Computer Technology


There seems to be a new announcement about energy storage breakthroughs daily.  It all has to be taken with a grain of salt until they actually have a product made outside the lab in some slow production facility for sale.

While this is still in the lab, what they are claiming and what they say they have done really is amazing. It’s a major university so I give them a little more credence.

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3060005/mobile-wireless/scientists-can-now-make-lithium-ion-batteries-last-a-lifetime.html

While they don’t go into how this effects energy charge-discharge rate, just making batteries that can charge and discharge a couple hundred thousand times is going to radically change the economics of electric transportation and storage.

It will make electric cars and wind power happen a day after they start making these things….

Update: This article is better than the first.

http://www.popsci.com/researchers-accidentally-make-batteries-last-400-times-longer

Crabontitanium

carbon

Carbon fiber and laser titanium printing fall into the category of Additive manufacturing. Where layers of a material are added one at a time until you have a product.  Regular manufacturing (also known as reductive manufacturing) generally starts with pieces of materials that are then cut down.

   The benefit of additive manufacturing is there is no limits on the engineering in the process. For example lets take a bicycle frame. In the normal reductive process the frame is made of multiple pieces of tubing that are cut into shape and the welded together. with additive manufacturing the entire frame would be printed out in one piece. In that process of printing there is no limitations on how complex the frame could be from an engineering point of view. The frame could be three dimensional latticework that has great flexibility and strength. Or it could be just a tube.It would be up to the engineer. 

    A small company called Local Motors has used carbon fiber printing to make the frame and body for an electric car. They did that in multiple pieces. The next one they plan to do it all in one piece. While a one piece manufacturing may be a technological achievement, I think it is a mistake. How will they repair damage in a one piece car frame?  Either way, this is an exciting development for manufacturing. Here is the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daioWlkH7ZI

    The second step in the revolution is Titanium Laser Printing. Titanium is hard to work with since it can catch fire during the manufacturing process. Generally it is created in a argon environment. Titanium is not a scarce material. Its high cost are due to the issues in manufacturing it. And its strength and corrosion resistant qualities instantly make it a “top tier” material. 

   I have worked in the aviation industry. I see there two technologies working together to make helicopters and  aircraft lighter, simpler, corrosion resistant, less labor intense and stronger. I foresee the frames of the crafts being titanium, while the skin being carbon fiber. Instead of thousands of pieces of aluminum being drilled and riveted, entire sections of craft will be make in single pieces. Here is a few videos showing the processes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRXymDoYoWQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daioWlkH7ZI

I see this technology transitioning into all aspects of our life. Mainly dealing with transportation to begin with and spreading from there as the technology becomes common and cheaper. 

I have thought a great deal about this technology. Not only will it help existing companies, but I also see it helping start-ups and individual engineers. Much like computer coding created an influx of new companies due to the low cost of entrance (all you need is a computer and a desire to code something people will by and you are in business. Think apps and early Facebook) this will allow smaller companies to design things and then have machine shops with this equipment make it for them. Eventually partnering up with the machine shop (with success) or buying their own equipment to continue growing…..

downloadIf you scroll down a bit you will see the article “Graphene makes a great superconductor”. In the article the University of Texas found that Graphene has the properties to make a great supercapacitor. But they do not explain how to do it. The process. 

Well some folks at UCLA have found how the process and it looks pretty straight forward:

http://www.kcet.org/news/rewire/science/more-good-news-on-those-carbon-supercapacitors.html

Here is the Video:

http://vimeo.com/51873011

In the first article they say it can hold as much as a lead acid battery. Lets make the assumption that they are measuring based on space used. In other words you take a lead acid battery and in the volume of space it takes up you can make a capacitor(s) that have the same amount of energy storage.  With this in mind I can give some insight. With this capacity your phone and computer will still be Lithium-Ion. LI-On (Lithium-Ion) batteries are light and holds a lot of energy. Just about when you need to replace the battery is about the time you are thinking of getting a new one. So unless they make the capacitor a lot better I can see things staying the same. Even with the capacitors super fast recharge rate. 

