products can command a higher price than a conventionally made one, Kross says: "These companies capture a larger share of the customer's wallet this way."

That style of manufacturing makes the design process—and design software—much more central. Kross says that 3-D printing technology will blur the line between design and manufacturing still further.

"Everybody's already embracing it for prototyping," says Kross. "You can already print moving components and subassemblies that don't need any assembly. That's incredibly useful, whether you make pumps or power trains or chairs." Nike, an Autodesk customer, prototypes shoes by using a printer to squirt out materials that have more or less compressibility, depending on how bouncy and flexible each part of the sole is meant to be.

The next step is for 3-D printing to become a manufacturing method rather than solely a prototyping tool, says Kross. Small companies are already trying this, but it won't be long before large manufacturers follow suit. "Think about when you buy a Dell computer and they let you choose all the different components," Kross says. "3-D printing for manufacturing will allow you to have that, but with nearly infinite options."

This process may cost manufacturers more than production at a more conventional or offshore factory. But as with the ETO approach, more customized products fetch higher prices, says Kross. Jewelry, furniture, and consumer electronics are all areas that could benefit from the new techniques, he says. "People don't like it when they have the same thing as everything else and will pay more to get exactly what they choose."

Advanced Reactor Gets Closer to Reality

Technology Review
July 29, 2011
 Terrapower, a startup funded in part by Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates, is moving closer to building a new type of nuclear reactor called a traveling wave reactor that runs on an abundant form of uranium. The company sees it as a possible alternative to fusion reactors, which are also valued for their potential to produce power from a nearly inexhaustible source of fuel.

Work on Terrapower's reactor design began in 2006. Since then, the company has changed its original design to make the reactor look more like a conventional one. The changes would make the reactor easier to engineer and build. The company has also calculated precise dimensions and performance parameters for the reactor. Terrapower expects to begin construction of a 500-megawatt demonstration plant in 2016 and start it up in 2020. It's working with a consortium of national labs, universities, and corporations to overcome the primary technical challenge of the new reactor: developing new materials that can withstand use in the reactor core for decades at a time. It has yet to secure a site for an experimental plant—or the funding to build it.

The reactor is designed to be safer than conventional nuclear reactors because it doesn't require electricity to run cooling systems to prevent a meltdown. But the new reactor doesn't solve what is probably the biggest problem facing nuclear power today: the high cost of building them. John Gilleland, Terrapower's CEO, says the company expects the reactors to cost about as much to build as conventional ones, "but the jury is still not in on that."

Conventional reactors generate heat and electricity as a result of the fission of a rare form of uranium—uranium 235. In a traveling wave reactor, a small amount of uranium 235 is used to start up the reactor. The neutrons the reactor produces then convert the far more abundant uranium 238 into plutonium 239, a fissile material that can generate the heat needed for nuclear power. Uranium 238 is readily available in part because it's a waste product of the enrichment processes used to make conventional nuclear fuel. It may also be affordable in the future to extract uranium 238 from seawater if demand for nuclear fuel is high. Terrapower says there's enough of this fuel to supply the world with power for a million years, even if everyone were to use as much power as people in the United States do.
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Graphene Nanocomposite a Bridge to Better Batteries

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)
July 27, 2011

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have created a graphene and tin nanoscale composite material for high-capacity energy storage in renewable lithium ion batteries. By encapsulating tin between sheets of graphene, the researchers constructed a new, lightweight “sandwich” structure that should bolster battery performance.

“For an electric vehicle, you need a lightweight battery that can be charged quickly and holds its charge capacity after repeated cycling,” says Yuegang Zhang, a staff scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, in the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility, who led this research. “Here, we’ve shown the rational design of a nanoscale architecture, which doesn’t need an additive or binder to operate, to improve battery performance.”

Graphene is a single-atom-thick, “chicken-wire” lattice of carbon atoms with stellar electronic and mechanical properties, far beyond silicon and other traditional semiconductor materials. Previous work on graphene by Zhang and his colleagues has emphasized electronic device applications.

In this study, the team assembled alternating layers of graphene and tin to create a nanoscale composite. To create the composite material, a thin film of tin is deposited onto graphene. Next, another sheet of graphene is transferred on top of the tin film. This process is repeated to create a composite material, which is then heated to 300˚ Celsius (572˚ Fahrenheit) in a hydrogen and argon environment. During this heat treatment, the tin film transforms into a series of pillars, increasing the height of the tin layer.

“The formation of these tin nanopillars from a thin film is very particular to this system, and we find the distance between the top and bottom graphene layers also changes to accommodate the height change of the tin layer,” says Liwen Ji, a post-doctoral researcher at the Foundry. Ji is the lead author and Zhang the corresponding author of a paper reporting the research in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.
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Efficiency drives major investments in automation and control technology

July 27, 2011

Operating companies continue to invest heavily in automation and control technologies, both for new plants and revamps, in the drive for better efficiency., as Sean Ottewell explains.

Petrobras has selected Emerson Process Management to provide process automation technologies and services for the Petrochemical Complex of Rio de Janeiro (Comperj) in Brazil.

As main automation contractor for Comperj, Emerson will deliver engineering services and technologies for process automation and systems integration of the refining unit, selected utilities, and offsite operations that are part of the Brazilian energy giant’s project.

Built on an area of 45 million m2 – the equivalent of about 6000 soccer fields – the Comperj complex will be able to process 165,000 bbl/d of heavy crude when its first refining unit begins operations in 2013, and the same amount in a second unit expected five years later. This investment in Brazil’s refining capacity will help support the country’s expanding oil production. The project is also expected to generate more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction.
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Scientists create water walking bionic microrobot

July 27, 2011

Scientists are reporting development of a new aquatic microrobot that mimics the amazing water-walking abilities of the water strider — the long-legged insect that scoots across the surface of ponds, lakes and other waterways. The bionic microrobot incorporates improvements over previous devices of this kind that position it as a prime candidate for military spy missions, water pollution monitoring, and other applications, the scientists say. Their study appears in the journal, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Walking on the water surface is a dream of humans, but it is exactly the way of life for some aquatic insects,” Qinmin Pan and colleagues note, citing water striders, mosquitoes, and water spiders. This is due largely to their highly water-repellent (superhydrophobic) legs. Other scientists have made tiny aquatic devices based on the water strider with the hope of developing bionic robots that can monitor water supplies, conduct military spy missions when equipped with a camera, and perform other tasks. But until now, no one has found a way to make water-walking robots that are practical, agile, and inexpensive.

The scientists describe progress on a new robot, with a body about the size of a quarter; ten water-repellent, wire legs; and two movable, oar-like legs — propelled by two miniature motors. “Because the weight of the microrobot is equal to that of about 390 water striders, one might expect that it will sink quickly when placed on the water surface,” the report noted. However, it stands effortlessly on water surfaces and also walks and turns freely.

The authors acknowledged funding from Harbin Institute of Technology and Natural Science Foundation of China.

Prototype tools for mass producing nanostructures to launch in Singapore

July 27, 2011

The Industrial Consortium On Nanoimprint (ICON), which is helmed by the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), a research institute of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), is ready to put roll-to-roll nanoimprint manufacturing to the test.

