With climate change concerns front of mind, the world is desperate to get to net-zero carbon output as soon as possible. While direct electrification is becoming popular for regular passenger cars, it’s not yet practical for more energy-intensive applications like aircraft or intercontinental shipping. Thus, the hunt has been on for cleaner replacements for conventional fossil fuels.
Hydrogen is the most commonly cited, desirable for the fact that it burns very cleanly. Its only main combustion product is water, though its combustion can generate some nitrogen oxides when burned with air. However, hydrogen is yet to catch on en-masse, due largely to issues around transport, storage, and production.
This could all change, however, with the help of one garden-variety chemical: ammonia. Ammonia is now coming to the fore as an alternative solution. It’s often been cited as a potential way to store and transport hydrogen in an alternative chemical form, since its formula consists of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms.However, more recently, ammonia is being considered as a fuel in its own right.
Let’s take a look at how this common cleaning product could be part of a new energy revolution.
Remember that time back in 2021 when a huge container ship blocked the Suez Canal and disrupted world shipping for a week? Well, something a little like that is playing out again, this time in the Chesapeake Bay outside of the Port of Baltimore, where the MV Ever Forward ran aground over a week ago as it was headed out to sea. Luckily, the mammoth container ship isn’t in quite as narrow a space as her canal-occluding sister ship Ever Given was last year, so traffic isn’t nearly as impacted. But the recovery operation is causing a stir, and refloating a ship that was drawing 13 meters when it strayed from the shipping channel into a muddy-bottomed area that’s only about 6 meters deep is going to be quite a feat of marine engineering. Merchant Marine YouTuber Chief MAKOi has a good rundown of what’s going on, and what will be required to get the ship moving again.
With the pace of deep-space exploration increasing dramatically of late, and with a full slate of missions planned for the future, it was good news to hear that NASA added another antenna to its Deep Space Network. The huge dish antenna, dubbed DSS-53, is the fourteenth dish in the DSN network, which spans three sites: Goldstone in California; outside of Canberra in Australia; and in Madrid, where the new dish was installed. The 34-meter dish will add 8% more capacity to the network; that may not sound like much, but with the DSN currently supporting 40 missions and with close to that number of missions planned, every little bit counts. We find the DSN fascinating, enough so that we did an article on the system a few years ago. We also love the insider’s scoop on DSN operations that @Richard Stephenson, one of the Canberra operators, provides.
Does anybody know what’s up with Benchy? We got a tip the other day that the trusty benchmarking tugboat model has gone missing from several sites. It sure looks like Sketchfab and Thingiverse have deleted their Benchy files, while other sites still seem to allow access. We poked around a bit but couldn’t get a clear picture of what’s going on, if anything. If anyone has information, let us know in the comments. We sure hope this isn’t some kind of intellectual property thing, where you’re going to have to cough up money to print a Benchy.
Speaking of IP protections, if you’ve ever wondered how far a company will go to enforce its position, look no further than Andrew Zonenberg’s “teardown” of an anti-counterfeiting label that Hewlett Packard uses on their ink cartridges. There’s a dizzying array of technologies embedded inside what appears to be a simple label. In addition to the standard stuff, like the little cuts that make it difficult to peel a tag off one item and place it on another — commonly used to thwart “price swapping” retail thefts — there’s an almost holographic area of the label. Zooming in with a microscope, the color-shifting image appears to be made from tiny hexagonal cells that almost look like the pixels in an e-ink display. Zooming in even further, the pixels offer an even bigger (smaller) surprise. Take a look, and marvel at the effort involved in making sure you pay top dollar for printer ink.
And finally, we got a tip a couple of weeks ago on a video about jerry cans. If that sounds boring, stop reading right now — this one won’t reach you. But if you’re even marginally interested in engineering design and military history, make sure you watch this video. What is now known to the US military as “Can, Gasoline, Military 5-Gallon (S/S by MIL-C-53109)” and colloquially known as the NATO jerry can, started life as the Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, a 20-liter jug whose design addresses a long list of specifications, from the amount of liquid it could contain to how the cans would be carried. The original could serve as a master class in good design, and some of the jugs that were built in the 1940s are still in service and actively sought by collectors of militaria. Cheap knockoffs are out there, of course, but after watching this video, we’ve developed a taste for jerry cans that only the original will sate.
If you’re among those of us with immediate plans for a PCB or parts order from China, watch out – Shenzhen just recently got put on a week-long lockdown. Factories, non-essential stores and public places are closed, and people are required to spend time at home – for a city that makes hardware thrive, this sounds like a harsh restriction. Work moves to remote where possible, but some PCB fabs and component warehouses might not be at our service for at least a week.
