Archive for November 2008
You are browsing the archives of 2008 November.
You are browsing the archives of 2008 November.
DOE has developed two pre-approved, standardized contracts that will now make it easier for academia and industry to use its world-class research facilities.
One of the model contracts covers proprietary research, while the other addresses non-proprietary scientific investigations. Both are applicable at all designated DOE user facilities and labs, requiring minimal - if any - further negotiations, reports Raymond L. Orbach, the Department’s Technology Transfer Coordinator and Under Secretary of Science.
Orbach says more than 20,000 researchers currently take advantage of DOE’s research facilities each year, a figure the new, standardized contracts are expected to double as they simplify access to the Department’s nano-science research centers, synchrotron light sources, neutron scattering facilities, supercomputers and more.
A press release from Orbach’s office clarifies DOE’s objective in creating the contracts. “DOE recognizes the nation’s need to engage industry and universities in both basic science and commercial research, and seeks to encourage the use of its cutting-edge facilities to leverage DOE’s substantial investments in these research tools,” the release says.
Under the terms of the new contracts, those who conduct proprietary research for commercial purposes will “pay the full cost for use of specialized DOE laboratory equipment and, with limited exceptions, keep as proprietary the technical data produced as well as any new inventions.”
Those conducting non-commercial or basic research and utilizing the non-proprietary contract will pay “only the costs of its own research with the DOE laboratory and may access specialized laboratory equipment and collaborate with laboratory scientists,” the release notes, adding that non-proprietary research will be “publicly available.”
The “Access to High Technology User Facilities at DOE National Laboratories” page on DOE’s website includes copies of the model agreements, together with a list of the 34 DOE designated user facilities.
If you think building a house on Earth is expensive, try building a space station on the moon. That’s what NASA hopes to be doing in 2020, as part of its plan to return to the moon - this time with a four-astronaut team that will live on the lunar surface for seven days or longer. Beyond the physical difficulty of getting building materials to the moon, NASA estimates the cost of transporting them there will run about $50,000 per pound. Imagine the price tag, then, for taking enough water to the moon to mix concrete in the traditional way. Hence NASA’s interest in waterless concrete, a product developed by Houssam Toutanji, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Toutanji reports the details of making waterless concrete in the Oct. 2008 edition of Civil Engineering magazine. An Oct. 17 NewScientist.com article highlights that report, explaining that moon dust is the primary aggregate and that purified sulfur, derived from lunar soil, is used as the waterless concrete’s binder.
“You want the sulfur to be in a liquid or semi-liquid form to work as a binding agent,” the article quotes Toutanji as saying. This requires heating it to a temperature between 130°C to 140°C, because the sulfur “is generally expected to melt at about 119°C and to stiffen above 148°C,” the scientist states. In another article on The Future of Things website, Toutanji reveals that waterless concrete - sometimes known as sulfur concrete - “usually contains 12 percent to 22 percent sulfur by mass and 78 percent to 88 percent aggregate by mass.” He notes that the sulfur “can contain about five percent plasticizers and the aggregate can include both coarse and fine particles.” He also says fiberglass can be mixed into the concrete as a reinforcement “to improve its tensile and flexural strength.” Fiberglass, Toutanji points out, “can be produced directly from the lunar soil or from byproducts obtained in extracting such metals as aluminum and titanium” from the moon’s surface. Once the aggregate and binder are mixed together, the UA professor says, the resulting medium is ready to pour or mold. Unlike conventional concrete, where “you have to wait seven days, in extreme cases even 28 days to get maximum strength,” Toutanji claims his waterless concrete “hardens like a rock” within an hour.
