July 31, 2009
NASA and CAFE Foundation Announce $1.5M Green Aircraft Challenge
The NASA Innovative Partnerships Program and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation today announced the Green Flight Challenge. The contest is a flight efficiency competition for aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon.
The prize for the aircraft with the best performance is $1.5 million. The competition is scheduled for July 2011 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. A variety of innovative experimental aircraft using electrical, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter. Several major universities and aircraft builders have expressed their intention to enter teams in the challenge.
To win, teams must use cutting-edge technologies in mechanical and electrical engineering, structures, aerodynamics and thermodynamics. The challenge is expected to help advance all three of the major climate mitigation initiatives: efficiency, conservation and zero-carbon energy sources. These technologies will support advances in aviation and may have broader applications in transportation and energy storage.
The Green Flight Challenge is administered for NASA by CAFE. Founded in 1981, CAFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of personal aircraft technologies through research, analysis and education.
NASA is providing the prize money as part of the Centennial Challenges program. The program seeks innovative solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation from diverse and unconventional sources. Competitors may not receive government funding for their entries in this challenge.
BAF Technologies to Distribute Hardstaff Dual-Fuel Conversion Technology in US
|Basic OIGI system for CNG or LNG. Click to enlarge.|
US-based BAF Technologies, a provider of natural gas conversions for select light- and medium-duty vehicles, has entered into an exclusive distributorship agreement with UK-based T. Baden Hardstaff to retrofit existing heavy-duty on-road vehicles to dual-fuel operation. The agreement will provide BAF with exclusive territory rights for the United States.
BAF is currently converting 600 AT&T Ford E-Series vans to dedicated CNG technology in 2009. (Earlier post.) T. Baden Hardstaff is a service and technology provider for the road transport industry specializing in the development of low carbon vehicle technologies. Among its offerings is the OIGI dual-fuel system that can work with either compressed or liquefied natural gas.
BAF says it will be testing and certifying multiple heavy-duty engines, particularly those used for school buses, refuse haulers and other similar uses, according to a report from NGV Global. BAF will soon announce projects already in place with interest in dual-fuel building.
OIGI. The Hardstaff OIGI (Oil Ignition Gas Injection) is a dual-fuel system developed to substitute natural gas for diesel in light- and heavy-duty engines. Diesel is required as the ignition source in dual fuel engines. With the OIGI system the engine will use 100% diesel at idle; gas injection and diesel reduction commences when engine speed increases. Precise control of diesel reduction and gas injection quantities ensures efficient fuel use and performance equivalent to the original diesel engine.
The natural gas injection system is electronically controlled and can cater for multi-point, mono point and sequential port injection. A separate electronic control unit (ECU) is used for the natural gas fuel, providing a full closed loop feedback system that monitors existing variables alongside the diesel electronic control unit (ECU) and controls the gas injection based on the feedback from the various engine sensors.
The sensors include boost pressure, lambda sensor signal, pedal deflection, coolant temperature, gas temperature and pressure, and many more inputs. The ECU is fully programmable and can provide custom mapping for various vehicle applications. The system is also OBD (On Board Diagnostics) compliant.
(A hat-tip to John!)
National Research Council Report on America’s Energy Future Highlights Vehicle Efficiency Technologies, Conversion of Biomass and Coal-to-Liquids Fuels, and Electrifying the Light Duty Fleet with PHEVs, BEVs and FCVs
With a sustained national commitment, the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies, according to the prepublication copy of the capstone report of the America’s Energy Future project of the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering.
However, the report concludes, initiating deployment of these technologies is urgent; actions taken—or not taken—between now and 2020 to develop and demonstrate several key technologies will largely determine the nation’s energy options for many decades to come. For the transportation sector, these key technologies include a focus on improving vehicle efficiency; developing technologies for the conversion of biomass and coal-to-liquid fuels; and electrifying the light-duty vehicle fleet through expanded deployment of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs).
