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Showing posts with label North America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North America. Show all posts

Monday, 16 January 2012

Auto industry works to win back engineers

Crain's Detroit Business
Jan 15, 2012


Credit: Atlantic International University.

Thousands of new jobs for Southeast Michigan were announced last week during the North American International Auto Show as part of expansions planned by automakers and suppliers.

But recruiting top engineers and others to fill those jobs remains a challenge.

Santosh Anishetty, head of North American passive safety and advanced driver assistance systems for Troy-based Continental Automotive Systems Inc., said Continental is struggling to fill its more than 150 posted positions.

"I work with the business unit much more specific to electronics engineering, software elements, etc., and it's not very easy to find people," he said. "(Recently) I had three people come for interviews and all three of them said "no' after we offered them a job. That never used to be the case."

Anishetty said suppliers are losing out to local upstarts in the biomedical field and tech companies like Google.

"There are a lot of aspects (as to why they are not choosing auto suppliers)," he said. "A quality engineer with eight or 10 years of experience is a king, or queen, because they are often the most experienced at the place."

Why?

The more than 300,000 jobs eliminated during the industry downturn caused talent to look elsewhere, said Neil De Koker, president and CEO of Troy-based Original Equipment Suppliers Association.
To read more click here...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Thorium Energy: The Clean Energy Source We Need!

Engineerblogger
Nov 2011



With the global spotlight on green / renewable energy and on the safety of nuclear power following Japan's tsunami and the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Many countries are looking at spearheading efforts to make the industry safer.  For instance, the Chinese are investing millions in research into reactors powered by the element Thorium -- a metal, proponents say, as common as lead, and one which, despite some concerns, would lead to power plants with fewer safety issues as well as other benefits.  Thorium-based reactors certainly have advantages, the energy release from Thorium is greater than from Uranium, the by-products from using Thorium are less toxic than from Uranium, and it's much harder to make weapons from those by-products.

The development of workable and large-scale thorium reactors has for decades been a dream for nuclear engineers, while for environmentalists it has become a major hope as an alternative to fossil fuels. Proponents say the fuel has considerable advantages over uranium. Thorium is more abundant and exploiting it does not involve release of large quantities of carbon dioxide, making it less dangerous for the climate than fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Producing a workable thorium reactor would be a massive breakthrough in energy generation. Using thorium – a naturally occurring moderately radioactive element named after the Norse god of thunder – as a source of atomic power is not new technology. Promising early research was carried out in the US in the 1950s and 60s and then abandoned in favour of using uranium.

The pro-thorium lobby maintains this was at least partly because national nuclear power programs in the US and elsewhere were developed with a military purpose in mind: namely access to a source of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Unlike uranium, thorium-fuelled reactors do not result in a proliferation of weapons-grade plutonium. Also, under certain circumstances, the waste from thorium reactors is less dangerous and remains radioactive for hundreds rather than thousands of years.

Thorium as a nuclear fuel
Thorium (Th-232) is not itself fissile and so is not directly usable in a thermal neutron reactor – in this regard it is very similar to uranium-238. However, it is ‘fertile’ and upon absorbing a neutron will transmute to uranium-233 (U-233) , which is an excellent fissile fuel material. Thorium fuel concepts therefore require that Th-232 is first irradiated in a reactor to provide the necessary neutron dosing. The U-233 that is produced can either be chemically separated from the parent thorium fuel and recycled into new fuel, or the U-233 may be usable ‘in-situ’ in the same fuel form."

Thorium fuels therefore need a fissile material as a ‘driver’ so that a chain reaction (and thus supply of surplus neutrons) can be maintained. The only fissile driver options are U-233, U-235 or Pu-239.

It is possible – but quite difficult – to design thorium fuels that produce more U-233 in thermal reactors than the fissile material they consume (this is referred to as having a fissile conversion ratio of more than 1.0 and is also called breeding). Thermal breeding with thorium is only really possible using U-233 as the fissile driver, and to achieve this the neutron economy in the reactor has to be very good (ie, low neutron loss through escape or parasitic absorption). The possibility to breed fissile material in slow neutron systems is a unique feature for thorium-based fuels and is not possible with uranium fuels.

Another distinct option for using thorium is as a ‘fertile matrix’ for fuels containing plutonium (and even other transuranic elements like americium). No new plutonium is produced from the thorium component, unlike for uranium fuels, and so the level of net consumption of this metal is rather high. In fresh thorium fuel, all of the fissions (thus power and neutrons) derive from the driver component. As the fuel operates the U-233 content gradually increases and it contributes more and more to the power output of the fuel. The ultimate energy output from U-233 (and hence indirectly thorium) depends on numerous fuel design parameters, including: fuel burn-up attained, fuel arrangement, neutron energy spectrum and neutron flux (affecting the intermediate product protactinium-233, which is a neutron absorber).
  
