H2 – Many Benefits, Many Challenges

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

The benefits of hydrogen are fairly obvious.  It would almost necessarily be a domestically produced material with few environmental shortcomings if made by clean processes.  The challenges to be overcome are many and varied, though – with the biggest obstacle to wide-spread use being in the distribution of the fuel. The U. S. Department of Energy, on its Fuel Economy.gov web site, concedes, “The current infrastructure for producing, delivering, and dispensing hydrogen to consumers cannot yet support the widespread adoption of FCVs (fuel cell vehicles).”  As different strategies are tested and adopted, this is likely to change, as are the costs for fuel cells and their longevity. Auto makers, working to bring FCVs to market, have dropped prices from the …

Audi Drives Hockenheim with “Bobby”

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“Bobby” is Audi’s computerized “driver” for their RS 7, which they demonstrated before thousands of spectators in the grandstands at the 4.574 kilometer (2.842 mile) Hockenheim race track in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany on October 19. The video, despite the somewhat sometimes annoying narration, gives a good impression of the run, showing the acceleration, braking and cornering through all 17 turns from both inside and outside the car.  The inside views belie the speed the car attains, looking a bit unearthly by the precise, smooth lines the car takes, the envy of any “real” race car driver. Green Car Congress reports, “The Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept car drove a clean racing line at the Hockenheimring—full throttle on the straights, full …

Cheap Hydrogen, Anyone?

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Researchers in Glasgow and at Stanford University have devised ways to decouple oxygen and hydrogen from water without resort to expensive extraction or storage techniques.  Both breakthroughs involve low-cost materials, low-energy requirements, and the production of clean hydrogen through what should be renewable energy resources. The latter overcomes one major objection to hydrogen production.  As Professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry explains, “Around 95% of the world’s hydrogen supply is currently obtained from fossil fuels, a finite resource which we know harms the environment and speeds climate change. Some of this hydrogen is used to make ammonia fertilizer and as such, fossil hydrogen helps feed more than half of the world’s population. “The potential for …

EAS VIII: Sebastian Thrun Updates Us

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Sebastian Thrun is best known for his leadership in the “Google Cars” program, fielding self-driving Priuses in the San Francisco Bay area and having the cars demonstrate a spotless accident record (except for those caused by other drivers running into them.)  He shared the current status of that project with attendees at the eighth annual CAFE Foundation Electric Aircraft Symposium in late April. He’s also been responsible for Google Glass, those controversial mega-spectacles that have furnished stand-up comics with new realms of material, although the last laugh may be on scoffers as these ingenious devices point the way toward wearable computers.  Thrun’s also created a new type of open university – one that takes advantage of the online experience. “Udacity …

Copper Catalyst Makes Room Temperature Ethanol

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

We’ve written a great deal about ways of making so-called “bio-fuels,” those ethanol, methanol and even diesel substitutes that avoid the high toxicity and environmental harm of fossil fuels.  Often though, these substitutes require the diversion of foodstocks or the use of exotic catalysts and high energy inputs to trigger the appropriate mechanisms. Scientists as Stanford University may have found a way to use copper, though, to make ethanol without corn or other plants.  They’ve “created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.” Matthew W. Kanan, Assistant Professor at Stanford, has been working toward this kind of biofuel production for many years.  His University profile contains the following: “The ability to …

Dr. Cui’s Pomegranate-inspired Battery Bears Fruit

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Dr. Yi Cui seems to get inspiration from food.  A few years ago, his research team came up with a “yolk-shell structure” that helped contain the high amount of lithium that silicon anodes were able to absorb.  That battery design promised much, and an embellishment of that design seems to hold even greater promise. His newest effort, working at Stanford University with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, features an electrode “designed like a pomegranate – with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seed in a tough carbon rind.”  This approach, according to its inventors, overcomes several remaining obstacles to the use of silicon in a new generation of lithium-ion batteries. Yi said the battery’s efficiency and longevity are promising.  …

Airliners Get Better Mileage than Cars, and Trains do Even Better

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Electric Powerplants, GFC, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Airliners beat cars in fuel economy, especially on longer trips.  That would not be news to attendees at recent Electric Aircraft Symposia, where speakers like Ilan Kroo, Stanford University professor and aircraft designer, have brought that message home. One of Kroo’s slides, shown below in a 2009 lecture (It’s nearly an hour, but worth a look and listen), lists a “narrow-body” airliner (in this case a Boeing 737-800) as able to fly one passenger coast-to-coast on 29 gallons of fuel, at about 81 passenger miles per gallon.  A person carpooling his or her four-passenger Prius and driving responsibly could beat that (although not in the five hours required for the jet to make the total flight), but most trips are solo …

Unique, From A (for Aerodynamics) to Zee

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Ilan Kroo, according to his biography page, is a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, an advanced cross-country hang glider pilot, and designer of the Swift flying wing hang glider, unmanned aerial vehicles, a flying Pterosaur replica, America’s Cup sailboats, and high-speed research aircraft.  Currently on a leave of absence from Stanford, he has started Zee Aero, “a bay area start-up company focusing on bringing new technologies to civil aircraft.” Zee Aero, on its first of five sparse web pages, proclaims, “We’re creating an entirely new aircraft,” a heady claim considering the lack of supporting descriptions or illustrations.  But other sources have been made available, including Zee’s patent applications, which show a slim tricycle-gear fuselage surmounted by variously …

Batteries That Heal Themselves

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Alert reader Colin Rush provided this breaking development in battery science. Regular readers will remember Dr. Yi Cui’s name.  He’s a Stanford University scientist who has worked with paper batteries, much more powerful electrodes, and means of helping batteries stay together under the continuous strain of expanding and contracting during charging and discharging.  He explained that at the third annual Electric Aircraft Symposium at the Hiller Aviation Museum, and has since adopted several tactics to overcome that problem.  One commercial outgrowth of his work, Amprius, is working on commercial production that benefits from his insights. Since that internal flexing eventually leads to cracking of electrodes, Dr. Cui’s latest announcement brings some hope that such things can not only be overcome, …

Breaking Up Isn’t So Hard to Do

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

A great deal of the research on lithium batteries goes into figuring out how to keep them together for the greatest number of charge-discharge cycles.   Unfortunately, the active compounds in these batteries that give the greatest energy storage capacity or power output, also tend to be those compounds that come unglued under stress. Taking high-resolution 3D movies with X-ray tomography (somewhat like the CAT scans used on human subjects), researchers at the Swiss Light Source, a mecca for seeing the unseeable, have witnessed the expansion and contraction of the internal structure of lithium-ion batteries, while the batteries are operating. Stanford University’s Dr. Cui has explained that the expansion and contraction of batteries leads to their eventual failure, but until now, …