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Revolutionary electric motor PDF Print E-mail
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As vehicle manufacturers battle to come up with the ultimate environmentally friendly electric cars of the future, YASA Motors has entered the fray with a motor that is lighter, smaller and, ultimately, cheaper to produce than its rivals.

The YASA (Yokeless and Segmented Armature) motor combines a revolutionary redesign of the magnetics in an electric motor, a clever cooling system and mechanical packaging. This results in a motor, YASA says, that is up to 60pc smaller and, at around 10kg, four times lighter than the 2010 Toyota Prius motor with a 30pc greater power output.

“We’re looking at installing these high-performance electric motors in the new generation of electric and hybrid vehicles that will come on to the market in 2016/2017 as the design cycle for a new vehicle is four to five years,” says Tim Woolmer, 30, YASA’s founder and chief technology officer, who invented the motor for his DPhil project at Oxford University.

The company has just been named the UK’s Best Enterprise in the Lloyds TSB/Telegraph Enterprise Awards and wins £50,000. “[It]will go towards new lab equipment and an upgraded test facility – something we couldn’t have contemplated for at least another year,” says Woolmer.

With innovation in his blood (his grandfather helped develop the jet engine), Dr Woolmer came up with the YASA’s design when Oxford University won a grant to construct a motor for electric sports cars.

“We started with a completely blank sheet as the university had never designed anything of this sort before, which was great as we weren’t bound by any existing technology,” says Woolmer, whose company launched in 2009 with £1.5m of investment and saw £600,000 of sales last year.

YASA, which is backed by a large investment fund, is rapidly expanding, with 20 full-time staff and a target of 30 by the end of this year. A new 7,000 sq ft facility in Abingdon is planned where up to 4,000 motors can be made each year.

The YASA motor has uses beyond the car industry, too, with Woolmer currently looking at ways of increasing sales in the agricultural, marine, aerospace and construction industries, which all have a need for lightweight electric motors.

“Big excavators, for example, are very inefficient as they require an enormous diesel engine to move their equipment. To save fuel, manufacturers are moving to hybrids that use an electric motor. Our lightweight high-efficiency motors make a significant difference,” Woolmer explains.

In the automotive sector, YASA Motors is responding to the great need for low-carbon-emission vehicles in the UK and beyond. “All car manufacturers are working on the next platform and we want to be part of that,” says Woolmer.

“Electric cars will take some time to become popular as they are still relatively expensive to buy. But by reducing the magnetic materials in the motor, we are helping to make electric cars far cheaper to produce.”

Leaf power for vehicles PDF Print E-mail
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An oil substitute made with ‘artificial leaf’ technology could power ships and planes, according to a leading British expert.
Scientists have applied a new twist to the process of photosynthesis - the method plants use to harness the energy of sunlight.
Instead of producing organic material from carbon dioxide, as plants do, they plan to manufacture a hydrocarbon 'fuel' which could be used instead of oil, using photosynthesising bacteria.

The scientists hope to prove the technology in the next two years and to develop a small-scale demonstration system within five.This has been tried before, with little success.
But just recently the University of Glasgow team had a ‘eureka moment’ - the discovery that the process could be driven by electricity instead of light.

The oil would be used to 'store' energy which could then power vehicles.
Professor Richard Cogdell, who heads the research, believes the greater efficiency this achieves could make the technology a major energy source in decades to come.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, he said: ‘The big issue at the moment is that most renewable energy sources make electricity. That’s fine, but we have not good ways of storing electricity, and it’s intermittent.
‘What you need is to be able to lock that energy up in some sort of storage fluid that’s available on demand, and that’s what fuel is. ‘To really sustain our way of life after the oil runs out we have to be able to make, renewably and sustainably, dense portable fuels for transport, especially for aeroplanes and ships.

‘We’re looking at photosynthesis to see whether we can learn to copy it in a more robust and efficient way.

‘What we’ve realised in just the last couple of months is that we should be able to use electricity to power these reactions.

