A new elevator has been designed to reach 1,000m or higher in a single trip – double the previous limit.
Engineering company KONE has announced the "UltraRope" – a completely new hoisting method that eliminates the disadvantages of conventional steel rope. This new elevator technology is set to break industry limits and enable future travel heights of 1,000m (3,280 ft), twice the distance currently feasible. It opens up a world of possibilities in high-rise building design, an important consideration as urbanisation brings increasing numbers of people to cities.
The Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest building at 830m (2,722 ft), requires passengers to switch lifts to go above the 500m mark. But lifts in the next generation of supertall towers – such as Jeddah's Kingdom Tower – could use this new technology to zoom to the top in one go.
Antony Wood, of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Chicago: "UltraRope is one of the biggest breakthroughs since the advent of the [Otis] safety elevator 150 years ago. The biggest limiting factor in building higher until now has been the steel rope weight – and we have reached the limit of that technology at 500 metres."
KONE UltraRope and machine
Comprised of a carbon fiber core and unique high-friction coating, the UltraRope is extremely light, meaning that elevator energy consumption is cut by 11 per cent. The drop in rope weight means a dramatic reduction in moving masses – everything that moves when an elevator travels up or down, including the hoisting ropes, compensating ropes, counterweight, elevator car and passenger load. Due to the significant impact of ropes on the overall weight of elevator moving masses, the benefits will increase exponentially as travel distance grows.
The UltraRope is extremely strong and highly resistant to wear and abrasion. Elevator downtime caused by building sway is also reduced as carbon fiber resonates at a different frequency to steel and most other building materials. It has an exceptionally long lifetime – over twice that of conventional steel rope – and thanks to its special coating, no lubrication is required to maintain it, enabling further cuts in environmental impact. All of this adds up to unprecedented eco-efficiency, durability and reliability in future high-rise elevator travel.
KONE President and CEO Matti Alahuhta: "We are proud to introduce this innovation that we are certain will revolutionise the elevator industry for the tallest segment of buildings across the globe. The benefits of KONE UltraRope versus conventional elevator hoisting technologies are numerous and indisputable."
UltraRope has been developed and tested rigorously both in real elevators and simulation laboratories at KONE's research and development facilities in Finland. Since 2010, it has been tested in operation at the world's tallest elevator testing laboratory, KONE's Tytyri facility built over 300 metres underground adjacent to an active limestone mine. Properties like tensile strength, bending lifetime, and material aging are just some of the qualities that have been measured.
Urbanisation is a key driver in the development of cities and the elevator industry. Just over half the global population already live in urban areas, and the UN estimates that by 2050, this figure will increase to seven out of 10. In a world of scarce land and limited resources, building upwards, rather than outwards, is a sustainable urban solution, and the number of tall buildings around the globe has increased rapidly in recent years. Tall buildings are also getting taller, as seen in the graph below. Nearly 600 buildings of 200 metres or higher are now under construction or planned over the next few years, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Although there are currently only three buildings in the world that top 500 metres, there are plans for at least 20 more to be built in the coming years. Additionally, there are currently some 3,000 buildings in the world that could benefit from modernisation with KONE UltraRope.
Faced with growing environmental and economic pressures on transportation, cities are reexamining how and where parking is provided, and developing a more balanced view to better manage parking supply and demand.
Enabled by new technologies, innovative approaches to parking are becoming a cornerstone of cities' mobility strategies. According to a new report from Navigant Research, the installed base of on-street smart parking spaces will surpass 950,000 worldwide by 2020, with a six-fold increase in annual revenue.
“The parking industry is going through its biggest evolution since the introduction of the first parking meters in Oklahoma City in 1935,” says Eric Woods, research director. “It is being transformed by new technologies that are increasing operational efficiency and customer expectations, and by new perspectives on the role of parking within cities.”
Essentially, the goal of smart parking is to enable both drivers and parking managers to optimise the use of parking capacity and reduce congestion on the roads. A number of technologies provide the basis for smart parking solutions – including vehicle sensors, wireless communications, and data analytics. Smart parking is also made viable by innovation in areas such as smartphone apps for customer services, mobile payments, and in-car navigation systems.
At the heart of the smart parking concept is the ability to access, collect, analyse, disseminate in real time, and act on parking usage information. In the future, this will form part of a growing "Internet of Things" bringing devices, systems and people closer together – greatly improving the speed and efficiency of the world around us.
Aerospace company Boeing has been showing off its new robot painters.
These machines glide along tracks on either side of a 777 wing. Manually, it takes a team of humans 4.5 hours to do the first coat. The robots do it in 24 minutes with perfect quality. By midsummer, all 777 wings will be painted this way. Worldwide, the population of robots employed in service and industrial roles is growing exponentially and forecast to reach over 100 million by 2020.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla has announced a significant expansion of its Supercharger network. This enables Tesla Model S drivers to travel long distances, for free, indefinitely. In addition to expansion of the network itself, Tesla has improved the technology behind the Superchargers to significantly reduce the time it takes to charge – in some cases cutting charging time in half.
A year from now, the Tesla Supercharger network will stretch across the continent, covering almost the entire population of the U.S. and Canada. The expansion of this network will mean that Model S drivers can take the ultimate road trip – whether that's LA to New York, Vancouver to San Diego, or Montreal to Miami – without spending a cent on fuel.
Co-founded by Elon Musk, Tesla Motors' goal is to accelerate the world's transition to electric mobility with a full range of increasingly affordable electric cars. The California-based firm designs and manufactures EVs, as well as EV powertrain components for partners such as Toyota and Daimler. Tesla has delivered more than 10,000 electric vehicles to customers in 31 countries. For more information, visit teslamotors.com.