It might be puzzling to hear that the amount of cases resulting in closures is as low as 121, for a city of 12.6 million people. The zero-tolerance policy towards COVID has been highly effective for the city, with regular testing, adhered-to masking requirements and vaccinations – which is how we’ve been free to order any kinds of boards and components we needed throughout the past two years. In fact, 121 cases in one day is an unprecedented number for Shenzhen, and given their track record and swift reaction, it is reasonable to expect the case count dropping back to the regular (under 10 cases per day) levels soon.
Not all manufacturing facilities are located in Shenzhen, either. Despite what certain headlines might have you believe, supply chain shortages aren’t a certainty from here. A lot of the usual suspects like PCBWay and JLCPCB are merely reporting increased lead times as they reallocate resources, and while some projects are delayed for now, a lot of fabs you’d use continue operating with minor delays at most. SeeedStudio has its operations impacted more severely, and your Aliexpress orders might get shipped a bit later than usual – but don’t go around calling this a Chinese New Year v2 just yet. For those who want to keep a closer eye on the situation and numbers, the [Shenzhen Pages] Twitter account provides from-the-ground updates on the situation.
The cardboard box is ubiquitous in our society. We all know what makes up a cardboard box: corrugated paper products, glue, and some work. Of course cardboard boxes didn’t just show up one day, delivered out of nowhere by an overworked and underpaid driver. In the video below the break, [New Mind] does a deep dive into the history of the cardboard box and much more.
Starting back in the 19th century, advancements in the bulk processing of wood into pulp made paper inexpensive. From there, cardboard started to take its corrugated shape. Numerous advancements around Europe and the US happened somewhat independently of each other, and by 1906 a conglomerate was formed to get the railroads to approve cardboard for use on cargo trains.
By then though, cardboard was still in its infancy. Further advancements in design, manufacturing, and efficiency have turned the seemingly low tech cardboard box into a high tech industry that’s heavy on automation and quality control. It’ll certainly be difficult to think of cardboard boxes the same.
There also numerous ways for a hacker to re-use cardboard, be it in template making, prototyping, model making, and more. Of course, corrugation isn’t just for paper. If corrugated plastic floats your boat, you might be interested in this boat that floats due to corrugated plastic.
It is by no means an overstatement to say that life as we know it would grind to a halt without cargo ships. If any doubt remained about that fact, the last year and a half of supply chain woes put that to bed; we all now know just how much of the stuff we need — and sadly, a lot of the stuff we don’t need but still think we do — comes to us by way of one or more ocean crossings, on vessels specialized to carry everything from shipping containers to bulk liquid and solid cargo.
While the large and complex vessels that form the backbone of these globe-spanning supply chains are marvelous engineering achievements, they’re still utterly dependent on their crews to make them run efficiently. So it’s not at all surprising to learn that some shipping lines are working on ways to completely automate their cargo ships, to reduce their exposure to the need for human labor. On paper, it seems like a great idea — unless you’re a seafarer, of course. But is it a realistic scenario? Will shipping companies realize the savings that they apparently hope for by having fleets of unmanned cargo vessels plying the world’s oceans? Is this the right way to automate the freight?
YouTube does a pretty good job of making itself a target for criticism, but one thing you can say about their algorithms: when they work, they really work. Case in point, the other day I found a suggestion in my feed for a very recent video about salvaging a shipwreck. I can’t begin to guess what combination of view history and metadata Google mined to come to the conclusion that I’d be interested in this video, but they hit the nail on the head.
But more importantly, their algorithmic assessment of my interests must have been a goldmine to them — or it could have been if I didn’t have a minefield of ad blockers protecting me — because I fell down a rabbit hole that led me to a bunch of interesting videos. As it turns out, the shipwreck in that first video was of a cargo ship that was carrying thousands of brand-new automobiles, which were all destroyed in the fire and subsequent capsizing of a “roll-on/roll-off” (RORO) vessel off the coast of Georgia (the state, not the country) in 2019.
Thus began my journey into RORO vessels, on which automobiles and other bulky cargo are transported around the world. And while my personal assessment of the interests of Hackaday readers probably is not as finely tuned as Google’s algos, I figured there’s a better than decent chance that people might enjoy tagging along too.
Maritime shipping is big business, with gigantic container ships responsible for moving the vast majority of the world’s goods from point A to points B, C and D. Of course, there’s a significant environmental impact from all this activity, something ill befitting the cleaner, cooler world we hope the future will be. Thus, alternatives to the fossil fuel burning ships of old must be found. To that end, Norwegian company Yara International has developed a zero-emission ship by the name of Yara Birkeland, which aims to show the way forward into a world of electric, autonomous sea transport.