Thorium R&D history
The use of thorium-based fuel cycles has been studied for about 40 years, but on a much smaller scale than uranium or uranium/plutonium cycles. Basic research and development has been conducted in Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA. Test reactor irradiation of thorium fuel to high burn-ups has also been conducted and several test reactors have either been partially or completely loaded with thorium-based fuel.

Noteworthy experiments involving thorium fuel include the following, the first three being high-temperature gas-cooled reactors:
  • Between 1967 and 1988, the AVR (Atom Versuchs Reaktor, Nuclear Test Reactor) experimental pebble bed reactor at Jülich, Germany, operated for over 750 weeks at 15 MWe, about 95% of the time with thorium-based fuel. The fuel used consisted of about 100,000 billiard ball-sized fuel elements. Overall a total of 1360 kg of thorium was used, mixed with high-enriched uranium (HEU). Burn-ups of 150,000 MWd/t were achieved.
  • Thorium fuel elements with a 10:1 Th/U (HEU) ratio were irradiated in the 20 MWth Dragon reactor at Winfrith, UK, for 741 full power days. Dragon was run as an OECD/Euratom cooperation project, involving Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland in addition to the UK, from 1964 to 1973. The Th/U fuel was used to 'breed and feed', so that the U-233 formed replaced the U-235 at about the same rate, and fuel could be left in the reactor for about six years.
  • General Atomics' Peach Bottom high-temperature, graphite-moderated, helium-cooled reactor in the USA operated between 1967 and 1974 at 110 MWth, using high-enriched uranium with thorium.
  • In Canada, AECL has more than 50 years experience with thorium-based fuels, including burn-up to 47 GWd/t. Some 25 tests were performed to 1987 in three research reactors and one pre-commercial reactor (NPD), with fuels ranging from ThO2 to that with 30% UO2, though most were with 1-3% UO2, the U being high-enriched.
  • In India, the Kamini 30 kWth experimental neutron-source research reactor using U-233, recovered from ThO2 fuel irradiated in another reactor, started up in 1996 near Kalpakkam. The reactor was built adjacent to the 40 MWt Fast Breeder Test Reactor, in which the ThO2 is irradiated.
  • In the Netherlands, an aqueous homogenous suspension reactor operated at 1MWth for three years in the mid-1970s. The HEU/Th fuel was circulated in solution and reprocessing occurred continuously to remove fission products, resulting in a high conversion rate to U-233.
There have also been several experiments with fast neutron reactors.

Current thorium fuel cycle research
Several advanced reactors concepts are currently being developed, including:
  • High-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) of two kinds: pebble bed and with prismatic fuel elements. The Gas Turbine-Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) being developed by General Atomics uses a prismatic fuel and builds on US experience, particularly from the Fort St Vrain reactor. The GT-MHR core can accommodate a wide range of fuel options, including HEU/Th, U-233/Th and Pu/Th. Pebble bed reactor development builds on German work with the AVR and THTR and is under development in China and South Africa c . A pebble bed reactor can potentially use thorium in its fuel pebbles.
  • The molten salt reactor (MSR) is an advanced breeder concept, in which the coolant is a molten salt, usually a fluoride salt mixture. This is hot, but not under pressure, and does not boil below about 1400°C. Much research has focused on lithium and beryllium additions to the salt mixture. The fuel can be dissolved enriched uranium, thorium or U-233 fluorides, and recent discussion has been on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, utilizing U-233 which has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket and continuously removed to be added to the core. The MSR was studied in depth in the 1960s, but is now being revived because of the availability of advanced technology for the materials and components. There is now renewed interest in the MSR concept in China, Japan, Russia, France and the USA, and one of the six Generation IV designs selected for further development is the MSR (see also subsection below and information page on Generation IV Nuclear Reactors).
  • CANDU-type reactors – AECL is researching the thorium fuel cycle application to Enhanced Candu 6 and ACR-1000 reactors with 5% plutonium (reactor grade) plus thorium. In the closed fuel cycle, the driver fuel required for starting off is progressively replaced with recycled U-233, so that on reaching equilibrium 80% of the energy comes from thorium. Fissile drive fuel could be LEU, plutonium, or recycled uranium from LWR. AECL envisages fleets of CANDU reactors with near-self-sufficient equilibrium thorium (SSET) fuel cycles and a few fast breeder reactors to provide plutonium. AECL is also working closely with Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Company (TQNPC), China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation and Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) at Chengdu to develop and demonstrate the use of thorium fuel and to study the commercial and technical feasibility of its full-scale use in Candu units such as at Qinshan. (see also Th in PHWR subsection of R&D section in China Fuel Cycle paper)
  • Advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) – India is working on this and, like the Canadian ACR design, the 300 MWe AHWR design is light water cooled. The main part of the core is subcritical with Th/U-233 oxide and Th/Pu-239 oxide, mixed so that the system is self-sustaining in U-233. The initial core will be entirely Th-Pu-239 oxide fuel assemblies, but as U-233 is available, 30 of the fuel pins in each assembly will be Th-U-233 oxide, arranged in concentric rings. It is designed for 100-year plant life and is expected to utilise 65% of the energy of the fuel. About 75% of the power will come from the thorium.
  • Fast breeder reactor (FBRs), along with the AHWRs, play an essential role in India's three-stage nuclear power program (see section on India's plans for thorium cycle below). A 500 MWe prototype FBR under construction in Kalpakkam is designed to breed U-233 from thorium.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor
A quite different concept is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), utilizing U-233 which has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket(shown in video above).