The report (America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation) of the Committee on America’s Energy Future addresses a potential new portfolio of energy-supply and end-use technologies—their states of development, costs, implementation barriers, and impacts—both at present and projected over the next two to three decades.
The goal of the report is to inform policymakers about technology options for transforming energy production, distribution, and use to increase sustainability, support long-term economic prosperity, promote energy security, and reduce adverse environmental impacts.
Among the wide variety of technologies under development that might become available in the future, this report focuses on those with the best prospects of fully maturing during the three time periods considered: 2008–2020, 2020–2035, and 2035–2050.
The report makes eight key findings, including the top level finding regarding the sustained national commitment. For transportation, the report concludes that petroleum will continue to be an indispensable transportation fuel during the time periods considered. However, maintaining current rates of domestic petroleum production (about 5.1 million barrels per day in 2008) will be challenging. There are limited options for replacing petroleum or reducing petroleum use before 2020, the report finds, but there are more substantial longer-term options that could begin to make significant contributions in the 2030–2035 timeframe.
Three primary options for obtaining meaningful reductions in petroleum use in the transportation sector include:
Improving vehicle efficiency. The best near-term option for reducing dependence on petroleum in through greater vehicle efficiency, according to the report. Technologies to improve vehicle efficiency are available for deployment now, and new technologies continue to emerge.
Developing technologies for the conversion of biomass and coal-to-liquid fuels. By 2035, cellulosic ethanol and/or coal-and-biomass-to-liquid (CBTL) fuels with carbon capture and storage could replace about 15% of current fuel consumption in the transportation sector (1.7–2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline-equivalent) with near-zero lifecycle CO2 emissions, according to the report.
(The report projects cellulosic ethanol could deliver 1.7 million barrels gasoline equivalent per day, while CBTL could deliver 2.5 million barrels gasoline equivalent per day. The two volumes are mutually exclusive—the same supply of biomass is used in each case.)
Coal-to-liquid fuels with carbon capture and storage could replace about 15–20% of current fuel consumption in the transportation sector (2–3 million barrels per day; the lower estimate holds if coal is also used to produce coal-and-biomass-to-liquid fuels) and would have lifecycle CO2 emissions similar to petroleum-based fuels.
However, these levels of production would require the annual harvesting of 500 million dry tonnes (550 million dry tons) of biomass and an increase in coal extraction in the United States by 50% over current levels, resulting in a range of potential environmental impacts on land, water, air, and human health—including increased CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from coal-to-liquid fuels unless process CO2 from liquid-fuel production plants is captured and stored geologically.
Commercial demonstrations of the conversion technologies integrated with carbon capture and storage will have to be pursued aggressively and proven economically viable by 2015 if these technologies are to be commercially deployable before 2020. The development of advanced biomass-conversion technologies will require fundamental advances in bioengineering and biotechnology.
Electrifying the light-duty vehicle fleet through expanded deployment of plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Such a transition would require the development of advanced battery and fuel-cell technologies as well as modernization of the electrical grid to manage the increased demand for electricity.
Other findings included:
The deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies is the nearest- term and lowest-cost option for moderating demand for energy, especially over the next decade. The potential energy savings available from the accelerated deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies in the buildings, industry, and transportation sectors could more than offset the Energy Information Administration’s projected increases in energy consumption through 2030.
The United States has many promising options for obtaining new supplies of electricity and changing its supply mix during the next two to three decades, especially if carbon capture and storage and evolutionary nuclear technologies can be deployed at required scales. However, the deployment of these new supply technologies is very likely to result in higher consumer prices for electricity.
Expansion and modernization of the nation’s electrical transmission and distribution systems (i.e., the power grid) are urgently needed. Expansion and modernization would enhance reliability and security, accommodate changes in load growth and electricity demand, and enable the deployment of energy efficiency and supply technologies, especially intermittent wind and solar energy.
Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are achievable over the next two to three decades through a portfolio approach involving the widespread deployment of energy efficiency technologies; renewable energy; coal, natural gas, and biomass with carbon capture and storage; and nuclear technologies.
To enable accelerated deployments of new energy technologies starting around 2020, and to ensure that innovative ideas continue to be explored, the public and private sectors will need to perform extensive research, development and demonstration over the next decade.
A number of current barriers are likely to delay or even prevent the accelerated deployment of the energy-supply and end-use technologies described in this report. Policy and regulatory actions, as well as other incentives, will be required to overcome these barriers.
The America’s Energy Future project is sponsored by the US Department of Energy, BP America, Dow Chemical Company Foundation, Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation, GE Energy, General Motors Corp., Intel Corp., and the W.M. Keck Foundation.
Support was also provided by the National Academies through the following endowed funds created to perpetually support the work of the National Research Council: Thomas Lincoln Casey Fund, Arthur L. Day Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund, George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science, and Frank Press Fund for Dissemination and Outreach.
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Hybrid DLC-Battery Energy Storage System for Streetcars
Siemens earlier this year launched a new hybrid energy storage system for streetcars that combines a double-layer capacitor (DLC) and NiMH battery pack. Streetcars equipped with the Sitras HES hybrid energy storage system can be driven up to 2,500 meters (1.6 miles) without an overheadcontactt line (OCL).
Vehicles equipped with the energy storage systems consume up to 30% less energy per year and produce up to 80 metric tons less CO2 emission than vehicles without energy storage systems. Thanks to a new connection concept, Sitras HES and Sitras MES can be retrofitted in existing vehicles without any difficulty; the tramway infrastructure remains completely unaffected.
In Portugal, the hybrid energy storage system has been successfully used in passenger services since November 2008. It has also been certified according to BoStrab (German Construction and Operating Code for Tramways) for use in the public transport.
The Sitras HES hybrid energy storage system consists of two energy-storing components: the Sitras MES mobile energy storage unit (double-layer capacitor, DLC) and a nickel-metal hydride battery. The systems are mounted on unused roof surfaces of a tram and electrically connected to the feed-in point of the vehicle by means of a DC/DC-chopper.
Thanks to this new autonomous connection concept, the energy storage system can be directly integrated into new vehicles or built into ones that already exist. When the vehicle is in operation, the energy storage units are charged during braking. A tram can use this stored energy to travel relatively long distances without having to be supplied with power from the contact line. The energy storage units can also be recharged on routes with OCLs or stationary charging stations, for example at stops.
The high energy content of the traction battery also allows operation in case of an OCL-failure or maintenance work on the OCL as well as when unforeseeable problems arise on routes without OCLs.
Zero Motorcycles Launches DS Electric Dual Sport Motorcycle
Zero Motorcycles launched the Zero DS, a fully electric dual sport motorcycle for on and off-road riding. Zero has equipped its latest model with aggressive suspension, rugged wheels and dual sport tires. The DS is powered by Zero Motorcycles’s Z-Force electric drivetrain.
|The Zero DS. Click to enlarge.|
With a 4 kWh Li-ion pack, the DS has a top speed of 55 mph (90 km/h) and has a range of up to 50 miles (80 km). Recharge time is less than four hours.
Aircraft grade aluminium is exclusively used in the construction of the lightweight twin spar frame. Each component on the motorcycle is engineered to minimize weight.
Zero Motorcycles first entered the motorcycle category with the launch of the 2008 Zero X electric dirt bike, which sold out in late 2008. This was followed by the launch of the Zero S Supermoto motorcycle for urban use and the Zero MX in June this year designed specifically for track riding and motocross.
New Flyer Defers Indefinitely Production of 140 Diesel-Electric Hybrid Buses Due to Delays in Customer Receiving State Funding
New Flyer Industries Inc. will defer indefinitely the production of 140 diesel-electric hybrid articulated buses (representing 280 equivalent units or EUs) under a major US customer order that was planned to commence this week as a result of delays in the customer receiving state funding. All of these 140 buses were planned to be delivered to the customer in the second half of fiscal 2009.
