Archive for October, 2010

Ouvyt

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Hydraulic hybrids

October 27th, 2010 by Gene
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Everybody knows about hybrids. Here’s a hybrid you probably don’t know about. A hydraulic hybrid. Today. On Engineering Works!

Hybrid cars are no big deal these days. You see them just about everywhere. Even the technology is getting familiar. A gasoline engine paired with an electric motor and a big battery. The important point is that they give you great gas mileage.

There’s another hybrid out there, and it gets better gas mileage than the gasoline-electric hybrids we see every day. A lot better. It’s a diesel–hydraulic hybrid. And diesel-hydraulic hybrids can cut the amount of fuel you use – in half.

In case you’re as technologically challenged as we are, hydraulic devices use fluids under pressure to multiply force. The hydraulic master cylinder in your car’s brake system multiplies the force of your foot on the brake pedal. In hydraulic hybrids, a small pump compresses hydraulic fluid in what’s called an accumulator to a pressure of 5,000 pounds per square inch. When you step on the accelerator, the pressurized fluid is released and turns a hydraulic motor. The closest thing to a gasoline-electric hybrid’s battery is one that stores electricity for things like the lights and radio.

So far, most of the research on hydraulic hybrids uses the system to drive big vehicles. Garbage trucks and UPS trucks and such. But it should work at least as well in passenger cars.

Our garbage truck is at the door and we’re going home. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by K-A-M-U F-M in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Hydraulic hybrids sound like a great idea and an intriguing alternative to gasoline-electric hybrids. But there must be some downside to it. What am I not seeing?

For more:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hydraulic-hybrid-vehicle

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

http://www.hydraulicspneumatics.com/200/Issue/Article/False/38545/Issue

Hyperion Power Generation

Hyperion Power Generation

The reactor down the street

October 20th, 2010 by Gene
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Powering your town with nuclear energy. Small reactors for small towns. Today. On Engineering Works!

Usually, when we build nuclear power plants, we build them big. The largest nuclear plants produce more than 1,400 megawatts of electricity, enough power for about 1.5 million households. That could be changing. The Department of Energy is studying smaller power plants that would produce about 300 megawatts. Enough to power, say, Jackson, Mississippi. Other researchers are looking into power plants that could serve even smaller communities.

Experts estimate that a 50 megawatt reactor about the size of a garden shed could provide electricity for small towns or even individual work sites away from the power grid. Even better, these small reactors could be linked together as the town grows and electricity demand increases. There could be another benefit to these small power plants, too.

Since the generators would be located close to where the electricity is used, there would be less loss as it moves along transmission lines. Now, with large regional power plants, between four percent and 10 percent of electricity is lost before it gets to where it is used.

And there’s more. Odd as it sounds, people who live near a nuclear power plant are exposed to less radiation than if they live near a coal-fired plant. In either place, the amount of radiation is so small that there’s no real danger.

In any case, it’s going to be a few years before the first of these mini-reactors is built. 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

Start the discussion: nuclear energy is still a controversial idea, although it shouldn’t be. What do you think of spreading out nuclear generator plants like this? Let us know.

For more:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/13/AR2010091304026.html

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_22/b4180020375312.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/06/10/10greenwire-company-calls-new-small-nuclear-reactor-a-game-45123.html

Tyson Blanquart/Flickr.com

Tyson Blanquart/Flickr.com

Cahokia

October 13th, 2010 by Gene
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Thousands of years ago, people we’d call engineers today built some impressive structures. We’ll look at one. Cahokia. Today, on Engineering Works!

Today, Cahokia is nothing but a collection of big grass-covered mounds alongside the Mississippi River not far from Saint Louis.

A thousand years ago, it was the largest city in North America north of Mexico. The centerpiece of Cahokia is a huge mound that once had a temple on top of it. It’s the largest prehistoric construction project in North or South America.

The clay slab it’s built on is 954 feet long and 774 feet wide. The mound itself is 100 feet tall, and covers 14 cres. That’s larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Here’s another way to understand how big this mound is. It contains about 22 million cubic feet of earth. If 30 people started carrying dirt for it in baskets weighing 55 pounds each — that’s about one-and-a-half cubic feet — and they each carried eight baskets a day, it would take 167 years. More than 14,600,000 basketfuls. If they used pickup trucks, it would have taken almost 230,000 loads.

Two things make this construction project special. First, the dirt the mound is made of is pretty unstable stuff. And it’s built on a flood plain, where it’s lasted through a thousand years of Mississippi River floods. Both of these things suggest people with specialized skills – engineers – were involved. A thousand years ago.

We’ve hauled all the words we can 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

Start the discussion: Just because something like Cahokia is really old doesn’t mean that the people who built it didn’t know what they were doing. We’re always looking for nifty old construction projects: if you think of one, let us know.

For more:

http://bit.ly/asTghd

http://cahokiamounds.org/

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

Kris Krug/Flickr.com

Kris Krug/Flickr.com

Drilling into the deep

October 6th, 2010 by Gene
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Let’s talk about oil and some of what it takes to get it. Drilling deep. Today, on Engineering Works!

It takes a lot of information to drill an oil well. And some of it’s pretty hard to come by. Starting is easy. GPS tells you where you are. Once you get underground, it gets complicated quickly. Oil and natural gas are a long way underground. Sometimes three-miles or so. And GPS doesn’t work underground.

In the early oil wells, sometimes drillers would lower a compass on a cord down the well pipe and take a picture of it with a camera to figure out what direction the drill was going. Things are better now. Now, sophisticated sensing tools often ride the drill pipe right behind the churning bit and pass information back up the pipe in real time.

Some sensors measure natural radiation emitted by the rock. Others tap into the electrical resistance of fluids in the rock. Another that’s sort of like MRI machines in hospitals detects the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. Together, they can tell drillers whether they’re drilling through sand or rock, whether the formation contains oil, gas or water, and how easily the oil will flow out of the rock.

All this high-tech equipment is expensive. And knowing about it helps to explain why oil is so expensive these days.

We’ve done the drilling we can handle and we’re calling it quits 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

Start the discussion: Oil may not be the ultimate fuel to run our technological world, but for right now it’s what there is. The difficulty of getting to it helps explain its high cost.

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/science/06drill.html

http://www.elsandcompany.com/howdrillingworks.htm

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/oil-drilling4.htm

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