Nanoimprinted structures and components are being used in items such as anti-reflection films, and solar cells. However, their impact in consumer products is limited as viable manufacturing processes to scale-up the production of such nanostructures is lacking. IMRE and its partners in ICON are planning to manufacture the structures, using a roll to roll process. This fast, mass production method can create large area nanostructured components, opening the way for new consumer applications not previously conceptualised or economically feasible.

Roll-to-roll imprinting is the third industry-themed project by ICON that includes local and international partners such as Solves Innovative Technology Pte Ltd (Singapore), Advanced Technologies and Regenerative Medicine, LLC (ATRM) (USA), Young Chang Chemical Co. Ltd (South Korea), EV Group (Austria), Micro Resist Technology GmbH (Germany) and NTT Advanced Technology Corporation (Japan). The partners who are raw material providers, tool-makers, and end-users represent the entire value chain for producing nano-structures and putting them to use. Some of the applications that the consortium hopes to harness with roll-to-roll nanoimprint include anti-fouling surfaces, anti-reflection films to enhance the efficiency of solar cells, wire-grid polarisers, and optical films for flat panel displays.

“The roll-to-roll nanoimprinting technique is a crucial centerpiece in ICON’s plan to complete the value chain for harnessing the true potential of our bio-mimetic multifunctional nanoimprint technology surfaces”, said Dr Low Hong Yee, an IMRE senior scientist who heads the team developing the roll-to-roll nanoimprint technology. “With this method we can merge nanoimprint technologies into real-world applications and on an industrial scale”, explained Dr Low, adding that the engineered materials that are produced can be made for a variety of applications. For example, nanostructures can be used to mimic patterns of surfaces found in nature to endow the synthetic surfaces with properties such as inherent colour effects, tack-free adhesion to surfaces, water-proofing and anti-reflectivity.
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Sun-free photovoltaics

MIT News
July 28, 2011

A new photovoltaic energy-conversion system developed at MIT can be powered solely by heat, generating electricity with no sunlight at all. While the principle involved is not new, a novel way of engineering the surface of a material to convert heat into precisely tuned wavelengths of light — selected to match the wavelengths that photovoltaic cells can best convert to electricity — makes the new system much more efficient than previous versions.

The key to this fine-tuned light emission, described in the journal Physical Review A, lies in a material with billions of nanoscale pits etched on its surface. When the material absorbs heat — whether from the sun, a hydrocarbon fuel, a decaying radioisotope or any other source — the pitted surface radiates energy primarily at these carefully chosen wavelengths.

Based on that technology, MIT researchers have made a button-sized power generator fueled by butane that can run three times longer than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight; the device can then be recharged instantly, just by snapping in a tiny cartridge of fresh fuel. Another device, powered by a radioisotope that steadily produces heat from radioactive decay, could generate electricity for 30 years without refueling or servicing — an ideal source of electricity for spacecraft headed on long missions away from the sun.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 92 percent of all the energy we use involves converting heat into mechanical energy, and then often into electricity — such as using fuel to boil water to turn a turbine, which is attached to a generator. But today's mechanical systems have relatively low efficiency, and can't be scaled down to the small sizes needed for devices such as sensors, smartphones or medical monitors.
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How to make solar power 24/7

MIT News
July 29, 2011

The biggest hurdle to widespread implementation of solar power is the fact that the sun doesn't shine constantly in any given place, so backup power systems are needed for nights and cloudy days. But a novel system designed by researchers at MIT could finally overcome that problem, delivering steady power 24/7.

The basic concept is one that has been the subject of much research: using a large array of mirrors to focus sunlight on a central tower. This approach delivers high temperatures to heat a substance such as molten salt, which could then heat water and turn a generating turbine. But such tower-based concentrated solar power (CSP) systems require expensive pumps and plumbing to transport molten salt and transfer heat, making them difficult to successfully commercialize — and they generally only work when the sun is shining.

Instead, Alexander Slocum and a team of researchers at MIT have created a system that combines heating and storage in a single tank, which would be mounted on the ground instead of in a tower. The heavily insulated tank would admit concentrated sunlight through a narrow opening at its top, and would feature a movable horizontal plate to separate the heated salt on top from the colder salt below. (Salts are generally used in such systems because of their high capacity for absorbing heat and their wide range of useful operating temperatures.) As the salt heated over the course of a sunny day, this barrier would gradually move lower in the tank, accommodating the increasing volume of hot salt. Water circulating around the tank would get heated by the salt, turning to steam to drive a turbine whenever the power is needed.
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Southampton engineers fly the world’s first ‘printed’ aircraft

University of Southampton
July 28, 2011

Engineers at the University of Southampton have designed and flown the world’s first ‘printed’ aircraft, which could revolutionise the economics of aircraft design.

The SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) plane is an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) whose entire structure has been printed, including wings, integral control surfaces and access hatches. It was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer.

No fasteners were used and all equipment was attached using ‘snap fit’ techniques so that the entire aircraft can be put together without tools in minutes.

The electric-powered aircraft, with a 2-metres wingspan, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, but when in cruise mode is almost silent. The aircraft is also equipped with a miniature autopilot developed by Dr Matt Bennett, one of the members of the team.

Laser sintering allows the designer to create shapes and structures that would normally involve costly traditional manufacturing techniques. This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months. Furthermore, because no tooling is required for manufacture, radical changes to the shape and scale of the aircraft can be made with no extra cost.

This project has been led by Professors Andy Keane and Jim Scanlan from the University’s Computational Engineering and Design Research group.

Professor Scanlon says: “The flexibility of the laser sintering process allows the design team to re-visit historical techniques and ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing. One of these ideas involves the use of a Geodetic structure. This type of structure was initially developed by Barnes Wallis and famously used on the Vickers Wellington bomber which first flew in 1936. This form of structure is very stiff and lightweight, but very complex. If it was manufactured conventionally it would require a large number of individually tailored parts that would have to be bonded or fastened at great expense.”
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An Unexpected Clue to Thermopower Efficiency

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)
July 28, 2011

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists and their colleagues have discovered a new relation among electric and magnetic fields and differences in temperature, which may lead to more efficient thermoelectric devices that convert heat into electricity or electricity into heat.

“In the search for new sources of energy, thermopower – the ability to convert temperature differences directly into electricity without wasteful intervening steps – is tremendously promising,” says Junqiao Wu of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division (MSD), who led the research team. Wu is also a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. “But the new effect we’ve discovered has been overlooked by the thermopower community, and can greatly affect the efficiency of thermopower and other devices.”

Wu and his colleagues found that temperature gradients in semiconductors, when one side of the device is hotter than the opposite side, can produce electronic vortices – whirlpools of electric current – and can, at the same time, create magnetic fields at right angles to both the plane of the swirling electric currents and the direction of the heat gradient. The researchers report their results in Physical Review B.
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Nanowire electronics that can be shaped to fit any surface and attach to any material developed at Stanford

Standford Univiersity
July 28, 2011

Stanford researchers have developed a new method of attaching nanowire electronics to the surface of virtually any object, regardless of its shape or what material it is made of. The method could be used in making everything from wearable electronics and flexible computer displays to high-efficiency solar cells and ultrasensitive biosensors.