The customer told New Flyer that the buses under this order are required under its bus replacement plan and that it intends to purchase the buses once funding is made available. The customer planned to fund this order solely from state monies as federal stimulus monies available to the customer were allocated to other capital projects.
The customer advised that funding for this order is dependent on the approval of its funding application to the state, but is unable to confirm when the state is expected to approve the funding request. New Flyer is monitoring the situation and will reschedule these buses back into the production schedule once funding has been approved.
Given the “engineer-to-order” nature of heavy-duty transit buses, other customers’ orders in the backlog cannot be easily rescheduled within the second half of 2009 to fill the gaps in the production schedule created by this order deferral. This deferral is expected to result in a reduction in planned production levels from approximately 50 EUs per week to an average of 36 EUs per week for the remainder of fiscal 2009.
While some scheduling adjustments can be made, the revised production schedule currently assumes that the majority of the production schedule gaps cannot be filled.
Notwithstanding the deferred order, New Flyer expects that full-year total production for fiscal 2009 should not be less than the 2,164 EUs delivered in fiscal 2008.
The expected revenue from this deferred order is approximately $122 million and represents approximately 3% of the total order backlog of $4 billion (which is made up both firm orders and options) that New Flyer earlier reported. The total unexercised us options that this customer has represent an additional 760 buses (1,520 EUs) over a five-year term, which represents an additional 16% of the total order backlog. These options are assignable to other customers.
New Graphene Nanomaterial Could Result in More Fuel-Efficient Airplanes and Cars; Applications in Energy Storage
|Exfoliated Graphite NanoPlatelets. Bottom: lateral and edge views. Source: MSU, XG Sciences. Click to enlarge.|
A Michigan State University (MSU) researcher and his students have developed a nanomaterial—xGnP Exfoliated Graphite NanoPlatelets—that makes plastic stiffer, lighter and stronger and could result in more fuel-efficient airplanes and cars as well as more durable medical and sports equipment and enhanced energy storage systems.
The key to the new material’s capabilities is a fast and inexpensive process for separating layers of graphite (graphene) into stacks less than 10 nanometers in thickness but with lateral dimensions anywhere from 500 nm to tens of microns, coupled with the ability to tailor the particle surface chemistry to make it compatible with water, resin or plastic systems.
The small stacks of graphene can replace carbon nanotubes, nano-clays, or other carbon compounds in many composite applications. When added in small amounts (2-3%) to plastics or resins, the nanoparticles make these materials electrically or thermally conductive and less permeable, while simultaneously improving mechanical properties like strength, stiffness, or surface toughness.
When used alone or in conjunction with carbon or glass fibers, the nanoparticles enhance electrical and thermal conductivity—producing strong, lightweight composites suitable for aerospace, automotive, or electronic applications.
|Applications of xGnP + meals in energy storage. Click to enlarge.|
Combined with metal nanoparticles, (xGnP + nanoparticle), the material has potential for applications in fuel cells, supercapacitors, batteries and hydrogen storage.
The material will be instrumental in the development of new and expanded applications in the aerospace, automotive and packaging industries, said Lawrence Drzal, University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU and director of MSU’s Composite Materials and Structure Center.
Drzal led the research group that developed the product, which is considered to be a practical, inexpensive material that has a unique set of physical, chemical and morphological attributes. The nanoscale material, which is electrically and thermally conductive, has reduced flammability and barrier properties, he said.
The graphene nanoparticles are being manufactured by a new startup company, XG Sciences Inc., located in mid-Michigan and a spinoff from intellectual property owned by MSU. XG Sciences has an exclusive license to manufacture this material.
XGnP can either be used as an additive to plastics or by itself it can make a transformational change in the performance of many advanced electronic and energy devices. It can do so because it’s a nanoparticle with a unique shape made from environmentally benign carbon, and it can be made at a very reasonable cost.—Lawrence Drzal
Potential applications of xGnP include:
- Lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft and car parts, and stronger wind turbines, medical implants and sports equipment.