Plans have been approved for the world's biggest wave farm, with 40MW of power, to be constructed off the coast of north-west Scotland.
Credit: AlphaGalileo Foundation
The company behind the plans, Aquamarine Power, says it will deploy its technology along the coast of Lewis, in the Western Isles, one of the best wave energy locations in Europe. This would begin around 2017 – once grid infrastructure has been put in place, including an interconnector to reach customers on the mainland. If successful, up to 50 devices would be installed, with enough capacity to supply 38,000 homes.
The "Oyster" (pictured below) is a buoyant, hinged flap attached to the seabed at depths of 10-15m, half a kilometre from the shore. It captures energy in nearshore waves and converts it to clean sustainable electricity. Essentially, the Oyster is a wave-powered pump which pushes high pressure water to drive an onshore hydro-electric turbine.
Environmental risks associated with the device are minimised by using only water as its hydraulic fluid, rather than oil, and there are no toxic substances involved. It is also silent in operation. Based on figures from the Carbon Trust, each Oyster's annual carbon saving could be as much as 500 tonnes.
In the future, as the industry develops, it is hoped that huge networks of these devices could be connected, each farm generating hundreds of megawatts – perhaps even gigawatts – of clean energy. Scotland is currently aiming to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
Aquamarine Power's "Oyster" device. Credit: AlphaGalileo Foundation
Aquamarine Power CEO Martin McAdam: "This is a significant milestone for our company. The goal of our industry is to become commercial, and to do this we need two things – reliable technologies and a route to market. Our engineers are currently working hard on getting the technology right and we now have a site where we can install our first small farm, with a larger-scale commercial build out in the years ahead."
Lang Banks, Director of WWF Scotland: "This announcement is a fantastic boost for Scotland's marine renewables sector and will put Lewis firmly on the world map when it comes to wave energy. Alongside energy saving measures, wave power and other renewables have a critical role to play in helping Scotland reduce climate emissions, create jobs and generate export opportunities. With careful planning we can harness the waves and tides while safeguarding the nation's tremendous marine environment."
Although still at an early stage of development, wave energy has massive potential. The World Energy Council estimates that it could supply around 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity a year, or enough to meet 10 percent of the world's current energy needs. Last year, another company called Ocean Power Technologies was granted a 35-year license for the first wave power station in the United States. In addition to Scotland and the USA, similar projects are being developed in England, Italy, Portugal and Australia. The industry is young, but there is huge room for growth. It will be interesting to see if wave energy follows the same exponential trend of solar and wind.
Improvements in lithium ion (Li-ion) battery technology are helping to accelerate the worldwide market for electric vehicles (EVs).
In the last few years, automakers have shifted from nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to Li-ion batteries. This shift represents a major endorsement of Li-ion chemistry and its ability to perform consistently in an automotive environment. According to a new report from Navigant Research, total worldwide capacity of Li-ion batteries for transportation applications will increase more than ten-fold, from 4,400 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2013 to nearly 49,000 MWh by 2020.
"Li-ion technology continues to improve, as increased energy densities translate into smaller and lighter battery packs with more power," says David Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. "At the same time, leading battery cell manufacturers have built new factories utilising the latest production techniques, including greater automation and faster throughput. This will lead to a reduction in the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) over the next few years, provided that volumes continue to increase."
The market for Li-ion batteries will primarily be driven by the growth of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), as they utilise much larger battery packs than plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Today, most BEVs use battery packs ranging from 16 kWh to 85 kWh, compared to PHEVs that typically use packs ranging from 4 kWh to 16 kWh. Additionally, many recently introduced hybrid vehicles, such as the Honda Civic Hybrid, use Li-ion batteries, and the percentage of hybrids using Li-ion technology is expected to grow steadily as automakers update their models.
The report, "Electric Vehicle Batteries", provides a detailed examination of the growing market for Li-ion batteries, including profiles of all of the leading Li-ion battery manufacturers. Forecasts for revenues from Li-ion batteries, segmented by vehicle type, are included, along with vehicle roadmaps for hybrid, PHEV, and BEV sales by region. The report also includes a review of competing energy storage technologies, including ultracapacitors and nickel-metal hydride batteries. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the Navigant Research website.
Last year, US company Terrafugia achieved a milestone in its goal of developing a flying car. A production prototype of the "Transition" – a two-seater personal aircraft/car hybrid – completed its first test flight at New York's Plattsburgh International Airport. It became the first vehicle in the world to meet the standards of both the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Commercial sales of the Transition are expected within two years at a cost of $279,000.
Terrafugia has now released a video, seen below, of another vehicle it is working on. "TF-X" – a more advanced concept – would take-off vertically, rather than needing a runway. It could seat four passengers (double that of the Transition) and fit into a standard home garage. With a hybrid-electric motor, the TF-X would be able to recharge its batteries either from the engine, or by plugging into electric car charging stations.
Advances in materials and technology will make the concept possible, according to the company. Carbon-fibre for the skin is lighter and stronger than metals, for example, while engines are becoming ever more compact and powerful. The TF-X is the "next logical progression".
"I would caution anyone from saying this is science fiction," says John Brown, editor of the Roadable Times. "They have a track record of doing what they say. We need to take this seriously." For more information, visit the official website.
At the end of a long day, it can be more convenient to order your groceries online while sitting on the living room couch instead of making a late-night run to the store. New research shows it's also much more environmentally friendly to leave the car parked and opt for groceries delivered to your doorstep.
University of Washington engineers have found that using a grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared with individual household trips to the store. Trucks filled to capacity that deliver to customers clustered in neighbourhoods produced the most savings in carbon dioxide emissions.
