It’s really beginning to feel as though the problem of climate change is a huge boulder rolling down a steep hill, and we have the Sisyphean task of trying to reverse it. While we definitely need to switch as much of the planet over to clean, green energy as soon as possible, the deployment should be strategic. You know, solar panels in sunny places, and wind turbines in windy places. And for the most part, we’re already doing that.
In the meantime, there are also natural disasters to deal with, some of which are worsened by climate change. Eastern and Southeast Asian countries are frequently under the threat of typhoons that bring strong, turbulent winds with them. Once the storms pass, they leave large swaths of lengthy power outages in their wake.
Studies have shown that these storms are gaining strength over the years, leading to more frequent disruption of existing power systems in those areas. Wind power is the ideal solution where storms have come through and knocked out traditional power delivery all over a region. As long as the turbines themselves can stand up to the challenge, they can be used to power micro-grids when other delivery is knocked out.
Bring On the Typhoons?
Unfortunately, the conventional three-bladed wind turbines you see dotting the plains can’t stand up to the awesome power of typhoons. But vertical axis wind turbines can. Though they have been around for many years, they may have finally found their niche.
Imagine traveling back in time about 2,200 years, to when nothing moves faster than the speed at which muscle or wind can move it. Think about how mind-shattering it would have been to see something like Hero’s Engine, the first known example of a steam turbine. To see a sphere whizzing about trailing plumes of steam while flames licked around it would likely have been a nearly mystical experience.
Of course we can’t go back in time like that, but seeing a modern replica of Hero’s Engine built and tested probably isn’t too far from such an experience. The engine, also known as an aeolopile, was made by the crew over at [Make It Extreme], whose metalworking videos are always a treat to watch. The rotor of the engine, which is fabricated from a pair of hemispherical bowls welded together, is supported by pipes penetrating the lid of a large kettle. [Make It Extreme] took great pains to make the engine safe, with relief valves and a pressure gauge that the original couldn’t have included. The aeolopile has a great look and bears a strong resemblance to descriptions of the device that may or may not have actually been invented by Greek mathemetician [Heron of Alexandria], and as the video below shows, when it spins up it puts on a great show.
One can’t help but wonder how something like this was invented without someone — anyone — taking the next logical step. That it was treated only as a curiosity and didn’t kick off the industrial revolution two millennia early boggles the mind. And while we’ve seen far, far simpler versions of Hero’s Engine before, this one really takes the cake on metalworking prowess.
When you think of renewable energy, what comes to mind? We’d venture to guess that wind and solar are probably near the top of the list. And yes, wind and solar are great as long as the winds are favorable and the sun is shining. But what about all those short and bleak winter days? Rainy days? Night time?
Unfavorable conditions mean that storage is an important part of any viable solution that uses renewable energy. Either the energy itself has to be stored, or else the means to produce the energy on demand must be stored.
One possible answer has been right under our noses all along — air. Regular old ambient air can be cooled and compressed into a liquid, stored in tanks, and then reheated to its gaseous state to do work.
This technology is called Cryogenic Energy Storage (CES) or Liquid Air Energy storage (LAES). It’s a fairly new energy scheme that was first developed a decade ago by UK inventor Peter Dearman as a car engine. More recently, the technology has been re-imagined as power grid storage.
UK utility Highview Power have adopted the technology and are putting it to the test all over the world. They have just begun construction on the world’s largest liquid air battery plant, which will use off-peak energy to charge an ambient air liquifier, and then store the liquid air, re-gasifying it as needed to generate power via a turbine. The turbine will only be used to generate electricity during peak usage. By itself, the LAES process is not terribly efficient, but the system offsets this by capturing waste heat and cold from the process and reusing it. The biggest upside is that the only exhaust is plain, breathable air.
There’s more than one way to light up a strip of LEDs. Have you tried building your own hydroelectric power plant to do it? Well, now you can. Replicating [Matic Markovič]’s entry into the 2020 Hackaday Prize is bound to teach you something, if not many things, about the way hydroelectric power is generated and the way the variables play into it.
In [Matic]’s model, water from an adjustable-height reservoir flows into a 3D-printed Pelton turbine. The water jet hits the turbine’s cupped fins at a 90° angle, causing the assembly to spin around rapidly. This mechanical energy charges a brushless DC motor that’s connected to an Arduino Nano, which rectifies the AC from the generator and uses it to light up an RGB strip like an equalizer display that represents the power being generated.
