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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

China Tops 2011 Index Rankings for Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy World
Aug 23, 2011

Influential commentators in Japan, Germany, Russia, the US, China, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Yemen and numerous other nations have all weighed in on the need to de-emphasise nuclear and focus on renewables in the wake of the Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster. So concludes the Ernst & Young 2011 All Renewables Index.

At the same time, recent unrest and the risk of further conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region have highlighted crucial issues around energy supply security and oil price volatility. European governments have slashed budgets and reduced feed-in tariffs (FiTs), causing solar cell prices to fall while solar manufacturers' margins are being squeezed due to rising silicon and other commodity costs.


China has climbed to its highest ever score in the Index, principally by diversifying its renewables portfolio through an increased focus on offshore wind and CSP.

While China surpassed the US to become the world's largest energy consumer in 2010, environmental targets set out in the 12th Five-Year Plan include an increase in the proportion of energy from non-fossil fuels to 11.3 percent by 2015, from the current 8.3 percent. To meet this target, China says it intends to build at least 70 GW of new wind farms and 5 GW of new solar farms.

According to the report, the latest statistics indicate that, in 2010, the China Development Bank (CDB) made around $35 billion in low-interest credit available to Chinese renewables companies. This compares with the $4 billion of grants and $16 billion in loan guarantees awarded to clean-tech companies in the US.

China overtook the US at the end of 2010 to become the world leader in wind power, having installed around 16 GW in 2010 or almost half of global installations - taking cumulative installed capacity to 42 GW. This is contrasted with an additional 5 GW installed in the US last year and a total of 40 GW.

However, China ranks second globally in terms of grid-connected capacity; more than a third of wind capacity had yet to be connected to the national grid at the end of 2010.
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Nanowires Get into the Groove

Weizmann Institute of Science
Aug 22, 2011

Growing up is not easy, especially for tiny nanowires: With no support or guidance, nanowires become unruly, making it difficult to harness their full potential as effective semiconductors. Prof. Ernesto Joselevich of the Weizmann Institute’s Chemistry Faculty has found a way to grow semiconductor nanowires out, not up, on a surface, providing, for the first time, the much-needed guidance to produce relatively long, orderly, aligned structures. Since semiconductors with controlled structures are at the core of the most advanced technologies, this new research will hopefully enable the production of semiconductor nanostructures with enhanced electronic and optical properties, suitable for a wide range of applications including LEDs, lasers, information storage media, transistors, computers, photovoltaics and more.

Joselevich, Ph.D. student David Tsivion and postdoctoral fellow Mark Schvartzman of the Materials and Interfaces Department grew nanowires made of gallium nitride (GaN) using a method that usually produces vertical nanowires with excellent optical and electronic properties. These vertical wires only become unruly once they are harvested and assembled into arrays. To bypass this problem, the scientists used sapphire as a base on which to grow the nanowires. But rather than growing them on a smooth surface, they deliberately cut the sapphire along different planes of the crystal, resulting in various surface patterns including “steps” of nanometer dimensions between the different planes, as well as accordion-like, V-shaped grooves.
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Car that runs on wine and cheese showcased at eco-rally

The Miami Herald
Aug 23, 2011

Imagine pulling up to a gas station, and rather than being offered the usual choice between regular or premium unleaded, the gas pump instead read "Chardonnay" or "Pinot Noir." Not for you, of course, but for your car!

Well, if one new experimental car, called the Lotus Exige 270E Tri-Fuel, ever catches on, this scenario may not be so far-fetched. The specialized Exige is capable of running on an ethanol fuel made from wine that isn't up to drinking grade, or whey, which is also a byproduct of the cheese or chocolate-making process. It was one of several new cars showcased last week at an eco-rally sponsored in part by the Prince of Wales' environmental initiative, Start, according to the Independent.

The car also can run on conventional gasoline (just in case you're out of fuel and still miles away from wine country), as well as methanol, a fuel that can be made by extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere - potentially the ultimate carbon neutral fuel. The car is also capable of reaching 60 mph in less than four seconds, making it among the fastest road-legal cars in the world.

A few of the other cars featured at the eco-rally, which began in Oxford and finished at The Mall in central London, included the Lightning GT, an electric vehicle that can run 200 miles on a 10-minute charge, and the Biobug (also lovingly called the "Dung Beetle"), which runs on methane generated from human sewage.

"Vehicles that use fuels other than petrol or diesel are no longer concept cars of the future, but production cars of today," said Andy Dingley, a spokesman for Bridgestone U.K., which also sponsored the event. As the global recession continues, more and more people are looking at greener cars, he added.

Although wine and cheese may seem like alternative fuels better suited for those with a prince's salary, the concept cars nevertheless represent a growing diversity of choice available to car buyers of the future.

The Lotus Exige 270E Tri-Fuel is still in the research and development phase, so it isn't available for purchase.

Waste not, want not

University of California, Irvine
Aug 23, 2011

Imagine being able to get the equivalent of 70 miles per gallon in your car, keep your home cool and power your computer – all from sewage. Thanks to technology developed by UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center and partners, that’s now possible.

Ten years of hard work, led by center associate director Jack Brouwer, has paid off in a cutting-edge project at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley. A unique fuel cell generator simultaneously and continuously converts gas created in wastewater digesters to hydrogen used for zero-emission vehicle fuel, electricity and heat in a highly efficient manner.

“This will reduce smog and greenhouse gases and mean a better quality of life for Southern Californians,” says Brouwer, showing off the white generator box and shiny silver pipes across from a waste settling pond, along with a brand-new hydrogen fueling station.

Starting this month, drivers of select hydrogen-run cars will be able to exit the 405 freeway at Euclid Avenue and fill up with converted sewage waste. Numerous major automakers have announced plans to commercially manufacture such vehicles by 2015. Using locally produced hydrogen will increase its supply and bring costs in line with other renewable energy sources.

“This is a paradigm shift,” says center director Scott Samuelsen. “We’ll be truly fuel-independent and no longer held hostage by other countries. This is the epitome of sustainability, where we’re taking an endless stream of human waste and transforming it to transportation fuel and electricity. This is the first time this has ever been done.”
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Power-generating device could be embedded in footwear

Aug 24, 2011

If the vision of Tom Krupenkin and J. Ashley Taylor comes to fruition, one day soon your cellphone - or just about any other portable electronic device - could be powered by simply taking a walk.

In a paper appearing this week (Aug. 23) in the journal Nature Communications, Krupenkin and Taylor, both engineering researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describe a new energy-harvesting technology that promises to dramatically reduce our dependence on batteries and instead capture the energy of human motion to power portable electronics.

"Humans, generally speaking, are very powerful energy-producing machines," explains Krupenkin, a UW-Madison professor of mechanical engineering. "While sprinting, a person can produce as much as a kilowatt of power."

Grabbing even a small fraction of that energy, Krupenkin points out, is enough to power a host of mobile electronic devices - everything from laptop computers to cell phones to flashlights. "What has been lacking is a mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion technology that would work well for this type of application," he says.

Current energy harvesting technologies are aimed at either high-power applications such as wind or solar power, or very low-power applications such as calculators, watches or sensors. "What's been missing," says Taylor, "is the power in the watts range. That's the power range needed for portable electronics."

Solar power, the researchers explain, can also be used to power portable electronics, but, unlike human motion, direct sunlight is usually not a readily available source of energy for mobile electronics users.

In their Nature Communications report, Krupenkin and Taylor describe a novel energy-harvesting technology known as "reverse electrowetting," a phenomenon discovered by the Wisconsin researchers. The mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy by using a micro-fluidic device consisting of thousands of liquid micro-droplets interacting with a novel nano-structured substrate.