The core consists of fissile U-233 tetrafluoride in molten fluoride salts of lithium and beryllium at some 700°C and at low pressure within a graphite structure that serves as a moderator and neutron reflector. Fission products dissolve in the salt and are removed progressively – xenon bubbles out, others are captured chemically. Actinides are less-readily formed than in fuel with atomic mass >235, and those that do form stay in the fuel until they are transmuted and eventually fissioned.

The blanket contains a mixture of thorium tetrafluoride in a fluoride salt containing lithium and beryllium, made molten by the heat of the core. Newly-formed U-233 forms soluble uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), which is converted to gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) by bubbling fluorine gas through the blanket solution (which does not chemically affect the less-reactive thorium tetrafluoride). Uranium hexafluoride comes out of solution, is captured, then is reduced back to soluble UF4 by hydrogen gas in a reduction column, and finally is directed to the core to serve as fissile fuel.

The LFTR is not a fast reactor, but with some moderation by the graphite is epithermal (intermediate neutron speed). Safety is achieved with a freeze plug which if power is cut allows the fuel to drain into subcritical geometry in a catch basin. There is also a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity due to expansion of the fuel. The China Academy of Sciences in January 2011 launched an R&D program on LFTR, known there as the thorium-breeding molten-salt reactor (Th-MSR or TMSR), and claimed to have the world's largest national effort on it, hoping to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology.


Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle can be commercialised, its potential for breeding fuel without the need for fast neutron reactors, holds considerable potential in the long-term. It is a significant factor in the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.



Source: World Nuclear Association




Related Articles:


Thorium Energy: The clean energy source we need!

Engineerblogger
Nov 2011



With the global spotlight on green / renewable energy and on the safety of nuclear power following Japan's tsunami and the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, many countries are looking at spearheading efforts to make the industry and the environment safer.  For instance, the Chinese are investing millions in research into reactors powered by the element Thorium -- a metal, proponents say, as common as lead, and one which, despite some concerns, would lead to power plants with fewer safety issues as well as other benefits.  Thorium-based reactors certainly have advantages, the energy release from Thorium is greater than from Uranium, the by-products from using Thorium are less toxic than from Uranium, and it's much harder to make weapons from those by-products.

Thorium as a nuclear fuel

Thorium (Th-232) is not itself fissile and so is not directly usable in a thermal neutron reactor – in this regard it is very similar to uranium-238. However, it is ‘fertile’ and upon absorbing a neutron will transmute to uranium-233 (U-233) , which is an excellent fissile fuel material. Thorium fuel concepts therefore require that Th-232 is first irradiated in a reactor to provide the necessary neutron dosing. The U-233 that is produced can either be chemically separated from the parent thorium fuel and recycled into new fuel, or the U-233 may be usable ‘in-situ’ in the same fuel form."

Thorium fuels therefore need a fissile material as a ‘driver’ so that a chain reaction (and thus supply of surplus neutrons) can be maintained. The only fissile driver options are U-233, U-235 or Pu-239.

It is possible – but quite difficult – to design thorium fuels that produce more U-233 in thermal reactors than the fissile material they consume (this is referred to as having a fissile conversion ratio of more than 1.0 and is also called breeding). Thermal breeding with thorium is only really possible using U-233 as the fissile driver, and to achieve this the neutron economy in the reactor has to be very good (ie, low neutron loss through escape or parasitic absorption). The possibility to breed fissile material in slow neutron systems is a unique feature for thorium-based fuels and is not possible with uranium fuels.

Another distinct option for using thorium is as a ‘fertile matrix’ for fuels containing plutonium (and even other transuranic elements like americium). No new plutonium is produced from the thorium component, unlike for uranium fuels, and so the level of net consumption of this metal is rather high. In fresh thorium fuel, all of the fissions (thus power and neutrons) derive from the driver component. As the fuel operates the U-233 content gradually increases and it contributes more and more to the power output of the fuel. The ultimate energy output from U-233 (and hence indirectly thorium) depends on numerous fuel design parameters, including: fuel burn-up attained, fuel arrangement, neutron energy spectrum and neutron flux (affecting the intermediate product protactinium-233, which is a neutron absorber).
  