Prof Cogdell envisages power stations containing vats of bacteria churning out large quantities of burnable fuel. The bugs would break down carbon dioxide in a potentially carbon-neutral process, and might even help reduce levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Solar panels could provide some of the electricity needed, thereby simulating true photosynthesis.

Prof Cogdell hopes to prove the technology in the next two years and to develop a small-scale demonstration system within five.

He added: ‘I would be very disappointed if this wasn’t working in the real world in 30 years time.’

The aim is to modify cyanobacteria, which contain all the necessary machinery for photosynthesis, so they can power themselves with electricity rather than sunlight.

This would involve modifying them using genes from another bacterium that draws electricity using a wire-like growth called a pilus.

Normally the bug, geobacter, extracts electricity from minerals. But it can also tap current from an electrode, the Glasgow scientists have learned.

Modified to behave the same way, cyanobacteria would ‘connect’ themselves to a power source.

‘If the dream is fulfilled we’d have vats of cyanobacteria connected to electrodes,’ said Prof Cogdell. ‘A current would come in and that would power them to convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons.’

The project has already received strong government backing with around £3 million in grants.

Simple solar bottle lighting PDF Print E-mail
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Thousands of poor homes in Manila have a problem, not uncommon for cramped and small settlements. These houses are so close together, with metal roofing that all the light is blocked off and no light reaches the homes even during daylight!

The solar bottle bulb, an innovation developed by students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, inspired by the Appropriate Technologies Collaborative, is helping poor communities in developing countries like Brazil and Philippines through simple and appropriate innovation.

It is a simple bottle bulb, usually a 1 liter soda bottle that is filled with a solution of purified water and bleach. The bottle is inserted halfway through a hole drilled in the metal roof and its sides are sealed. The whole deal looks like a bulb through a sunroof and provides a good amount of light by deflecting sunlight into gloomy interiors.

The chlorine and bleach “poisons” the water to keep molds from developing so the solution can last up to five years. The clear and purified water helps disperse the light through refraction, so the light is not concentrated. It only costs $2-3 to make a solar bottle bulb that is bringing light to dark homes.

This simple innovation is not perfect- the water needs to be replaced every five years and obviously without any provision for energy storage, the bulb will not work at night. But the advantages are overwhelming for communities that are deprived of daylight. It is surprisingly effective, using cheap and locally available materials that allows the poor in these settlements to use their homes more effectively. The bulb does not produce any harmful pollutants and also reduces the dangers from faulty and temporary electrical connections that cause devastating fires.

Fire Ice next wonder fuel ?? PDF Print E-mail
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A new wonder fuel dubbed ‘fire ice’ could be buried under the Scottish coast, according to government ministers and experts.

They suspect that massive quantities of methane hydrates reserves are locked of the coast of western Shetland, and that there is possibly enough to last 300 years.

The sherbet-like substance, which consists of methane trapped in ice, has already been tipped by energy experts to be the next major energy resource.

The wonder fuel was initially thought only to exist in the outer reaches of the solar system.

But fire ice has been discovered under the permafrost in the Arctic Circle and on some seabeds.

UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the government believes it is ‘possible’ that the substance is buried in Scottish waters.

He said: ‘The presence of methane hydrates in deep waters west of Shetland is possible, but has not been established. In the absence of any commercial technology for exploiting such resources, no estimate of reserves can be made at the present time.’

Japanese experts are already carrying out test drilling off the south east coast of Japan and commercial production could start as soon as 2016.

And global reserves of the substance could be more than the total for all other fossil fuels put together.

Professor Bahman Tohidi, director of the Centre for Gas Hydrate Research at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh said: ‘For methane hydrate you need water depths of more than 1,640ft.

The only place we have those water depths is west of Shetland. We haven’t seen any hydrates yet but there could be some there.

‘If there is a potential, it needs to be investigated.‘I would say there are chances of it being in UK waters, but even if there is nothing in the UK we should be developing the technology.