This technology could enable a novel footwear-embedded energy harvester that captures energy produced by humans during walking, which is normally lost as heat, and converts it into up to 20 watts of electrical power that can be used to power mobile electronic devices. Unlike a traditional battery, the energy harvester never needs to be recharged, as the new energy is constantly generated during the normal walking process.

The initial development of this technology was funded by a National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant. Now Krupenkin and Taylor are seeking to commercialize the technology through a company they've established, InStep NanoPower.

In their work, Taylor and Krupenkin were inspired by severe limitations that current battery technology imposes on mobile electronics users. As any cellphone or laptop user knows, heavy reliance on batteries greatly restricts the utility of mobile electronic devices in many situations. What's more, many mobile electronics are used in remote areas of the world where electrical grids for recharging batteries are often not available. Cellphone users in developing countries often have to pay high fees to have cellphones charged. Similar problems face military and law enforcement personnel. Modern soldiers, for example, head into the field carrying as much as 20 pounds of batteries to power communications equipment, laptop computers and night-vision goggles.

The energy generated by the footwear-embedded harvester can be used in one of two ways. It can be used directly to power a broad range of devices, from smartphones and laptops to radios, GPS units, night-vision goggles and flashlights.

Alternatively, the energy harvester can be integrated with a Wi-Fi hot spot that acts as a "middleman" between mobile devices and a wireless network. This allows users to seamlessly utilize the energy generated by the harvester without having to physically connect their mobile devices to the footwear. Such a configuration dramatically reduces power consumption of wireless mobile devices and allows them to operate for much longer time without battery recharge, the Wisconsin researchers say.

"You cut the power requirements of your cellphone dramatically by doing this," says Krupenkin. "Your cellphone battery will last 10 times longer." Even though energy harvesting is unlikely to completely replace batteries in the majority of mobile applications, the UW-Madison researchers believe it can play a key role in reducing cost, pollution and other problems associated with battery use. The hope, they say, is that the novel mechanical to electrical energy conversion process they pioneered can go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Source:  University of Wisconsin

Toyota debuts new Camry amid tough competition

Aug 23, 2011

The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in America for nearly 15 years, its reputation for reliability keeping it on top even when the carmaker was hurt by major safety recalls.

But its lead has shrunk dramatically. Feeling the pressure, Toyota unveiled the 2012 Camry on Tuesday, its first redesign of the sedan in five years. While Toyota hopes to create buzz by lowering the Camry's price, improving its fuel economy and adding new features, it may not be enough to keep the Camry No. 1 in the increasingly competitive market for midsize sedans.

"The Camry is not a slam-dunk by itself anymore," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for car pricing site

Toyota showed off the new Camry on the Web and at events in California and elsewhere. It has given the car a sharper, more pointed hood, a quieter and roomier interior and more trunk space. It's also offering Entune, a system that lets drivers access internet services like Pandora from their mobile phones using voice commands or an in-dash touch screen.

But critics say the styling is bland compared with edgier rivals like Nissan, Hyundai and Kia, and that Toyota saved money by using cheaper interior materials.

"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but is that good enough nowadays? No, it's not," Toprak says.

The new Camry is due to arrive at dealerships in early October. A basic version will cost just under $22,000 and get 35 mpg on the highway.

Toyota has sold more than 15 million Camrys worldwide since it introduced the car in 1983 to compete with the Honda Accord. It quickly became a big seller in the U.S. because of its reputation for reliability and good gas mileage. The Camry outsold the Ford Taurus in 1997 and has been the best-selling car in America every year except for 2001, when it was eclipsed by the Accord. Even Toyota's embarrassing series of safety recalls last year and earthquake-related shortages this spring didn't knock it down from No.1.

Toyota's U.S. sales chief Bob Carter says the company aims to keep things that way, in part by being aggressive on price.

A basic Camry will now start at $21,955, which is $710 more than the current model. But most other versions will cost less than current ones. The top-of-the-line version, for example, will start at $24,725, or $2,000 less. The hybrid Camry, which starts at $25,900, is $1,150 less.

At that starting price, the Camry will cost a little more than some of its competitors, such as the $19,200 Kia Optima. But Carter says the car includes a lot for the price, including the most air bags — 10 — in its class.

Toyota has also tweaked the Camry's engines to get better fuel economy. The four-cylinder engine, which makes up the bulk of Camry's sales, will get 35 miles per gallon on the highway, up from 32 in the 2011 Camry. The hybrid version will get a combined 41 miles per gallon in city and highway driving. Those numbers make the Camry one of the most fuel efficient sedans among its competitors.

But it remains to be seen whether Toyota can draw back buyers who started shopping other brands after Toyota was hit by huge recalls that involved sticky accelerators and floor mats that trapped gas pedals. Customers also ran into shortages this summer after Japan's earthquake disrupted production.

Toyota's lead has been slipping the last four years. In the first seven months of 2007, the company sold more than 282,000 Camrys, trouncing what was then its closest competitor, the Honda Accord, by more than 62,000. Camry sales were more than double the Nissan Altima's, and more than three times those of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata.

Now the Camry's top five rivals are within striking distance. The Altima was only 21,000 behind through July, and the Fusion just 23,000 back.

Toprak and others say the Hyundai Sonata is most worrying to Toyota. Its fuel economy equals the 2012 Camry but it has more horsepower, and its styling is more daring. Its starting price is also $2,300 lower than the Camry's. Camry sales were down 8 percent through July, while the Sonata's were up 21 percent.

Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive, thinks the new Camry will probably win over many of the 6.8 million people already driving the car in the U.S. But he's unimpressed by the vehicle's cheaper looking hard plastic surfaces and knobs, and he thinks some shoppers will be, too.

"I don't think it's going to bring anybody new to the brand," he says.

But Camry has proven its staying power before. And while analysts also criticized the cheaper materials used on the new Volkswagen Jetta sedan, Jetta sales were up 75 percent through July.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda visited the Georgetown, Ky., plant where the Camry is made Tuesday, underscoring the car's importance. Toyoda said he personally tested the new car until he was satisfied that it outperforms its competition.

"This car has become a symbol of Toyota's success," he said. "This is an opportunity to show the world again what Toyota is all about."

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Practical Invisibility Cloaks: Printing technique yields large sheets of light-bending materials

Technology Review
Aug 23, 2011

Results: Researchers have developed a stamp-based printing method for generating large sheets of metamaterials, a new class of materials that interact with light in ways not seen in nature. They've used it to make sheets of a metamaterial that measure nearly nine centimeters per side, orders of magnitude larger than was previously possible. Tests showed that this material, which bends light backward, actually has better optical properties than materials made using more complex methods.

Why it matters: Small-scale experiments suggest that metamaterials might be used to make invisibility cloaks, superhigh-­resolution microscopes, and other exotic optical devices. But so far researchers have been unable to create such devices at a practical scale because metamaterials are difficult and time-consuming to make. Slow, precise methods such as electron-beam lithography have typically been used to carve intricate nanoscale patterns into the layers of metals and other components that make up these materials. The largest pieces previously produced were only a couple of hundred micrometers long.

Methods: The researchers started with the design for a metamaterial that others had produced a few years ago, using slower methods. They made a hard plastic stamp patterned with the grid stipulated by the design. Then they "inked" the stamp in an evaporation chamber by depositing several thin films: first a sacrificial layer, then layers of the metal and dielectric materials that make up the metamaterial. Finally, they set the stamp on a surface and chemically treated it to dissolve away the sacrificial layer, freeing the metamaterial from the stamp. The stamp was pulled away, leaving the metamaterial on the surface. Each stamp is reusable and inexpensive to make.

