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Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Or The Space Game, by ESA.

The Space Game Screenshot

Minimize delta vee by moving the planets around (this changes the probe's arrival time at the planet). This shows my best solution so far, with some playing one evening, about 13 km/s

This is a nice javascript webpage where a probe is shot from Earth to Jupiter with gravity assists at Venus (twice), Earth and Mars. You try to achieve the lowest propulsive delta vee. You decide when the spacecraft arrives at each encounter and the program basically calculates the rest. It’s quite a nifty little piece of Javascript, the future of web applications is like this. It works fine with Chrome on Linux at least. Probably IE will have problems but who uses that anyway?

I’m ranked at #39 at 12.74 km/s… Far behind the gurus who get below 10 km/s readings! There are apparently some prizes for the top three, but I think people are in it for the fun of it.

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Huh, it always takes a long time to find anything on web pages that are so cluttered up. Here. No idea what the MPGe or miles per gallon equivalent is.

EDIT:

Here’s ERA’s video (they didn’t win, although they were very close. I think they were penalized for driving too fast):

Holy crap. Their vehicle has 1000 Nm torque and does 0 to 100 km/h in 6 seconds.

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There’s a free lecture series (it’s also a course but attendance is open) at HUT Aalto University about new energy technologies, organized by a friend of mine who works at the lab there. Here’s the lecture program (they will be held in the mechanical engineering building):

Thu 9.9. Introduction. Prof. Markku Lampinen: Energy conversion – From nanomachines to renewable sources.
Thu 16.9. CO2, greenhouse effect and climate change. Dr. Jouni Räisänen, University of Helsinki
Thu 23.9. Looking for a carbon storage, biochar as a win-win solution. Dominic Woolf, Swansea University, UK.
Thu 30.9. Biomass solutions for replacing coal: biochar, biomass gasification, multifuel power plants. Jukka Rouhiainen, Helsingin Energia.
Thu 7.10. Research on bioorganic fuel cells as power sources.
Professor Yohannes Kiros, KTH, Sweden.
Thu 14.10. Microturbines, a technology for local energy production. Professor Jari Backman, Lappeenranta Technical University.
Thu 21.10. Energy efficiency – “Negawatts” for cheap.
(Thu 28.10. middle term exams)
Thu 4.11. Wave power. Dr. Ana Brito e Melo, Wave energy centre, Portugal.
Thu 11.11. Geothermal energy, overview and the possibilities. Professor Eva Schill, Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Thu 18.11. Grätzel solar cells. Millennium prize winning breakthrough in solar energy.
Thu 25.11. Energy solutions for traffic – Which will win?
Thu 2.12. Student seminar
Thu 9.12. Student seminar (last lecture/seminar)

Reserve topics:
Wind power.
Passive heat technology/thermal engineering.
Solar thermal energy (STE).

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If you speak german, this video is nice. They show it driving, in construction and design.

Though it is complex, heavy at 450 kg and expensive at 62,000 euros. Uses a BMW motorcycle engine and sits two people in tandem and looks like an airplane cockpit. It could serve as an interesting datapoint if more fuel efficient non-mass transport vehicles are to be developed for single commuters. The E-tracer version has had success in the automotive X-Prize. It’s no small deal, since that includes handling tests.

Overview of the Monotracer in english:

Lane change handling test at automotive X-Prize:

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It doesn’t have the same sound as “The Last V-8” now does it? When you look at what’s happening in the world of automobiles, you get some idea of a change. It is always slow, yet I predict that when it happens, probably starting before the end of this year, people are taken by surprise.

Why Would Anyone Buy A Hybrid Car?

It doesn’t have that much better fuel economy than a modern petrol or diesel engine if you drive out of the city, and it costs some more and is complicated. New turbocharged and variable valve engines can do pretty well because they can be built to opearate in a flexible manner. BMW has even introduced a technique that could be called a “virtual hybrid” – where the aircon compressor and battery charger are disconnected when the gas pedal is pushed to the bottom, resulting in extra power available for traction – allowing a smaller engine to achieve the same acceleration.

In some cases, like buses that need to stop often, hybrids make great sense, but otherwise I see the improvements in ordinary direct internal combustion engine driven cars narrowing the gap quite considerably. On the highway the hybrid has no advantage.

A Seemingly Small Addition

Volvo V70 Plugin Hybrid Prototype

So, add a grid recharge capability and you have a plugin hybrid. By itself that’s not much yet though, you have to enlarge the batteries too. Since most trips for most people are commuting and errands, they’re short and can be done entirely on battery power. You also still haul the gasoline engine along and it is used on longer trips. Most problems solved right here? Sounds easy.

