Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Whether for scientific inquiry, weather forecasting, or public safety, the world relies upon the data gathered by satellite remote sensing. Some of NASA’s most valuable work is in its remote sensing capabilities—the ability to retrieve data acquired at great distances—affording a height and scope not available from the ground. NASA satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) monitor ocean health by taking large-scale pictures of phytoplankton blooms and measuring surface temperatures; snap photographs of full hurricanes from above, teaching researchers about how these giant storms form; and capture images of cloud formation and air pollution, all allowing researchers to further develop understanding of the planet’s health. NASA remote sensing satellites also monitor shifts in the Earth’s crust, analyze wind patterns around the world to develop efficient wind energy, help people around the world recover from natural disasters, and monitor diminishing sea ice levels.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
In 1963, during the ninth orbit of the Faith 7 capsule, astronaut Gordon Cooper skipped his nap and took some photos of the Earth below using a Hasselblad camera. The sole flier on the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission, Cooper took 24 photos—never-before-seen images including the Tibetan plateau, the crinkled heights of the Himalayas, and the jagged coast of Burma. From his lofty perch over 100 miles above the Earth, Cooper noted villages, roads, rivers, and even, on occasion, individual houses.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
On December 7, 1972, roughly 5 hours and 6 minutes after launch, the crew of Apollo 17 took one of history’s most famous photographs. The brilliant image of the fully illuminated Earth, the African and Antarctic continents peering out from behind swirling clouds, came to be known as the “Blue Marble.” Today, Earth still sometimes goes by the Blue Marble nickname, but as the satellites comprising NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) scan the planet daily in ever greater resolutions, it is often the amount of green on the planet that is a focus of researchers’ attention.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
NASA’s award-winning Earth Resources Laboratory Applications Software (ELAS) package was developed at Stennis Space Center. Since 1978, ELAS has been used worldwide for processing satellite and airborne sensor imagery data of the Earth’s surface into readable and usable information. In addition to satellite applications such as data from Earth-observing SPOT (Satellites Pour l’Observation de la Terre) satellites, ELAS was applied to aircraft data and medical imagery. While the ensuing decades have seen great improvements in software and imaging technologies, the original developers of ELAS had the foresight to use a modular design, allowing capabilities to be added and expanded as the remote-sensing industry grew.
“ELAS provided a dictionary of parameters used consistently in over 100 applications, which aided users greatly. In addition, ELAS modules typically used a common set of basic commands; after a short introduction, the only difficulties with using ELAS were discovering what the various modules could do,” reflected Dr. Ray Seyfarth, one of the original developers of ELAS.
ELAS could be considered an “All-Star” NASA-derived technology, having made frequent appearances in Spinoff in myriad applications, including use by NASA’s Technology Application Center in studies of the urban growth in the Nile River Delta (Spinoff 1985); Delta Data Systems in the construction of their proprietary ATLAS geographic information system (Spinoff 1986) and Advanced Geographic Information System (Spinoff 1993); Ducks Unlimited Inc., in the construction of its Habitat Inventory and Evaluation Program (Spinoff 1987); Medical Image Management Systems in its diagnostic aid and image storage and distribution MD Image System (Spinoff 1991); Martin Marietta and the Mid-Atlantic Remote Sensing Center in the development of the Integrated Automated Emergency Management Information System earthquake preparedness program (Spinoff 1991); and DATASTAR Inc., in the DATASTAR Image Processing Exploitation (DIPEx) desktop and Internet image processing, analysis, and manipulation software (Spinoff 2003), the development of which has now been continued in DIPEx Version III.
In 1992, Stennis’ Commercial Technology Program made ELAS available under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows federally developed technologies that are not patent protected to be transferred to U.S. companies. In DIPEx Version III, DATASTAR Inc., of Picayune, Mississippi, has once again used ELAS software to bring a tool to the public that captures and expands the abilities of ELAS. Improvements in the quality of satellite data have demanded corresponding development of processors, and DATASTAR leveraged the original ELAS design to address today’s local and regional database requirements.