Next Steps: The researchers expect that by using more than one stamp, they will be able to make much larger metamaterial sheets. The method can also be adapted to work with other metamaterial designs, but the researchers hope other scientists will use it to make large amounts of this particular material for cloaking and other applications.

Transparent Batteries

Electrodes with features smaller than the eye can resolve could lead to see-through electrical devices

Source: "Transparent lithium-ion batteries"

Yi Cui et al.

Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, published online July 25, 2011

Results: Researchers have made fully transparent batteries and used them to power a light-emitting diode. The prototypes can store as much energy as a nickel-­cadmium battery of the same volume.

Why it matters: Transparent batteries are the last missing component needed to make transparent displays and other see-through electronic devices. Researchers have previously made transparent variations on other major classes of electronics, including transistors and the components used to control displays.

Methods: The researchers designed electrodes made from a mesh in which all the lines are on the order of 50 micrometers—smaller than is visible to the human eye, so the result appears transparent. To make the electrodes, they first used lithography to carve a silicon wafer into a mold with a raised grid pattern. Liquid PDMS, a clear, squishy polymer, was poured over the mold and peeled away once it solidified. Researchers then dropped a solution containing standard materials for lithium-ion electrodes onto the grid of narrow channels on the surface of the PDMS sheet. Capillary action pulled the materials into the sheet until all the channels were filled, creating the mesh. Finally, the researchers sandwiched a clear gel electrolyte between two electrodes and encased the entire system in a protective plastic wrapping.

Next Steps: The researchers want to improve energy storage by an order of magnitude—to about 200 watt-hours per liter—by reducing the thickness of the polymer substrate and deepening the trenches that hold the electrode materials.

Breakthrough in Ricardo Kinergy ‘second generation’ high-speed flywheel technology

Ricardo Press release
Aug 22, 2011

The subject of nine Ricardo patent families in application, Kinergy represents a step-change advance in mechanical energy storage technology. It is based on a high-speed carbon fibre flywheel operating within a hermetically sealed vacuum chamber at speeds of up to 60,000 rev/min. But unlike current devices in which energy is imported and exported via a drive shaft operating at flywheel speed, Kinergy transfers torque directly through its containment wall using a magnetic gearing and coupling system. This new breed of high-speed flywheel technology offers the prospect of enabling the unit to be sealed for life, thus avoiding the need for high-speed seals and a vacuum pump, and hence reducing costs and maintenance requirements. The consequent weight and space saving potential provides for a competitive packaging envelope, while the ability of the efficient magnetic coupling to incorporate a high gear ratio makes the input and export of torque significantly more manageable than would be the case in a more conventional direct driven high speed flywheel design.

This first Kinergy prototype has resulted from a fast-track engineering development process intended to deliver the unit that will be at the core of the Flybus high-speed flywheel mechanical hybrid powertrain demonstrator vehicle. Following precise balancing of the flywheel rotor during construction and assembly, the unit was installed on a specially constructed dynamometer for development testing. Successive tests have been carried out at increasing speeds and compared with the results of engineering simulations of performance and efficiency. A major thrust of that development has been the elimination of stray magnetic losses in the coupling, and breakthroughs have been made that are critical to the success of the technology.
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Ford and Toyota Team on Hybrid System

August 22, 2011

You might think that automakers always have one another in the crosshairs. But it turns out there can be opportunities for collaboration, especially when it comes to advanced technology and bringing it to the public sooner and more affordably than one automaker could do alone. Case in point? Ford and Toyota, the two leading manufacturers of hybrid vehicles, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the intent to jointly develop a hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs.

The two will potentially bring the best of their independently developed hybrid powertrain technology and knowledge to a new co-developed hybrid system, which may be used in rear-wheel-drive light trucks. Ford and Toyota have been working separately on similar new rear-wheel-drive hybrid systems aimed at delivering higher fuel economy in light trucks and SUVs. When the two companies began discussing this potential collaboration, they discovered how quickly they were able to find common ground.

While the proposed rear-wheel-drive hybrid system may share significant common technology and components, Ford and Toyota will individually integrate the system into their own vehicles. Each company also will determine the calibration and performance dynamics characteristics of their respective light pickups and SUVs.

“This is the kind of collaborative effort that is required to address the big global challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally.

In addition, as telematics plays an increasingly more important role in the in-car experience, both companies have also agreed to collaborate on standards and technologies needed to enable a safer, more secure and more convenient in-car experience for next-generation telematics systems. The telematics collaboration relates only to standards and technologies, and each company will continue to separately develop their own in-vehicle products and features.

“We have unique and very good solutions today with SYNC® and MyFord Touch™. Working together on in-vehicle standards can only enhance our customers’ experience with their vehicles,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford Group Vice President, Global Product Development.

Source: Ford Motor Company

Smart materials: Strength control with nanoporous gold material

Aug 23, 2011
A scanning electron microscopy image of a nanoporous gold material with externally controllable strength and ductility

The outer surfaces of machinery can change dramatically over time because their surfaces are exposed to the environment and general wear-and-tear. This can be dangerous because the surface state of a material greatly affects its overall physical properties. Maintaining a delicate balance between strength and ductility — the ability to deform under stress — is a particularly important engineering goal. Hai-Jun Jin at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shenyang and Jörg Weissmüller at Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg in Germany have now exploited surface effects to produce a material in which the strength and ductility can be reversibly controlled by applying an electric field ("A Material with Electrically Tunable Strength and Flow Stress").

"Our study was inspired by the 'size effect', which means that the strength of a solid crystal increases with decreasing sample size, or more specifically, with increasing ratio of surface area to volume," explains Jin. "Also, the surface is exposed to the environment and its properties can be changed using electricity or chemicals."

To acquire a sample with a large specific surface area, the researchers created an assembly of gold nanowires with nanometer-sized pores throughout its bulk (pictured). They then filled the nanopores with an electrolyte and applied an external electrical field.

At low voltages, the sample was ductile, capable of being distorted significantly. On increasing the voltage, however, it became stronger, but less ductile. The researchers showed that at higher voltages, a single-atom layer of oxygen molecules became adsorbed to the surface of the pores, increasing the strength of the sample.
This observation has parallels with other observed effects that relate environmental conditions to the plasticity of a material, but previous work had shown a weakening on adding an electrolyte. Jin and Weissmüller's material shows the opposite behavior. What's more, their voltage effect has an important practical benefit: it seems to work even when the sample has lots of impurities and thus doesn't require expensive, ultrapure processing techniques.

"We believe that we have discovered a new 'intelligent' material that could adapt its mechanical performance to the environment, either spontaneously or in response to an external stimuli," says Jin. "It may also have implications for new materials with self-healing abilities."

Source: Nanowerk

What are the Challenges and Innovations in Offshore Wind Design and Development?

Renewable Energy World
Aug 22, 2011

Although still only a tiny fraction of the world's installed wind capacity, offshore wind is about to explode. BTM Consult predicts that more than 16 GW of new offshore will be installed by the end of 2014, with a global total of 75 GW by 2020.

As turbine foundations comprise a quarter to a third of the overall cost of an installed offshore turbine, depending on water depth, turbine size and who you talk to, today's foundation designers have a tough remit: develop new designs and installation procedures to cope with deeper water challenges - while simultaneously reducing the cost of manufacture, deployment and operation.