‘It definitely will be a major industry. I always say it is far too big to be ignored - it’s like the elephant sitting outside your doorstep and we can’t ignore it. Sooner or later we will develop the technology.

Despite fears that disrupting the seabed could release methane and accelerate climate change, scientists believe replacing the methane with oxygen could help tackle global warming.

A spokeswoman for industry body Oil and Gas UK said: ‘We’re not aware of anyone investigating it in the UK but the volume of methane trapped in hydrates is believed to be very large worldwide.’

Alex Kemp, renowned Aberdeen University professor of petroleum economics, said: ‘I haven’t heard of it being present in any significant amounts in the UK continental shelf.

‘In other countries, for example New Zealand, it is regarded as having a big potential. They think they have large amounts. There is the question of what technology to use to extract it. It’s all very futuristic.’

Methane hydrate has long been regarded by oil and gas companies as a nuisance, because it can block marine drilling rigs.

The substance is formed within marine sediments where the gas is generated by chemical reactions or by microbes breaking down organic matter.

The gas then works its way up to the sea bed where sediments tend to be much cooler.

The cooling allows the methane molecules to form weak chemical bonds with the surrounding water molecules, producing solid methane hydrate.

However, such bonds also require high pressure - so methane hydrate forms only in deep water.



Solar powered boats PDF Print E-mail
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From a distance, the yellow-and-blue ferry docking at the pier resembles the scores of other vessels that hop between Hong Kong's outlying islands and the peninsula every day.

But a closer look as passengers disembark, reveals a grid of gleaming solar panels on the ferry's roof and, instead of the usual throbbing engine noise, there is a barely audible buzz.

The Solar Eagle and three similar vessels shuttle golfers to tee off on an 18-hole island course. Together they form the world's first hybrid powered ferry fleet and a commercial proving ground for technology that could transform the future of marine travel.

The technology, similar to that used in hybrid cars, has been developed by an Australian company called Solar Sailor.

Electricity created by the solar panels and stored in a battery powers the engine while the vessel comes in and out of the harbour. Once out in the open ocean and a faster clip is required, the diesel kicks in.

I think in 50 to 100 years, all ships will have solar sails” says Robert Dane Solar Sailor

One of the fleet, the Solar Albatross, sports two sails covered in solar panels that can be raised to harness both the sun and the wind to further reduce reliance on fossil fuel.

Robert Dane, Solar Sailor's founder, says that the technology offers ship owners huge fuel savings and has the potential to be used on all types of vessels from humble ferries and luxury super-yachts to bulk carriers shipping iron ore and navy patrol ships.

"I think in 50 to 100 years, all ships will have solar sails," he says.

"It just makes so much sense. You're out there on the water and there's so much light bouncing around and there's a lot more energy in the wind than in the sun."

Three of the ferries began operation in 2010 and the Solar Albatross began carrying passengers last year. The solar-sail technology is also in use in two ferries in Shanghai and Sydney.

Solar panels help power the world's first fleet of hybrid ferries in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which runs the golf course on Kau Sai Chau island, says its has seen "significant fuel savings" but was still monitoring the overall performance of the ferries.

Mr Dane says that on the golf course-run, the hybrid technology saves 8% or 17% on the fuel bill, depending on the route taken. However, repair and maintenance costs have been more than anticipated.

"The Jockey Club is a new operator so there's a learning curve for them and the new technology," he says.

Despite the teething problems, Mr Dane is confident of future sales.

He says he is in the "early stages" of discussions with the operators of Hong Kong's iconic star ferry, which has been shuttling across Victoria Harbour since 1880, about fitting solar panels on one of their vessels.

And in Australia, he hopes to clinch deals this year with the operator of a river ferry and install the technology on two ocean research vessels.

There are other solar-powered ships in operation such as the catamaran Turanor PlanetSolar, which is circumnavigating the globe exclusively by harnessing the power of the sun. However, Mr Dane says the technology developed by his company is the most commercially tested.