DIPEx is now a mature, user-friendly application used to perform image processing, analysis, and to manipulate remotely sensed imagery data. DIPEx can separate and provide data classifications, false color composites, soils, corridor analysis, subsurface vegetation, data enrichment, mosaics, and geographical information systems (GIS). The architecture of DIPEx allows a wide range of scalability, and the dynamic dimensionality of DIPEx internals assures that the software is current with leading-edge computer hardware.
Users request either a deliverable product from DATASTAR or access data sets via their own computers. Web customers subscribe to a selection of data points, then log on and manipulate the data on a secure server which DATASTAR provides to protect the personal data of subscribers. The system is structured to allow hundreds of users to access and extract layers of information simultaneously.
These layers are composed of the combination of a data source and a rendering asset, and are stored under a map view; any number of folders can be used to organize layer information. Map view assets allow a user to specify and save information, including legend, scalebar, geography, output format, and the layers to be rendered. Map views also provide an easy mechanism to share maps over the Web among groups of users. By decoupling the data source and the renderer, the storage and management of the data source are completely separate from the rendering, so a user can use one data source in many layers with different renderings.
The Web interface itself is a significant upgrade for DIPEx Version III. The original interface was composed of HTML pages on which the user posted form information. This architecture was effective, but did not lend itself to reusability and was quickly approaching its limits. Version III is completely implemented using SOAP Web Services. The Web Services have also proved very useful for other applications, and DATASTAR currently has Microsoft .Net connection software and Perl applications exploiting functionality of the DIPEx server.
A true World Wide Web application that runs using hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and starts without a Web browser, Version III evolved with worldwide geospatial dimensionality and numerous other improvements. Version III is difficult to distinguish from a Windows-based application, with all the familiar menu systems, mouse interaction, and drag and drop interfaces. DATASTAR is enhancing the system’s mapping capabilities and colorizing data to give it depth. Data provided by DIPEx is compatible with all GIS software packages, including ArcView, ENVI, and ERDAS IMAGINE.
The flexibility and adaptability of the DIPEx system continues a defining trait that has held since the original ELAS was developed. Taking complicated sets of data and integrating them into a clear and useful product has long been the purpose of this software, and Seyfarth enjoys how far the software he helped create has come, affirming, “I am happy to hear that ELAS is alive in the software of DATASTAR. The work from 30 years ago is still valuable; I suspect there is a hold-out somewhere who is still typing ELAS commands.”
Dr. Ramona Pelletier Travis, who worked with ELAS as a research scientist in the 1980s and is now the manager of the Innovative Partnerships Program at Stennis, concludes: “ELAS was a fantastic tool then, and I’m glad that its various progeny have seen so much success, including DIPEx. It has been a great example of good government research spinning off to benefit the private sector in a significant way over a long period of time.”
Windows® and Microsoft® are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.
Perl™ is a trademark of O’Reilly Media Inc.
ArcView® is a registered trademark of Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
The past, present, and future of NASA launch and space travel technologies are steeped in the icy realm of cryogenics. NASA employs cryogenics, the science of generating extremely low temperatures and the behavior of materials at those temperatures, in a variety of fluid management and low-temperature applications including vehicle propulsion, high-pressure gas supply, life support equipment, food preservation and packaging, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and imaging devices. Most prominently, cryogenic liquid hydrogen fuel is used by the space shuttle as its primary means of achieving orbit.
Looking to the future, NASA’s Constellation Program, which is focused on developing next-generation launch vehicles for planned trips to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, is incorporating cryogenics into the upper stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle, the core stage and Earth departure stage of the Ares V cargo launch vehicle, and other systems. In support of this work, NASA’s Cryogenic Fluid Management (CFM) Project is performing experimental and analytical evaluation of several types of propellant management systems to enable safe and cost-effective exploration missions. The CFM Project is led by Glenn Research Center, with support from Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Ames Research Center, Kennedy Space Center, and Goddard Space Flight Center.
Cryogenic propellants have been favored for their high-energy, high-efficiency performance; however, cryogenic propellants have not been used in extended-duration space missions since they are difficult to maintain in their highly dense liquid form at the low temperatures common in space and on the Moon. Performance requirements for the Earth departure stage, as well as the lunar lander descent and ascent stages, point toward the use of cryogenic engines and propellants for missions of up to 210 days on the surface of the Moon.