Fatigue load, installed strength, resistance to dynamic loadings and cost per installed-MW are four important metrics, but there are many others such as resistance to scour and corrosion plus ease of maintenance and even decommissioning. Water depth, the turbine size and the nature of the seabed - rock, sand or clay, for instance - all inform which type of substructure and footing is used.

Seabed fixings or footings can include piles, drilled and grouted holes, and innovations like in-line and pre-piling which help improve strength and reduce installation time. There's also the suction bucket or suction caisson where a vacuum is used to suck a footing into the seabed, dispensing with the need to pile or drill.

At the start of 2011, some 889 of the world's 1,318 offshore wind turbines used monopiles. This reflects the preponderance of shallow water locations and the trust placed in this proven design, though there have been some recent problems. Almost the default choice in up to 25 metres of water with a firm seabed, the monopile's shape makes for simple calculations and many monopiles can be packed tightly onto a barge for deployment. They typically weigh around 500 tonnes, though on deeper sites they can weigh up to 810 tonnes and are up to 69 metres long.

Gravity Base Foundations are another proven shallow-water design choice used at early developments like Vindeby in Denmark. The weight of the base and the rest of the structure holds the wind turbine in place with no need to pile or drill into the seabed. Concrete is the normal material, though steel is also an option.
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Quick Response Manufacturing For Custom Machine Builders
August 22, 2011

Lean Manufacturing methodology has been around for many years and has been successfully used by many manufacturers to eliminate waste and lower costs. But, in the 21st century there has been a trend in manufacturing towards high-variety, low volume products with options configured for individual customers and even custom engineered per client or plant.

A good example is packaging machinery that is built to plant specifications, and have a good deal of “one-off” engineering for each order.

This is an industry where I spent most of my career and I think that a methodology that is focused on reducing lead times may be a better answer then Lean. There are two compelling reasons:

1. First, lead times and customer delivery dates are a big problem for custom machine builders. These machines -- depending on the amount of custom engineering -- can take anywhere from two to 12 months to complete. Customers who buy these systems often have contractual obligations with other contractors on the project that dictate when machinery will have to arrive at the plant. Other times the delivery is based on payback formulas approved by the board, which are written in stone. OEMS cannot guarantee all of these dates and consequently lose orders and market share.

2. Second, custom engineered machines have a lot more labor hours than standard machines. A good example is a company I will call Arrow Machine. They build custom material handling systems for a wide variety of markets and applications. Their engineering costs are 10 percent of total cost but fabrication is 20 percent and assembly is 30 percent of cost. They found that saving 5 percent on assembly labor hours would increase their gross margin by 1.5 percent, and the savings of 5 percent of the hours would also translate into more production and shorter lead times to take more orders and increase market share.

For these kinds of manufacturers there is another methodology that focuses on reducing lead-times that may be a better answer. It is called Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM). It was invented by Rajan Suri who is the founder of the Quick Response Manufacturing Center at the University of Wisconsin. Rajan says that more then 200 manufacturers have used his QRM methods in the last 15 years. This does not mean that QRM is an alternative methodology that replaces Lean. Every manufacturer needs a good continuous improvement program regardless of the type of manufacturing. QRM simply compliments Lean, Six Sigma, and other popular methodologies. I just think that the QRM system is a better approach for custom machine manufacturers who need to reduce lead time and labor hours
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Monday, 22 August 2011

Lockheed Martin Unveils Samarai Flyer at Unmanned Vehicle Conference

Aug 22, 2011

Inspired by a maple seed, Lockheed Martin's Samarai handheld vehicle flew publically for the first time today at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.

Weighing less than half a pound, Samarai demonstrated vertical takeoff and landing, stable hover, and on-board video streaming. While the aircraft flew a series of flights in the roughly 40 foot test area, it streamed live video from a camera that rotated around its center providing a 360 degree view without a gimbal.

"Our team has taken the basic shape and design of the naturally aerodynamic maple seed and harnessed it with flight controls and avionics," said Kingsley Fregene, principal investigator for Samarai at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. "We've learned a great deal about biologically inspired vehicles that we can apply across the laboratory, including a better understanding of micro-robots and the devices that control their movement."

Samarai is mechanically simple with only two moving parts. Because its 16 inches long and weighs less than half a pound, an operator can easily carry the vehicle in a backpack and launch it from the ground or like a boomerang. The design is scalable to meet different missions, including surveillance and reconnaissance and payload delivery.

Lockheed Martin tested the first 3-D printed Samarai last week. The vehicle was produced by "printing" successive small layers of plastic to create a single form. The printer eliminates expensive production costs, allowing engineers to quickly and affordably produce Samarai tailored to specific missions.

Source: Lockheed Martin

Audi recruits German and Mexican students to design A0 monocycle

Aug 22, 2011

Audi has teamed up with German and Mexican engineering and design students for a project that has resulted in the A0 electric monocycle.

Resembling a seated Segway with a hubless wheel, information about this project follows hot on the heels of the Urban Concept, and suggests Audi following the lead of BMW in seriously looking at new ways of improving mobility in cities.

The project, conducted by the Technical University of Munich and National Autonomous University of Mexico, was sponsored by the Audi Design Research Center Munich, and conducted under the supervision of Klemens Rossnagel, Head of Audi Design Research Center.

Essentially the product is an electrical monocycle that can provide the same functions as a car, allowing the user to travel within cities quickly and easily.

The A0 is designed to fit in the trunk of your car, which can then be unloaded, unfolded and activated to allow you to travel more freely to your final destination, whether it is a mall or your workplace.

The project was designed to create a product that was as light and compact as possible while being simple for anyone to unfold and activated and, of course, be able to fit into the trunk of any Audi model. The handlebar and seat can be adjusted and has rechargeable batteries and an electric engine.

The hollow wheel is designed to make the A0 easy to carry and the folded footrests are used as stands to keep the monocycle upright when the owner is not using it. Daytime running lights are integrated into the monocycle and a sensor is designed to turn on the headlights and braking lights when necessary.

Source: Cardesignnews

New automakers on the block
Aug 22, 2011

As a wave of new models from Chinese and Indian auto manufacturers, including BYD, Mahindra and Tata, are poised to debut in the United States in the coming months, researchers from GfK Automotive found that significant barriers exist for these automakers to gain market share among American consumers.

GfK's Barometer of Automotive Awareness and Imagery Study found that Chinese and Indian automakers could face a similar purchase consideration curve to Korean vehicles when they launched in the US In that case, it took more than 15 years for consumers to significantly increase their consideration to purchase Korean vehicles.

GfK's study found that approximately one-third of consumers intending to purchase a vehicle are open to a Chinese (38%) or Indian (30%) manufacturer, compared to 95% of consumers open to purchasing from a US automaker.
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Advanced Electrodes for Better Li-Ion Batteries

Technology Review
Aug 22, 2011

Lithium-ion batteries could last longer if their electrodes stored more charge. Korean researchers have now made a new type of anode that holds three times more charge than the conventional graphite anodes used in batteries.

The new anode is made of germanium nanotubes. It charges and discharges five times faster than previously reported silicon anodes, lasts through twice as many charging cycles, and is easier to fabricate. Its 400-cycle life matches that of graphite and is long enough for portable-electronics batteries, says Jaephil Cho, a researcher at South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, who led the new work. "These anodes meet the practical requirements of lithium-ion cells," Cho says.

Cho collaborated with researchers at LG Chem, the Korean company that makes the lithium-ion batteries used in the Chevy Volt. Their results will soon be published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The researchers are also working on silicon nanotube anodes.