Thorium R&D history
The use of thorium-based fuel cycles has been studied for about 40 years, but on a much smaller scale than uranium or uranium/plutonium cycles. Basic research and development has been conducted in Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA. Test reactor irradiation of thorium fuel to high burn-ups has also been conducted and several test reactors have either been partially or completely loaded with thorium-based fuel.

Noteworthy experiments involving thorium fuel include the following, the first three being high-temperature gas-cooled reactors:
  • Between 1967 and 1988, the AVR (Atom Versuchs Reaktor, Nuclear Test Reactor) experimental pebble bed reactor at Jülich, Germany, operated for over 750 weeks at 15 MWe, about 95% of the time with thorium-based fuel. The fuel used consisted of about 100,000 billiard ball-sized fuel elements. Overall a total of 1360 kg of thorium was used, mixed with high-enriched uranium (HEU). Burn-ups of 150,000 MWd/t were achieved.
  • Thorium fuel elements with a 10:1 Th/U (HEU) ratio were irradiated in the 20 MWth Dragon reactor at Winfrith, UK, for 741 full power days. Dragon was run as an OECD/Euratom cooperation project, involving Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland in addition to the UK, from 1964 to 1973. The Th/U fuel was used to 'breed and feed', so that the U-233 formed replaced the U-235 at about the same rate, and fuel could be left in the reactor for about six years.
  • General Atomics' Peach Bottom high-temperature, graphite-moderated, helium-cooled reactor in the USA operated between 1967 and 1974 at 110 MWth, using high-enriched uranium with thorium.
  • In Canada, AECL has more than 50 years experience with thorium-based fuels, including burn-up to 47 GWd/t. Some 25 tests were performed to 1987 in three research reactors and one pre-commercial reactor (NPD), with fuels ranging from ThO2 to that with 30% UO2, though most were with 1-3% UO2, the U being high-enriched.
  • In India, the Kamini 30 kWth experimental neutron-source research reactor using U-233, recovered from ThO2 fuel irradiated in another reactor, started up in 1996 near Kalpakkam. The reactor was built adjacent to the 40 MWt Fast Breeder Test Reactor, in which the ThO2 is irradiated.
  • In the Netherlands, an aqueous homogenous suspension reactor operated at 1MWth for three years in the mid-1970s. The HEU/Th fuel was circulated in solution and reprocessing occurred continuously to remove fission products, resulting in a high conversion rate to U-233.
There have also been several experiments with fast neutron reactors.

Current thorium fuel cycle research

Several advanced reactors concepts are currently being developed, including:
  • High-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) of two kinds: pebble bed and with prismatic fuel elements. The Gas Turbine-Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) being developed by General Atomics uses a prismatic fuel and builds on US experience, particularly from the Fort St Vrain reactor. The GT-MHR core can accommodate a wide range of fuel options, including HEU/Th, U-233/Th and Pu/Th. Pebble bed reactor development builds on German work with the AVR and THTR and is under development in China and South Africa c . A pebble bed reactor can potentially use thorium in its fuel pebbles.
  • The molten salt reactor (MSR) is an advanced breeder concept, in which the coolant is a molten salt, usually a fluoride salt mixture. This is hot, but not under pressure, and does not boil below about 1400°C. Much research has focused on lithium and beryllium additions to the salt mixture. The fuel can be dissolved enriched uranium, thorium or U-233 fluorides, and recent discussion has been on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, utilizing U-233 which has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket and continuously removed to be added to the core. The MSR was studied in depth in the 1960s, but is now being revived because of the availability of advanced technology for the materials and components. There is now renewed interest in the MSR concept in China, Japan, Russia, France and the USA, and one of the six Generation IV designs selected for further development is the MSR (see also subsection below and information page on Generation IV Nuclear Reactors).
  • CANDU-type reactors – AECL is researching the thorium fuel cycle application to Enhanced Candu 6 and ACR-1000 reactors with 5% plutonium (reactor grade) plus thorium. In the closed fuel cycle, the driver fuel required for starting off is progressively replaced with recycled U-233, so that on reaching equilibrium 80% of the energy comes from thorium. Fissile drive fuel could be LEU, plutonium, or recycled uranium from LWR. AECL envisages fleets of CANDU reactors with near-self-sufficient equilibrium thorium (SSET) fuel cycles and a few fast breeder reactors to provide plutonium. AECL is also working closely with Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Company (TQNPC), China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation and Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) at Chengdu to develop and demonstrate the use of thorium fuel and to study the commercial and technical feasibility of its full-scale use in Candu units such as at Qinshan. (see also Th in PHWR subsection of R&D section in China Fuel Cycle paper)
  • Advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) – India is working on this and, like the Canadian ACR design, the 300 MWe AHWR design is light water cooled. The main part of the core is subcritical with Th/U-233 oxide and Th/Pu-239 oxide, mixed so that the system is self-sustaining in U-233. The initial core will be entirely Th-Pu-239 oxide fuel assemblies, but as U-233 is available, 30 of the fuel pins in each assembly will be Th-U-233 oxide, arranged in concentric rings. It is designed for 100-year plant life and is expected to utilise 65% of the energy of the fuel. About 75% of the power will come from the thorium.
  • Fast breeder reactor (FBRs), along with the AHWRs, play an essential role in India's three-stage nuclear power program (see section on India's plans for thorium cycle below). A 500 MWe prototype FBR under construction in Kalpakkam is designed to breed U-233 from thorium.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