CFM team research is focused on the storage, fluid distribution, liquid acquisition, and mass gauging of cold propellants. These tasks will reduce the development risk and increase the ability of advanced subsystems to store and distribute cryogenic propellants required for long-term exploration missions. CFM utilizes the development of prototype CFM hardware, the creation and use of analytical models to predict subsystem performance, and the execution of ground-based tests using liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, and methane to demonstrate the performance, applicability, and reliability of CFM subsystems.
Big Horn Valve Inc. (BHVI), of Sheridan, Wyoming, won a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts to explore and develop a revolutionary valve technology based on cryogenically proven Venturi Off-Set Technology (VOST). In 2001, BHVI first worked with Kennedy on an SBIR contract, “New and Innovative Valving Technology for Cryogenic Applications.” In 2003, BHVI’s proposal, “Low-Mass VOST Valve,” was selected from a field of 2,696 other entries nationwide to receive a Phase I SBIR contract, sponsored by Marshall under the Next Generation Launch Technology Program. This project developed a low-mass, high-efficiency, leak-proof cryogenic valve using composites and exotic metals, and had no stem-actuator, few moving parts, with an overall cylindrical shape. The valve geometry reduces launch vehicle complexity and facilitates assembly and testing. This valve also enhances reliability and safety, due to the inherent simplicity and leak-proof characteristic of the design.
According to principal investigator Zachary Gray, the work with NASA helped BHVI gain “ . . . a lot of experience with extreme environments. We gained a lot of contacts in the aerospace and cryogenic community. By attempting to solve NASA’s unique problems, we have greatly simplified the valve design while at the same time demonstrating that VOST worked well from half-inch diameters up to a 4-inch diameter.”
In 2005 and 2006, BHVI continued this work upon receipt of a Phase II SBIR award for “Low-Mass VOST Valve” from Marshall, and two Phase II SBIR awards from Johnson. These projects, “In-Space Cryogenic VOST Connect/Disconnect,” and “VOST Flow-Control Valve,” demonstrated that VOST cryogenic flow control offered precise linear flow control across the entire dynamic range, held its position without power, and required low actuation energy. This project paved the way for VOST valve application in future spaceport systems, advanced cryocoolers, launch vehicles, and high-pressure flow-control valves.
The precise control, inherent simplicity and durability, and demonstrated abilities of the VOST system afford many commercial applications, including petroleum refining, specialty chemical and high-purity pharmaceutical production, and the manufacture of industrial flow-control valves and food processing equipment. The VOST design is a magnetically actuated system in which internal magnets are used to close, open, and throttle the valve. This innovative stemless design, the only one commercially available, is emission-free with no external leakage of vapors or fluid and allows for superior fluid handling features (such as throttling, low-pressure drop, and axial envelope) within a single device structure. The VOST system has potential application in all valving environments and represents a new concept for a tradition-bound industry.
In December 2003, BHVI was selected to exhibit the VOST technology at the 2004 World’s Best Technologies Showcase, in Dallas, Texas. The 75 exhibitors selected came from the Nation’s most advanced research facilities, top universities, and entrepreneurs. The technologies displayed are considered the best of the best.
The first commercial MagVOST was installed March 16, 2006, at Windsor Energy Inc.’s methane coal gas field, east of Kaycee, Wyoming. Future applications are expected to include in-flight refueling of military aircraft and high-volume gas delivery systems such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). Big Horn is also exploring opportunities that require extreme attention to safety, such as with hydrofluoric acid in the petroleum refining industry and in the nuclear industry, and received an SBIR contract from the U.S. Navy to develop a bi-directional VOST valve for use as an isolation valve on ships.
VOST™ and MagVOST™ are trademarks of Big Horn Valve Inc.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Providing astronauts with clean water is essential to space exploration to ensure the health and well-being of crewmembers away from Earth. For the sake of efficient and safe long-term space travel, NASA constantly seeks to improve the process of filtering and re-using wastewater in closed-loop systems. Because it would be impractical for astronauts to bring months (or years) worth of water with them, reducing the weight and space taken by water storage through recycling and filtering as much water as possible is crucial. Closed-loop systems using nanotechnology allow wastewater to be cleaned and reused while keeping to a minimum the amount of drinking water carried on missions.