Nanowire electronics are promising building blocks for virtually every digital electronic device used today, including computers, cameras and cell phones. The electronic circuitry is typically fabricated on a silicon chip. The circuitry adheres to the surface of the chip during fabrication and is extremely difficult to detach, so when the circuitry is incorporated into an electronic device, it remains attached to the chip. But silicon chips are rigid and brittle, limiting the possible uses of wearable and flexible nanowire electronics.

The key to the new method is coating the surface of the silicon wafer with a thin layer of nickel before fabricating the electronic circuitry. Nickel and silicon are both hydrophilic, or "water-loving," meaning when they are exposed to water after fabrication of nanowire devices is finished, the water easily penetrates between the two materials, detaching the nickel and the overlying electronics from the silicon wafer.
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New spin on friction-stir

Oak Ridge National Laboratory
July 28, 2011

Researchers Zhili Feng, Alan Frederic and Stan David in Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Materials S&T Division have made significant progress toward a new metal processing technique, called friction-stir extrusion, that could represent a major advance in converting recyclable materials -- such as alloys of aluminum, magnesium and titanium alloys, and even high-temperature superconductors -- to useful products.

The process also represents a step forward in energy-efficient industrial processes in that it eliminates the melting step in conventional metal recycling and processing. The friction-stir method, as the name implies, derives its heat from spinning metal against metal, and direct conversion of mechanical energy to thermal energy as frictional heat generated between two surfaces.

The ORNL team produced a solid wire of a magnesium-aluminum alloy from machined chips, eliminating the energy and labor intensive processes of melting and casting.

"This process is very simple. You get the product form that you want by just using the frictional heat," said Stan David, an ORNL retiree and consultant who once led the division's Materials Joining group.
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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Water purification unit generates its own energy

Siemens Press Release
July 25, 2011

A new biological water purification facility developed by Siemens generates enough methane gas to power its own operations. It also produces much less sludge than conventional systems. The pilot facility for this process, which is located at a site run by Singapore’s Public Utilities Board, has been operating in an energy- neutral manner since June 2010. Now, the city state is building a much larger pilot facility – one that will process 300 times more effluent than its predecessor, or about as much sewage water as is produced by around 1,000 people.

A typical urban biological water purification facility accommodates water from 10,000 to 100,000 residents. Today an aerobic (ventilated) process is used in which bacteria break down impurities in water by digesting them and converting them into new bacterial substances. This produced bacteria flakes filled with impurities — forming sludge that is then separated and either deposited in landfills or burned. But the organic impurities contain ten times more energy than needed to do the cleaning itself. They can therefore be used to generate methane, which could be used in gas-fired power plants or combined heat-and-power plants. However, sludge concentrations in municipal sewage systems are too low to produce methane economically.

With this in mind, development engineers from Siemens Water Technologies have developed a technology for charging bacteria flakes with organic impurities for an extremely short time during ventilation. As a result, bacterial reproduction is minimized. After most of the water is separated, the bacteria ferment the impurities into methane in an anaerobic process step. After two aerobic steps and one anaerobic step, the sludge has been broken down so that the least possible amount of sludge remains and the largest possible amount of methane is available, as reported in the latest issue of the research magazine "Pictures of the Future".

The pilot facility now in operation cleans around half a cubic meter of wastewater per day. A conventional water treatment plant requires a little less than 0.25 kilowatt-hours of energy to do this, so the pilot unit needs to generate roughly that amount of energy in the form of methane. A bigger facility could be run in an energy- neutral manner. Market launch of the technology is scheduled for 2012.

Collaboration develops wireless charging system for race cars

The Engineer
July 26, 2011

Inductive-charging group HaloIPT has teamed up with Drayson Racing Technology to develop its wireless charging technology for high-performance cars.

Drayson Racing, which develops and races ’green’ motorsport technology, plans to market HaloIPT’s technology to the motorsport industry as a replacement for the internal combustion engine and pit stops for fuel.

The system is based on Inductive Power Transfer (IPT) wireless charging, which uses strongly coupled magnetic resonance to transfer power from a transmitting pad hidden in the road or race track to a receiving pad on an electric car.

The pad in the ground is supplied with electrical power at a current typically in the range of 5–125A. The pad is inductive so compensation using series or parallel capacitors is used to reduce the working voltages and currents in the supply circuitry.

Within the car, pick-up coils are magnetically coupled to a primary coil. Power is transferred by tuning the pick-up coil to the operating frequency of the primary coil with a series or parallel capacitor.

According to HaloIPT, the technology automatically adjusts for changes in the vertical gap between the car and the surface. It also has the ability to intelligently distribute power so that there is a consistent delivery of power at speed.

Lord Drayson, co-founder of Drayson Racing, told The Engineer: ‘With current battery technology you’re limited to about a 20-minute race in an electric car and that’s why we’re excited about induction-charging technology.’

He added that it could one day be seen on roads. ’I think that it requires very significant investment into the infrastructure for charging, but it’s a lot safer than the use of cables and it enables you to optimise energy transfer for the use of the car as a tiny storage element in a distributed energy grid. It’s an exciting part of the future.’

Stanford transparent batteries: seeing straight through to the future?

Stanford University
July 25, 2011

It sounds like something out of a cheesy science fiction movie, but thanks to new research by several Stanford scientists, transparent cell phones are one step closer to becoming a reality.

Several companies have successfully created partially transparent gadgets such as digital photo frames and cell phones with see-through keyboards. However, fully transparent e-book readers or cell phones have remained largely in the realm of conceptual art due to one last missing puzzle piece.

"If you want to make everything transparent, what about the battery?" said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, renowned for his work with batteries.

With graduate student Yuan Yang, who is the first author of the paper "Transparent lithium-ion batteries" in the July 25 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cui set out to create a clear battery suitable for use in consumer electronics.

"I can make the battery more powerful, but I also want to make the battery look fancier," said Cui, who praised Yang for coming up with this unusual research idea.
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Manufactured Goods Lead Surge in Indian Exports

New York Times
July 25, 2011

When Ranjit Date returned to India 20 years ago after earning a doctorate in robotics from an American university, he hoped to help automate factory assembly lines in his home country.

His company, Precision Automation and Robotics India, has done that. But more recently it has also begun selling robots to Western manufacturers like Caterpillar, Ford and Chrysler. This year, in fact, a third of Precision Automation’s sales will come from exports, up from almost nothing five years ago.

Mr. Date’s company is emblematic of a recent surge in exports of engineered and other sophisticated goods from India — a country perhaps better known for exports of skilled services like software outsourcing.

But in fact, Indian exports of goods are now nearly double exports of services, growing 37.5 percent, to $245.9 billion, in the 12 months that ended in March. Leading the way are high-value products like industrial machinery, automobiles and car parts, and refined petroleum products.

Indian exports are following a different path from that taken by other Asian countries like Japan, Korea and China. Those countries started by exporting products like garments and toys made by large numbers of low-paid, low-skilled workers, before moving to more sophisticated products like cars and industrial machinery.
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Artificial lung mimics real organ’s design and efficiency

Case Western Reserve University
July 25, 2011

An artificial lung built by Cleveland researchers has reached efficiencies akin to the genuine organ, using air – not pure oxygen as current man-made lungs require - for the source of the essential element.

