News

Energy-Harvesting Method Shows Promise for Mars Power Stations

Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities researchers have developed an innovative, new technique to harvest energy from carbon dioxide. The method may enable the creation of future power stations on the surface of Mars.The research proposes a new kind of engine for producing energy based on the Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which happens when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point. Blocks of dry ice are able to levitate above hot surfaces protected by a barrier of evaporated gas vapor. Northumbria’s research proposes using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine. The technique has implications for working in extreme and alien environments, such as outer space, where it could be used to make long-term exploration and colonization sustainable by using naturally occurring solid carbon dioxide as a resource rather than a waste product.Increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the surface of the red planet. If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on the Red Planet. The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine differs from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties.SourceAlso: Learn about Mars-Optimized Solar Cells.

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Ultra-Thin Lens Captures Perfect Colors

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researchers developed an ultra-thin, completely flat lens made of a glass substrate and tiny, light-concentrating silicon antennas. Color correction is achieved in the single, miniaturized device.Light shining on the "achromatic metasurface" lens bends instantaneously, rather than gradually, while passing through. The bending effects can be designed in advance, by an algorithm, and fine-tuned to fit specific applications.With no need to increase the lens thickness and footprint, the optical technology compensates for wavelength differences and produces a consistent effect — for example, deflecting three beams of different colors by the same angle, or focusing those colors on a single spot. The model uses a dielectric material rather than a metal for the nanoantennas, a change which greatly improves its efficiency and, combined with a new design approach, enables operation over a broad range of wavelengths.The technology could be used to create new miniature optical communications devices, compact cameras, and imaging technologies.SourceLearn about the design of a GRadient INdex (GRIN) lens.

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Propulsion Technology Could Combat Flight Pollution

A breakthrough propulsion technology to provide greener air transport could be developed after the underlying engineering was declared a success. Six universities and two research organizations from across the EU demonstrated the scientific feasibility of a novel propulsion method that overcomes the main limitations of traditional systems related to jet deflection exhausts.

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Mini Models Fire Up to Test Space Launch System

NASA is working with CUBRC Inc. of Buffalo, NY to design, build, and test 2% scale models of the Space Launch System (SLS) propulsion system. Models include two five-segment solid rocket boosters and four core stage RS-25 engines, and a 2% scale model of the entire rocket. The models are fired for short durations of about 50-150 milliseconds per test.

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UAVs to Play Critical Role in Precision Agriculture

Researchers are investigating how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used commercially in agriculture. Their size, cost and capabilities make UAVs useful for a wide range of jobs. Mississippi State University researchers are already using these vehicles, and many others are examining their potential applications, including flying a camera on a drone to get instant aerial views of research fields. A flyover could identify problem spots in extremely large fields, and then researchers, crop consultants, or farmers could go to the identified areas and examine them carefully to make proper diagnoses. The information gathered by soil-moisture sensors could be compared to the information that could be gathered by drones. Technology already exists to allow producers to make very specific chemical applications to their fields with farm equipment. UAVs can help them target these applications even more precisely. Source:

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Radio Chip Reduces Power Leakage

To realize the "Internet of things” — the idea that all parts of the human environment, from kitchen appliances to industrial equipment, could be equipped with sensors and processors that exchange data — transmitters must be energy-efficient enough to last for months. A group researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new transmitter design that reduces off-state leakage 100-fold. The design provides adequate power for Bluetooth transmission, or for the longer-range 802.15.4 wireless-communication protocol. While semiconductors are not naturally very good conductors, neither are they perfect insulators. Even when no charge is applied to the gate, some current still leaks across the transistor. The leakage is reduced by applying a negative charge to the gate when the transmitter is idle. The charge drives electrons away from the electrical leads, making the semiconductor a much better insulator. In tests conducted on a prototype chip fabricated through the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s research program, the MIT researchers found that their circuit spent only 20 picowatts of power to save 10,000 picowatts in leakage. To generate the negative charge efficiently, the MIT researchers use a circuit known as a charge pump, which is a small network of capacitors — electronic components that can store charge — and switches. When the charge pump is exposed to the voltage that drives the chip, charge builds up in one of the capacitors. Throwing one of the switches connects the positive end of the capacitor to the ground, causing a current to flow out the other end. Source Also: Read other Electronics tech briefs.    

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Axle Design Enables Scalable Electric Drive for Vehicles

The future belongs to electric motors, and commercial vehicles are no exception. To date, however, many attempts to develop electric motors for commercial vehicles have stalled at the prototype stage or are extremely expensive. The Electric Scalable Axle Module (ESKAM) project is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The team is developing an axle module for commercial vehicles, consisting of a motor, gearbox, and power electronics. Everything fits neatly and compactly into a shared housing, which is fitted in the respective vehicle using a special frame construction also developed by the project scientists. The axle module presents numerous advantages. For example, it has a high power density and a very high torque. Because the module is scalable, it can be used in everything from small vans and municipal vehicles, to buses and trucks. With a wheel hub motor, that would not be possible. While wheel hub motors have definite advantages, they are not suitable for commercial vehicles, as they scarcely deliver more than 2,000 rpm. Source:

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