Current high-speed filtration methods usually require electricity, and methods without electricity usually prove impractical or slow. Known for their superior strength and electrical conductivity, carbon nanotubes measure only a few nanometers in diameter; a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or roughly one hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair. Nanotubes have improved water filtration by eliminating the need for chemical treatments, significant pressure, and heavy water tanks, which makes the new technology especially appealing for applications where small, efficient, lightweight materials are required, whether on Earth or in space.
“NASA will need small volume, effective water purification systems for future long-duration space flight,” said Johnson Space Center’s Karen Pickering. NASA advances in water filtration with nanotechnology are now also protecting human health in the most remote areas of Earth.
In 2003, Seldon Laboratories LLC, of Windsor, Vermont, received their first NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award for a “Nanomechanical Water Purification Device.” In Phase I, Seldon designed a filtration system using its proprietary filters with low-energy and low-space requirements, using carbon nanotubes to reduce the power requirements of closed-loop water (and other liquid) treatment systems and to eliminate hazardous chemical treatments.
Seldon patented a media for a lightweight, low-pressure water purifier that used carbon nanotubes to remove microorganisms from large quantities of water quickly; the production process fused the nanotubes into a membrane. After 2 years of testing, in-house data indicated that the Seldon filters reliably removed waterborne viruses and bacteria. Each cylindrical filter cleaned water successfully for 40-60 days, surpassing the NASA requirements for 30-day missions.
Phase II of the SBIR agreement included treating higher volumes of water with larger membranes; carbon nanotubes were connected into a mesh. Engineers studied filter regeneration and bio-film abatement techniques for extending filter life, and subjected the filter elements to chemical removal testing. Although Seldon designed the membranes for bio-removal (including viruses and bacteria), the filters also removed some contaminants and chemicals—Seldon scientists affirm specific chemical adsorption can be engineered into the nanotubes for future projects.
Testing in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified facilities showed that Seldon’s Nanomesh removed microorganisms such as bacteria (99.9999 percent, or 6 log), viruses (99.99 percent, or 4 log), Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and chemical contaminants including arsenic, lead, benzene, copper, dioxins, herbicides, mercury, and endotoxins, such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Salmonella.
Seldon designed, constructed, and tested prototypes of the final Nanomesh filter, before delivering them to NASA in November 2006. Seldon’s filters have potential applications in industrial water purification systems, industrial decontamination, and commercial and household use.
The commercial version of the carbon Nanomesh designed under the NASA SBIR agreement was released as the WaterStick. Operating as simply as a straw and almost as small, the WaterStick cleans about 5 gallons (200 milliliters) of water per minute simply using water pressure (up to 3 PSI) and gravity: without electricity, heat, environmental impact, or chemical additives (such as iodine or chlorine used by other filters).
The lightweight filters measure about 10½ inches by 2 inches (27 cm by 5 cm), or similar in size to a zucchini. The WaterStick also removes chlorine and iodine, thereby creating water that is not only potable, but palatable as well. Lastly, the WaterStick is easy to use, requiring only a simple filter change every 7 weeks (for one person) or 73 gallons (275 liters.) The manufacturer considers the WaterStick to be “perfect for short-duration uses where other solutions are impractical.”
The ease and portability of the WaterStick makes it useful for a variety of applications in which access to clean water and electricity are restricted, such as remote locations or disaster areas. The Seldon WaterStick weighs only 8 ounces and is sold as a standalone device through which water can be poured. Seldon is currently targeting the lightweight WaterStick to disaster relief workers, researchers, and military personnel in remote locations with no wastewater facilities; future markets may include recreational hikers.
In locations where waterborne illness can prove disastrous, clean water is even more essential. The water filtration element achieves a high level of bacteria and virus removal while maintaining high flow rates and low pressure drops across the filter’s surface. According to Seldon CEO Alan Cummings, “Seldon products containing Nanomesh can provide mobile, life-saving ground and surface water filtration in field and disaster relief environments by removal of microorganisms that cause waterborne diseases.”
Most of the other commercial water filters do not offer the same level of filtration as the WaterStick; those employing a charcoal or ceramic filter are often less effective against viruses, and those offering comparable protection employ chemicals. Alternately, products that offer a high level of filtration may use ultraviolet light and thereby require batteries or electricity. Ultraviolet water treatment works well, but tends to be less effective in highly contaminated water with a high percentage of particulates. Seldon engineer Jonathan Winter states, “Our technology is superior, because it doesn’t need a certain amount of time or electricity.”