- Surface coatings on Li-ion electrodes and transparent conductive coatings for solar cells and displays.
- Lightweight gasoline tanks and leak-tight and plastic containers that keep food fresh for weeks.
Drzal and his partners (former students Hiroyuki Fukushima, Inhwan Do and XG Sciences CEO Mike Knox) are already looking ahead to more uses for the product, such as recyclable, economical or lightweight units to store hydrogen for the next generation of fuel cell-powered autos.
Now that we know how to make this material and how to modify it so that it can be utilized in plastics, our attention is being directed to high-end applications where we can really make some substantial changes in the way electronics, fuel cells, batteries and solar cells perform as a result of using this material...This project goes beyond doing research and publishing papers. It appears to have made the transition from a laboratory curiosity to a commercial product and simultaneously has helped create a spinoff company to increase the economic viability of Michigan.—Lawrence Drzal
New Method for Producing High-Performance Zeolite Membranes; Could Increase Energy Efficiency of Biofuel Production
Engineers have developed a new method for creating high-performance membranes from zeolites; the method could increase the energy efficiency of chemical separations up to 50 times over conventional methods and enable higher production rates. Researchers led by chemical engineer Michael Tsapatsis of the University of Minnesota reported this discovery in the 31 July issue of Science.
The ability to separate and purify specific molecules in a chemical mixture is essential to chemical manufacturing. Many industrial separations rely on distillation, a process that is easy to design and implement but consumes a lot of energy. Tsapatsis’ team developed a rapid heating treatment to remove structural defects in zeolite membranes that limit their performance, a problem that has plagued the technology for decades.
Using membranes rather than energy-intensive processes such as distillation and crystallization could have a major impact on industry.—NSF program officer Rosemarie Wesson
This discovery could increase the energy efficiency of producing important chemical solvents such as xylene and renewable biofuels such as ethanol and butanol.
Currently, researchers create zeolite membranes by growing a film of crystals with small organic ions added to direct the crystal structure and pore size—two zeolite properties that help determine which molecules can pass through the material. Then they slowly heat the zeolite film in a process called calcination to decompose the ions and open the pores.
However, this method for creating zeolite films often leaves cracks at the boundaries between grains of zeolite crystals, Tsapatsis said. These defects have prevented zeolite films from being used effectively as membranes, because molecules of unwelcome chemicals that are rejected by the zeolite pores can still penetrate through the membrane defects.
Where possible, repairing the zeolite membrane is difficult and expensive. Currently zeolite membranes have found use only in specialized, smaller-scale applications, such as the removal of water from alcohols or other solvents.
In an effort to minimize the formation of cracks and other defects, the heating rate during calcination is very gentle, and the process can take as long as 40 hours—typically a material is heated at a rate of 1 degree Celsius per minute up to a temperature between 400 and 500 degrees Celsius, where it is held steadily for several hours before being allowed to slowly cool. Because conventional calcination is time-consuming and energy-intensive, it has been difficult and expensive to produce zeolite membranes on a large scale.
Tsapatsis’ team developed a treatment called Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP), a treatment in which zeolite film is heated to 700 °C within one minute and kept at that temperature for no more than two minutes. Acting as an annealing method, RTP refines the granular structure of the zeolite crystal film.
When the researchers examined the RTP-treated films, they found no evidence of cracks at grain boundaries. Although they found other types of defects, these don't seem to affect the membrane properties or performance.
In a comparison to conventionally-made zeolite membranes, Tsapatsis said, “We observed a dramatic improvement in the separation performance of the RTP-treated membranes.” A second round of RTP treatment improved separation performance even further, to a level on par with current industry separation methods.