A quite different concept is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), utilizing U-233 which has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket.

The core consists of fissile U-233 tetrafluoride in molten fluoride salts of lithium and beryllium at some 700°C and at low pressure within a graphite structure that serves as a moderator and neutron reflector. Fission products dissolve in the salt and are removed progressively – xenon bubbles out, others are captured chemically. Actinides are less-readily formed than in fuel with atomic mass >235, and those that do form stay in the fuel until they are transmuted and eventually fissioned.

The blanket contains a mixture of thorium tetrafluoride in a fluoride salt containing lithium and beryllium, made molten by the heat of the core. Newly-formed U-233 forms soluble uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), which is converted to gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) by bubbling fluorine gas through the blanket solution (which does not chemically affect the less-reactive thorium tetrafluoride). Uranium hexafluoride comes out of solution, is captured, then is reduced back to soluble UF4 by hydrogen gas in a reduction column, and finally is directed to the core to serve as fissile fuel.

The LFTR is not a fast reactor, but with some moderation by the graphite is epithermal (intermediate neutron speed). Safety is achieved with a freeze plug which if power is cut allows the fuel to drain into subcritical geometry in a catch basin. There is also a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity due to expansion of the fuel. The China Academy of Sciences in January 2011 launched an R&D program on LFTR, known there as the thorium-breeding molten-salt reactor (Th-MSR or TMSR), and claimed to have the world's largest national effort on it, hoping to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology.


Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle can be commercialised, its potential for breeding fuel without the need for fast neutron reactors, holds considerable potential in the long-term. It is a significant factor in the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.


Source: World Nuclear Association





Related Articles:


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Alberta's Oil Sands Heat Up

Technology Review
Oct 25, 2011

Steam solution: Pipes connect the wells at Christina Lake. One pipe delivers steam to the wells; the others return the ­bitumen-water mix and natural gas from the wells. Credit: Kristopher Grunert

For many, images of Canada's boreal forest torn apart by sprawling operations that clear the land and strip off the top layer of earth have come to symbolize the environmental evils of petroleum in the 21st century. The so-called surface mines, which uncover rock-hard deposits of sand and clay rich in the heavy, sticky mixture of hydrocarbons called bitumen, now account for a substantial portion of Canada's oil exports, including much of the petroleum going to the United States. But the face of the industry exploiting northern Canada's oil sands is changing—and possibly becoming even more troubling.

Head south or west from Fort McMurray, the Alberta boomtown hosting many of the strip mines and tailings ponds that have made the province's oil industry infamous, and the mines give way to tidier industrial sites amid boggy greenish-brown muskeg and stands of white spruce, jack pine, and aspen. These forest-ringed facilities have traded shovels and enormous trucks for an extraction process that drills down hundreds of meters into solid ribbons of bitumen and, using vast quantities of steam, melts the tarry petroleum in place. Liquefied bitumen then oozes out through a system of parallel pipes. Such "in situ" extraction operations now account for nearly half the current output of northern Alberta's oil business, and that figure will only increase. Alberta's 1.8 trillion barrels of bitumen may be the world's largest single accumulation of hydrocarbons, but four-fifths of this resource lies deeper than strip-mining can reach.

In situ extraction is expensive—on average, it's not profitable if world oil prices are below $60 per barrel. But with today's prices consistently well above that, the practice is booming. The oil sands will generate over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day this year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a Calgary-based group. That accounts for more than half the oil that Canada pipes to the United States (Canada is its neighbor's single biggest source of imported oil). By 2025, oil-sands production is projected to more than double, to 3.7 million barrels per day, and in situ operations will deliver nearly two-thirds of that boost.