These advances are part of a broader push by LG Chem to develop better anode materials for higher-capacity batteries. "The company is looking for a breakthrough technology using both silicon and germanium materials for lithium-ion battery anodes," Cho says.
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What New Emissions Standards Will Mean to Automakers

Technology Review
Aug 22, 2011

Late last month, the Obama administration and 13 automakers announced plans to double the U.S. corporate average fleet economy (CAFE) standard from 27.3 miles per gallon in 2011 to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The new goal will require gradual improvements, beginning in 2017, in the efficiency of passenger cars and light trucks, along with reductions in their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Automotive fuel economy regulations in the United States have rapidly grown more stringent since 2007, when President Bush signed legislation calling for new vehicle fleets to average 35.5 mpg by 2020. (For the previous two decades, the standard held steady at around 25 mpg.) In 2009, the Obama administration moved the target date for 35.5 mpg up to 2016.

Though automakers resisted past increases in the CAFE standard, this time they've been much more supportive. It helps that the administration set less stringent standards for pickup trucks than for passenger cars. And a midterm review is scheduled, to reëvaluate the feasibility of the rules for 2022 to 2025 before finalizing them. Perhaps most important, some experts say, is that there's enough room for improvements to power trains and auto-body designs—and enough time to make those improvements—that automakers can satisfy the new rules without counting on major technological breakthroughs.
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Friday, 19 August 2011

Choosing Cost Reduction Strategies for c-Si Manufacturing

Aug 9, 2011

The conservatism of current manufacturers can only stall process change if manufacturers can be convinced that scale-economies alone can deliver grid parity.

There is something disconcerting about going through a speed-trap at 100mph and not breaking any laws. No flash, no flashing blue lights, just a high-speed procession of cars past an inactive radar camera. This is very typical of Germany, a country that will accept costly new technologies under certain circumstances, but only when it is deemed necessary and popular. The rapid adoption of solar photovoltaics (PV) is broadly seen as necessary in Germany (although not without spirited discussion), and it is for this reason they have been in the vanguard of the PV industry.

Reducing the Cost of Power

In the world of PV, cell manufacturers have an absolute need to reduce the cost of the power generated by photovoltaic installations, because even in Germany the patience to subsidize this technology is limited. A world class competitor in cell manufacturing must choose cost reduction strategies. One approach is one of capital intensive, high technology implementation that reduces cell variable costs through quality, utilization, process control, and efficiency optimization. Another approach is one of high utilization of a low-cost asset base, leveraging cheap factory costs and regional financial advantages.

The reality that a PV module is expected to be productive for at least 20 years means that quality and consistency of construction are important attributes for a supplier to establish. Even a low-cost supplier will make significant efforts to ensure that quality certifications are achieved and maintained, allowing the final product to be financed, or “bankable” in very large installations.
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Engineers build impact testing device to analyse sports fields

The Engineer
Aug 18, 2011

Sports engineers at Cranfield University have tested a device that can measure the mechanical properties of natural turf in an effort to better understand athlete–surface interactions.

Greater knowledge of these interactions could help to prevent injuries and aid athlete performance, the researchers claim.

Dissipation of impacting energy and reduction of loads returned to athletes is regarded as important for preventing injuries, while stiffness and energy return from sports surfaces allows athletes to perform movements more efficiently — with a compromise often sought between the two.

‘One of the main issues is that the new modern, elite-level surfaces are made of sand and their properties are a lot stiffer compared with the average Sunday kick-about pitch,’ said Dr Matt Caple of Cranfield, who collaborated on the recent project. ‘With this device we’re trying to assess how the surface reacts to stresses applicable to athletes, in terms of how much it compresses and the energy it absorbs.’
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Low Emission Cars Under NREL's Microscope

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Aug 18, 2011

Cars that plug into solar panels for electricity or run on hydrogen may sound like something found only on the pages of science fiction novels, but engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are driving these futuristic vehicles today.

Recently, NREL engineers were able to spend six weeks kicking the tires on a Kia Borrego Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) and ongoing agreements with Toyota and Mitsubishi mean a plug-in Prius and Mitsubishi i MiEV electric vehicle will be demonstrated and tested at NREL for the foreseeable future.

"DOE wants people to see that these vehicles are not just drawings on some designer's table," NREL Vehicle Systems Engineer Mike Simpson said. "These technologies are practical, real and getting out into the marketplace."

Simpson is leading a DOE/NREL program to acquire advanced technology vehicles to support research at NREL with a secondary goal of displaying and demonstrating the technologies to consumers. "We have displayed all of these vehicles at public events this summer to help consumers see how all of these technologies can meet the needs of today's drivers," Simpson said.

Vehicles in NREL's fleet feature promising technologies designed to increase efficiency, reduce emissions, and use renewable resources without sacrificing safety or comfort.

NREL engineers collect real-world data on these vehicles to evaluate their performance. The research findings are made available to vehicle manufacturers along with the DOE and other national laboratories. In addition to the Prius and i MiEV, NREL has evaluated a Mercedes-Benz A-Class F-Cell vehicle and is actively looking to expand.

"We are currently working with a number of manufacturers to bring more plug-in and fuel call vehicles to NREL," Simpson said. "We are bringing them in to support testing in areas unique to NREL like grid integration and thermal effects on comfort and batteries."

Argonne nanoscientists invent better etching technique

Argonne National Laboratory
Aug 18, 2011

Imagine yourself nano-sized, standing on the edge of a soon-to-be computer chip. Down shoots a beam of electrons, carving precise topography that is then etched the depth of the Grand Canyon into the chip.

From the perspective of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, this improved form of etching could open the door to new technologies.

Argonne nanoscientist Seth Darling and colleagues at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and Energy Systems Division say it has the potential to revolutionize how patterns are transferred onto different materials, paving a new approach for the next generation of energy, electronics and memory technologies.

The innovation combines new tricks with an old technology.

One of the biggest recent questions facing materials science has involved the development of better techniques for high-resolution lithographies such as electron-beam, or e-beam, lithography. E-beam lithography is used to manufacture the tiniest of structures, including microelectronics and advanced sensors; beams of electrons are part of a process that "prints" desired patterns into the substance.

Transferring patterns more deeply into materials would allow scientists to craft better electronics.
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A one-pot synthesis provides a simpler and faster route to highly efficient solar cells

Aug 18, 2011

Preventing the recombination of free charges produced when light strikes a solar cell is one of the main goal of engineers attempting to extract the maximum energy conversion efficiency from their devices. One way to achieve this is by building into the cell a ‘heterojunction’ between positive (p) and negative (n) type semiconductors, which allows the light-induced positive and negative charge to escape the cell by moving in opposite directions at the heterojunction interface. Mingyong Han at the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and co-workers1 have now discovered a way to produce high-quality nanoscale heterojunctions, setting the stage for cheaper and more efficient photovoltaic devices.

Nanoscale semiconductor crystals provide enhanced surface area for light absorption and are also cheaper to produce than conventional lithography-patterned cell structures. However, it has been extremely difficult to form high-quality heterojunctions between n- and p-type semiconductors in a way that achieves the intimate inter-crystal contact needed to enhance device performance.

Resolving this problem requires a technique that can bind the two semiconductors together chemically. Previous studies have produced binary nanocrystals with a spherical ‘core–shell’ structure. Unfortunately, heterojunction based on these nanocrystals have low energy conversion efficiency because light has difficulty reaching the inner core. Han and his co-workers overcame this problem by adopting a different route for synthesis.
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Thursday, 18 August 2011

China Debuts a Drone at Robotics Show

Wall Street Journal
Aug 17, 2011

China made its debut this week at the world's largest robotics trade show when a Shenzhen-based firm showcased its F50, a small drone with a high-definition video camera that a company brochure billed as a tool for monitoring protests, or responding to building fires.