"A lot of times, people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn't the case here," said Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions."
Consumers have increasingly more grocery delivery services to choose from. AmazonFresh operates in the Seattle area, while Safeway's service is offered in many U.S. cities. FreshDirect delivers to residences and offices in the New York City area. Last month, Google unveiled a shopping delivery service experiment in the San Francisco Bay Area, and UW alumni recently launched the grocery service Geniusdelivery in Seattle.
As companies continue to weigh the costs and benefits of offering a delivery service, Goodchild and Erica Wygonik, a UW doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering, looked at whether using a grocery delivery service was better for the environment, with Seattle as a test case. In their analysis, they found delivery service trucks produced 20 to 75 percent less carbon dioxide than the corresponding personal vehicles driven to and from a grocery store.
They also discovered significant savings for companies – 80 to 90 percent less carbon dioxide emitted – if they delivered based on routes that clustered customers together, instead of catering to individual household requests for specific delivery times.
Credit: Goodchild/Wygonik, UW
"What's good for the bottom line of the delivery service provider is generally going to be good for the environment, because fuel is such a big contributor to operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions," Wygonik said. "Saving fuel saves money, which also saves on emissions."
The researchers used an EPA modelling tool which calculated emissions at a much more detailed level than previous studies have done. Their work was funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation and published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum.
98 percent of the new lamp's energy goes to lighting the street instead of the night sky.
Streetlights illuminate the night, shining upon roadways and sidewalks across the world, but these ubiquitous elements of the urban environment are notoriously inefficient and major contributors to light pollution that washes out the night sky. Recent innovations in light emitting diodes (LEDs) have improved the energy efficiency of streetlights, but, until now, their glow still wastefully radiated beyond the intended area. A team of researchers from Taiwan and Mexico has developed a new lighting system design that harnesses high-efficiency LEDs and ensures they shine only where they’re needed, sparing surrounding homes and the evening sky from unwanted illumination. The team report their findings in the Optical Society's journal Optics Express.
A unique feature of the new LED system is its adaptability to different street lamp layouts, “to all kinds of streets and roads, providing a uniform illumination with high energy efficiency,” says co-author Ching-Cherng Sun of National Central University in Taiwan. For example, some modern lamps that line a thoroughfare or suburban sidewalk lean into the middle of the road, lighting the street from above. But more often, lamps are posted to one side of a street, or alternating in a “zig-zag” pattern from one side to the other – a layout that may be more efficient for roads with high traffic flow. The new design provides flexibility to be used for different illumination requests while maintaining a high efficiency, Sun says.
The proposed lamp is based on a novel three-part lighting fixture. The first part contains a cluster of LEDs, each of which is fitted with a special lens, called a Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens, that focuses the light so the rays are parallel to one another instead of intersecting—a process called collimation. These lens-covered LEDs are mounted inside a reflecting cavity, which “recycles” the light and ensures that as much of it as possible is used to illuminate the target. Finally, as the light leaves the lamp it passes through a diffuser or filter that cuts down on unwanted glare. The combination of collimation and filtering also allows researchers to control the beam’s shape: the present design yields a rectangular light pattern ideally suited for street lighting, the researchers say.
The team tested their design’s performance by analysing how little the beam would spread as it hit its target — a road or sidewalk 10 metres or more away from the source of the light. They quantified the lamp’s performance using something called optical utilisation factor (OUF), a number that describes the relationship between the flow rate of light at the target and the flow rate of light coming directly out of the LEDs. Higher OUF indicates better performance. Simulations show that the new design achieves an OUF of up to 81 percent, greatly outperforming a recent “excellent” design that reached 45 percent. Furthermore, the proposed streetlamp meets high expectations for power and brightness. Light pollution is also significantly reduced: for conventional street lamps, up to a fifth of their total energy is directed horizontally or upward into the sky. The best LED streetlamps reduce this to a tenth of their total energy. In the new model, just 2 percent of the lamp’s total energy would contribute to light pollution.
In addition to cutting light pollution and glare, the new model could also save energy. “A general LED street light could reduce power consumption by 40 to 60 percent,” Sun says; the increased efficiency of the proposed design would likely save an additional 10 to 50 percent. Furthermore, he adds, the module would be simple to fabricate, since it comprises just four parts, including a type of LED bulb commonly used in the lighting industry.
Sun’s team expects to finish a prototype of their design in the next 3 to 6 months, and to begin practical installations of the new street lamp as early as next year. According to a recent report by the Energy Saving Trust, LED lamps will dominate the commercial and domestic lighting markets in 2015. Another report, by Navigant Research, forecasts that worldwide unit shipments of LED lamps will grow from 68 million in 2013 to 1.28 billion annually by 2021. The markets for every other lighting technology will contract over that period.
Schematic of the new street lamp. Credit: Optics Express
Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new type of battery that could revolutionise the way consumer electronics and electric vehicles are powered.
Led by William King, the Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering, the researchers published their results in Nature Communications. They describe a new class of "microbatteries" which owe their high performance to an internal three-dimensional microstructure.
"The thinking parts of computers have gotten small," said King. "And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now, the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it."
Batteries have two key components: the anode (minus side) and cathode (plus side). Building on a novel fast-charging cathode design by materials science and engineering professor Paul Braun's group, King and his colleague James Pikul developed a matching anode, then developed a new way to integrate the two components at the microscale to make a complete battery with superior performance.
"Our key insight," they report, "is that the battery micro-architecture can concurrently optimize ion and electron transport for high-power delivery, realized here as three-dimensional bi-continuous interdigitated microelectrodes. The battery microarchitecture affords trade-offs between power and energy density, resulting in a high-performance power source which is scalable to larger areas."