The catch is that while the drilling might seem on the surface to be less destructive to the environment than strip-mining, in many ways the newer technology is far more damaging. Even though the drilling sites don't ravage the landscape the way the mines do, they use vast amounts of energy and consequently produce lots of carbon dioxide. Using steam to flush out bitumen accounts for 2.7 percent of Canada's total greenhouse-gas emissions, or an estimated 19 megatons of carbon dioxide last year—equal to the annual tailpipe emissions of 3.7 million cars. It creates more than twice the production emissions of conventional oil-sands mining. Independent experts say that by the time the bitumen is refined and delivered to gas stations across the United States, it has already accounted for two or three times as much greenhouse gas per gallon of fuel as gasoline refined from conventional crude.

Most worrisome, the drilling operations in the oil sands are just one example of the increased production of "unconventional" oil, formerly hard-to-exploit sources that recent technological advances have made economically viable. Such resources in the Americas alone include huge amounts of bitumen-like oil in Venezuela, deep undersea oil reserves off the coast of Brazil, and "tight oil" held in shale deposits throughout the United States and Canada. The geological resources and technologies used to produce unconventional oil vary greatly, but they all require extraction processes that are energy intensive and environmentally destructive. Oil sands are the principal reason why Canada's annual greenhouse-gas emissions, which the government promised to cut to 558 megatons by next year, now exceed 710 megatons and are projected to reach 785 megatons by 2020.

The reality is, however, that the world has quickly become reliant on unconventional oil, including the oil sands, as global energy demand has continued to grow faster than supply. And the Canadian economy, particularly in Alberta, has become heavily dependent on the growth of the oil-sands industry. Investments from Canadian firms and global oil giants totaled $13 billion in 2010 and grew to $16 billion this year. The oil sands have made Alberta the hottest place in Canada for jobs, investment, and growth, helping the country avoid many of the economic woes afflicting the United States and much of Europe.

The oil sands mean hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and royalties, and job creation from Newfoundland to Vancouver. So many Newfoundlanders have come to Alberta to work in Fort McMurray that it amounts to "Newfoundland's third-largest city," says Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister. Such economic heft makes it a given that Canada is going to keep exploiting this resource, he says: "We're next door to a customer that has 250 million vehicles driving three trillion miles a year. You can be sure that as long as that demand is there, there will be product to sell. We'll produce the oil sands."
To read more click here...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Automakers to boost compact car production

The Associated Press
Aug 31, 2011

Automakers are gearing up to make more compact cars this year. It's another bet on a part of the car market that has thrived this year as consumers fret about the economy but still want a new set of wheels.

General Motors is adding Saturday shifts in the fourth quarter at an Ohio factory that makes the compact Cruze, two people briefed on the matter said Monday. Ford, Toyota and Hyundai also have scheduled overtime at compact-car plants.

That might seem chancy with consumer confidence at a two-year low. But the car makers are expecting sales of compacts to increase as nervous consumers go for lower sticker prices and better gas mileage to save money. Compacts sell for $16,000 and up, and can get around 40 mpg in highway driving.

Also, car companies are trying to steal sales from Honda and Toyota, whose factories are just now recovering from parts shortages due to the March earthquake in Japan.

The strategy might pay off. As anxious as consumers say they are about the future, a survey released Tuesday by the Conference Board showed that, compared with July, more of them plan to buy a car within six months.

At Hyundai of New Port Richey near Tampa, Fla., there were only two Elantra compacts on the lot Tuesday, and President Scott Fink expected them to sell quickly.

"As the Elantras come in, nine out of 10 of them are pre-sold," Fink said. "So we really don't have any in stock."

At the New Port Richey dealership and three others in Fink's group, customers stung by Florida's steep drop in house prices are trying to cut their monthly payments.

"Even if they have a job, they just want to reduce their debt and improve their cash flow," Fink said.

Yet they don't want to give up the amenities they have in their current cars. As shoppers look at these smaller cars, they're finding that new compacts such as the Elantra, Cruze and Ford Focus are quiet, handle and ride well, and come with navigation systems, leather seats and all the bells and whistles that previously were available only in larger vehicles. And the Cruze, for instance, has a starting price of $16,525, about $3,700 less than the cheapest midsize Toyota Camry.

As a result, automakers sold nearly 1 million compacts through the end of July. That's up 12.8 percent from a year earlier, an impressive gain considering the scarcity of the most popular compact models, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Civic sales are down 9.7 percent and Corolla sales are off 8.1 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

Cruze sales are up 74 percent over the car it replaced, the Chevrolet Cobalt. Elantra sales have risen 56 percent and the Nissan Sentra are up 33 percent. In June the Cruze, which GM introduced last year, was the top-selling car in the country.

At its in Lordstown, Ohio, which already is working around the clock on weekdays to make the Cruze, GM plans to add Saturday shifts in the fourth quarter, two people briefed on the plans said. One said five Saturdays will be added, while another said only two had been scheduled but more are possible. Neither wanted to be identified because workers have not been told of the plans.