Seldon plans to develop an under-the-sink water filtration unit for residential use; like the WaterStick, these larger units would use water pressure to push water through the Nanomesh, and would not require electricity. Other target areas for development may include industrial purification, decontamination, and desalination.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
“We were the first that ever burst/Into that silent sea,” the title character recounts in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opus Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This famous couplet is equally applicable to undersea exploration today as surface voyages then, and has recently been applied to space travel in the title of a chronicle of the early years of human space flight (“Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965”), companion to the “In the Shadow of the Moon” book and movie. The parallel is certainly fitting, considering both fields explore unknown, harsh, and tantalizingly inhospitable environments.
For starters, exploring the Briny Deep and the Final Frontier requires special vehicles, and the most economical and safest means for each employ remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). ROVs have proven the tool of choice for exploring remote locations, allowing scientists to explore the deepest part of the sea and the furthest reaches of the solar system with the least weight penalty, the most flexibility and specialization of design, and without the need to provide for sustaining human life, or the risk of jeopardizing that life.
Most NASA probes, including the historic Voyager I and II spacecraft and especially the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, feature remote operation, but new missions and new planetary environments will demand new capabilities from the robotic explorers of the future. NASA has an acute interest in the development of specialized ROVs, as new lessons learned on Earth can be applied to new environments and increasingly complex missions in the future of space exploration.
Deep Ocean Engineering (DOE) Inc., of San Leandro, California, designs and manufactures a complete range of underwater ROV systems. Founded in 1982, DOE has over 25 years of continuous operating experience in providing a wide range of innovative and cost-effective robotic solutions. Over 500 ROV systems have been designed, built, and delivered to hundreds of customers in over 30 countries.
During the 1990s, DOE received the first of several Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts from NASA to develop ROV technologies. Since many of those technologies are similar to what astronauts might use in space, the firm first worked on an ROV that could test enhanced human interfaces through an SBIR contract with Ames Research Center.
NASA recently followed this work with a Phase II SBIR contract, exploring the research and development of a versatile apparatus and method for remote robot mobility. Robotics intended for exploration of extremely remote and harsh environments must be extraordinarily versatile as well as robust. They must be able to perform in and adapt to unknown and highly variable physical surroundings—robots with tracks, wheels, or articulating legs can provide effective mobility on certain kinds of terrain. However, these same robots would likely fail if their mission requirements included roving over roughly contoured surfaces or in water, sand, slush, or ice.
DOE engineers developed a concept for a versatile and robust locomotion methodology based on snake and worm morphologies. This “super snake” has the ability to transition seamlessly from one environment to another, such as land to water, to burrowing into soft sediment.
Field experiments with this robot include sites such as San Francisco Bay, California’s Mono Lake, and desert environments such as Death Valley. The prototype equipment will be used by NASA on future projects, such as scientific research in the Dry Valley lakes of Antarctica, and experiments to evaluate concepts for exploration of Mars and Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on an Antarctic research project to study chemical and biological characteristics of icebergs. Because of the danger involved in getting too close to the icebergs, the team has been using a Deep Ocean DS2 ROV. The DS2 (two motor) ROV started life as a delivery to NASA in 1998, and has been on loan to MBARI. The ROV is in the process of being modified to become a DS4 (four motor), including additional thruster/motors and additional flotation.
Michael Gilson, vice president of Customer Solutions for DOE, explained the members of the Phantom family of ROVs: “The DS2 is a deeper-diving version of the S2 and the DS4 is a deeper version of the S4,” he said. “Unlike [with] a diver, depth is not a limiting factor, nor is water temperature or clarity of the water.”
The DS2 has an array of sensors that includes two suction samplers, a water sampler, plankton net, dissolved oxygen sensor, water speed sensor, two cameras (SIT and HD), three-function manipulator, and a tracking system. The Phantom family includes more than 70 deliveries in many countries for applications including military, archeology, science, oil and gas, and ship hull inspection.