The researchers demonstrated the RTP process on relatively thick (several micrometers) zeolite membranes. Tsapatsis and collaborators are now working towards making zeolite membranes 10 to 100 times thinner to allow molecules to pass through more quickly. They hope to eventually implement RTP treatment with its beneficial effects to these membranes as well.
Tsapatsis involved several graduate students in this project: Jungkyu Choi, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, performed most of the experiments; Hae-Kwon Jeong, now an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, performed some early RTP treatments while a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with engineering professor Richard Masel; and Jared Stoeger, currently a doctorate candidate with Tsapatsis, performed permeation measurements using stainless steel tube supported membranes. Mark Snyder, now an assistant professor at Lehigh University, performed confocal microscopy experiments while a postdoctoral fellow in Tsapatsis’ group.
Jungkyu Choi, Hae-Kwon Jeong, Mark A. Snyder, Jared A. Stoeger, Richard I. Masel, Michael Tsapatsis (2009) Grain Boundary Defect Elimination in a Zeolite Membrane by Rapid Thermal Processing. Science Vol. 325. no. 5940, pp. 590 - 593 doi: 10.1126/science.1176095
Ford Investigating Mouldable Wood-Plastic Compound for Greater Recyclability and Lower CO2 Balance
Ford researchers at Ford’s European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany are investigating an innovative, new wood-plastic compound (WPC—also known as liquid wood. The new liquid wood material is derived from a rubber compounding process. The new material is being assessed in a three-year project which started in May 2009.
Until now, liquid wood has only been used for high-quality household terrace building panels which do not have to be moulded. This is important because its viscosity impairs mouldability. With a high portion of wood (between 60 and 80 percent), this viscosity made it unsuitable for conventional injection moulding, which is the only economical manufacturing process for the mass production of components such as plastic parts. This is one of the most prominent issues being addressed by the assessment project.
The compound of wood and plastics prevents water absorption and thus increases the material’s durability. The fact that untreated wood, and even wood waste, can be used makes the application environmentally attractive.
The new processing technology also significantly improves the sealing of the wood fibers and insulates unpleasant odors. Therefore, the material can also be used in the vehicle interior, for example with trim parts. Another area where liquid wood application could be used is in the engine compartment, with components such as the battery tray.
Previous analyses have shown that the recyclability of liquid wood is excellent because the material can be reprocessed up to five times; the overall CO2 balance is almost neutral.
Ford’s objective is to further increase the portion of natural materials in the development of new models. Currently, some 290 parts are already derived from renewable resources, such as from cotton, wood, flax, hemp, jute fibre and natural rubber.
Among the project partners are the University of Paderborn, machine and material manufacturers and organizations in the compounding and packaging industry. The State of North Rhine Westphalia provides a funding of approximately €400,000 (US$563,000) out of the total overall budget of more than €1 million (US$1.4 million).
DOE To Provide Up to $30B in Loan Guarantees for Renewable Energy Projects
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will provide up to $30 billion in loan guarantees, depending on the applications and market conditions, for renewable energy projects. Another $750 million will support several billion dollars more in loan guarantees for projects that increase the reliability, efficiency and security of the nation’s transmission system. The two new loan guarantee solicitations announced today are being funded partly through the Recovery Act and partly through 2009 appropriations.
The lending authority includes:
- Up to $8.5 billion in lending authority supported by 2009 annual appropriations for renewable energy.
- Up to $2 billion in subsidy costs, provided by the Recovery Act, to support billions in loans for renewable energy and electric power transmission projects.
- Up to $500 million in subsidy costs to support loans for cutting edge biofuel projects funded by the Recovery Act.
- Up to $750 million in subsidy costs, provided by the Recovery Act, to support loans for large transmission infrastructure projects in the US that use commercial technologies and begin construction by 30 September 2011.
The two solicitations issued today mark the sixth and seventh rounds of solicitations by the Department’s Loan Guarantee Program, which encourages the commercial use of new or improved energy technologies to help foster clean energy projects. Applications will be accepted over the next 45 days.