Archive for March, 2011

kqedquest/flickr.com

kqedquest/flickr.com

Making the weight with electric cars

March 30th, 2011 by Gene
Play

Electric is the word for auto builders these days. All the major manufacturers seem to be producing an electric car or plan to have one soon. Sounds great, but will it work? We’ll see. Today, on Engineering Works!

Figuring out how well electric cars work comes down to one thing: Batteries. Compared to gasoline, the best batteries we have don’t store much energy. Look at it this way. A gallon of gasoline weighs about six-pounds. The energy in that gas will take your Toyota Prius between 40 and 50 miles down the highway. Use an electric motor and the latest lithium-ion batteries to store your energy, and you’ll need 300 pounds of batteries to make that same 40 miles.

You can see where this is going. It’s about 200 miles from College Station, Texas, where we live, to Dallas. You’ll burn about four gallons of gas in your Prius to make the trip, about 24 pounds worth. If you drive it on electricity, you’ll need about 1,200 pounds of battery to give you the same energy as that four gallons of gas. That’s the payload for a full-sized pickup. It won’t fit into your Prius.

None of this means electric cars are a bad idea. In fact, we think they’re a very good idea. But we need to understand what they can do and what they can’t. And work hard to design better batteries.

Our truck runs on gas and we’re going to drive it home now. 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: What do you think about the hype electric cars are getting these days? We seem to need better batteries before the promise of electric cars becomes real.

For more:

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

http://www.hybridcars.com/electric-car

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

Calfee Design

Calfee Design

Another kind of green technology

March 23rd, 2011 by Gene
Play

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/

Dozenist/Wikipedia.org

Dozenist/Wikipedia.org

Rebuilding the Panama Canal

March 16th, 2011 by Gene
Play

The Panama Canal is getting a facelift. Actually, it’s more like a rebuild than a facelift. We’ll see what’s going on. Today, on Engineering Works!

When the Panama Canal was built, almost 100 years ago, it was a marvel. It cuts through Panama’s central mountains to connect Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its combination of double locks and artificial lakes through the mountains cut sea travel time between the United States’ west and east coasts almost in half.

When the canal opened in 1914, it was the biggest and most complex engineering project ever. At $375 million, it also was one of the most expensive. From the day it opened, the canal was a success. Millions of tons of shipping passes through its locks every year. But now, many cargo vessels, especially big container ships, are just too big to squeeze through.

The solution? Add a third set of locks, big enough to handle the biggest ships. The new locks will have a usable length of 1,400 feet and be 180 feet wide. That compares to 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide for the original locks. The price tag is pretty big, too. Between $15 billion $25 billion.

Construction began in 2007 following a referendum in Panama. Almost three-quarters of the voters approved the project. The new locks are expected to be completed in 2014.

This project is done for now and we’re headed 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

Start the discussion: This is a big and nifty construction project. Some people think it’s too much money to spend on a canal that’s been left behind by transportation technology. What do you think?

For more:

David McCullogh, Path Between  The Seas

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

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

http://www.pancanal.com/eng/index.html

Virgin Galactic-Jim Koepnick

Virgin Galactic-Jim Koepnick

Up, up and away

March 9th, 2011 by Gene
Play

The time was when tourists looking for adventure trekked to Marrakesh or maybe Mongolia. Now, the sky’s the limit. Space tourism, today on Engineering Works!

Humans have always been people who like to travel for fun. At least as long ago as the Roman Empire, people who could afford it traveled to far places to see great buildings and artwork, learn new languages and experience new cultures. That was then. We’re more ambitious now.

Now that visionary air- and spacecraft developer Burt Rutan has proved getting there commercially is possible, several companies are betting that the edge of space will be the next must-go tourist destination. The first sub-orbital flights are probably only a few years away, if you can afford the fare. The going rate seems to be about $200,000 a ticket.

Space tourists will probably ride in spacecraft that will take off from a runway like an airplane and use rocket power to reach the edge of space, about 65-miles up. And if that’s not a big enough thrill, one company is working on tourist flights to the moon. The fare? A cool $200 million.

At least one space tourist has already ventured into space. This trip went to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Space sounds like a cool trip, but we’re not buying a ticket anytime soon. Getting home after work is a big enough adventure for us. 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: We’d really like to try this, but as usual, money would be an issue, as we’re sure it would be for most folks. Wonder if the market is really there for stuff like this?

For more:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130672473&sc=fb&cc=fp

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

http://www.nss.org/tourism/

University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery

University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery

Building the Erie Canal

March 2nd, 2011 by Gene
Play

It’s easy to think that all the big, important, engineering projects happened in modern times. We’ll look at one that happened 200 years ago. The Erie Canal. Today, on Engineering Works!

Today, the Erie Canal is little more than a big ditch from one end of New York State to the other. But when it opened, in 1825, it was the first direct trade route between the Great Lakes and the east coast.  Construction on the363-mile canal began in 1817. For its time – for any time, actually – it was a big deal. The canal was 40-feet wide and four-feet deep. It runs from Albany, New York, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, and rises more than 560 feet along the way. This meant 36 locks to raise and lower canal barges along the way. It cost $7 million to build, $170 million in today’s dollars. The cost of a few miles of interstate highway.

Moving goods by barge on the canal was faster than by animal-drawn wagon, and cut shipping costs by 95 percent.

Cargo from the Midwest floated to New York City on the canal and boosted the city past Philadelphia and Boston for the volume of trade that passed through. New York became the largest city in the country, a position it still holds.

These days the canal is used more for recreational boating than carrying cargo, but it’s still there.

We’re still here, but we won’t be for long. 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: We drove alongside the Erie Canal once when we were young. It wasn’t very impressive and that’s too bad. It’s an important piece of the engineering and economic history of the United States.

For more:

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

http://www.eriecanal.org/

Commodore, Renehan, Edward J. Jr., Basic Books 2007