Once the ROV is deployed in the water, the operator controls it and the attached instruments from the surface. From helping to recover drowning victims to inspecting off-shore oil platforms and gathering intelligence, DOE’s ROVs have many underwater uses. The U.S. armed forces use the ROVs in security measures and intelligence gathering, and Hydro Quebec—Canada’s largest electric utility and second largest corporation, which generates more than 95 percent of its production from hydroelectric facilities—uses a DOE ROV to inspect dams and hydroelectric apparatus for damage, saving an estimated $10 million in two seasons. More than 40 universities and scientific organizations conduct marine studies with the ROVs.
After more than 3 years of engineering design and development, including extensive discussions with customers worldwide, DOE launched the VectorROV product family. The state-of-the-art Vector family has three models to meet unique customer requirements. For example, the Vector L4 has been designed to meet the requirements of military, maritime, power generation, offshore petroleum, and scientific applications, and combines superior power, telemetry, and payload with ease of use, ruggedness, and reliability.
The power and control system for the Vector L4 is designed for simplicity and ease of use, with multiple microprocessors providing redundancy and expanded capabilities. The design incorporates intuitive, computer-aided, always active diagnostics facilitating maintenance of the system in the harshest environments by technicians with a minimum of training. Specifically designed high-performance brushless thrusters provide the highest power-to-weight ratio and reliability compared to other vehicles in its class. The Vector L4 graphical user interface with multiple menu screens provides intuitive feedback and active user control for ease of vehicle handling, navigation, collection and display of sensor data, as well as setting and storing custom system configurations.
Fabricated using modern marine-grade aluminum and composite materials, the chassis is modular with quick access to all the parts for ease of servicing and replacement as required. Constructed from polypropylene, the chassis is resilient, non-corroding, and maintenance free. Ancillary equipment is easy to mount and integrate.
Vector™ is a trademark of Deep Ocean Engineering Inc.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Affordable and reliable clean energy has been a tantalizing, but elusive, quarry. Featured in Spinoff 1985 and pioneered by Lawrence Thaller at Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center in the 1970s as a potential alternate energy source for long-term space flight, iron-chromium redox energy storage systems are a hybrid technology that offers the extended support of fuel cells with the flexibility of batteries. They act as “electron buckets” for existing clean energy sources, such as solar or wind, to store and deliver power predictably when needed.
In iron-chromium redox systems, electricity is generated when pumps move the electrolytes into separate sections of a reaction chamber. Electrodes collect that charge, and the electrolytes can then be recharged from an outside power source. Thaller’s initial design was a 1-kilowatt system (2 kilowatts at its peak), which used acidified chromium and iron in its solution and relied on soluble redox couples and an ion exchange membrane to generate and store energy in a liquid electrolyte solution.
Headquartered in Fremont, California (with offices in Gurgaon, India), Deeya Energy Inc. is now bringing its iron-chromium hybrid flow batteries to commercial customers around the world. Thaller supported Deeya’s founder, Saroj Sahu, providing development assistance for the company’s proprietary liquid-cells (l-cells.) The l-cells have higher power capability (3 kilowatts) than Thaller’s original design, and in January 2008, the Space Foundation approved the l-cells as a Certified Space Technology, a designation for products made possible by space research and development.
According to Rick Winter, an engineer and vice president with the company, Deeya’s l-cells offer a few fundamental differences from the original redox system. “With the advent of modern plastics, we have been able to replace critical components, dramatically improving the system’s performance, cost, and life,” Winter explains. “We have improved the reliability and reduced the component count and cost so that it can be commercially competitive.” Deeya l-cells are effectively 3 times less expensive than lead-acid batteries and 10 to 20 times less expensive than nickel-metal hydride batteries, lithium-ion batteries, and fuel cell options. The system represents a clean energy technology with no poisonous or expensive metals or fumes release.
Like the original redox system, l-cells offer several advantages over traditional lead-acid batteries: lower cost, longer life, small space needs, and excellent performance at high ambient temperatures. Because l-cells, according to Winter, “actually enjoy sitting in the sun,” rural communities in India with power supply problems have expressed interest in the technology. Deeya has tested the l-cells in air temperatures up to 120 °F, and offer significantly better performance than lead-acid, which only perform reliably in moderately cool temperatures. L-cells also have the ability to operate for thousands of discharge cycles without boost charging, as opposed to the current generation of rechargeable batteries, which are only good for 200 to 500 deep discharge cycles.