The appearance of AEE Technology Co.'s relatively small, short-range drone—about the size of a pizza pan—in the drone market underscores the burgeoning international competition in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles and military robots.

State-run and private Chinese companies have invested heavily in recent years in developing drones both for export and for China's military and domestic security needs.

Western defense officials and experts were taken by surprise in November, when at least 25 Chinese drone models were on display at an air show in south China. Several models were also shown at an exhibition of police and antiterrorism equipment in Beijing in May.

"The market for military robotics has gone global, and China is looking to be a major producer and exporter in that market, just like the U.S.," said P.W. Singer, the author of "Wired for War," a book about the revolution in military robotics.

Solar power does not have a long shelf life

Aug 18, 2011

Storing power is complicated and expensive, but very often, especially far away from the regular power grids, there is no way around large batteries for grid-independent electricity consumers. It would make more sense to use the electricity when it is generated. This becomes possible with the help of a smart energy management system.

For fruits, cereals and leguminous plants such as oranges, wheat, beans and olives to grow in hot and dry climates, they must be irrigated regularly. And very often the water used comes from deep wells. In Egypt, many farmers currently use diesel generators to water their fields. A model project in Upper Egypt, in Wadi El Natrun, shows that other methods are possible. Here, a photovoltaic stand-alone system takes care of irrigating a wheat field. Concentrator photovoltaic system (CPV) modules – which, due to their higher degree of effectiveness and their particular construction, require far less space than traditional PV modules – supply the energy, while Fresnel lenses concentrate the rays of the sun onto pinhead-sized multi-junction solar cells. With the aid of a tracking motor, the CPV cells, which are attached to a pillar, follow the sun precisely to achieve an optimized yield of solar light. They supply the energy for a submersible pump that pumps the water up from a well that is 105 feet deep and for a small desalination unit that satisfies farmers’ potable water requirements. The CPV cells also supply the energy for PV-module trackers, the monitoring and control system and an air-conditioning unit that cools the utility room of the facility.
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New ‘bionic’ leg gives amputees a natural gait

Vanderbilt University
Aug 17, 2011

A new lower-limb prosthetic developed at Vanderbilt University allows amputees to walk without the leg-dragging gait characteristic of conventional artificial legs.

The device uses the latest advances in computer, sensor, electric motor and battery technology to give it bionic capabilities: It is the first prosthetic with powered knee and ankle joints that operate in unison. It comes equipped with sensors that monitor its user’s motion. It has microprocessors programmed to use this data to predict what the person is trying to do and operate the device in ways that facilitate these movements.

“When it’s working, it’s totally different from my current prosthetic,” said Craig Hutto, the 23-year-old amputee who has been testing the leg for several years. “A passive leg is always a step behind me. The Vanderbilt leg is only a split-second behind.”

The bionic leg is the result of a seven-year research effort at the Vanderbilt Center for Intelligent Mechatronics, directed by Michael Goldfarb, the H. Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering. The project was initially funded by a seed grant from the National Science Foundation, followed by a development grant from the National Institutes of Health. Key aspects of the design have been patented by the university, which has granted exclusive rights to develop the prosthesis to Freedom Innovations, a leading developer and manufacturer of lower limb prosthetic devices.
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Engineers work to develop electric sports car prototype

The Engineer
Aug 17, 2011

A high-performance electric sports car prototype is being developed by the Morgan Motor Company and a consortium of British technology specialists.

The Morgan +E programme is expected to deliver two engineering concept vehicles early in 2012. Both will be based on a development of Aero Supersport’s aluminium chassis with the 4.8-litre BMW V8 replaced by a new derivative of Zytek’s electric powertrain driving through a conventional manual gearbox.

‘This is an exciting investigation into the potential for a zero-emissions Morgan with near-supercar performance,’ said Steve Morris, Morgan’s operations director. ‘By working closely with Zytek and Radshape… we aim to make this a realistic concept that could lead to further developments if demand and other factors prove favourable.’

According to a statement, the prototype Morgan will use a new derivative of Zytek’s 70kW (94bhp) 300Nm electric powertrain. The unit will be installed in the transmission tunnel and will require additional connections for cooling water, high-voltage electrics and low-voltage electrics.

Power will come from a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack integrated into the vehicle’s aluminium structure. The powertrain and batteries will be mounted in a bonded and riveted aluminium chassis constructed by Radshape, based on modifications to the design already manufactured by the company for Morgan’s Supersports range.

Researchers Find Way To Align Gold Nanorods On A Large Scale

North Carolina State University
Aug 17, 2011

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a simple, scalable way to align gold nanorods, particles with optical properties that could be used for emerging biomedical imaging technologies.

Aligning gold nanorods is important because they respond to light differently, depending on the direction in which the nanorods are pointed. To control the optical response of the nanorods, researchers want to ensure that all of the nanorods are aligned.

The NC State researchers developed a way to align the gold nanorods using electrospun polymer “nano/microfibers.” Electrospinning is a way of producing fibers, with a liquid polymer being discharged from a needle and then solidifying. The researchers produced fibers as thin as 40 nanometers (nm) in diameter and as thick as three microns in diameter – thus, nano/microfibers.

The researchers mixed the gold nanorods into the polymer solution, causing them to be incorporated directly into the polymer. The nanorods align when the fibers form. The force experienced by the liquid polymer as it is emitted from the electrospinning needle creates “streamlines” in the polymer solution.

“The nanorods are forced into alignment with these streamlines, like logs in a river that swing into alignment with the current,” says Dr. Joe Tracy, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. “And as the polymer solidifies, the aligned nanorods are locked into place.”

“Electrospinning efforts at NC State are world-class and have yielded a wide range of novel and functional materials,” adds Dr. Rich Spontak, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science and engineering at NC State and paper co-author. “What makes this result truly exciting is that the alignment is multiscale, or simultaneously achieved at different length scales. The nanorods are aligned at nanoscale dimensions, whereas the fibers are aligned at larger length scales.”
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GM confirms that it will build electric Cadillac

The Associated Press
Aug 17, 2011

General Motors confirmed Wednesday that it will build a luxury version of its Chevrolet Volt hybrid.

The company said it is moving forward with the Cadillac ELR, which will run on electricity and carry a four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate power when the batteries run out of juice.

The car looks similar to the Cadillac CTS sedan, but has a sleeker, more angular appearance. It's based on the Cadillac Converj, a concept car that was unveiled at the Detroit auto show in 2009 as GM was heading into bankruptcy protection.

Don Butler, Cadillac's vice president of marketing, promised that the car would have a striking design and the fun of luxury coupe driving.

The company would not reveal details on how far the ELR can travel on electricity, how it will perform or how much it will cost, saying that development of the car is still under way.

Cadillac sales are up 9.5 percent so far this year, lagging just behind the overall U.S. auto sales increase of 10.9 percent, according to Autodata Corp. But the GM luxury brand faltered in July, with sales off 25.5 percent from a year earlier.

GM announced earlier this month that it will add two new models to help revive the Cadillac lineup next year, a full-sized front-wheel-drive car called the XTS and a smaller rear-wheel-drive performance car named the ATS.

Mark Reuss, GM's North American president, also said Cadillac needs a big rear-wheel-drive car to compete with larger Mercedes and BMW models, but he gave no specifics on plans for a new model.