With so much raw power, the batteries could enable sensors that broadcast 30 times farther, or devices 30 times smaller. The batteries are rechargeable and can charge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies, potentially allowing a smartphone to be replenished in a matter of seconds. As well as consumer electronics, a vast range of other applications could benefit – from tiny medical devices, up to large objects like electric vehicles.
The team is now working on integrating their batteries with other components and will begin trials on electronic equipment before the end of the year. Safety issues will also need to be resolved, as well as manufacturability at low cost. However, this appears to be a very promising development.
How will the revolutionary technology of 3D printing help us rise to the future challenge of peak oil? In his latest video, futurist Christopher Barnatt explains. For more information on 3D printing, see explainingthefuture.com.
The BIQ House took around three years to build, with design and construction costs of €5 million ($6.5 million). It features "bio-reactors" in the facade which contain microalgae. These live in a water solution, with nutrients and carbon dioxide provided by an automated system. Each of the 129 tanks can be rotated towards the Sun, generating biomass that can either cool or heat the building, while serving as a renewable energy source.
Even if you don't believe in man-made climate change, this type of building makes sense from an economic viewpoint – given the finite supply of fossil fuels. Such "living" buildings could actually produce more resources than they consume, potentially easing the population crisis. They are expected to be commonplace by 2050.
Josef Hargrave, consultant in Arup's Foresight + Innovation team: "By producing food and energy, and providing clean air and water, buildings can evolve from being passive shells into adaptive and responsive organisms – living and breathing structures supporting the cities of tomorrow."
A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough that has the potential to bring a low-cost, environmentally-friendly fuel source to the world.
"Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels," said Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. "Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future."
Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang's method can be performed using any source of biomass. The discovery is a featured editor's choice in an online version of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.
This new environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilises renewable natural resources, releases almost zero greenhouse gases, and does not require costly or heavy metals. Previous methods to produce hydrogen were expensive and created greenhouse gases.
The U.S. Department of Energy says that hydrogen fuel has the potential to dramatically reduce reliance of fossil fuels and automobile manufacturers are aggressively trying to develop vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells. Unlike gas-powered engines that spew out pollutants, the only by-product of hydrogen fuel is water. Zhang's discovery opens the door to an inexpensive, renewable source of hydrogen.
Jonathan Mielenz, group leader of bioscience and technology biosciences division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who is familiar with Zhang's work but not affiliated with this project, said this discovery has the potential to have a major impact on alternative energy production: "The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen. This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass."
Mielenz said Zhang's process could find its way to the marketplace as quickly as three years if the technology is available. Zhang said when it does become commercially available, it has the possibility of making an enormous impact.
"The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future," Zhang said. "Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone."
Obstacles to commercial production of hydrogen gas from biomass previously included the high cost of processes used and the relatively low quantity of the end product. But Zhang thinks he has the answers to those problems. For seven years, his team has been focused on finding non-traditional ways to produce high-yield hydrogen at low cost, specifically researching enzyme combinations, discovering novel enzymes, and engineering enzymes with desirable properties.
The team liberates high-purity hydrogen under mild reaction conditions at 50°C (122°F) and normal atmospheric pressure. The biocatalysts used to release the hydrogen are a group of enzymes artificially isolated from different microorganisms that thrive at extreme temperatures, some of which could grow at around the boiling point of water.
The researchers chose to use xylose, which comprises as much as 30 percent of plant cell walls. Despite its abundance, the use of xylose for releasing hydrogen has been limited. The natural or engineered microorganisms that most scientists use in their experiments cannot produce hydrogen in high yield because these microorganisms grow and reproduce instead of splitting water molecules to yield pure hydrogen.
To liberate the hydrogen, Virginia Tech scientists separated a number of enzymes from their native microorganisms to create a customised enzyme cocktail that does not occur in nature. The enzymes, when combined with xylose and a polyphosphate, liberate the unprecedentedly high volume of hydrogen from xylose, resulting in the production of about three times as much hydrogen as other hydrogen-producing microorganisms.
The energy stored in xylose splits water molecules, yielding high-purity hydrogen that can be directly utilised by proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent – a net energy gain. That means that low-temperature waste heat can be used to produce high-quality chemical energy hydrogen for the first time. Other processes that convert sugar into biofuels such as ethanol and butanol always have energy efficiencies of less than 100 percent, resulting in an energy penalty.
In his previous research, Zhang used enzymes to produce hydrogen from starch, but the reaction required a food source that made the process too costly for mass production.
The commercial market for hydrogen gas is now around $100 billion for hydrogen produced from natural gas, which is expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Industry most often uses hydrogen to manufacture ammonia for fertilisers and to refine petrochemicals – but a cheap, plentiful green hydrogen source can rapidly change that market.
"It really doesn't make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen," Zhang said. "We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy."
Japanese electronics firm Hitachi has unveiled "ROPITS" – Robot for Personal Intelligent Transportation System.
ROPITS is designed to aid the short-distance transportation of the elderly, or those with walking difficulties. The vehicle is equipped with a "specified arbitrary point autonomous pick-up and drop-off function" which can navigate to locations specified on a tablet or mobile device. Thanks to its small size and slow speed (3.7 mph, or 5.9 km/h), it can move safely across pavements, squares and open areas without being restricted to roads. On-board sensors provide a 360° view of the surrounding environment, allowing it to sense and react to pedestrians. Actuators and shock absorbers keep the body constantly maintained in a level position (horizontal state), so uneven surfaces can be handled without losing balance.