Use in humans is still years away, but for the 200 million lung disease sufferers worldwide, the device is a major step toward creating an easily portable and implantable artificial lung, said Joe Potkay, a research assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve University. Potkay is the lead author of the paper describing the device and research, in the journal Lab on a Chip.

The scientists built the prototype device by following the natural lung’s design and tiny dimensions. The artificial lung is filled with breathable silicone rubber versions of blood vessels that branch down to a diameter less than one-fourth the diameter of human hair.

“Based on current device performance, we estimate that a unit that could be used in humans would be about 6 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches tall, or about the volume of the human lung. In addition, the device could be driven by the heart and would not require a mechanical pump,” Potkay said.

Current artificial lung systems require heavy tanks of oxygen, limiting their portability. Due to their inefficient oxygen exchange, they can be used only on patients at rest, and not while active. And, the lifetime of the system is measured in days.
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Nissan and China partner Dongfeng to invest $8 bln

July 26, 2011

Nissan and its Chinese partner Dongfeng Motor Co. will invest 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) and launch around 30 vehicle models in China over the next five years, the Japanese auto giant said Tuesday.

The two firms also plan to increase sales from nearly 1.3 million vehicles in 2010 to more than 2.3 million units by 2015 and launch a fully electric zero-emission car for the Chinese market, Nissan said in a statement.

"Nissan's strong partnership with Dongfeng Motor Corporation has been the primary driver of its robust growth over the past eight years in the Chinese market," Carlos Ghosn, Nissan Motor's chief executive, said in the statement.

"The new plan, with its investments in capacity, products and innovation, will ensure that China continues to be Nissan's largest global market."

China, which overtook the US to become the world's top auto market in 2009, has become increasingly important for global players. Auto sales in China rose more than 32 percent last year to a record 18.06 million units.

But the sector has since lost steam after Beijing phased out sales incentives such as tax breaks for small-engined vehicles, introduced to ward off the impact of the global financial crisis.

The government is considering new incentives to revive the sector. But an industry group still predicted earlier this month that auto sales growth was expected to slow, despite showing a slight rebound in June.

Nissan said its Chinese joint venture planned to achieve and maintain a 10 percent share of the Chinese market over the next five years.

Ghosn told reporters at a press conference that Nissan currently has a 6.2 percent share of the market.

The two firms will also build a new manufacturing facility in the eastern province of Jiangsu, which will reinforce existing plants in other parts of the country to achieve the 2015 sales target, it added.

Sales of the first passenger vehicle sporting the Dongfeng Nissan brand Venucia are scheduled for next year, and a total of five new models will be launched under that brand.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

Monday, 25 July 2011

Rail News, "BART and BMW Unit Partner to Make New Generation Train Cars"and "South Korea to Invest $3.7bn in High-speed Rail"

July 25, 2011

BART and BMW Unit Partner to Make New Generation Train Cars

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco has signed an agreement with DesignworksUSA, a subsidiary of BMW Group, to create a new generation of train cars known as the Fleet of the Future.

Together DesignworksUSA and BART will create a concept for the next generation BART trains from the inside out that reflects the needs of customers and the future of transportation in the Bay Area.

DesignworksUSA will utilise the public input on the project gathered by BART's Seat Labs to design new generation cars.

The public will have an opportunity to review the resulting work this summer.

The new generation of train cars will be in service from early 2017, replacing most of BART's original train cars that are in operation today.

South Korea to Invest $3.7bn in High-speed Rail

South Korea has unveiled plans to invest $3.7bn in the expansion of the country's high-speed rail network in preparation for the country hosting the 2018 Olympic Games.

The rail project spanning 113km will link the central city of Wonju to host cities Pyeongchang and Gangneung in the east.

The proposed high-speed train connecting Wonju with Pyeongchang and Gangneung would travel at a speed of about 250km/h and will cut travel time from two hours to 68 minutes, while going to Gangneung will be reduced to 12 minutes.

The construction of the new Wonju-Gangneung railway will commence by the end of this year and is estimated to be completed by 2017, according to Bloomberg.

Samsung C&T Corporation and Hyundai Rotem Company are reported to have expressed interest in bidding for the rail contracts.

Japan to test-drill for seabed 'burning ice': Nikkei

Tokyo (AFP)
July 25, 2011

Japan will seek to extract natural gas from seabed deposits of methane hydrate, also known as "burning ice", in the world's first such offshore experiment, a news report said Monday.

The test is scheduled for a stretch of ocean southwest of Tokyo, between Shizuoka and Wakayama prefectures, over several weeks in the fiscal year to March 2013, the Nikkei financial daily said.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is preparing to request more than 10 billion yen ($127.5 million) for the project, the report said.

The government will support further research and aims for commercial drilling to start early in the next decade, the newspaper said.

Methane hydrates are found in environments with high pressure and low temperatures such as the ocean floors, often near continental faultlines, where the gas crystallises on contact with cold sea water.

The offshore experiment, if successful, would be the world's first, the Nikkei said. Methane was previously extracted from methane hydrate on land in Canada in 2008 using technology developed in Japan.

Japan has been looking to diversify its energy resources since the powerful March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years at the Fukushima Daiichi plant northeast of Tokyo.

Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on energy imports from the Middle East and until recently met one third of its electricity needs with nuclear power, but now plans also to boost renewables such as solar and wind power.

OSC lifts OSU land speed racer toward 400-mph goal

The Ohio State University (OSU)
July 21, 2011

Building a battery-powered land speed vehicle capable of achieving a speed of 400+ miles per hour requires innovative components, corporate partnerships, hours of diligent preparation and a powerful supercomputer.

A team of engineering students at The Ohio State University’s (OSU) Center for Automotive Research (CAR) recently began running aerodynamics simulations at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), one of the first steps in the long and careful process of designing, building and racing the fourth iteration of their record-breaking, alternative-fuel streamliner.fluctuations.

“The third generation electric land speed record vehicle to be designed and built by OSU students, the Buckeye Bullet 3, will be an entirely new car designed and built from the ground up,” noted Giorgio Rizzoni, Ph.D., professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of CAR. “Driven by two custom-made electric motors designed and developed by Venturi, and powered by prismatic A123 batteries, the goal of the new vehicle will be to surpass all previous electric vehicle records.”

In 2004, the team achieved distinction on the speedway at Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah, by setting the U.S. electric land speed record at just over 314 mph with the original Buckeye Bullet, a nickel-metal hydride battery-powered vehicle.

Several years later, the team returned with the Buckeye Bullet 2, a completely new vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and set the international land speed record for that class at nearly 303 mph. The team then replaced the power source, once again, using the same frame and body with a new generation of lithium-ion batteries and set an international electric vehicle record in partnership with Venturi Automobiles and A123 Systems at just over 307 mph.
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Research update: Improving batteries’ energy storage

MIT News
July 25, 2011

MIT researchers have found a way to improve the energy density of a type of battery known as lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) batteries, producing a device that could potentially pack several times more energy per pound than the lithium-ion batteries that now dominate the market for rechargeable devices in everything from cellphones to cars.