GM said in a statement that it would show off a new Cadillac concept car on Thursday.

Source: AP

Faster organic semiconductors for flexible displays can be developed quickly with new method

Stanford University
Aug 16, 2011

Organic semiconductors hold immense promise for use in thin film and flexible displays – picture an iPad you can roll up – but they haven’t yet reached the speeds needed to drive high definition displays. Inorganic materials such as silicon are fast and durable, but don’t bend, so the search for a fast, durable organic semiconductor continues.

Now a team led by researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities has developed a new organic semiconductor material that is among the speediest yet. The scientists also accelerated the development process by using a predictive approach that lopped many months – and could lop years – off the typical timeline.

For the most part, developing a new organic electronic material has been a time-intensive, somewhat hit-or-miss process, requiring researchers to synthesize large numbers of candidate materials and then test them.

The Stanford and Harvard-led group decided to try a computational predictive approach to substantially narrow the field of candidates before expending the time and energy to make any of them.

“Synthesizing some of these compounds can take years,” said Anatoliy Sokolov, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering at Stanford, who worked on synthesizing the material the team eventually settled on. “It is not a simple thing to do.”
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A new approach to scratch resistance

MIT News
Aug 17, 2011

A new way to analyze how coatings of tiny particles alter the properties of transparent plastic could help researchers create lightweight windows with nearly the strength of glass. The same method could also lead to high-strength, scratch-resistant coatings that could be applied to many different materials, according to the MIT researchers who developed the analysis.

The analysis used a polymer called poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, which is widely used as a glass substitute. Known generically as acrylic, and sold under trademarks such as Lucite or Plexiglas, this material can be brittle and is far less resistant to scratching than glass.

Other researchers have added silica particles measuring just nanometers across to PMMA, creating a polymer-particle nanocomposite with much greater strength. But the MIT team, for the first time, has found a way to analyze the particle-polymer interactions of such coatings at the nanoscale, which could facilitate the discovery of improved coatings. Their work was reported in July in the journal Soft Matter.

The analysis was carried out by Meng Qu, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, along with Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Krystyn Van Vliet and several researchers at DuPont Nanocomposite Technologies in Delaware. The work was partly funded by the DuPont-MIT Alliance.

Silica particles were used for the coating because they are transparent, so the finished material maintains its transparency. But silica and acrylic are not compatible, which would ordinarily cause clumping of the tiny silica grains — which measure only about 10 to 20 nanometers across, or about one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair. In order to overcome this, the silica was treated with other "functional groups" of molecules, changing its surface chemistry so it disperses evenly on the polymer surface.
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Amazon's Bezos envisions airbag phone, files patent
Aug 11, 2011

A U.S. patent application was filed in February 11, 2010 bearing the names of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Amazon VP Greg Hart but was discovered this week by Geekwire. According to their patent application titled "Protecting Devices From Impact Damage," smartphones will get airbags as a safety precaution in case their users drop the phones or they fall accidentally. The two patent-seekers are proposing the system and method not just for the smartphone but for a range of mobile devices that nobody likes to drop, such as audio players, cameras and pagers. Bezos and Hart’s patent filing has Illustrations and flowcharts to further explain their "removably attachable damage avoidance system."

As one smartphone scenario goes, the user drops the phone. Whoops, says the safety monitoring system, this device is no longer in contact with the user. The approaching surface is measured and the velocity is determined. Does the risk of damage exceed the threshold? If so, here comes the airbag to be deployed, and it’s the airbag, not the poor device, that makes first contact with the surface.

When the news hit that Bezos had filed a patent for phones with airbags, a number of responses from writers in the blogosphere admitted disbelief, perhaps not unrelated to bearing witness to the sting of discovering that the ‘Internet Explorer users are more stupid’ report was a hoax.

The application states conditions that make such a proposal appear practical considering the heavy use of mobile devices and the need to protect them from damage. “These portable devices are sometimes vitally important to the user as they often contain data that is related to the user's work and personal life,” says the application. That data might include private data difficult or nearly impossible to replace.

Bezos studied electrical engineering and computing science at Princeton, and also worked as a financial analyst. That, leave alone his ascent as leader of click-and-buy Amazon, suggests a scientist who knows how to market ideas. His business case in the application is as interesting as his technical description.

“With the number of cellular phones in use exceeding several billion and repairs typically exceeding $25, the costs of damage and loss of cellular phones amounts to billions of dollars per year,” says Bezos. He also notes in the application, “At least one report claims 1 out of 3 cellular phones are damaged or lost in the first year of ownership.”

Whatever direction the patent application takes, or whoever compares Bezos more to Don Quixote than Thomas Edison, Bezos is not likely to feel demolished. As he once told new students at Princeton, “Failure is an essential component of innovation.”

More information: http://appft.uspto … /20110194230
© 2011

Russia set to show off its first stealth fighter

Aug 16, 2011

Russia was due Tuesday to unveil its first stealth fighter to the public, lifting the curtain on a secret project designed to flood the market with cheaper versions of veteran US jets.

The Sukhoi Tu-50, being developed jointly by Russia and India, made its maiden flight at a Far East air base on January 29, 2010 but is being presented to the public at the MAKS airshow outside Moscow for the first time.

Two prototypes of the single-seater fighter are expected to fly over the Zhukovsky air field in a show of Russian military confidence in the much-delayed project.

Russian officials said the final version of the jet will not be ready until the end of 2016. India was reported to be interested in up to 200 T-50 fighters for its air force while Russia was planning to order at least 150.

"The T-50 jet will provide the backbone not only of the Russian air force but also that of India," said Mikhail Pogosyan, president of the United Aircraft Corporation state aviation holding company.

"Russia's cooperation with India on this project will help it promote the fifth-generation jet on the foreign market," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Pogosyan as saying.

Pogosyan had previously voiced plans to develop up to 1,000 jets over the coming decades, while state television said Russia hoped to control up to a third of the stealth fighter market in the coming year.

India, Russia's biggest arms client, agreed to develop the project in tandem with Moscow during a December 2010 visit to New Delhi by President Dmitry Medvedev.

The agreement put new life into a project that was first mooted in the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union identified a need to replace its existing Mig-29 and Su-27 jets.

The first US prototype of a stealth fighter -- the F-22 Raptor -- emerged nearly two decades ago and Russia only awarded the development contract in 2003.

Russia's state media reports last year said up to $10 billion was being poured into the jet's development but that the fighter would cost no more than $100 million.

The US raptor sells at $140 million a piece, a price tag that prompted Washington to order a halt in new jet purchases in 2009.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.

DOE research grant leads to gas turbine manufacturing improvements

R&D Mag
Aug 16, 2011

Research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has led to a new licensing agreement that will improve the performance of state-of-the-art gas turbines, resulting in cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable energy. The collaborative technology license agreement, penned by Mikro Systems Inc. and Siemens Energy Inc., reflects growth in U.S.-based manufacturing know-how and leadership in cutting-edge technology development and rapid implementation.

Gas turbines, which are used to produce electricity for industrial or central power generation applications, consist sequentially of compressor, combustor, and turbine sections. Incoming air is compressed to a high-pressure state in the compressor section, and heated to high temperature via the combustion of fuel in the combustor section. The high-temperature, high-pressure gas is then expanded through a series of rotor-mounted airfoils in the turbine section, converting the gas' energy into mechanical work. Improved airfoils—the focus of Mikro System's FE-funded research—can tolerate higher gas temperatures and/or use less cooling, resulting in improved energy efficiency.

