I was recently appointed to be a member of the EFRC newsletter editorial board. As part of my duties, I wrote an article summarizing some research from Prof. Petra E. de Jongh’s lab at the Utrecht University. The article is available on the EFRC newsletter website, http://www.energyfrontier.us/newsletter/201404/confined-catalysts-last-longer
I was recently appointed to be a member of the EFRC newsletter editorial board. As part of my duties, I wrote an article summarizing some research from Prof. Rolf Reitz’s lab at the University of Wisconsin. The article is available on the EFRC newsletter website, http://www.energyfrontier.us/newsletter/201401/advantage-renewable-fuels-high-efficiency-engines
We’ve all been there - walking back to your table in Starbucks, hot mug of coffee in hand, trying to catch the eye of the cute girl by the window when, whoops! Coffee everywhere! Given the (probably) millions of hipsters afflicted by this scenario on a yearly basis, it seems surprising that very little research has been done into the dynamics of why the coffee ends up on on your skinny jeans instead of staying in the cup where it belongs. Never fear though, because a graduate student from the University of California at Santa Barbara has recently published a study examining the mathematics and fluid dynamics behind the spilled cup of coffee.
A significant determinant of the fuel economy of a vehicle, in particular automobiles, is the gross vehicle mass (GVM). Reducing the GVM can offer substantial improvements in fuel economy, varying (depending on the estimate) between 2-8% improvements in fuel economy for each 10% savings in mass. Manufacturers have many methods to reduce the GVM, including material substitution (plastic for metal) and novel designs. Although these techniques can result in substantial primary mass savings, they actually represent an underestimate of the total possible mass that can be removed. This is because as the automobile is made lighter, structural components can also be made lighter, resulting in secondary mass savings (SMS). So, for instance, a lighter car would require a smaller and lighter transmission, or smaller and lighter brakes. A new paper from Alonso et al. discusses a new method for manufacturers to estimate SMS more accurately.
During the late Middle Ages, many of the glaciers in Artic Canada and Iceland experienced abrupt increases in their size, due to substantially cooler summer months. This advance of glaciers has been termed the Little Ice Age (LIA), and the expansion of the glaciers has only been undone in the last decade or two. There are several hypotheses as to the cause of the glacial expansion during the LIA, but until now, no definitive answers have emerged. However, the retreat of these glaciers over the last few decades has allowed scientists to study the plants that were killed by the advance, determine the dates of the expansion of the glaciers, and connect the timing with global events to try to assign a cause to the LIA.
One of the ways in which climate change may be mitigated, and domestic energy security improved, is to create a new biofuel to power our cars and trucks that does not rely on traditional petroleum sources. One such fuel, ethanol, is already widely blended into gasoline in the US; another, biodiesel, is on sale in many fueling stations as a standalone fuel for diesel engines. However, due to concerns over the long-term sustainability of current production processes for biofuels (and for ethanol in particular), researchers are investigating a so called “second-generation” of biofuels. These include fuels that can be made from cellulose (the material that makes up plants’ cell walls, and comprises most of the mass of a plant) as well as fuels made from novel feedstocks, such as algae. My research in particular has focused on one such second-generation biofuel, called biobutanol. Biobutanol has many technical advantages over ethanol, but biobutanol has not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in road vehicles. In a recent review, Slating and Kesan discussed the regulatory hurdles biobutanol must clear to be approved for everyday use.
In the race to stop global warming and improve energy security, one of the strongest initiatives politicians can rely on is regulating the energy efficiency of an economic sector, such as manufacturing, energy generation, or transportation. Increasing energy efficiency allows us to “do more with less”, implying that increasing energy efficiency is always a good thing. Not so fast, claim some economics researchers from the UK. In a study published in 2009, they found that if energy efficiency of the Scottish economy were increased, the energy consumption of Scotland would increase as well. The authors attribute this to two effects, called rebound and backfire.
The desire for energy security and (lack of) climate change are driving two avenues of innovation to power the next generation of vehicles. The first avenue is to invent new fuels, such as bio-fuels, that change the supply dynamics of the industry. The second avenue is to invent entirely new engine concepts to improve efficiency. One such concept, using detonations (as opposed to deflagrations) to combust fuel and air mixtures, has been investigated since the 1940’s. Using detonations allows for much higher efficiency engine operation. One of the most common types of detonation engines is the Pulsed Detonation Engine (PDE). Unfortunately, due to many difficulties including the intermittent nature of thrust from such engines, no PDEs have been commercially produced to date (although the concept has flown in an Air Force test plane).