Deeya l-cells store energy within the electrolyte itself, with no solid materials, such as lead-oxide, required. This approach completely decouples the power and energy ratings of the systems. As such, system power is defined by the size of the electrode stacks, and available energy depends only on the size of the electrolyte tanks. Due to the low cost of the active materials, the technology lends itself to applications needing extended support times. Deeya l-cells also have no harmful metals or fumes and are completely recyclable, making them a clean replacement for lead-acid batteries and diesel generators. The most impressive difference between Deeya l-cells and lead-acid batteries, however, is the life expectancy. Under standard use, lead-acid batteries tend to need replacement every 18 months, whereas Deeya l-cells need refurbishing only every 7 years after which they can last indefinitely. In heavy use applications, they are expected to provide three times the life of lead-acid batteries.
Deeya is now building the “smallest flow batteries in the industry,” focusing on 2-kilowatt applications. Flow batteries, a form of rechargeable battery in which electrolytes flow through a power cell, are often used in load leveling for clean technologies such as wind and solar power that sometimes have intermittent drops in power. Such systems need backup storage methods to even out the high and low periods of demand and energy generation. “With today’s intense interest in energy independence and renewable energy sources,” Winter says, “we should expect to see many full-scale commercial products changing the energy landscape in the next few years.”
According to Winter, Deeya flow batteries can support a standard cell tower for 4 hours with a unit that is “the size of a large refrigerator.” Deeya’s customers include cell phone providers in India who need smaller backup systems for their cell towers. Because of the backup l-cell battery systems, customers see improved reliability of services, including fewer dropped calls and fewer power outages. Other uses for l-cells could include backup systems for cash machines and traffic lights.
Another large-scale application can be found on King Island, near Australia’s Tasmania, where residents installed similar technology to supplement their wind turbine energy farm; they saw a significant reduction in power outages and fuel costs. Flow batteries reduced the island’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2,000 tons per year.
Deeya plans to install many more systems in rural areas in the developing world to provide for improved communications and significant emissions reductions. Plans include “power-station-in-a-box” products for village electrification, combining solar and wind generation sources. Multimegawatt systems will then be developed for large-scale grid-connected applications, since flow cells can improve the operational efficiency and emissions of coal- and gas-fired power plants.
These customers also appreciate the fact that it is easy to increase capacity—by adding more electrolytes—at a relatively low cost. In the long term, Deeya plans to expand into large 50-megawatt batteries. “The bigger the tank, the longer you can support a load,” Winter explains. Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison are both exploring use of these large electricity storage applications using flow batteries for backup systems to wind turbines.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected information about Earth from space. Specialized digital photographs of Earth’s continents and surrounding coastal regions have helped people study many aspects of our planet and analyze and protect the environment. Resolution and commercial availability of remote sensing through satellite imagery has improved dramatically over the years, and we are now seeing application in a very specific and largely unknown form of environmental threat detection: waste tire piles.
Illegal scrap tire piles are generally considered an environmental hazard because they can become breeding grounds for rodents and mosquitoes and can also generate fumes and toxic fires that are difficult and costly to extinguish. Tires also cause problems in landfills because they settle unevenly and rise to the surface; 38 states ban whole tires from landfills, but most allow tires if they are shredded. Although markets exist for most of the 299 million scrap tires discarded every year in the United States, approximately 40 million scrap tires end up in landfills or in illegal scrap tire piles. In California alone, at least 8 million scrap tires are dumped illegally every year. Although the number of tires in stockpiles has dropped by more than half from the 1994 levels of 700 to 800 million, cleaning up these piles is expensive and, until recently, the illegal piles were especially difficult to locate.
Catherine Huybrechts Burton founded San Francisco-based Endpoint Environmental (2E) LLC in 2005 while she was a student intern and project manager at Ames Research Center with NASA’s DEVELOP program, which sponsors student internships in applying Earth science data and technology to local policy issues. During that time, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) proposed a pilot project to NASA: develop a new method for mapping waste tire piles. While Burton surveyed environmental agencies for products already available for locating tire piles, her colleague, Becky Quinlan, developed a software model. They determined that neither satellite imagery nor image processing models were being used to locate tire piles.