This and other such vehicles may be needed to support future societies with a higher proportion of old people than today. Japan faces a particular problem in this regard, having the largest proportion of elderly citizens in the world. The nation's elderly population, aged 65+, comprised 20% of its population in 2006, a figure that is forecast to reach 40% by 2060.
Hitachi claims that ROPITS could also be used as an autonomous delivery vehicle for a variety of services. The company intends to continue testing its vehicle and will present further details at the Robotics and Mechatronics Conference 2013, ROBOMEC 2013, to be held in the Tsukuba Special District from 22nd-25th May.
KLM, the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands, is to operate its first-ever series of biofuel-powered intercontinental flights.
KLM has formed a partnership with Schiphol Group, Delta Air Lines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that will see weekly flights between John F. Kennedy Airport and Schiphol using sustainable biofuel. Flight KL642 is operated by a Boeing 777-200 every Thursday.
The fuel itself is obtained using cooking oil, recycled and refined in Louisiana. This is supplied by SkyNRG, a company which KLM founded in 2009 together with ARGOS (North Sea Petroleum) and Spring Associates. SkyNRG is now the world’s market leader for sustainable kerosene, supplying over 15 carriers worldwide and the operating partner in KLM’s BioFuel program.
Like all human activities involving combustion, most forms of aviation release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into Earth's atmosphere, contributing to the acceleration of global warming and (in the case of CO2) ocean acidification. Rapid growth of air travel in recent years has produced a large increase in total pollution attributable to aviation. In the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft soared by 87% between 1990 and 2006.
Biofuel is widely considered to be one of the primary means by which the industry can reduce its carbon footprint. After a multi-year technical review by aircraft makers, engine manufacturers and oil companies, biofuels were first approved for commercial use in July 2011. Since then, a number of airlines have begun experimenting with their use. KLM flew the world's first commercial biofuel flight – carrying 171 passengers from Amsterdam to Paris – and is now able to offer its first intercontinental service.
Camiel Eurlings, KLM managing director: "I am proud that KLM is once again demonstrating its leading role in developing sustainable biofuel. For eight years in a row, KLM, together with Air France, has been sector leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Alongside this biofuel series we are starting a study to further identify sustainability gains in fuel, weight and CO2 reduction throughout the entire flight process. We are striving to achieve the 'optimal flight' together with research institutes, suppliers, airports, and air traffic control. We are combining new and existing technology, processes, and efficiency initiatives to achieve this. Cooperation is a priority."
Scientists have expressed concerns about land-use changes in response to greater demand for crops needed in biofuels. The focus is now on second generation sustainable biofuels that do not compete with food. Another major issue is cost. Cooking oil-based fuel, like that used in KLM's new service, is currently $10/gallon, around three times more expensive than regular jet fuel. However, it is hoped this can be reduced in the future. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes that a 6% share of sustainable, 2nd generation biofuels is achievable by 2020.
In addition to its use of biofuels, KLM is aiding research by the Delft University of Technology to develop a new aircraft that is 50% more efficient and 50% quieter. This could be ready to fly by 2025.
Global motorsports company, Reevu, this week unveiled its latest product – the FSX1. This futuristic helmet provides a rear view system to its wearer.
The FSX1, with integrated optical device, allows the motorcyclist a view of the road behind them through the helmet using a number of reflective surfaces that are coated onto a bullet proof material. The optical device, put simply, bends the light over the top of the wearer's head. It is constructed and reacts as a crumple zone – another world first in delivering security, safety, and that all important rear view.
Motorcycles have long had a reputation for safety issues. Between 1997 and 2008, accident fatalities in the United States more than doubled. You are 35 times more likely to die from riding a motorcycle than driving in a car. The FSX1 allows riders to maintain awareness of traffic conditions behind them, in the same way that a car driver uses a rear view mirror above their normal field of vision. The helmet is also surprisingly light, at 1500g (3.3 lb), and has excellent acoustics.
The rise of connected devices will drive mobile data revenues past voice revenues globally by 2018, according to a new report from the Global System Mobile Association (GSMA). This data explosion will provide better access to healthcare and education, help lift people out of poverty, fight hunger and reduce carbon emissions.
Mobile data is being driven by a surge in demand for connected devices and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, as we accelerate towards a truly networked world. This is transforming the socioeconomic future of people in both developed and developing countries. The new GSMA report, produced in collaboration with PwC, reveals how innovative mobile connected products and services will revolutionise people's lives over the next five years:
In developed countries:
Mobile health could save $400 billion in healthcare costs in OECD countries
Connected cars could save one in nine lives through emergency calling services, providing quicker and more accurate location and response times
Mobile education can reduce student drop-outs by eight per cent
Smart metering can cut carbon emissions by 27 million tonnes – the equivalent of planting 1.2 billion trees
In developing countries:
Mobile health could save one million lives in sub-Saharan Africa
Automotive data will improve food transport and storage, helping feed more than 40 million people annually – equivalent to the entire population of Kenya
Mobile education can enable 180 million students to further their education
Smart cities with intelligent transport systems could reduce commute times by 35 per cent, giving commuters back a whole week each year
Michael O'Hara, Chief Marketing Officer, GSMA: "Mobile data is not just a commodity, but is becoming the lifeblood of our daily lives, society and economy, with more and more connected people and things. This is an immense responsibility and the mobile industry needs to continue collaborating with governments and key industry sectors to deliver products and services that help people around the world improve their businesses and societies."
The increase in mobile operator data revenues is a global trend, across both developed and emerging markets. In 2012, Japan became the first country where data revenues exceeded voice revenues, due largely to the availability of advanced mobile broadband networks and a higher adoption of the latest smartphones, tablets and connected devices. This year, Argentina's data revenues will exceed voice revenues – attaining this milestone ahead of the US and UK, which will reach this point in 2014. Kenya will experience this shift in 2016, with global revenues following in 2018 as mobile broadband continues to thrive.