The work is a continuation of a project that last year demonstrated improved efficiency in lithium-air batteries through the use of noble-metal-based catalysts. In principle, lithium-air batteries have the potential to pack even more punch for a given weight than lithium-ion batteries because they replace one of the heavy solid electrodes with a porous carbon electrode that stores energy by capturing oxygen from air flowing through the system, combining it with lithium ions to form lithium oxides.

The new work takes this advantage one step further, creating carbon-fiber-based electrodes that are substantially more porous than other carbon electrodes, and can therefore more efficiently store the solid oxidized lithium that fills the pores as the battery discharges.

"We grow vertically aligned arrays of carbon nanofibers using a chemical vapor deposition process. These carpet-like arrays provide a highly conductive, low-density scaffold for energy storage," explains Robert Mitchell, a graduate student in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and co-author of a paper describing the new findings in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.
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Rare Coupling of Magnetic and Electric Properties in a Single Material

U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory
July 25, 2011

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have observed a new way that magnetic and electric properties — which have a long history of ignoring and counteracting each other — can coexist in a special class of metals. These materials, known as multiferroics, could serve as the basis for the next generation of faster and energy-efficient logic, memory, and sensing technology.

The researchers, who worked with colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Germany, published their findings online in Physical Review Letters on July 25, 2011. Ferromagnets are materials that display a permanent magnetic moment, or magnetic direction, similar to how a compass needle always points north. They assist in a variety of daily tasks, from sticking a reminder to the fridge door to storing information on a computer’s hard drive.

Ferroelectrics are materials that display a permanent electric polarization — a set direction of charge — and respond to the application of an electric field by switching this direction. They are commonly used in applications like sonar, medical imaging, and sensors.

“In principle, the coupling of an ordered magnetic material with an ordered electric material could lead to very useful devices,” said Brookhaven physicist Stuart Wilkins, one of the paper’s authors. “For instance, one could imagine a device in which information is written by application of an electric field and read by detecting its magnetic state. This would make a faster and much more energy-efficient data storage device than is available today.”
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Location Matters in Manufacturing

Technology Review
July 24, 2011

The migration of manufacturing from the United States to Asia could be having a significant impact on which advanced technologies are commercialized. Specifically, there is evidence that the shift in manufacturing is curtailing the development of emerging technologies in areas such as optoelectronics and advanced materials for the automotive industry.

In studies with colleagues at MIT, Erica Fuchs, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, shows that the relocation of component manufacturing from the United States to East Asia in optoelectronics and to China in composite body parts for automobiles changed the economics of producing the technologies. The result in both cases is that emerging technologies developed in the United States were not economically viable to produce in the Asian countries because of differences in manufacturing practices. And Fuchs suspects similar effects are happening more generally as production shifts to the developing world. Location matters for "which products will be economically viable, which products countries will be most competitive in producing, and which products countries and companies globally are most likely to develop," she says.

The findings add to a growing awareness that manufacturing plays a critical role in driving innovation. Harvard Business School professors David Pisano and Willy Shih argue, for example, that innovation capacity often disappears if a country loses its manufacturing sector, because the knowledge and abilities needed to develop new technologies are often closely linked to the skills and expertise associated with manufacturing (see "Innovation Depends on a Robust Manufacturing Sector"). Fuchs builds on this idea by showing that regional manufacturing differences can cause the most advanced technologies to fall by the wayside. "Manufacturing locations can affect the evolution of technology globally," she says.
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Cheap Plastic Made from Sugarcane

Technology Review
July 24, 2011

Making plastic from sugar can be just as cheap as making it from petroleum, says Dow Chemical. The company plans to build a plant in Brazil that it says will be the world's largest facility for making polymers from plants.

The project will begin with the construction of a 240-million-liter ethanol plant, a joint venture with Mitsui, that is set to begin later this year. By the beginning of next year, Dow will finish engineering plans for facilities that will convert that ethanol into hundreds of thousands of metric tons of polyethylene, the world's most widely used plastic.

Bio-based chemicals production has grown quickly in recent years, but it still represents just 7.7 percent of the overall chemicals market. Production has been limited in many cases to specialty chemicals or niche products. But Dow now says chemicals made from plant feedstocks may be ready to compete head-to-head with petrochemicals made in large volumes.
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Friday, 22 July 2011

The other-worldly INgSOC hybrid bike concept

July 22, 2011
Although the technology is not exactly new, I still find the look of a spokeless/hubless bike wheel somewhat spell-binding. When combined with a frame design that wouldn't look out of place on the pages of a Marvel comic strip, the effect seems positively extra-terrestrial. Such is the case with the INgSOC concept from Edward Kim and Benny Cemoli, a very strange-looking human/electric two-wheeler design sporting sharp lines and some dangerous-looking edges.

The popular and trusted diamond frame design has served bicycles and riders well for more than a hundred years. Nevertheless, designers regularly attempt to break away from this successful shaping - examples of such diversions include Raleigh's iconic Chopper from the 1970s, the strangely pleasing arc frame of the PiCycle, the frankly odd RoundTail and the design that combines classic (if all-but-abandoned) styling with modern technology, the YikeBike.

The INgSOC bike's frame looks like a bony alien finger pointing the way forward. Behind the seat is a removable battery pack, with a battery charge level indicator on the handle. This is the power source for the bike's electric motor underneath. The rider could choose to zip through traffic powered solely by the motor, or ensure a smooth pedal action by getting some assistance from the motor, or pedal only for those occasions when the battery runs dry or the cyclist feels like keeping fit. While in pedal-only mode, some of the energy generated by the rider would be directed to the battery pack to charge it.

The designers see frame strength being supplied by lightweight carbon fiber reinforced polymer that's been specially cured to improve core strength. Kim and Cemoli say that INgSOC offers the flexible handling and comfort qualities offered by more traditional bikes while also benefiting from the aerodynamics of triathlon designs.

There's a smartphone dock on the hump of the upper part of the frame to keep the rider in touch with the world while on the move or perhaps act as a GPS or wireless performance monitor. Lighting is included in the design, with direction indicators built-in.

Although still a concept at the moment, the designers are currently looking into taking the INgSOC rendering to the prototyping stage with the help of Steven Mora from Digital Fabrications Laboratory at the University of New Mexico. Progress updates will appear on the design blog.

NASA Tests Future Deep Space Vehicle For Water Landings

NASA News Release
July 22, 2011

As NASA closes the chapter on the Space Shuttle Program, a new era of exploration vehicles is beginning to take off.

Testing began this month at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., in the new Hydro Impact Basin to certify the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) for water landings. The Orion MPCV will carry astronauts into space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure safe re-entry and landing.

Engineers have dropped a 22,000-pound MPCV mockup into the basin. The test item is similar in size and shape to MPCV, but is more rigid so it can withstand multiple drops. Each test has a different drop velocity to represent the MPCV's possible entry conditions during water landings.

The last of three drop tests to verify the new facility is scheduled for the end of this month.

Testing will resume in September with a slightly modified test article that is more representative of the actual MPCV.

The new Hydro Impact Basin is 115 long, 90 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It is located at the west end of Langley's historic Landing and Impact Research Facility, or Gantry, where Apollo astronauts trained for moon walks.