Chevy Volt / Opel Ampera is coming soon. And just take a look at the huge number of plugin hybrids being developed, listed at Plugin America. Most of these will be dead ends, but some might make it big.

Pure Electric Cars – The Charging Problem

The problem is, gasoline is very very energy intensive. If a car uses 8 L for 100 km and a 10 kWh worth of energy, then tankage of 40 liters gives about 50 kWh of energy. Done in 50 seconds this stream of gasoline through the hose is worth 1 kWh per second or 3.6 megawatts. High enough temperature superconductors have not yet been invented that would make a hand-attachable 3.6 megawatt car charger possible. If we generously assume 240 Volts and 40 Amperes, the charging power is only 10 kilowatts. The largest home appliances like sauna stoves and water heaters are in the single kilowatts range. They often use 380 V three phase power here, but that gets slightly impractical for a car charger. This thousandfold disparity in energy replenishment speed is striking. An optimistic 10 kW charger would charge a 100 km drive’s worth of energy in an hour. Certainly useful for commuters. Charging as range extension seems doubtful. Our summer cottage is 300 km from Helsinki. If a full battery only lasts the first 200 km, one would have to stop at a loading station for one hour before one could drive the rest of the way. Not realistic. The penalty of lugging around the heavy and complicated IC engine has to be bitten at this point of battery development.

Battery Improvements?

There exist some pretty high energy per mass battery technologies right now, but they are expensive and use rare materials like cobalt that they can never really be mainstream solutions on something that stores energy in the megawatt hour class. Hopefully with enough money now available, some cheaper and less material intensive ways to store electrical energy can be developed.

Your Local Correspondent

Naturally, Finland would be a pretty ideal place to have electric and plugin hybrid vehicles. A significant portion of the populace keeps their cars parked in a spot with an electric socket nearby – those house timers that turn on the cylinder block heater on an hour or so before leaving for work in the wintertime, meaning less fuel use and wear for the engine. It is trivial to use those 240 V outlets for electric car charging. Also, electric cars are actually manufactured in the city of Uusikaupunki, Finland by Valmet. The Th!nk City is one. Too bad because of insane tax policies, it is not actually sold here – at the moment you can only get them in Norway, Austria and Holland. The Fisker Karma electric sports car will also be manufactured in “Uki”. I think they have a long nose on the car for Freudian reasons – since it doesn’t need to hold a long block internal combustion engine – or maybe it’s just that buyers are conservative. And then there’s the e-cars now project aiming to refit old Toyota Corollas with electric motors and batteries. But there’s more.

Automotive X-Prize

There’s that going on, which is actually interesting! My favorite vehicle is the Peraves E-Tracer.

Here are the results from August 2 but I still don’t know what will change / what is coming because the pages are unclear: [EDIT: fresh info at the blog indicates some testing is still going on]

1st Place Team Lithium Ion Motors of North Carolina (125 MPGe average fuel economy for the event)
2nd Place RaceAbout Association of Finland (0.179 seconds behind the leader and 100 MPGe average fuel economy for the event)
3rd Place TW4XP of Germany (11 minutes, 36.9 seconds behind the leader and 139 MPGe average fuel economy for the event)
4th Place ZAP of California (DNF – 48 laps completed)
5th Place Aptera of California (DNF – 18 laps completed)

The Raceabout team is from Helsinki’s Metropolia university of applied sciences. They have a long background of building electric vehicles, and it’s nice to see something in the competition that looks like an actual car, yet still manages to do so well.

RaceAbout's E-RA vehicle in the Automotive X-Prize 2010 competition

Hopefully the politicians here can get something sensible done, and the super-high taxes on electric vehicles (basically, anything that isn’t gasoline or diesel is considered fishy and is taxed hugely) can be dropped so we can start seeing more of them here! The current situation is a travesty!

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How does a corporation respond to a disaster it has created? By seeking the best PR strategy by polling around which response might look like the best move! Is this for real? Thanks to Things Break.

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They’re awesome, yet problematic. In the early 1900s, Los Angeles had an extensive streetcar and light rail network (the red and yellow cars), but it was dismantled, like in many other american cities in the thirties, forties and fifties. One of the reasons was a conglomerate of car manufacturers and oil and tire companies that bought the streetcar companies, trashed their vehicles and changed them to buses. Of course, there were many other reasons as well, and it’s a subject far too large to handle here.