The University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), in collaboration with ad agency Mayo DraftCFB, has developed a billboard that converts air humidity into drinkable water for local residents in Lima, Peru.
A jetpack costing $100,000 has been unveiled at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in the United Arab Emirates. Its makers, California-based Martin Aircraft Company, say it could be used by emergency services, the military and also for leisure. The 140kg aircraft, which took 10 years to develop, can fly up to a mile high, reach a speed of 62mph and take off from a small space. It has an automated hover function, making it easy to operate.
Design and engineering firm Arup has launched 'It's Alive' – a report that describes how buildings in our cities could look and function in 2050.
The study, undertaken by Arup's Foresight + Innovation team, foresees that structures will be fully integrated into the fabric of the city, responsive to changes in the external environment, and designed for continuous adaptability, according to real-time needs and demands of its users.
This forward-thinking report is illustrated with a series of artist's impressions, to demonstrate how the futuristic components – such as photovoltaic surfaces and algae producing bio-fuel pods – can theoretically enable buildings to produce food, energy and resources.
"By 2050, the human population will have reached 9 billion people with 75 per cent of the world's inhabitants living in cities. We do not want to predict what the built environment may look like in almost 40 years' time, but offers insight and inspiration for what could happen. This report explores the idea of intelligent buildings that are able to make informed and calculated decisions based on their surrounding environment – living and breathing structures that are able to support the cities and people of tomorrow."
— Josef Hargrave, Consultant at Foresight + Innovation, Arup
Arup's Foresight + Innovation group was established to help the firm and its clients understand the future of the built environment. The report can be downloaded here (PDF, 8MB).
Stanford Engineering's Center for Turbulence Research (CTR) has set a new record in computational science by successfully using a supercomputer with more than 1 million computing cores. This was done to solve a complex fluid dynamics problem – the prediction of noise generated by a supersonic jet engine.
Joseph Nichols, a research associate in the centre, worked on the newly installed Sequoia IBM Bluegene/Q system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). Sequoia recently topped the list of the world's most powerful supercomputers, boasting 1,572,864 compute cores (processors) and 1.6 petabytes of memory connected by a high-speed five-dimensional torus interconnect.
Because of Sequoia's impressive numbers of cores, Nichols was able to show for the first time that million-core fluid dynamics simulations are possible – and also to contribute to research aimed at designing quieter aircraft engines.
The physics of noise
The exhausts of high-performance aircraft at takeoff and landing are among the most powerful man-made sources of noise. For ground crews, even for those wearing the most advanced hearing protection available, this creates an acoustically hazardous environment. To the communities surrounding airports, such noise is a major annoyance and a drag on property values.
Understandably, engineers are keen to design new and better aircraft engines that are quieter than their predecessors. New nozzle shapes, for instance, can reduce jet noise at its source, resulting in quieter aircraft.
Predictive simulations – advanced computer models – aid in such designs. These complex simulations allow scientists to peer inside and measure processes occurring within the harsh exhaust environment that is otherwise inaccessible to experimental equipment. The data gleaned from these simulations are driving computation-based scientific discovery as researchers uncover the physics of noise.
More cores, more challenges
Parviz Moin, a Professor in the School of Engineering and Director of CTR: "Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations, like the one Nichols solved, are incredibly complex. Only recently, with the advent of massive supercomputers boasting hundreds of thousands of computing cores, have engineers been able to model jet engines and the noise they produce with accuracy and speed."
CFD simulations test all aspects of a supercomputer. The waves propagating throughout the simulation require a carefully orchestrated balance between computation, memory and communication. Supercomputers like Sequoia divvy up the complex math into smaller parts so they can be computed simultaneously. The more cores you have, the faster and more complex the calculations can be.
And yet, despite the additional computing horsepower, the difficulty of the calculations only becomes more challenging with more cores. At the one-million-core level, previously innocuous parts of the computer code can suddenly become bottlenecks.
Ironing out the wrinkles
Over the past few weeks, Stanford researchers and LLNL computing staff have been working closely to iron out these last few wrinkles. This week, they were glued to their terminals during the first "full-system scaling" to see whether initial runs would achieve stable run-time performance. They watched eagerly as the first CFD simulation passed through initialisation then thrilled as the code performance continued to scale up to and beyond the all-important one-million-core threshold, and as the time-to-solution declined dramatically.
"These runs represent at least an order-of-magnitude increase in computational power over the largest simulations performed at the Center for Turbulence Research previously," said Nichols. "The implications for predictive science are mind-boggling."
The current simulations were a homecoming of sorts for Nichols. He was inspired to pursue a career in supercomputing as a high-school student when he attended a two-week summer program at Lawrence Livermore computing facility in 1994 sponsored by the Department of Energy. Back then, he worked on the Cray Y-MP, one of the fastest supercomputers of its time. "Sequoia is approximately 10 million times more powerful than that machine," Nichols noted.
The Stanford ties go deeper still. The computer code used in this study is named CharLES and was developed by former Stanford senior research associate, Frank Ham. This code utilises unstructured meshes to simulate turbulent flow in the presence of complicated geometry.
In addition to jet noise simulations, Stanford researchers are using the CharLES code to study advanced-concept scramjet propulsion systems, used in hypersonic flight at many times the speed of sound.
Panasonic is developing a form of artificial photosynthesis – the same system used by plants and other organisms to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates, using sunlight. In the future, it is hoped this could be scaled up to industrial-sized facilities, absorbing CO2 from factories and other infrastructure.