For images and video of the tests, visit:

To follow the progress of the Orion MPCV on social networking sites, visit:

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Orion MPCV program for the agency. For more information about the program, visit:

Nanoplasmonic ‘Whispering Gallery’ Breaks Emission Time Record in Semiconductors

University of Pennsylvania
July 21, 2011

Renaissance architects demonstrated their understanding of geometry and physics when they built whispering galleries into their cathedrals. These circular chambers were designed to amplify and direct sound waves so that, when standing in the right spot, a whisper could be heard from across the room. Now, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have applied the same principle on the nanoscale to drastically reduce emission lifetime, a key property of semiconductors, which can lead to the development of new ultrafast photonic devices.

The research was conducted by associate professor Ritesh Agarwal, postdoctoral fellows Chang-Hee Cho and Sung-Wook Nam and graduate student Carlos O. Aspetti, all of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Michael E. Turk and James M. Kikkawa of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences also contributed to the study.

Their research was published in the journal Nature Materials.

“When you excite a semiconductor, then it takes a few nanoseconds to get back to the ground state accompanied by emission of light,” Agarwal said. “That’s the emission lifetime. It’s roughly the amount of time the light is on, and hence is the amount of time it takes for it to be ready to be turned on again.
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Two Decades of Increasing Diversity More than Doubled the Number of Minority Graduate Students in Science and Engineering

National Science Foundation
July 22, 2011

From 1989 through 2009 the number of minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in graduate science and engineering (S&E) programs more than doubled, growing from approximately 37,700 in 1989 to 92,700 in 2009. Increases in Hispanic, black, and Asian/Pacific Islander S&E graduate students were similar over this period (approximately 17,800, 18,200, and 17,200, respectively); however, these gains almost tripled the number of Hispanic graduate students (approximately 190% growth) and more than doubled the number of blacks (approximately 155% growth) and Asians/Pacific Islanders (approximately 110% growth). Enrollment among American Indians/Alaska Natives also nearly tripled, increasing from approximately 900 in 1989 to approximately 2,600 in 2009 (approximately 195% growth). Minority enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in graduate S&E programs grew from approximately 13% in 1989 to approximately 24% in 2009 (figure 1). Due to extra variability of the methodological changes in the 2007 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS), all growth rate calculations comparing pre- and post-2007 counts are rounded to the nearest 5% and counts are rounded to the nearest 100; see "Data Limitations and Availability" for more information.
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China makes nuclear power breakthrough

July 22, 2011

China said Friday it had hooked its first so-called "fourth generation" nuclear reactor to the grid, a breakthrough that could eventually reduce its reliance on uranium imports

The experimental fast-neutron reactor is the result of more than 20 years of research and could also help minimise radioactive waste from nuclear energy, the state-run China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) said.

China is the ninth country to develop a fast-neutron reactor, which uses uranium 60 times more efficiently than a normal reactor, helping the country to reduce its reliance on imports of the mineral.

Beijing has stepped up investment in nuclear power in an effort to slash its world-leading carbon emissions and scale down the country's heavy reliance on coal, which accounts for 70 percent of its energy needs.

But China's uranium reserves are limited, and it will have to import increasingly large amounts as its civilian nuclear programme gathers speed.

China -- the world's second largest economy -- currently has 14 nuclear reactors and is building more than two dozen others. It aims to get 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

According to the World Nuclear Association, it aims to increase nuclear power capacity to 80 gigawatts by 2020 from 10.8 gigawatts in 2010.

The fourth-generation reactor, located just outside Beijing, has a capacity of just 20 megawatts. Other recently launched nuclear reactors in China had a capacity of more than one gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts.

The latest technological step comes after China succeeded in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in an experimental reactor in the northwestern province of Gansu in January.

Authorities said this would help extend the lifespan of proven uranium deposits to 3,000 years from the current forecast of 50-70 years.

Beijing has also pledged to improve emergency procedures and construction standards at its nuclear power plants, after Japan's devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami triggered an atomic crisis.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

A new discovery paves the way for using super strong nanostructured metals in cars

Risø DTU National Laboratory
July 21, 2011

Super strong nanometals are beginning to play an important role in terms of making cars even lighter, enabling them to stand collisions without fatal consequences for the passengers. A PhD student at Risø DTU has discovered a new phenomenon that will make nanometals more useful in practice.

Today, the body of an ordinary family car consists of 193 different types of steel. The steel for each part of the car has been carefully selected and optimised. It is important, for example, that all parts are as light as possible because of the fuel consumption, whereas other parts of the car have to be super strong in order to protect passengers in a collision.

Super strong nanostructured metals are now entering the scene, aimed at making cars even lighter, enabling them to stand collisions in a better way without fatal consequences for the passengers. Research into this field is being conducted worldwide. Recently, a young PhD student from the Materials Research Division at Risø DTU took research a step further by discovering a new phenomenon. The new discovery could speed up the practical application of strong nanometals and has been published in the highly esteemed journal ”Proceedings of the Royal Society” in London in the form of a paper of approx. 30 pages written by three authors from Risø DTU.

The research task of the young student, Tianbo Yu, is to determine the stability in new nanostructured metals, which are indeed very strong, but also tend to become softer, even at low temperatures. This is due to the fact that microscopic metal grains of nanostructured metals are not stable - a problem of which Tianbo Yu’s discovery now provides an explanation.
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Used Electric Car Batteries May Get Second Life Storing Power for Grid

New York Times
July 21, 2011
After putting in eight to 10 years powering a vehicle, recommissioned batteries from General Motor Co.'s electric Volt cars could be used by utilities to provide backup electric storage for the grid, the company says.

GM and electric power company ABB Group have been working together since September of last year under a joint research and development agreement targeting the reuse of vehicle batteries for stationary power use. Alongside a conference this week in Raleigh, N.C., the groups shared their progress in moving the concept from laboratory to pilot testing.

"Volt customers are very focused on the entire life cycle of the battery," Pablo Valencia, GM's senior manager for battery life cycle management, told reporters. And with batteries needing retirement from the road when they drop to 70 percent of their useful life remaining, he said, secondary use was a major concern for GM, too.

The automaker and ABB's R&D partnership is focused on putting the used batteries to work in clusters where they can provide backup energy storage for the grid, either to hold wind or solar energy during periods of low electric demand for use later or to provide backup power in case of a grid disruption.

Valencia said a group of 50 homes could be powered through 33 used Volt batteries, with enough storage capacity to keep them all running for about four hours. In a more likely scenario based on their talks with utilities, he said, batteries would be sold or operated on behalf of utilities in configurations of five to 10 units wired together, where they would serve small groups of houses or commercial facilities with 25 to 75 kilowatt-hours of storage.

This is "an energy solution that goes beyond the road," he said. "This is in the realm of new storage solutions that are out there."
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Additional Information:

Technique turns car windows into computer displays

The Engineer
July 21, 2011
Glasgow University researchers are helping to develop a technique that aims to turn car windows into computer displays and create more efficient smartphone screens.

The scientists are part of a Europe-wide project, also involving Fiat and glass maker Saint-Gobin, that aims to commercialise a method of creating three-dimensional nanostructures on the surface of glass to affect the brightness and direction of light.

This nano-imprinting lithography technique could help to create the next generation of ’head-up displays’ (HUDs) on the windshields of cars and aircraft — that emit their own light rather than using a projector — in order to display information to the driver.

