Archive for February, 2010

Photo: bibliocone/flickr.com

Riding green — leafy green

February 24th, 2010 by Gene
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It sounds like the opposite of high-tech engineering, but it’s not. High-end racing bikes built of bamboo. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you’re a serious cyclist or know someone who is, you probably know that over the years, the stuff really good bikes are made of has changed. From steel and aluminum to exotic alloys and carbon fiber. Some engineers are taking the search for the best bicycle material the other way. All the way back to bamboo.

This sounds like green technology gone crazy. Except for one thing. It works. If you’ve ever watched a construction worker in Shanghai swing a bamboo-handled sledge hammer, you know. Bamboo is tough. And it’s light. Bamboo bike frames weigh about four-pounds. Features you need in a bike built for serious riding or racing. Bamboo frames also absorb vibration better than carbon fiber, absorb impacts better, and are less likely to break.

Like many other good things, good bamboo bike frames don’t come cheap. Some cost more than $2,500. Which, compared to top carbon fiber frames, isn’t bad.

Not all bamboo bikes are expensive or aimed at riding the Tour de France. One engineer has come up with a bamboo bike that people can build at home with basic tools. It’s intended for folks in Africa and other developing areas who need cheap, durable transportation.

Our bike isn’t made of bamboo, but we’re still going to ride it home. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,670689,00.html

http://www.calfeedesign.com/

Energy — there’s an app for that

February 17th, 2010 by Gene

csaila/flickr.com

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It seems sometimes like there’s an app for everything. Some of them are even useful. Save energy with your smart phone. Today, on Engineering Works!

Smart phones are learning to do amazing things. What’s the weather going to be like this afternoon? Bring up your weather app and find out. Out to dinner with friends? One app will split the check for you. Another turns your iPhone into an iTunes remote.

App developers are aiming at another target, too. Using your phone to manage your house. Especially the amount of energy you use. Saving energy is getting sexy. One German company has developed an app that lets you open and close windows, turns lights on or off, change thermostat settings, from anywhere, through your phone. Other companies offer similar apps and more are getting into the game every day, it seems.

A technological perfect storm is driving these developments. We’re all concerned about energy use and climate change. More companies are developing technology to control home energy use, almost hour by hour. And smart phones and software for apps give you the technology to do something about.

It’s not all mobile technology. Major household appliance manufacturers expect to launch internet-compatible washing machines and refrigerators any day now. Match ‘em up with an app and you’re good to go. Other companies are getting ready with adapter plugs that will let older appliances talk to your app.

Our get-out-of-here app is ready and we’re gone. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more, visit:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,670235,00.html

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-50422.html

http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/10/20/smart-phone-will-clean-energy-be-apples-killer-app/tab/article/

Worklife Siemens

Worklife Siemens

Electricity from the Sahara

February 10th, 2010 by Gene
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Fossil fuels are running out. CO2 is building up. What to do? You’ve heard it before. But not like this. Bigtime sunshine. Today, on Engineering Works!

Engineers in Germany are combining old and new solar technology into what may be the biggest solar energy project ever.

They plan to erect solar collectors in the Sahara Desert, where there’s lots of sunshine. And lots of room. More than three and a half million square miles. That’s as big as the continental United States. A solar array big enough to supply the whole world with electric power could fit into 35-thousand square miles. One percent of the Sahara. About the size of the state of Maine.

Maybe the coolest thing about the planned project is that most of the technology has been around for years and we know it works. They’ll collect the sun’s heat with something called parabolic troughs. A parabolic trough is like a big pipe split in half lengthwise that focuses sunlight on glass tubes that run above the trough’s center.

The tubes carry special oil that’s heated to more than 700° Fahrenheit. The hot oil turns water into steam to spin turbines that’ll drive electric generators. Simple. The project’s first goal is to meet 15 percent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050. The only real catch is getting the electricity from the Sahara to Europe, but they think they’ve got that one solved, too.

We’ve got solar energy solved for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more, visit:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,664842,00.html

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/11/desertec-sahara-solar-power-project-produce-first-electricity-2015.php

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3347892/Sahara-sun-could-power-all-of-Europe.html

photo: tunnelarmr/flickr.com

photo: tunnelarmr/flickr.com

Electric words

February 3rd, 2010 by Gene

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It’s hard to fix something if you don’t have words to describe what went wrong. We’ll look back at how they did it. Today, on Engineering Works!

The problem started about 150 ago. That’s when the first transatlantic cable connected the east and west shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, people could send telegrams across the ocean in minutes instead of letters by ship that took weeks. It doesn’t sound like much today, when you can call anywhere from anywhere on your cell phone, but back then it was a big deal.

It didn’t last. The cable failed a few weeks after the first message was sent. A group of engineers met to figure out what went wrong. Then they discovered they had another problem. Electricity carried the messages from one side of the ocean to the other. But nobody had words yet to describe electricity yet, especially the important ideas of current and resistance.

In the end, they borrowed the names of scientists who’d done important research into electricity to describe what they needed. You’ll probably recognize the words, even if you don’t recognize the people. Ampere, from Andre-Marie Ampere, to describe electric current. Ohm, from Georg Ohm, for resistance in a wire. Watt, from James Watt, available power. And volt, from Alessandro Volta, the amount of electrical – pressure – in a system.

We do have the words we need to get out of here, so we’re gone. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more, visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_telegraph_cable

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/cable/

http://www.history-magazine.com/cable.html