The system could produce substances like ethanol as a by-product, for use in generating energy. Panasonic has achieved a world record in terms of solar to chemical energy conversion, with efficiency close to that of real plants. The scale of humanity's challenge in terms of reducing atmospheric CO2 levels is vast, but this new system looks very promising and has major potential if developed further.
For a number of years now, Google has been leading the way in self-driving, autonomous car technology. However, car makers Toyota and Audi are now developing the vehicles themselves, independently of the Internet search giant.
Both companies have confirmed that they will demonstrate self-driving systems at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the biggest technology trade show of the year, which begins on 8th January. Toyota released a brief, 5 second teaser clip this week, showing its prototype Lexus LS 600h. This is apparently codenamed the AASRV (Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle) and will "lead the industry into a new automated era."
As you can see in the video below, it appears very similar to a Google self-driving Prius – but as mentioned, Toyota has developed this model entirely independently, with no partnership involved. In addition to the vehicle itself, they will also discuss the state of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) research and development, which includes vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications technology. This is expected to be fairly widespread by 2019 and could massively reduce the number of casualties on the roads.
As for Audi, there is no video available. However, a spokesperson has stated that its car will include a feature allowing it to find a parking space and park without a driver behind the wheel.
Thanks largely to Google's lobbying efforts, new laws were introduced last year – in California and Nevada – to make self-driving vehicles a reality. It's clear that this technology is moving forward and could soon enter the mainstream. In our recent poll, 70% of readers said they would feel safe riding in a computer-controlled car.
Intelligent tires could be just around the corner – thanks to students from the University of Cincinnati.
South Korean company Hankook Tire Group held a competition in the US which challenged students to imagine the role of tires in future automotive designs. Among the required criteria were sustainability needs – such as reducing and reusing raw materials in production – and increased efficiency, while meeting specific tire performance targets.
Among the winning entries was student Ben Zavala's "Tiltred", an unusual tilting tire design; Mark Hearn's "Motiv" adaptable and dynamic off-road tires which came in second place; and Miranda Steinhauser's "Tessela Tire," featuring eco-friendly, replaceable treads.
Their futuristic designs won two awards from Hankook, as well as being displayed at the prestigious Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas.
This dwarfs the 819 mile (1,318 km) route between Beijing and Shanghai which opened in June 2011. The new line is described by officials as "one of the most technically advanced in the world" and will cut the previously 20-hour journey to just 8 hours. It has a total of 35 stops, with trains running at 186 mph (300 km/h), although the line is designed to accommodate future speeds of up to 220 mph (350 km/h). The route will be extended to Hong Kong by 2015.
China already has the world's biggest high speed rail (HSR) network, covering over 5,800 miles (9,300 km) of routes. As it continues to grow and become more developed, the country has even bigger ambitions. With $300 billion of investment between 2010 and 2020, it will construct over 11,000 miles (17,600 km) of new HSR lines, reaching 5 billion journeys per year and giving 90% of its population access to the network.
Trains are also being developed for other lines that could eventually travel at 625 mph (1,000 km/h), shattering previous speed records. These would use vacuum tubes which avoid the problem of heat from air friction.
This 3-minute video was a semi-finalist in the Focus Forward | Filmmaker Competition. The project was inspired by the International Living Future Institute, a stringent manifesto on green, sustainable building, all of which has been based on a flower.
Reaction Engines Ltd. has announced what they claim is "the biggest breakthrough in aerospace propulsion technology since the invention of the jet engine." Critical tests have been successfully completed on the key technology for SABRE, an engine which will enable aircraft to reach the opposite side of the world in under 4 hours, or to fly directly into orbit and return in a single stage, taking off and landing on a runway.
SABRE, an air-breathing rocket engine, utilises both jet turbine and rocket technology. Its innovative pre-cooler technology is designed to cool the incoming airstream from over 1,000°C to minus 150°C in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye) without blocking with frost. Recent tests have proven the cooling technology to be frost-free at the crucial low temperature of -150°C.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has evaluated the SABRE engine's pre-cooler heat exchanger on behalf of the UK Space Agency, and has given its official validation to the test results:
"The pre-cooler test objectives have all been successfully met and ESA are satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for the SABRE engine development."
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: "This is a remarkable achievement for a remarkable company. Building on years of unique engineering know-how, Reaction Engines has shown the world that Britain remains at the forefront of technological innovation and can get ahead in the global race. This technology could revolutionise the future of air and space travel."
Well over 100 test runs, undertaken at Reaction Engines Ltd's facility in Oxfordshire, integrated the ground-breaking flight-weight cooling technology and frost control system with a jet engine and a novel helium cooling loop, demonstrating the new technologies in the SABRE engine that drive its highly innovative and efficient thermodynamic cycle. This success adds to a series of other SABRE technology demonstrations undertaken by the company including contra-rotating turbines, combustion chambers, rocket nozzles, and air intakes. It marks a major advance towards the creation of reusable vehicles like SKYLON – initially designed to transport satellites and cargo, but which could eventually transport people into space at relatively low cost.
Alan Bond, who founded Reaction Engines to re-build the UK's rocket propulsion industry and has led the research from the start, said:
"These successful tests represent a fundamental breakthrough in propulsion technology. Reaction Engines' lightweight heat exchangers are going to force a radical re-think of the design of the underlying thermodynamic cycles of aerospace engines. These new cycles will open up completely different operational characteristics such as high Mach cruise and low cost, re-usable space access, as the European Space Agency's validation of Reaction Engines' SABRE engine has confirmed. The REL team has been trying to solve this problem for over 30 years and we've finally done it. Innovation doesn't happen overnight. Independent experts have confirmed that the full engine can now be demonstrated. The SABRE engine has the potential to revolutionise our lives in the 21st century in the way the jet engine did in the 20th Century. This is the proudest moment of my life."
