NOV 23

Electric Turbochargers to Improve Engine Efficiency

Written by on November 23, 2014

turbo-cutaway
In the ongoing quest to improve, electrically powered turbochargers may be the next step in increasing engine efficiency for automobile engines.  The first such to be included in a production model is slated to come in 2016 from Audi on its SQ7 SUV.

Turbo boost has been a popular way of increasing the power of an engine without increasing its size.   Ford’s EcoBoost is an example of this approach, using 3-, 4-, and 6-cylinder engines in vehicles which had previously used larger engines.  Turbocharging an engine increases the amount of air, and therefore fuel, being fed into the engine, providing better performance from a smaller-sized engine.

Conventional turbos use exhaust gasses to spin the turbine that forces more air into the engine.  This is efficient, but it produces “turbo lag” as the engine needs to increase speed in order to develop the boost.  But an electric turbo can respond almost instantaneously, providing added power without any delay.  Furthermore, as Green Car Reports notes, “a more responsive turbo will help the engine produce more low-end power, meaning drivers won’t have to venture higher into the rev range–and increase fuel consumption–as much.”

This becomes a more viable option with the increased computerization of engine control systems, which can read the driving conditions and trigger small amounts of boost as needed.

Whichever kind of turbo is used, the benefits come from having a smaller engine, both in terms of the overall displacement of the cylinders, as well as the mass of the engine itself.  Smaller engines mean less weight the car has to move, which helps in efficiency.  And the smaller displacement means less fuel is routinely used, while the power that would have been available is still there, thanks to the boost of the turbo.

via:  Gas 2.0

image credit: Wikipedia/NASA

OCT 7

Nobel Prize Awarded for Blue LEDs

Written by on October 7, 2014

blueLEDs
The Nobel Prize in physics this year has been awarded to three scientists, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, for their work in the development of the blue LED.

LEDs were first developed in the early 20th Century, and the first practical, commercial LEDs were brought to the market in the 1960s.  However, the earliest LEDs were red or orange.  The development of blue LEDs was crucial to the ability to make “white light” LEDs, which combine blue, green, and red (or sometimes blue and yellow) to create an acceptable light source for general illumination.  The high efficiency of LED light bulbs and LED displays which we enjoy today stems from this research work.

As the Nobel committee noted, “As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources.”  With the increased use of LEDs for lighting, demand for electricity is reduced.  We salute these three as EcoGeeks of the highest order.

link: Nobel Foundation Press Release

image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Gussisaurio/Wikimedia Commons

OCT 6

Fuel-Free Plastics Manufacturing

Written by on October 6, 2014

lightmanuf

Plastics manufacturing is typically a double consumer of petrochemicals, using them for both feedstock for the products, as well as fuel to provide the needed energy for the process.  But a greener method from LightManufacturing provides a system with low initial costs and low operating costs to manufacture molded plastic objects without the need for any fossil fuels.  The process is even applicable with recycled plastic feedstock, making it an even greener process.

Using heliostats to concentrate and reflect the sun’s rays provides the heat imput needed in order to melt the plastic and make it moldable.  This eliminates the largest need for fossil fuel in the process.  But also, the molding equipment itself is powered from solar panels on the roof of the molding chamber, which allows the whole process to be completely off-grid and entirely solar powered.

In addition to the benefit of having plastic manufacturing without fossil fuels, this also could allow developing countries without an extensive power infrastructure to have this kind of manufacturing capacity domestically, instead of relying on imports for finished goods.

video link: Solar powered plastics molding

via: Solar Thermal Magazine

MAY 7

Navy Demonstrates Fuel From Seawater Production

Written by on May 7, 2014

A team of US Navy research scientists has developed a method to produce liquid fuel from seawater, using CO2 and hydrogen extracted from the ocean and then processed with a metal catalyst to produce liquid fuel. As a demonstration of the concept, an unmodified scale airplane has been flown with the seawater fuel.

The concentration of CO2 is about 140 times higher in seawater than it is in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen are the two feedstocks needed to make hydrocarbons. The process relies on “an iron-based catalyst [which] has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins).” The process is claimed to be the first technology of this type with the potential for commercial implementation.

“The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.”

video clip: Flight with Seawater Fuel

image credits: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

APR 16

Ontario Completely Off Coal

Written by on April 16, 2014

The Canadian province of Ontario has officially shut down its last coal burning power plant.

Power for the province now comes from “emission-free electricity sources like wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower, along with lower-emission electricity sources like natural gas and biomass.” The province had set a target of the end of 2014 to end its use of coal to generate electricity.

The Thunder Bay Generating Station was the last coal fueled power plant in the province. Now that it has burned the last of its coal supply, the plant will be converted to a biomass-fueled power plant.

image: CC 2.0 by Kyle MacKenzie

Hat tip to @TomMatzzie

APR 12

CETO Produces Wave Power and Freshwater

Written by on April 12, 2014

A new, grid-tied offshore wave energy project called CETO is being readied off the west coast of Australia, near Perth. Carnegie Wave Energy is installing what is called the “first operating wave energy array scheme in the world.” The installation will consist of three submerged buoys 11 meters (36 feet) in diameter, which will be anchored offshore. The buoys will create high pressure water which will be pumped to an onshore generating station to produce electricity.

In addition to producing power, the CETO technology incorporates an interesting synergy – it is also used to provide fresh water. The system provides for more efficient desalination of seawater, since the water is already being pumped onshore from the buoys. Once it has powered the turbines, some of the water can be diverted into conventional desalination equipment. For regions in need of water desalination, the combination is ideal, and additional energy is not required for pumping water in from the sea.

The submerged operation of the CETO buoys helps provide storm survival capacity for the buoys and keeps the bouys out of view to minimize visual impact.