Using a mapping algorithm called the Egeria densa Image Processing Algorithm (EDIPA), which Burton created for her master’s thesis, the 2E team created the Tire Identification from Reflectance (TIRe) Model, which algorithmically processes images using turnkey technology to retain only the darkest parts of an image; this allows researchers to find tire piles far more quickly than if they scan images conventionally. “We take that image with the tires and other dark objects and place it on top of the original image,” Burton explains. “It is at this point that the highly trained visual image interpreter must determine what is a pile of tires and what is not.”
The low reflectivity of tire piles complicates their detection in photographs and makes the process of finding them more difficult due to the fact that they are easily confused with other dark images in digital photographs. 2E researchers use the TIRe Model to identify specific dark pixels in satellite images, systematically ruling out known features or objects, such as runways, parking lots, shadows, polluted waters, and objects made with recycled tire materials, such as roofs, tubing, and playgrounds. Analysts consider the remaining dark areas suspect, and assume they are probably tire piles, says Burton. The TIRe Model is so finely tuned that it can identify piles containing only 100 tires covering 36 square feet, due to the high resolution of the satellite images.
CIWMB tested the TIRe Model on sites in the coastal area of Sonoma, the desert climate of the Coachella Valley in Southeastern California, and the Lucerne Valley. Without prior knowledge of the locations, 2E located all illegal scrap tire piles targeted by CIWMB, and also located two previously unknown piles. 2E used high-resolution satellite imagery from GeoEye’s IKONOS satellite, which provides 4 meters per pixel, superior to most other satellite imagery that offer 30 meters per pixel.
To improve their analysis, Burton and Quinlan applied specific knowledge of the different climates and of how tire piles were used in specific areas, for instance, as windbreaks, fences, and in gullies to control erosion. 2E did not use thresholding, a common method of separating image features, because the data for tires varies too much between different images. In order to separate tires visually, 2E used a land/water index to eliminate vegetation and water features, and then analyzed hues to eliminate soil and any additional water features. Using these techniques, 2E eliminated 99 percent of the false positives in the satellite images.
After Burton and Quinlan’s contracts with NASA concluded, NASA granted 2E’s request to share rights to the TIRe Model. 2E has since presented the TIRe Model at several conferences: the American Geophysical Union and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (2005); the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Resource Conservation Challenge at the CIWMB (2006); the Cross-Border Environmental Management Conference at the University of Texas at Austin (2007); the Indiana Geographic Information Council Conference (2007); and the California “CalGIS” Conference (2007).
Before 2E developed the TIRe Model, methods available for identifying tire piles included aerial and spectral video analysis, but no formal commercial models were available. The TIRe Model now helps state governments and private industry to locate and monitor tire piles, whether legal or illegal. Many states have already cleaned up large numbers of stockpiles, which is partly due to the growing market for reprocessed tire products (such as tire-derived fuel, civil engineering, and rubber-modified asphalt). By the end of 2005, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seven states contained 84 percent of all scrap tires: Colorado, New York, Texas, Connecticut, Alabama, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
In 2007, 2E worked on a project with San Francisco State University to map tire sites in Northern California and along the California-Mexico border. Because many tires are disposed of illegally by Americans in Mexico, there is a fair amount of interest in locating tire piles along the border. In addition to offering their tire mapping services to California, Indiana, and the EPA, Endpoint Environmental is also negotiating with a private company in Wyoming. Several industry publications have published articles on 2E’s tire finding services. 2E is also using Burton’s original EDIPA model and the TIRe Model to locate invasive plant species.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located on prime beachfront property along the Atlantic coast of Florida on Cape Canaveral. While beautiful, this region presents several challenges, like temperamental coastal weather, lightning storms, and salty, corrosive, sea breezes assaulting equipment and the Center’s launch pads. The constant barrage of salty water subjects facility structures to a type of weathering called spalling, a common form of corrosion seen in porous building materials such as brick, natural stone, tiles, and concrete. In spalling, water carries dissolved salt through the building material, where it then crystallizes near the surface as the water evaporates. As the salt crystals expand, this creates stresses which break away chips, or spall, from the surface, causing unsightly and structural damage.