Dr Mark Ford, ESA's Head of Propulsion Engineering, said: "One of the major obstacles to developing air-breathing engines for launch vehicles is the development of lightweight high-performance heat exchangers. With this now successfully demonstrated by Reaction Engines Ltd, there are currently no technical reasons why the SABRE engine programme cannot move forward into the next stage of development."
The New York Times has released interactive graphics showing future sea level rises for the USA. These illustrate how cities would be affected at 5 feet, 12 feet and 25 feet above current levels. Based on the latest scientific data, the rises are expected to occur by 2100, 2300 and several centuries from now, respectively:
"Maps show coastal and low-lying areas that would be permanently flooded, without engineered protection, in three levels of higher seas. Percentages are the portion of dry, habitable land within the city limits of places listed that would be permanently submerged."
Within the next decade, parts of the USA (and indeed the world) could be faced with a major water crisis. To address this looming problem, Brad Lancaster has a simple yet innovative solution. Directed by Andrew Brown, "Free Water" is currently a semifinalist in the Focus Forward Filmmaker Competition, in the running to become the $100,000 Grand Prize Winner. For more info, and other concepts, visit harvestingrainwater.com.
What if roads and parking lots were solar, fueling enough energy from the sun to power nearby communities as well as electric vehicles? Scott and Julie Brusaw – inventors and creators of Solar Roadways – have the answer. Their video is currently featured on Focus Forward Films – "an unprecedented new series of 30 three-minute stories about innovative people who are reshaping the world through act or invention, directed by the world's most celebrated documentary filmmakers."
This week, designer and innovator Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure presented the first prototypes of their 'Smart Highway' at the Dutch Design Week.
Using the latest techniques, they aim to develop the first 'Smart Highways' in Europe – roads that are more sustainable, safe and intuitive. Selected 'Best Future Concept' by the Dutch Design Awards, these highways will be realised mid-2013 in the Netherlands.
Instead of focusing on the car to innovate the driving experience, Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans are re-inventing the highway. Futuristic designs such as Glow-in-the-Dark Road, Dynamic Paint, Interactive Light, Induction Priority Lane and Wind Light will be realised within the following five years. The goal is to produce roads with interactive lights, efficient energy use and road signs which adapt to specific traffic situations.
First prototypes of Glow-in-the-dark Road and Dynamic Paint
The pathways of Glow-in-the-dark roads are treated with special photo-luminising powder making extra lighting unnecessary. Charged in daylight, they illuminate the contours of the road at night for up to 10 hours.
Dynamic Paint, that becomes visible in response to temperature fluctuations, enables the road surface to communicate relevant traffic information directly to drivers. For example, ice-crystals become visible on the surface of the road when it's cold and slippery.
The first pieces of Smart Highway featuring the above two technologies were open for public viewing this week. The first few hundred metres are due to be installed in the Dutch province of Brabant next year. Priority induction lanes for electric vehicles, interactive lights that switch on as cars pass, and wind-powered lighting will be rolled out by 2017. In total, the studio has 20 concepts that it hopes to commercialise and has received numerous inquiries from countries around the globe.
Studio Roosegaarde comunications partner Emina Sendijarevic: "India is really keen on it; they have a lot of blackouts there, it would be hallelujah to them."
Scientists in the Netherlands have demonstrated a form of self-healing concrete that could revolutionise the construction industry.
Credit: TU Delft
The new material is being tested by microbiologist Henk Jonkers and concrete specialist Eric Schlangen, at Delft Technical University. It contains limestone-producing bacteria, which become active when rainwater soaks into the structure. These tiny microorganisms are mixed in with nutrients, lying dormant as spores. If coming into contact with water, they begin to feed on the surrounding nutrients, producing limestone as a by-product.
Concrete is the most common man-made material in the world. 7.5 billion cubic metres are cast each year – more than a cubic metre for every person on Earth. It has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion, however, and shrinks as it matures. Along with corrosive rainwater and chemicals, this gradually results in fractures. As a result, buildings and other structures need substantially reinforcing with steel. However, steel prices are becoming higher, especially with China and India's industrial growth. An alternative is to repair cracks, but this can be very difficult in underground environments, for example.
Self-healing concrete is an ideal solution. It would not only save time and money, but also benefit the environment. The team at Delft Technical University has used bacteria of the bacillus species which have exactly the right characteristics. Their spores can tolerate the highly alkaline environment of the concrete, survive for decades in a kind of sleep mode and without food or oxygen. They will only come to life when cracks appear and water soaks into the concrete. They will then multiply and produce limestone, thereby closing the crack in a few weeks. Once the damage is healed completely, moisture can no longer get into the concrete, so it will not weaken.
Full-scale outdoor testing is now underway. A building in the south of Holland has been covered with the bio-concrete and will be monitored over the next two years. It is hoped that the material can be commercialised by 2015, offering big savings in construction and maintenance costs by extending the concrete's service life.
"In 2010, New York City added 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (75% from buildings, the bulk of the rest from transport) but that number means little to most people because few of us have a sense of scale for atmospheric pollution.
Carbon Visuals, supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, have created a film that makes those emissions feel more real – the total emissions and the rate of emission. Designed to engage the ‘person on the street’, this version is exploratory and still work in progress.
Emissions in 2010 were 12% less than 2005 emissions. The City of New York is on track to reduce emissions by 30% by 2017 – an ambitious target."