More ambitiously, Mr Dane says the company will soon announce a trial with an Australian mining company to attach a 40m (130ft) tall solar sail to a newly built bulk carrier that will ship iron ore and other raw materials to China.

Solar Sailor is in talks with an Australian mining company about installing a solar sail on a bulk carrier that transports iron ore and other raw materials

He likens the sail to a "giant windmill blade" that would be covered in solar panels and fold down into the vessel when it is docking and transferring cargo.

By harnessing the wind, the company estimates that the giant sail could shave 20% to 40%, or around A$3m (£2m; $3.1m), off a ship's annual fuel bill when travelling at 16 knots (18mph), with the solar panels contributing an extra 3% to 6% saving.

"The systems were are installing are worth around A$6 million and therefore the return of investment would be a couple of years at the current oil price," he says.

"It's not a matter of if we're going to do it, it's a matter of how - right now we are working out the details."

If, as Mr Dane hopes, the technology is adopted more widely, it also has the potential to clean up the shipping industry, which environmental campaigners claim emits more greenhouse gases than commercial aviation.

Roughly 50,000 ships carry 90% of the world's trade cargo, and these ships tend to burn a heavily polluting oil known as bunker fuel.

The Solar Albatross ferry, in part powered by two solar sails, comes into dock with sails lowered

"It's like tar, you have to heat it up to make it liquid so it will flow," says Mr Dane.

"These incredibly powerful engines run on incredibly cheap but dirty fuel so what we can do in the short-term is to ensure they use less fuel."

The industry has proved hard for governments to regulate as it does not fall into one jurisdiction, however the United Nations International Maritime Organization has recently introduced new regulations on fuel efficiency and sulphur emissions that could drive demand for Solar Sailor's technology.

Mr Dane is optimistic about the company's future even though after more than a decade of doing business it has yet to turn a profit.

He says the company will in future focus on areas less affected the global economic downturn such as defence, with plans afoot to use the technology in unmanned ocean vehicles that could replace navy patrol boats.

"We know (our technology) works. We know the return on investment but there's been factors outside our control like the economic environment that have inhibited what we are doing," Mr Dane says.

"We think we're at a very exciting point with regards to profitability and one of the projects (we're working on) will make us incredibly profitable in 2012."

Rainwater Harvesting PDF Print E-mail
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Rainwater harvesting is not a new concept. There is archaeological evidence that rainwater harvesting dates as far back as 6,000 years ago in China.

Today, there are improvements in technology to capture, filter, store and use rainwater.

The primary drivers for doing so are becoming more prevalent:

  • Limited or poor quality, water supplies

  • Areas where wells offer poor yields

  • Cost of water and energy consumed to move water (e.g., more than 20% percent of all energy in California is consumed conveying, storing, distributing and discharging water)

  • Storm water run off reduction. There are national, regional and local mandates to reduce run off which stress municipal wastewater treatment systems due to age, lack of maintenance and population growth

  • Green building trends. LEED and Passivehaus ratings, as well as government stimulus dollars promote rainwater harvesting as a sustainable way to reduce potable water use

  • Periods of drought raise the awareness of the need to conserve and increase the desire to have on site storage

The potential for rainwater collection is tremendous. For every 1,000 square feet of rooftop, you can potentially collect 623 gallons of rainwater for every inch of rain that falls.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., which receives an average of 23 inches of rain per year, a home with a 1,000 square foot roof could collect 14,329 gallons of water annually.

In a residential setting, that water can be used for:

  • Irrigation

  • Wash-down

  • Toilet flushing

In an industrial setting, the water can be used for:

  • Industrial processes

  • Fire stations and emergency services

  • Agricultural nurseries and garden centers

  • Any place where large quantities of non-potable water are frequently used

As the price of potable water becomes less subsidized and water bills go up, rainwater harvesting is beginning to reach the economic tipping point.

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