Turku, Finland’s old capital and currently fourth largest city, had trams as well but they were dismantled in the sixties. A large investment in the track and electricity network was lost, new buses had to be bought and the roads had to be reinforced to carry the buses. It was the irresistible zeitgeist that the automobile would be the future – ironically, only a few years before the oil crisis.

Thankfully, Helsinki never did that. There were awful plans of putting a highway overpass right in the scenic main market by the seaside and other absolutely horrible things. It is sometimes very hard to understand that time. Making a huge graffiti to a beautiful Jugend building is next to nothing compared to some of the architectural and city ideas of the sixties.

What New?

That was the past. What about now? Well, Turku has been pining for the streetcars for a long time, and now it seems the inland city of Tampere (Turku’s arch rival no less) that never had trams is actually planning to upstage Turku in building a network. Both have populations of about 200,000.

And in multiple US cities, tram networks are being brought back. Los Angeles has built it anew and is expanding it, although it’s still far smaller than what it was in the old times.

What are the issues?

Well, tracks cost some, compared to buses that can run on roads, but tram tracks are actually not that expensive since they can be laid on roads, can make sharper corners than heavier rail tracks (trains, metro) and don’t require over/underpasses. And the “default” alternatives, cars and buses need roads and affect other traffic as well, so the difference might not be large. In Helsinki, trams are actually the most profitable of the city’s transportation sectors. They cost very little to run. Trams are also more flexible than heavier rail systems in a city development timescale (5 years) because the new tracks are quite quick and cheap to lay down. You can also leave old tracks in place without them doing any harm, to keep them in reserve in case they will be used later again.

What about the utility factor problem? Buses can have a larger network and transition a bit better from line to line. But still, most vehicles stand outside the rush hour. But it’s the same issue with everything, personal automobiles included.

Technology

It’s curious that newer trams in Helsinki actually seem to be noisier than older ones. This, I gather is from different technology – the new ones have high torque motors right in the wheels, and are designed for modern international rails that have ample lead-in to corners, meaning the sideways acceleration starts slowly. In contrast, Helsinki’s tracks are old, have sharp corners with no lead in. And sometimes the tracks are even uneven because of cobblestones, like in the senate square. This means that the older Finnish trams from seventies and eighties and the recently “stop-gap” purchased old Mannheim trams actually travel smoothly while the 2000:s Bombardier low floor trams bang really hard and are in constant need of repair.

One weird thing about trams is that they are very heavy. 30 tons for a vehicle carrying 100 people is a lot. Since the investment cost is high already and it will last for a long time, wouldn’t it make sense to actually spend some extra on structures and construct them out of aluminium and/or composites? Of course, since trams are operated much longer than for example buses, fatigue issues must be taken into account very carefully. You could then do with smaller motors, less reinforced tracks and many other beneficial things that would then reduce the cost. It seems trams, like local passenger trains have some mental legacy from the old czar era steam trains when everything was constructed of mild steel and weighed absolutely humongously – so that when a freight train or a building and a passenger rail vehicle collide, the passengers survive unharmed. Yet these trams move among ordinary traffic with “flimsy” buses and ordinary motor cars (that at times are crushed like soft drink cans in collisions with the heavier rail vehicles). Hence the high impact survivability traditions make less sense for rail vehicles moving among road traffic and could actually result in less safety overall.

Another alternative to the tram is the trolley bus. You still avoid pollution and fuel cost compared to buses and avoid the need to build a track compared to tram. The trolley buses might not last as long as trams and they have an image problem though – they’re seen as Eastern or Southern European and a poor man’s alternative. I haven’t studied the subject that much.

Ideas

Use large pultruded* carbon fiber tubes to construct a triangular truss space frame, reinforced by a carry-around at the door openings. Separate the wheels from the motors with axles (jointed axle or a cardan) and use very accurately tailored suspension (possibly with active components for varying loads) to ensure very low vibration levels. Use separable high impact plastic panels on the outside and inside, attached with a large number of very sturdy fasteners.

Modern frequency converters and high torque permanent motors are a natural choice of course.

This should result in a light, quickly accelerating, silent, easily maintainable, reliable and low operations cost tram. It’s also going to cost a lot to buy, but since trams are going to be used for thirty or even fifty years, it pays itself back in a fraction of that time.

The space frame construction can be customized easily by varying the number of frame triangles, and the number of panels can be varied as well. The door reinforcements and doors need to be standard components though. They potentially need metal or in-place cured composites.

*: the pultrusion industrial process results in very straight fibers that can handle both tension and compression. A good use for the expensive carbon fiber, compared to layups where the strength is much less.

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