Mikro Systems received a Small Business Innovation Research grant to apply its patented Tomo-Lithographic Molding (TOMO) technology to gas turbine airfoils.

TOMO is a manufacturing platform that enables rapid, cost-effective development and production of high-performance products made from metals, ceramics, polymers, and composite material systems. Applied to gas turbines, it enables more sophisticated airfoil designs with improved cooling characteristics, which leads to higher operating temperatures and improved efficiency.

In addition to enabling designs that were previously impossible to manufacture, the technology will reduce time-to-market for future design enhancements through reduced tooling costs, reduced production lead times, and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Under the new licensing agreement, Siemens Energy and Mikro Systems will work together to validate and certify TOMO technology for use in commercial production of stationary and moving airfoil components. This will include production trials and application-specific component testing. Siemens Energy will establish a field office near Mikro Systems' Virginia facilities to support Mikro Systems' commercialization efforts and add domestic jobs. Successful commercialization of this novel technology will create additional jobs in this high-tech industry.

Mikro Systems' strategy is to apply the technology to a wide range of gas turbine applications, including commercial and military aviation engines, and next-generation turbines for use in integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and natural gas combined cycle power plants.

TOMO technology is also contributing to Siemens Energy's ARRA-funded project to develop hydrogen turbines for coal-based IGCC power generation that will improve efficiency, reduce emissions, lower costs, and allow for carbon capture and storage.


Nano Gold Rush: Researchers use tiny gold particles to boost organic solar cell efficiency

The California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA
August 16, 2011

In the world of solar energy, organic photovoltaic solar cells have a wide range of potential applications, but they are still considered an upstart. While these carbon-based cells, which use organic polymers or small molecules as semiconductors, are much thinner and less expensive to produce than conventional solar cells made with inorganic silicon wafers, they still lag behind in their ability to efficiently convert sunlight into electricity.

Now, UCLA researchers and their colleagues from China and Japan have shown that by incorporating gold nanoparticles into these organic photovoltaics — taking advantage of the plasmonic effect, by which metal helps to enhance the absorption of sunlight — they can significantly improve the cells' power conversion.

In a paper recently published in ACS Nano, the team of researchers, led by Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute, demonstrate how they sandwiched a layer of gold nanoparticles between two light-absorbing subcells in a tandem polymer solar cell in order to harvest a greater fraction of the solar spectrum.

They found that by employing the interconnecting gold-nanoparticle layer, they were able to enhance power conversion by as much as 20 percent. The gold nanoparticles create a strong electromagnetic field inside the thin organic photovoltaic layers by a plasmonic effect, which concentrates light so that much more of it can be absorbed by the subcells.
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New polymeric material brings companies one step closer to cheaper plastic solar cells and electronics

Aug 16, 2011

Scientists from Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), an institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have created a new polymer with both high charge mobility and high power conversion efficiency for application in both plastic electronics and organic solar cells.

A single polymer that can be used in both new age plastic electronics as well as plastic solar cells could spell greater cost-savings and open up new design options for electronic and solar cell companies. A*STAR’s IMRE has developed a new polymer that not only produces a high charge mobility of 0.2 cm2/V.s, which is the same value achieved by commercially available semiconducting materials but also has a high solar power conversion efficiency of 6.3%. This makes IMRE’s polymer one of the few that has both these properties. In addition to this, polymers of the same class as IMRE’s, which are those that use thiophene and benzothiadiazole as the building blocks, could only achieve 2.2% power conversion.

“Current polymers are usually good in one aspect or another, either as a good conductor for use in electronics or endowed with high power conversion efficiency - but not both”, said IMRE Senior Scientist, Dr Chen Zhi Kuan, the principal researcher working on the polymers. “IMRE’s polymer functions not only as a good material to make electronic components, the same material can be used to convert sunlight to electricity efficiently”. The polymer can also be easily applied in roll-to-roll printing techniques which is similar to how newspapers are currently printed making it possible to manufacture large area-scale printed electronics and organic solar cells quickly and cheaply.

With IMRE’s polymer, manufacturers could save cost using just a single bulk resource for making both printed electronics and organic solar cells. The material could also possibly be used in designing new devices where both power harnessing and electronics are needed in a single component. An example of this would be chemical sensors based on organic thin-film transistors and powered by organic solar cells.
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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Sandia Labs’ Gemini-Scout robot likely to reach trapped miners ahead of rescuers

Sandia National Laboratories
Aug 16, 2011

In the first moments after a mining accident, first responders work against the clock to assess the situation and save the miners. But countless dangers lurk: poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors and unstable walls and roofs. Such potentially deadly conditions and unknown obstacles can slow rescue efforts to a frustrating pace.

To speed rescue efforts, engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a robot that would eliminate some of the unknowns of mine rescue operations and arm first responders with the most valuable tool: information.

Sandia robotics engineers have designed the Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot, which finds dangers and can provide relief to trapped miners. It’s able to navigate through 18 inches of water, crawl over boulders and rubble piles, and move in ahead of rescuers to evaluate precarious environments and help plan operations.

“We have designed this robot to go in ahead of its handlers, to assess the situation and potential hazards and allow operations to move more quickly,” said Jon Salton, Sandia engineer and project manager. “The robot is guided by remote control and is equipped with gas sensors, a thermal camera to locate survivors and another pan-and-tilt camera mounted several feet up to see the obstacles we’re facing.”
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Forecasting pipe fractures

MIT News
Aug 16, 2011

A computer model that tests automobile components for crashworthiness could also be of use to the oil and gas industry, according to researchers at MIT’s Impact and Crashworthiness Laboratory, who are now using their simulations of material deformation in car crashes to predict how pipes may fracture in offshore drilling accidents.

As a case study, the team simulated the forces involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, finding that their model accurately predicted the location and propagation of cracks in the oil rig’s drill riser — the portion of pipe connecting the surface drilling platform to the seafloor. In a side-by-side comparison, the researchers found that their model’s reconstruction closely resembled an image of the actual fractured pipe taken by a remotely operated vehicle shortly after the accident occurred. The group presented their results at the International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference in June.

Tomasz Wierzbicki, professor of applied mechanics at MIT, says such a simulation could help oil and gas companies identify stronger or more flexible pipe materials that could help minimize the impact of a future large-scale accident.

“We are looking at what would happen during a severe accident, and we’re trying to determine what should be the material that would not fail under those conditions,” Wierzbicki says. “For that, you need technology to predict the limits of a material’s behavior.”

Wierzbicki has already laid much of the foundation for what he calls Fracture Predictive Technology through his work in car-crash safety testing. Over the years, he’s fine-tuned a testing method that combines physical experiments with computer simulations to predict the strength and behavior of materials under severe impacts.

For example, to safety-test materials used in automobile bodies, Wierzbicki first cuts small samples from a candidate such as steel, using a high-pressure water jet. He then sprays the sample with a fine pattern of speckles, covering the surface with tiny dots. After the spray dries, Wierzbicki clamps the cutout into a machine, which subjects specimens to different types of loading. A motion-capture camera, set up in front of the sample, takes images as it crumples, sending the images to a computer, which plots the image’s dots along a grid to show exactly when and where deformations occur.

By testing different shapes and sizes of materials under various pressures, Wierzbicki can determine a material’s overall mechanical properties, such as its strength and ductility. Knowing this, he says, it’s possible to create a simulation to predict a material’s behavior in any configuration, under any conditions. Determining the exact limits for materials is especially important for offshore drilling, he says, where pipes are continually subjected to tremendous pressures at great depths.
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