But for cars and aircraft I see a swift change. Because wight matters. And quick recharge rate matters when dealing with electric cars and Hybrid aircraft. Take the battery in the Chevy Volt. It is quite large. One of the reasons it is so large is they found that if they only charged it 80% and discharged to 30% of battery capacity so it would make the batteries last twice as long. So in effect they are not using all the battery capacity in exchange for longevity.  If you swapped out the LI-ON with these capacitors you would still not get as much energy storage  but it would take five minutes to recharge.  So storage is not such an issue. 

The Volt is also fairly complex. The Li-On batteries have to be heated and cooled to keep them working efficiently. I do not think these capacitors would have such issues. Granted extreme weather can cause issues with any system. But batteries being a chemical reaction are effected a great deal by temperature.  

For aircraft I see this being an important step also. For planes and helicopters electric motors as the prime mover has advantages in power and simplicity. But the drawbacks right now are too great due to battery weight and loss of efficiency (motors and generators usually have a 10-15% inefficiency). But this could be a turning point. With light weigh capacitors which store the same amount as lead-Acid batteries and have a very long life it may be better to have a aircraft that has one engine for power production, one for backup and batteries which are used for high power demand maneuvers. Like taking off.  

Of course this is all speculation at this point. We will have to wait to see what the amp-hours are when they come out with an actual product. 

I hope we do not have too long to wait…

Update: 16 August 2013: Another lab is having similer results with Graphene super capacitors. This leads me to belive the breakthrough is not just a process, but the material itself.  This is a good thing. No one compnay will be able to lock in this technology. Take a look:

http://www.gizmag.com/graphene-based-supercapacitor/28579/

images   

 

I am a big believer in new processes. Processes created into efficient factory’s are the reason we have the modern cheap world we have today. Factories make the obscenely expensive into common.

   This new process is in its infancy. I hesitate to put it up until their new mini-factory is actually in production for a while. But it works in the lab so that means they should be able to scale it up into a factory, so I am posting it.

   

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21571847-exotic-useful-metals-such-tantalum-and-titanium-are-about-become-cheap

If this works as advertised it will have a huge effect on our society.

While this technology could just keep getting better, they have hit a milestone. The cables they make now are as good as copper.

 http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/38615/?p1=MstRcnt

This is very exciting. For the aviation industry this could be a boon. Airbus is using aluminum wiring in some of their aircraft for weight reasons, even though aluminum does not transmit electricity as well as copper. If the cost is even in the ballpark, we could see the aviation industry switching quite rapidly.

Obviously there are cost, longevity and maintenance issues that will have to be resolved. Production issues as well.

But the benefits are so obvious, I see a lot of money being thrown at this to get it into production and into vehicles.

Update 1/8/13: 

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/509766/nanotubes-turned-into-super-fibers/

I went back and forth on this one. Granted it is amazing battery technology and they do have working prototypes.

But the big question is can the process be made to be economical enough for mass production? I decided to post it since even if the batteries are expensive, they will be used in high end products like military vehicles, aircraft and spacecraft.  Or even high end electric super-cars.

So even if it never becomes cheap enough for large scale mass production, it will effect us all in one way or another:

http://www.economist.com/node/18437910

    Lets just hope they can simplify the process enough for large scale mass production.  Because then most of us will be driving a pure electric car. Recharging along the way…..

-Tech Dennis

Many times the ability to make a material is not what brings about great changes. Many times it is having a cheap, easy to work manufacturing process that makes a material become commonplace.

Carbon fiber has been around for a while. But it has been religated to products that have very long term use; or the need for corrosian resistance; or for very light weight.

Many times it is a combination of those engineering needs that make carbon fiber a standard product. A good example is aircraft are now using carbon fiber for all those reasons.

But now a new process has been developed that may make carbon fiber a real alternative to metal or plastic in the future:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/03/carbon-fibre_composites

This may be a real game changer for the Truck, aircraft, boat and even the building market. Eventually we may even start seeing carbon fiber in production autos.

Suddenly, once again, I look forward to the future!

-Master of useless knowledge Dennis

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