It could also be used to develop windows that maximise the amount of light they let in and to create brighter LEDs and computer displays that use less energy.

‘The technology has never quite broken through in microchips because the number of defects is too high, but it’s an ideal application for optical properties such as light displacement,’ Glasgow’s Dr Nikolaj Gadegaard told The Engineer.

‘The defects won’t necessarily affect the way the light comes out. We’re working at around 100nm, so the eye won’t pick up defects at this scale.’
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Study: Regulatory hurdles hinder biofuels market

University of Illinois
July 21, 2011

Regulatory hurdles abound for the successful commercialization of emerging liquid biofuels, which hold the promise of enhancing U.S. energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and serving as a driver for rural economic development, according to new U. of I. research.

In the study, University of Illinois law professor Jay P. Kesan and Timothy A. Slating, a regulatory associate with the University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute, argue that regulatory innovations are needed to keep pace with technological innovations in the biofuels industry.

“Getting regulatory approval for new biofuels is currently a time-consuming and costly process,” said Kesan, who is also the program leader of the Biofuel Law and Regulation Program at the Energy Biosciences Institute. “By removing some of the uncertainty and some of the expense without compromising on the regulatory concerns, you are also removing some of the disincentives to entering the biofuel market, where we need more competition.”

In the paper, Kesan and Slating focus on biobutanol, an emerging biofuel with the potential to be a viable alternative to petroleum-based fuels.

The good news for drivers: Biobutanol has a higher energy content than ethanol, meaning a car fueled with biobutanol could drive roughly 30 percent farther than if fueled with the same amount of ethanol.

Other research has shown that biobutanol is compatible with existing vehicle engines, as well as with existing fuel distribution infrastructure.

“Biobutanol is a really promising biofuel, and has the potential to further the policy decisions that have already been made by Congress,” Kesan said. “This is not a hypothetical situation. We have companies currently building the capacity to produce biobutanol.”
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Discovery in parent of one high-#temperature #superconductor may lead to predictive control

Brookhaven National Laboratory (DOE)
July 21, 2011

A team of scientists studying the parent compound of a cuprate (copper-oxide) superconductor has discovered a link between two different states, or phases, of that matter — and written a mathematical theory to describe the relationship. This work, appearing in the July 22, 2011, issue of Science, will help scientists predict the material’s behavior under varying conditions, and may help explain how it’s transformed into a superconductor able to carry current with no energy loss.

“The ultimate goal is to use what we learn to design copper-oxide materials with desired properties — such as superconductors that operate at temperatures warm enough to allow more widespread use in applications designed to transform the distribution of electricity,” said J.C. Séamus Davis, a co-author on the paper. Davis is Director of the Center for Emergent Superconductivity at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and the J.D. White Distinguished Professor of Physical Sciences at Cornell University.

“If you want to understand how to use a material, you need a theoretical understanding of how it behaves under different conditions,” Davis said. For example, there would be no desktop computers if we didn’t first have a theory to explain the behavior of silicon, the main component of the computer’s memory and processing chips. “To attain that kind of control over cuprate superconductors — materials that have enormous potential for improving energy efficiency and storage — we need that quantitative and predictive understanding.”

One challenge is that copper-oxide superconductors have lots of other states that can compete with superconductivity. To begin to understand these different phases — which are dominant, which are weaker, how they interact, and what happens to alter the balance of “power” — the experimentalists* on the team used a technique called spectroscopic image-scanning tunneling microscopy, developed by Davis, to directly visualize the electrons in each phase at the atomic level.
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New Materials Developed Thanks to Nanomembrane Technology
July 21, 2011

The camera in your phone collects light on silicon and translate that information into digital bits. One of the reasons those cameras and phones continue to improve is that researchers are developing new materials that absorb more light, use less power, and are less expensive to produce.

Now, University of Wisconsin-Madison materials science and engineering researchers have introduced innovations that could make possible a wide range of new crystalline materials. Writing in the June 8 web issue of the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, Research Assistants Deborah Paskiewicz and Boy Tanto along with Scientist Donald Savage and Erwin W. Mueller Professor and Bascom Professor of Surface Science Max Lagally, describe a new approach for using thin sheets of semiconductor known as nanomembranes.

Controlled stretching of these membranes via epitaxy allows the team to fabricate fully elastically relaxed silicon germanium nanomembranes for use as growth substrates for new materials. The team grew defect-free silicon germanium layers with any desired germanium concentration on silicon substrates and then released the silicon germanium layers from the rigid silicon, allowing them to relax completely as free-standing nanomaterials. The silicon germanium film is then transferred to a new host and bonded there. From this stage, a defect-free bulk silicon germanium crystal can be grown (something not possible with current technology), or the silicon germanium membrane can be used as a unique substrate to grow other materials.

Epitaxy, growth that controls the arrangement of atoms in thin layers on a substrate, is the fundamental technology underlying the semiconductor industry's use of these new materials. By combining elements, researchers can grow materials with unique properties that make possible new kinds of sensors or high speed, low-power, efficient advanced electronics. It is the ability to grow them without detrimental defects that makes these alloys useful to the semiconductor industry. However, making high-quality crystals that combine two or more elements faces significant limitations that have vexed researchers for decades.

"Many materials consisting of more than one element simply cannot be used. The distances between atoms are not the same," says Lagally. "When one begins to grow such a layer, the atoms start to interfere with each other and very soon the material no longer can grow as just one crystal because it starts to have defects in it. Eventually, it breaks up into small crystals and becomes polycrystalline, or even cracks."

In addition to its use in the semiconductor industry, silicon germanium is important to the nascent field of quantum computing. A quantum computer makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform calculations. Current computers are limited to two states; on and off, or zero and one. With superposition, quantum computers encode information as quantum bits. These bits represent the varying states and inner workings of atoms and electrons. By manipulating these multiple states simultaneously, a large-scale quantum computer, if it can be built, could be millions of times more powerful than today's most powerful classical supercomputer.

"UW-Madison Physics Professor Mark Eriksson uses silicon germanium to make two-dimensional electron gases. A 'two-dimensional electron gas' is a layer of a semiconductor in which charges are able to move freely over large distances, in analogy with atoms in a real gas, except confined to a thin layer and hence two-dimensional. For quantum computing, this 2-D electron gas is formed in a strained-silicon layer grown on a silicon germanium substrate. Electrodes put on top of a structure containing the 2-D electron gas in the strained-silicon layer allow one to move and control single electrons, turning regions of the quantum well into 'electron buckets,' if you will, that are defined by the electric fields from the top electrodes,' says Lagally.

A major obstacle to developing a quantum computer is creating multiple quantum buckets as similar as possible. To make rapid progress, researchers need low-defect and consistent materials.

"With the silicon germanium substrates we have been using, the electrostatic fields can be quite uncertain because of the defects in the substrate," says Lagally. "We believe our new process can fix that. Because the substrate material is uniform, without defects, it should bring more predictability and control to Mark's efforts."

Beyond silicon germanium, Lagally says the process should work for a wide range of exotic materials that cannot be grown in bulk but have interesting properties. Materials Science and Engineering Associate Professor Paul Evans develops new ways to probe and apply these materials.

