Comments Off on UCSD Students Help City Secure Solar Bonds
Four University of California San Diego mechanical engineering students created an analytical tool making it easier for both UC San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District to determine cost, energy output and payback time when applying for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs).
The San Diego Unified School District ultimately secured the most CREB allocations of any one agency in the nation totaling $74 million for 111 projects. UC San Diego will receive $15 million for 15 renewable energy projects.
Jan Kleissl, the students’ advisor, heralds the project’s success as a much needed step in making San Diego the solar capital of the nation.
Computers. Big screen TVs. Air conditioners. The modern-day conveniences that many take for granted are starting to take a toll on our current energy grid. Demand has skyrocketed for the past few years and the grid is struggling to keep up. Blackouts and brownouts have started to occur with more and more frequency.
That’s where the smart grid steps in.
Smart grid technology is the new way of thinking. The concept has been around for years, but recently, smart grids have been touted as the environmentally friendly alternative when receiving your electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the current grid were just 5% more efficient, then the energy we’d save would equal eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million cars. With the federal stimulus package specifically setting aside funds for green technologies, smart grids have gotten a giant helping hand in the form of political support. Already, cities like Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, have begun testing out the benefits of smart grid technology.
One aspect of smart grids is the automatic monitoring of systems. Instead of waiting for a customer call about a blackout, utility companies will be able to pinpoint and respond to problems faster. Smart grids also track energy consumption and mark periods of high and low usage. Companies will then charge variable rates on electricity consumption: more for higher demand periods and less when energy usage is at a low. Homeowners and businesses would have a “smart meter” to track when and how much energy they are using. Smart meters can also provide consumers with efficiency advice, real-time price information, and even coordinate household appliances so they automatically take advantage of non-peak hours, saving you money. Experts expect this to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability in service.
The smart grid is a two-way communication. Not only will it provide energy to consumers, but it will allow energy to be put back into the system. So the solar panels on your roof could be helping the neighbor down the street. This will allow greener energy producers, such as wind turbines, to be integrated into the system with greater ease.
While the smart grid system reality is still years away, companies and higher institutions of learning have begun to do their part to speed up the process.
Whirlpool announced that they plan to make all their electronically controlled appliances smart grid compatible by 2015, while working to create an open, global standard for appliances to transmit and receive signals by 2010.
The Illinois Institute of Technology is partnering up with the Galvin Electricity Initiative to bring a smart grid—called Perfect Power—to power the campus. IIT will be working on the grid through 2013 and predicts that it will pay for itself in savings within five years.
Even Google is jumping on the smart grid wagon. Currently in development, the Google PowerMeter will act as a liaison to smart meters, relaying users’ information about electricity consumption and what appliances are using it. Google employees have been testing out this new software, and Google hopes that they will be able to roll out the application to the public in the near future.
Comments Off on ASME Releases Report on Future Trends in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers over the next two decades will be called upon to develop technologies that foster a cleaner, healthier, safer and sustainable global environment. According to the ASME report, 2028 Vision for Mechanical Engineering, mechanical engineers will need to collaborate with partners worldwide in order to apply innovative solutions and best practices to improve quality of life for all people.
“Mechanical engineers can be at the forefront of developing new technology for environmental remediation, farming and food production, housing, transportation, safety, security, healthcare and water resources,” says the report, which is based on the proceedings of The Global Summit on the Future of Mechanical Engineering, held April 16-18, 2008, in Washington, D.C. The summit, hosted by ASME at the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, convened more than 120 engineering and science leaders from 19 countries to define the elements of a shared vision that will keep the profession at the forefront of grand challenges and great contributions over the next 20 years.
Among the challenges, sustainable development, says the ASME report, will be a shared vision in the worldwide technical community, involving collaboration tools that allow “mechanical engineers to tap into the collective wisdom of an organization or network of stakeholders.”
Collaboration also will facilitate the development of innovations in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and large-scale systems. According to the report, nanotechnology and biotechnology will dominate technological development in the next 20 years and will be incorporated into all aspects of technology that affect lives on a daily basis. “Nano-bio will provide the building blocks that future engineers will use to solve pressing problems in diverse fields including medicine, energy, water management, aeronautics, agriculture and environmental management.”
Other topics examined at the summit and discussed in the report include intellectual property, engineering education and lifelong learning, diversity, virtual design environments, and home-based fabrication.
“Engineers will be able to act as independent operators interacting with colleagues around the world,” the report says. “Engineers can design at home with advanced CAD systems or in collaboration with their global colleagues in virtual worlds. They will be able to use home-based fabrication technology to test many of their designs.”
The report states: “As mechanical engineering looks to 2028, leaders will value people with diverse expertise and experience. They will bring this global profession together to keep the promise of technology serving people. They will inspire men and women everywhere to believe that grand challenges are a rally cry for a profession that is ready for the adventure of making the difficult doable.”
Comments Off on Clean, Carbon-Neutral Hydrogen on the Horizon
Hydrogen as an everyday, environmentally friendly fuel source may be closer than we think, according to Penn State researchers.“The energy focus is currently on ethanol as a fuel, but economical ethanol from cellulose is 10 years down the road,” says Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering. “First you need to break cellulose down to sugars and then bacteria can convert them to ethanol.”Logan and Shaoan Cheng, research associates, suggest a method based on microbial fuel cells to convert cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials directly into hydrogen in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.
The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell with acetic acid-the acid found in vinegar. Acetic acid is also the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose or cellulose. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 volts. When more than 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbles up from the liquid.
“This process produces 288% more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process,” says Logan.
Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50% to 70% efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144% more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it.
For those who think that a hydrogen economy is far in the future, Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable organic materials could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles.
“We drive a lot of vehicles on natural gas already. Natural gas is essentially methane,” says Logan. “Methane burns fairly cleanly, but if we add hydrogen, it burns even more cleanly and works fine in existing natural gas combustion vehicles.”
The range of efficiencies of hydrogen production based on electrical energy and energy in a variety of organic substances is between 63% and 82%. Both lactic acid and acetic acid achieve 82%, while unpretreated cellulose is 63% efficient. Glucose is 64% efficient.
Another potential use for microbial-electrolysis-cell produced hydrogen is in fertilizer manufacture. Currently fertilizer is produced in large factories and trucked to farms. With microbial electrolysis cells, very large farms or farm cooperatives could produce hydrogen from wood chips and then through a common process, use the nitrogen in the air to produce ammonia or nitric acid. Both of these are used directly as fertilizer or the ammonia could be used to make ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.