For the workers, it means giving up a weekend day. But it also means more pay.

At current sales rates, GM dealers have only enough Cruzes on their lots to last for 27 days, far lower than the 60 days considered optimal to give customers enough selection.

Hyundai also has added one Saturday shift per month at its Montgomery, Ala., factory that makes the Elantra. Toyota has added Saturday shifts and weekday overtime at a plant in Cambridge, Ontario, that makes the Corolla. Ford workers also are on overtime some Saturdays at the Focus plant near Detroit.

The boost in production comes even as analysts and car companies cut their 2011 forecasts for U.S. auto sales because of the sputtering economy. IHS, for instance, has dropped its forecast from 12.7 million cars and trucks to 12.5 million.

Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive, said consumers could benefit later in the year as automakers try to keep market share and sell the extra cars. He expects Honda and Toyota to start discounting to win back sales that were lost while factories were slowed by the earthquake.

"It's expected they are going to be piling some incentives on the hood," he said.

Other automakers won't say whether they'll match the incentives, but Fink, the dealer near Tampa, said they will respond.

"I don't think Hyundai is going to walk away from a fight," he said.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Plastic2Oil process turns plastic waste into fuel

Gizmag.com
July 4, 2011

While a lot of people may be doing their part for the environment by sending their discarded plastic items off for recycling, the fact is that much of the plastic currently in use is non-recyclable. In a not particularly eco-friendly process, some of this plastic is burned to generate electricity, while much of it simply ends up in landfills. Canadian company JBI, however, has developed a process that uses those plastics as a feedstock, and turns them into fuel.

JBI's Plastic2Oil process starts with a variety of unwashed post-commercial and industrial non-recyclable plastics, which are fed through a shredder and a granulator - the system can handle up to 1,800 pounds (816.5 kg) at a time. It is then heated in a process chamber, after which it proceeds into the main reactor. There, a proprietary (read "secret") reusable catalyst is used to crack the plastic's hydrocarbons into shorter hydrocarbon chains, which exit the plastic in a gaseous state. Those gases are captured, compressed and stored.

Gases containing gasoline and diesel can be condensed and separated, the resulting liquid fuel then temporarily stored in tanks. Methane, ethane, butane and propane "off-gas" out of those tanks, and are subsequently compressed and stored themselves. The butane and propane liquefy upon compression, allowing them to be separated, stored and sold, while the others are used to help power the system. Emissions that make it into the atmosphere are said to be less than those that would be produced by a natural gas furnace.
To read more click here...

Additional Information:

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Manufacturing Automation articles:" Robot orders surge in first quarter of 2011; Bombardier Aerospace looking at Morocco for low-cost manufacturing; The greening of machining; Energy excellence"

Manufacturing Automation
May 10, 2011


Robot orders surge in first quarter of 2011:
North American robotics companies enjoyed their best opening quarter since 2007, according to new statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association, the industry's trade group. Which sectors are responsible for the gains?

Bombardier Aerospace looking at Morocco for low-cost manufacturing:
Bombardier is considering opening an airplane manufacturing facility in Morocco, the aerospace giant said last week. Learn more about the company's plans.

The greening of machining:
A holistic approach to machine tool design reduces metal cutting's environmental impact. To read more click here...

Energy excellence:
A detailed understanding of the energy consumption for specific production areas, equipment and products will allow manufacturers to better manage production planning and execution in an informed and responsible manner. Learn how to develop an effective energy management strategy for manufacturers. To read more click here...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Flexible phone made from electronic paper to debut

Queens Unversity
May 5, 2011


The world’s first interactive paper computer is set to revolutionize the world of interactive computing.

“This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years,” says creator Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen’s University Human Media Lab,. “This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen.”

The smartphone prototype, called PaperPhone, is best described as a flexible iPhone – it does everything a smartphone does, like store books, play music or make phone calls. But its display consists of a 9.5 cm diagonal thin film flexible E Ink display. The flexible form of the display makes it much more portable that any current mobile computer: it will shape with your pocket.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Solar power growth sees new challenges

UPI
April 19, 2011

Solar power development is facing new challenges as efforts to introduce more organic components in solar power generation technologies are hampered by poor performance results.