"The thin defect-free substrates that can be produced by transferring and relaxing these layers present exciting opportunities in the growth of materials beyond silicon and other traditional semiconductors," Evans says. "With this approach, it will be possible to produce defect-free substrates of materials for which no high-crystalline quality bulk materials exist. In complex oxides, this can lead to thin substrates that stabilize specific ferroelectric or dielectric phases. That could lead to better oscillators, sensors and optical devices, that are important to the cell phones, cameras and computers we use everyday."

This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy with facilities support by the National Science Foundation and the UW-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center as well as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Foreseer of future resources

University of Cambridge
July 20, 2011

Understanding how energy can be used efficiently is key to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating future fuel and food shortages. But energy use is only part of the story. The link between resources and final services – such as food, warmth, shelter and transport – is only really complete if water and land use is also factored in.

Almost a year ago, nine experts from seven different departments across the University set out to do precisely this. They reasoned that to understand the uncertainties ahead it is vitally important not only to integrate models of energy, water and land use but also to create a visualisation tool that could be widely used, by industry, policy-makers, researchers and others, to understand the consequences of how decisions today might play out in decades to come.

The Foreseer Project is funded through BP’s Energy Sustainability Challenge, which is supporting projects in 12 leading research universities worldwide to explore some of the key issues that could shape future energy supply and demand.

At the heart of the Cambridge project is the use of the Sankey diagram – a remarkably intuitive visual interpretation of the quantity of resources and how they are consumed.

Although Sankey diagrams have been in use for over a century for mapping energy flow, they have had limitations, as Dr Julian Allwood, who leads the Foreseer Project, explained: “Past diagrams were based on economic data and stopped short of tracing the length of each energy chain from fuels all the way to consumers, halting instead at sectors. They gave you an idea of who to blame for energy use but they didn’t provide a basis for what you could change.”

By demonstrating two years ago that it was indeed possible to create a global snapshot of energy flow from fuel to final service, Dr Allwood and colleague Dr Jonathan Cullen realised that it might also be feasible to turn this into a tool with forecasting potential.

“We could then ask ‘what if’ questions such as what if car engines were to become twice as efficient?” Dr Allwood explained. “But to be truly predictive, mapping energy flow alone is not enough. An increase in biofuel, for instance, has implications for land and water use, as well as fertiliser use, which itself is an energy-demanding product. Energy, land and water are interlinked.”
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University of Manchester examines safety of the next generation of nuclear reactors

University of Manchester
July 20, 2011

As part of a consortium of EU research institutes and universities, academics from the University’s Dalton Nuclear Institute will carry out research on evolutionary designs of nuclear reactors called Generation IV.

The 1mEuro project is called SARGEN IV, which stands for 'Safety Assessment of Reactors of Generation IV'. The money has been provided from the EC Euratom Framework Programme.

The outcome of the University of Manchester research will be key in defining the future EU research agenda for the successful implementation of this advanced technology.

Generation IV reactors are evolutionary in design and so will be able to ‘burn’ plutonium created from the spent fuel from pressurised water reactors (PWR).

This will allow them to improve the efficiency of the fuel cycle and form an option for the UK when its expected new fleet of PWRs has been built and is operational – forecast to be in about 2040.

Being evolutionary, they will be the state-of-the-art in design and types of materials used and will have a high level of nuclear safety.

The safety claims will need assessing before their deployment and the objective of this project is to identify what the critical issues might be, to develop a roadmap for necessary research to address them and assist with the development of a safety assessment approach for the licensing of these new designs of reactor.

The consortium is led by IRSN, the French Technical Support Organisation and has all the key European players involved in Gen IV reactor research.

Professor Peter Storey, from the Dalton Nuclear Institute, will lead the development of a roadmap for FAST reactor safety R&D and, with Dr Tim Ware from the School of Physics and Astronomy, will be involved in identifying safety features of Gen IV reactors, identifying accident initiators and disseminating findings of the project.

Professor Storey said: “Involvement in this prestigious EC funded project on advanced nuclear reactors is of strategic importance to the Dalton Nuclear Institute.

“It builds on our involvement in two other European projects in this area, draws upon our high expertise in reactor technology and nuclear safety and involves the Institute in helping set the agenda for ground breaking research."

The project will start in early 2012 and last for two years. It will build upon other EC funded Gen IV projects that the University is already involved in and will act as a key step in engaging specialist expertise within the Centre for Nuclear Energy Technology (C-NET) in European projects that will grow as interest in advanced systems also grows.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) was chartered in 2001 to lead the collaborative efforts of the world's leading nuclear technology nations to develop next generation nuclear energy systems to meet the world's future energy needs.

The GIF Charter has been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States (2001), Switzerland (2002), Euratom (2003), the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation (2006).

Among the signatories of the Charter, Canada, Euratom, France, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland and the United States have signed a Framework Agreement (FA) formally agreeing to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems.

These revolutionary “Generation IV” nuclear energy systems will be developed in the context of eight technological goals:
  • to provide sustainable energy generation that meets clean air objectives and provides long-term availability of systems and effective fuel utilization for energy production
  • to minimize and manage nuclear waste and notably reduce the long-term stewardship burden, thereby improving protection for the public health and the environment
  • to have a clear life-cycle cost advantage over other energy sources
  • to have a level of financial risk comparable to other energy projects
  • to excel in safety and reliability
  • to have a very low likelihood and degree of reactor core damage
  • to eliminate the need for offsite emergency response
  • to be very unattractive and the least desirable route for diversion or theft of weapons-usable materials, and provide increased physical protection against acts of terrorism.
Six nuclear energy systems have been selected by GIF for further development. In principle, these systems should be marketable or deployable from 2030 onwards.

Inside the innards of a nuclear reactor: Tiny robots may monitor underground pipes for radioactive leaks

MIT News
July 21, 2011

As workers continue to grapple with the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan, the crisis has shone a spotlight on nuclear reactors around the world. In June, The Associated Press released results from a yearlong investigation, revealing evidence of “unrelenting wear” in many of the oldest-running facilities in the United States.

That study found that three-quarters of the country’s nuclear reactor sites have leaked radioactive tritium from buried piping that transports water to cool reactor vessels, often contaminating groundwater. According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the industry has limited methods to monitor underground pipes for leaks.

“We have 104 reactors in this country,” says Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of MIT’s d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology. “Fifty-two of them are 30 years or older, and we need immediate solutions to assure the safe operations of these reactors.”

Asada says one of the major challenges for safety inspectors is identifying corrosion in a reactor’s underground pipes. Currently, plant inspectors use indirect methods to monitor buried piping: generating a voltage gradient to identify areas where pipe coatings may have corroded, and using ultrasonic waves to screen lengths of pipe for cracks. The only direct monitoring requires digging out the pipes and visually inspecting them — a costly and time-intensive operation.

Now Asada and his colleagues at the d’Arbeloff Laboratory are working on a direct monitoring alternative: small, egg-sized robots designed to dive into nuclear reactors and swim through underground pipes, checking for signs of corrosion. The underwater patrollers, equipped with cameras, are able to withstand a reactor’s extreme, radioactive environment, transmitting images in real-time from within.