Look What Fred To Started!

Dean Sigler Batteries, Electric Aircraft Materials, Solar Power, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

forty years ago today, Fred To’s Solar One flew the length of the runway at Lasham Airfield in Hampshire, England, solely on the energy derived from the weak winter illumination and stored in a small set of ni-cad batteries.. With his partner David Williams, he had built the wooden, model-aircraft-like structure in a farm building, visited by the farm’s horses and pigs. The airplane went on to be displayed at various airshows, and Fred went on to build an inflatable 100-foot-span flying wing that was the first to use “fly-by-wire” technology.  His inventiveness and design skills have informed many projects, as we reported in our November 2018 report on the award ceremony Fred recently attended. In short form, much has …

MIT’s Ionic Flyer – Solid State All the Way

Dean Sigler Announcements, Electric Aircraft Components, Electric Aircraft Materials, Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

This week, a kerfuffle tsunami has swept through the aeronautical press, with the announcement by Steven Barret of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that he has flown an ion-powered airplane that “doesn’t depend on fossil fuels or batteries.”*  (A minor point – the airplane does have a battery that gets its output voltage ramped up by a custom power supply.) Five years ago, your editor reported on ionic thrusters, several of which were being tested by Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. These little devices have great promise for moving vehicles in space, where the vacuum presents no aerodynamic drag to overcome. Even a small nudge from a thruster in space will cause a vehicle to accelerate. They …

Aurora’s Odysseus – Large Enough for Its Mythic Name

Dean Sigler Electric Aircraft Materials, Electric Powerplants, Solar Power, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Named for a mythical hero like its evolutionary predecessors, Aurora Flight Science’s Odysseus is a huge, but ephemeral thing. A wingspan larger than the largest 747’s and a weight no greater than a Smart Car’s (around 1,500 pounds) means this airplane will be slow and frail.  A carbon fiber tube structure covered by lightweight Tedlar™ resembles the construction of Solar Impulse, but without the bulk of carrying a pilot. Since its antecedent was the world record holding distance champion in human-powered aircraft, the manner of flight is no surprise.  Its intended altitude is.  Odysseus takes it to the stratosphere. It’s the latest revelation in a thirty-year exploration of low-powered, extreme-endurance aircraft.  Before he founded Aurora, John Langford led a group of …

Rice Defeats Dendrites

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Dr. James Tour of Rice University makes news regularly with different ways of making better batteries.  His latest, a thin-film coating of carbon nanotubes, will enable lithium metal batteries to potentially achieve their full potential. According to the Tour Laboratory, that potential is worth considering.  “Lithium metal charges much faster and holds about 10 times more energy by volume than the lithium-ion electrodes found in just about every electronic device, including cellphones and electric cars.”  This promise is offset by problems with dendrite growth, the intrusion of tooth-like projections from the surface of the anode metal.  If these growths expand far enough, they poke through the battery’s electrolyte and severely limit battery life.  Worst of all, if the dendrites reach …

The C4V Battery – Solid-State in Production?

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Jeffrey Engler of Wright Electric posted an item about Charge CCCV, LLC (C4V) which “demonstrated a prototype of its new Solid State Battery (SSB) at the NY BEST 2018 Fall Conference in New York.  The Company’s SSB solution delivers higher performance, higher density, lower cost batteries that promise to require significantly less charging time than others.”  The startup announced a 380 Watt-hour-per-kilogram battery already in production.  Since your editor tends to become a bit snarky about the usual two-to-five-year period of anticipation before these numbers become reality, he rushed to check out the claims. Plausible Numbers, but Uncertain Time Frame The firm’s numbers are not wildly excessive, and they seem to be getting funding and finding partnerships with established companies.  …

The 17X Aluminum-Air Battery?

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Jaephil Cho has a surprise for us – an aluminum-air battery that is potentially (no pun intended) more energetic than gasoline.  Director of the Research Center for Innovative Battery Technologies and Professor in the School of Energy and Chemical Engineering, at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), Cho and his students have released over 350 papers, including one titled, “Seed-mediated atomic-scale reconstruction of silver manganate nanoplates for oxygen reduction towards high-energy aluminum-air flow batteries.” While such titles might not get him on the NY Times best-seller list, Cho is widely respected, UNIST reporting he has been named to the 2017 Highly Cited Researchers List in materials science, a second such honor for him. Professor Cho’ Surprise Professor Cho’s …

Carbon Fiber and the Grand Unified Airplane

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Your editor has long held the belief that we are on the threshold of creating a Grand Unified Airplane, a craft that would draw all its energy from solar cells, the flexing of its wings, the air passing over its form, and the very act of flight itself.  It seems to become less of a science fiction ideal and more of real-world possibility every day.  Carbon fiber could be part of that possibility. What if your airplane were its own battery?  Think of the weight savings and potential endurance and range.  Your editor became fascinated with 2010 research done by Dr. Emile Greenhalgh of Imperial University in London, who developed a structural sandwich with carbon fiber outer layers and a …

Promising 3D Printed Microlattice Battery

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The three biggest words in battery structures are “Area, Area, Area.”  The more anode and cathode area a battery can expose to the electrolyte that carries ions and electrons between the positive and negative ends of the battery, the better.  Most battery configurations, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Missouri University of Science and Technology, block a great deal of interaction between these elements.  Their solution is to go porous in a microlattice battery, thanks to 3D printing. Electrodes present some surface area to the electrolyte, which can only interact with the surface area presented.  Rahul Panat at Carnegie Mellon and Jonghyun Park at Missouri S & T have created a cube-shaped battery composed of microlattice electrodes which …

Funneling Light and Energy with New Materials

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Dr. Adolfo De Sanctis, a Research Fellow in the Quantum Systems and Nanomaterials group at the University of Exeter (UK), earned his Ph. D. in physics with a dissertation on “Manipulating light in two-dimensional layered materials” (Nature Communications, May 2017).  The video below gives a short-hand view of his work. Other, less scholarly outlets (like this one) give an easy-to-read view of what he has accomplished, and why his research is of interest for many applications – including energy harvesting. Green Optimistic reports, “A team of researchers from the University of Exeter developed a solar cell with a record 60% efficiency. The idea behind this breakthrough is similar to using a ‘funnel’: corralling an amorphous collection of electrical charges into …

Riding the Sunshine Highway

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Sunday, July 22 found your editor at Bend, Oregon’s High Desert Museum for the finish of the 2018 American Solar Challenge.  The race started in Omaha, Nebraska on July 14 and followed parts of the Oregon National Historic Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail. Omaha, NE (Starting line) – July 14 Grand Island, NE (Checkpoint) – July 14 Gering, NE (Stage stop) – July 15 – 16 Casper, WY (Checkpoint) – July 16 Lander, WY (Stage stop) – July 17-18 Farson, WY (Checkpoint) – July 18 Arco, ID (Stage stop) – July 19 – 20 Mountain Home, ID (Checkpoint) – July 20 Burns, OR (Stage stop) – July 21 – 22 Bend, OR (Finish line) – July 22 Teams …