Organic photovoltaic modules using carbon instead of silicon or synthetic film are widely seen as an industry for future growth but so far have proven inefficient and costlier than conventional solar power generation units. This means that growth in the commercial uses of OPV modules will be slower than originally anticipated, said a new report.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Detroit gears up for car price surge

Finanical Times
April 11, 2011


The stars have aligned for a spurt in North American car prices.
Shortages caused by supply disruptions in Japan have reinforced strengthening consumer demand, rising raw material prices and more disciplined inventory management among carmakers, especially the three Detroit-based companies.
To read more click here...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New sensor glove may help stroke patients recover mobility

McGill University
April 6, 2011

People who have strokes are often left with moderate to severe physical impairments. Now, thanks to a glove developed at McGill, stroke patients may be able to recover hand motion by playing video games. The Biomedical Sensor Glove was developed by four final-year McGill Mechanical Engineering undergrads under the supervision of Professor Rosaire Mongrain. It is designed to allow patients to exercise in their own homes with minimal supervision, while at the same time permitting doctors to monitor their progress from a distance, thus cutting down on hospital visits and costs.

Patients can monitor their progress thanks to software which will generate 3D models and display them on the screen, while at the same time sending the information to the treating physician.

The glove was developed by the students in response to a design request from the startup company Jintronix Inc. The students met with company representatives once a week for several months to develop the glove, which can track the movements of the wrist, the palm and the index finger using several Inertial Measurement Units. Although similar gloves currently exist, they cost approximately $30,000. By using more accurate and less expensive sensors, the students were able to develop a glove that currently costs $1000 to produce. It is hoped that it will eventually go on the market for approximately $500. Jintronix, Inc. has submitted the project to Grand Challenges Canada, which is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries, in the hopes that they will receive funding for further development.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The solar drinking water now in Haiti

Haiti Libre
March 26, 2011

As we announced it to you on February 11th, 2011, the company BIO-UV specializes in water treatment, developed a drinking water treatment plant (BIO-SUN) that runs on solar energy. Combining a very fine filtration and a disinfection by ultraviolet radiation (UVR), water is purified and freed of all micro-organisms.

Well, this water treatment plant has just arrived in Haiti and is expected to be operational within two weeks, according to an official of the company Lysa, an expert company in management and durable maintenance of water, cooperating with BIO-UV and operator since 2009 and for a period of 15 years of the Société des Eaux de Saint Marc (SESAM) thus ensuring the management of the network of water supply to Saint Marc. Currently the city of Saint Marc has 8 hours of running water per day but in the suburbs the supply is ensured through public fountains or retail outlets collective.

The advantages of this plant are mainly:
  • Its low cost, indeed the plant cost about US$4.000 and the cost for 1000 liters is $0.34
  • Its capacity, this plant can process the equivalent of 500 liters/hour [with 400 J/m2 of sunshine]
  • Its autonomy, given its photovoltaic power, this plant [in the absence of sun] has a battery life of 3 days, 4 hours use per day [2,000 liters], which allows in this situation to meet the daily requirement of a hundred people.
To conclude, "... involve local people in the maintenance of the plant, will also create some economic activity around the facility, " hopes Delphine Benat-Rassat one of the responsible of Lysa.

Friday, 11 February 2011

PetroChina Pays $5.4 billion for Canadian Gas Assets

Reuters.com
Feb 10, 2011

PetroChina is purchasing half of a prolific shale gas project from Canada's Encana Corp for C$5.4 billion ($5.4 billion), marking the largest Chinese investment yet in a foreign natural gas asset.
To read more click here...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

An Engine that Harnesses Sound Waves

Technologyreview.com
Feb 04, 2011


A startup company has developed a new type of engine that could generate electricity with the efficiency of a fuel cell, but which costs only about as much as an internal combustion engine.
To read more click here...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Solid State Batteries: The Power of the Press

Economist.com
Jan 27, 2011


A new process will make solid-state rechargeable batteries that should greatly outperform existing ones. The new development is the work of Planar Energy of Orlando, Florida—a company spun out of America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2007. The firm is about to complete a pilot production line that will print lithium-ion batteries onto sheets of metal or plastic, like printing a newspaper.

Turning Garbage into Gas

Economist.com
Feb 03, 2011

Disposing of household rubbish is not, at first glance, a task that looks amenable to high-tech solutions. But Hilburn Hillestad of Geoplasma, a firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, begs to differ. Burying trash the usual way of disposing of the stuff is old-fashioned and polluting. Instead, Geoplasma, part of a conglomerate called the Jacoby Group, proposes to tear it into its constituent atoms with electricity. It is clean. It is modern. And, what is more, it might even be profitable.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Manufacturing the Next Generation:

Automationmag.com
Feb 02, 2011


In the Automation magazine, they reviewed manufacturing education for the next generation. From a training simulator and web-based analytical tools, to an innovative co-op program, They looked at some of the tools Canadian colleges and universities are using to develop the future workforce.
To read more click here..

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Medical Isotopes Could Be Made Without Nuclear Reactor

Theengineer.co.uk
Jan 31, 2011


Canadian researchers are racing to perfect a safe, clean, inexpensive and reliable method for making isotopes used in medical imaging and diagnostic procedures.
To read more click here...