In comparison to wind turbines, the CETO system is small-scale. Each buoyant actuator has a rated capacity of 240 kW, so the installation being built will have less than 1 MW of capacity, whereas many current wind turbines have individual capacities of several mwgawatts. Nonetheless, it is another step forward for another energy generating technology. Carnegie hopes to expand commercialization of this technology and is targeting having 1000 MW of capacity installed by 2020.

APR 2

Nontoxic Flame Retardants from Whey

Written by on April 2, 2014

Whey is generally a waste byproduct from cheese- and yogurt-making. Producers need to find ways to dispose of it, and often it is discharged into wastewater systems. Research at the Polytechnic University of Turin is being done to explore the use of whey as a replacement for toxic compounds used as flame retardants.

Treated fabrics are kept from burning as readily because the casein from whey forms a layer of char on the surface when it is exposed to heat, which prevents the fire from spreading as readily. Tests on cotton and polyester materials often self-extinguished, and tests on cotton-polyester were also inhibited and burned more slowly.

While the tests have been promising, the process is not yet ready for commercialization because “the cheese-treated fabrics stink.” But, if the compounds that cause the odor can be removed, this can be a technology to remove more harmful chemicals from common use and make use of a waste product at the same time. And, it could give the word “cheesecloth” a whole new meaning.

image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Oscar/Wikimedia Commons

via: Environmental Building News

MAR 27

Making Bio-Based Rocket Fuel

Written by on March 27, 2014

Rocket fuel is the latest in a long line of fuels being developed from bio sources instead of being produced from petrochemicals. Numerous other fuels have been developed from bio-diesel and synthetic gasolines to aviation fuels are now being made from microorganisms or from converting bio feedstocks. And now, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have been able to produce a key component of JP-10 high energy fuel from bacterial sources.

Pinene is a component that is used in fuels that are used for missiles and rockets. It is found in tree sap, but it is primarily extracted from crude oil. Since only a small amount of pinene can be produced from each barrel of crude oil, it is expensive and difficult to obtain.

The researchers developed strains of E. coli which has been able to produce small quantities of pinene in the laboratory. There are still further steps to take before this becomes scalable and commercially viable, but the initial development has been the major milestone, and researchers on the project expect to be able to further improve the process as they continue their work.

There is also a much stronger economic drive to develop bio-based rocket fuel as compared to other fuels. At present, petroleum-based JP-10 costs about $25 per gallon, so a difference of a dollar or two per gallon could be significant, as well as being able to produce fuel for space travel without needing ot rely on petrochemical sources.

image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Image courtesy of SpaceX/Wikimedia Commons

via: Solar Thermal Magazine

JAN 22

More Efficient Flight in Formation

Written by on January 22, 2014

Many people are very familiar with the V formation used by migrating flocks of birds, and scientists have determined that this is an efficient mode of travel which helps the birds conserve energy, especially on long migratory journeys. But the same concept is being considered to improve the efficiency of commercial jetliners.

Among aircraft manufacturers, Airbus is one of the companies looking at the advantages of commercial flocking. “In a V formation of 25 birds, each can achieve a reduction of induced drag by up to 65 per cent and increase their range by 7 per cent. While efficiencies for commercial aircraft are not as great, they remain significant.”

It is possible that, in the future, commercial flights might flock together in this way to save fuel. The initial tests of this approach might be carried out with trans-ocreanic flights originating in separate Australian cities which would coordinate their schedules and meet up in order to cross the Pacific together, before they “peel off and head to their separate destinations.”

image credit: Airbus

via: Quirks & Quarks

JAN 15

Auto Show – Less Green in 2014

Written by on January 15, 2014

As we’ve done for the past several years, EcoGeek went to this year’s North American International Auto Show (the Detroit Auto Show) to see what is new in clean and green transportation. However, this year’s displays continue to move away from a focus on environmental awareness as a major selling point. This has seemed to be the trend over the past few years. In retrospect, it seems that the peak of the green focus was probably the 2009 Detroit Show.

Green isn’t gone entirely. MPG is still a factor that is touted at some brands, but it seems to matter no more than other numbers like horsepower or cargo volume that manufacturers use to compete with one another. Electric drive continues to work its way into more and more cars (with mild hybridization becoming more common). But cars are not green-focused the way they were a few years ago. The fact that Ford has five different hybrid and electric drive vehicles would have been a big story just a couple years ago, but now it is just part of a major automaker having a complete line.

Where once they seemed like an outsider, Tesla seems to have developed into a mainstream member of the club. For this year’s display, Tesla had two of their Model S coupes and display panels about interior finish choices; the Roadster was not in sight. The only non-traditional manufacturer on the display floor this year was VIA trucks, which had vehicles in three different places. Michelin (who has always been a major sponsor of the Detroit Show) and a couple other parts suppliers also had space on the main floor, but not to the extent as during the depths of the economic decline.

The common theme across much of the show this year was the engine-on-a-stick. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before, but it seemed to be much more prevalent. Lots of “here’s what the engine looks like,” and usually nothing, or very little, in the way of explanatory text to accompany it. Overall, the show did seem to be moving back toward a more car-centric focus on the basic stuff that the core car-people really love. With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising that the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was named Car of the Year.

The driving course on the lower level is gone this year, as well. When it was introduced a few years ago, there were literally dozens of different vehicles, primarily electrics and hybrids, that could be driven, to introduce the public to the experience of driving a vehicle with something other than a gasoline engine. Over the past few years, this became less and less of a feature, and is now completely omitted from the show.

Although green cars have largely become a sideline, rather than the focus of the Auto Show, the fact that they have become a part of most manufacturers’ lines should be taken as a sign of progress. There certainly were some interesting new vehicles at this year’s show, and we will take a more detailed look at some of these.