This is easily one of the coolest educational displays we’ve ever seen. The reservoir can move up and down over a 55 cm (21.6″) range with the flick of a three-way toggle, which makes it easy to see that the higher the reservoir, the more power is generated. [Matic] has the STLs and INOs in the usual places if you want to make your own. Flow past the break for a demonstration, followed by an exploded render that gets put back together by invisible hands.
We’ve all got a pretty good mental image of the traditional wind-powered generator: essentially a big propeller on a stick. Some might also be familiar with vertical wind turbines, which can operate no matter which way the wind is blowing. In either case, they use some form of rotating structure to harness the wind’s energy.
In the video after the break, [Robert] shows two different devices that operate under the same basic principle. For the first, he cuts the cone out of a standard speaker and glues a flat stick to the voice coil. As the stick moves back and forth in the wind, the coil inside of the magnet’s field and produces a measurable voltage. This proves the idea has merit and can be thrown together easily, but isn’t terribly elegant.
For the revised version, he glues a coil to a small piece of neoprene rubber, which in turn is glued to a slat taken from a Venetian blind. On the opposite side of the coil, he glues a magnet. When the blind slat starts vibrating in the wind, the oscillation of the magnet relative to the coil is enough to produce a current. It’s tiny, of course. But if you had hundreds or even thousands of these electric “blades of grass”, you could potentially build up quite a bit of energy.
The economies of scale generally dictate that anything produced in large enough numbers will eventually become cheap. But despite the fact that a few thousand of them are tearing across the sky above our heads at any given moment, turbine jet engines are still expensive to produce compared to other forms of propulsion. The United States Air Force Research Laboratory is hoping to change that by developing their own in-house, open source turbine engine that they believe could reduce costs by as much as 75%.
The Responsive Open Source Engine (ROSE) is designed to be cheap enough that it can be disposable, which has obvious military applications for the Air Force such as small jet-powered drones or even missiles. But even for the pacifists in the audience, it’s hard not to get excited about the idea of a low-cost open source turbine. Obviously an engine this small would have limited use to commercial aviation, but hackers and makers have always been obsessed with small jet engines, and getting one fired up and self-sustaining has traditionally been something of a badge of honor.
Since ROSE has been developed in-house by the Air Force, they have complete ownership of the engine’s intellectual property. This allows them to license the design to manufacturers for actual production rather than buying an existing engine from a single manufacturer and paying whatever their asking price is. The Air Force will be able to shop ROSE around to potential venders and get the best price for fabrication. Depending on how complex the engine is to manufacture, even smaller firms could get in on the action. The hope is that this competition will serve to not only improve the design, but also to keep costs down.
We know what you’re thinking. Where is the design, and what license is it released under? Unfortunately, that aspect of ROSE seems unclear. The engine is still in development so the Air Force isn’t ready to show off the design. But even when it’s complete, we’re fairly skeptical about who will actually have access to it. Open Source is in the name of the project and to live up to that the design needs to be available to the general public. From a purely tactical standpoint keeping the design of a cheap and reliable jet engine away from potential enemy states would seem to be a logical precaution, but is at cross purposes to what Open Source means. Don’t expect to be seeing it on GitHub anytime soon. Nuclear reactors are still fair game, though.
Radio control projects used to be made of materials such as metal or wood, and involve lots of hand crafted parts. That’s still one way to go about things, but 3D printing has become a popular tool in recent years. [RCLifeOn] has been working on a 3D printed jet boat, which recently got a serious power upgrade.
The boat in question received a 5000W brushless motor – significant power for a vehicle weighing less than 2kg. Powered by a 12S lithium pack, and outfitted with a water jacket for cooling, it drives the boat through an off-the-shelf turbine after initial attempts to DIY the drivetrain were unsuccessful.
The biggest problem in the project came from coupling the motor to the turbine. A 3D printed coupler was unable to hold up to the strain, while attempts to make a metal part failed due to the lack of a lathe. Eventually the solution was found by daisy chaining two off-the-shelf parts together.
The boat proved itself ably on the water, with the large motor proving more than capable of shifting the boat at a strong clip. It’s an excellent shakedown for the parts that will eventually find themselves in a powered surfboard build. We’ve seen [RCLifeOn]’s work before, too, like these stylish 3D printed sneakers. Video after the break.