Testing process: Richard Grugel, a geological engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, has assisted Toutanji in preparing and testing the new sans-aqua product. The two men report simulating lunar soil by adding “35 grams of purified sulfur to every 100 grams of dust” and casting the resulting mix into a number of small cubes measuring about five centimeters on each side. The men say they then exposed the cubes to 50 cycles of severe temperature changes, freezing the cubes at -27°C and bringing them back to room temperature, over and over again. According to the pair, the waterless concrete was able to “withstand compressive pressures of 17 megapascals, or roughly 170 times atmospheric pressure.” Toutanji says, if the material is reinforced with silica, which can also be produced from moon dust, the compressive pressure can be raised to about 20 megapascals.
Competing formula: As it turns out, more than one scientist has a recipe for waterless concrete. NewScientist.com reports that Peter Chen of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has developed his own formulation utilizing epoxy as a binder. While admitting his formulation would require transporting epoxy to the moon, Chen says - once there - epoxy concrete would be easier to make than Toutanji’s sulfur-based product. He notes that, in addition to scoops and mixers, Toutanji’s concrete would also require a “power source to bake sulfur out of lunar soil and melt the concrete mixture.” Toutanji concedes that Chen’s remarks are true. He believes, however, that the energy cost would still be cheaper than transporting epoxy, although he says he hasn’t had a chance to gather supporting data yet.
The reality of a depressed economy may temper President-Elect Obama’s approach to environmental issues, but it won’t tamper with his original clean-tech objectives - at least according to his responses to an interview on the Nov. 16 TV news show 60 Minutes. Reminded of his pre-election proposal calling on America to save more oil over the next 10 years than it currently imports from the Middle East and Venezuela, Obama was then asked by interviewer Steve Kroft if cutting oil imports was less important now that oil prices had decreased from $147 to under $60. “It’s more important,” Obama replied. “It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.” When pressed, Obama explained why. “This has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up … everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And, then, the prices go back down and, suddenly, we act like it’s not important … As a consequence, we never make any progress.” Calling oil an “addiction,” he told Kroft it “has to be broken” and “now is the time to break it.”
Reviving economy with eco-friendly initiatives: In other interviews, Obama has promoted a concept that many environmentalists believe will guide his administration and the country through hard times. Being “for” environmental protection, Obama has said, does not have to mean being “against” economic development. To the contrary, Obama contends eco-friendly policies can spur America’s economic turnaround. He articulated this concept in an early Oct. Time magazine article. “From a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver for our economy is going to be critical” he told Time. “There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.” Experts such as Martin LaMonica, a senior writer for CNET’s Green Tech blog, predict this concept, coupled with a Congress controlled by Democrats, is likely to lead to government-stimulus packages that will benefit businesses engaged in energy and environmental sectors. “There’s a growing sense that investing in infrastructure, even if it means more deficit spending, is a good thing because it will help economic growth in the short and long term. And green energy has come to be regarded as a 21st century infrastructure play,” LaMonica quotes Ethan Zindler of New Energy Finance as saying. And, while the distressed economy may delay Obama from delivering on his promise to invest $150 billion in clean technologies over the next 10 years, LaMonica says he expects the new administration to “push for smaller yet significant measures, such as efficiency and renewable energy mandates, and then lay the groundwork for far-reaching climate initiatives.” Here is a recap of specific clean-tech policy changes that LaMonica’s Nov. 5 blog post predicts Obama will usher in:
Ya gotta hand it to Honda for positioning itself at the front of the this game-changing technology. On the heels of the release of its FCX Clarity sedan, Honda displayed a three-seater fuel cell sports car, the FC Sport Wednesday at the LA car show. It has a low profile and centers the driver in the front and adds two passenger seats in the rear. Basically, it uses the same V Flow fuel stack as the Clarity. The V Flow is a proton exchange membrane fuel cell. I haven’t seen a demonstration of exactly how this works, but Honda says, “The enclosed canopy opens upward from the rear to allow for entry and exit. Honda is also trying to leverage the max out of the clean-tech theme. From its press release:
The glacier white body colour is intended to convey the FC Sport’s clean environmental aspirations while the dark wheels and deeply tinted glass provide a symbolic contrast befitting of the vehicle’s unique combination of clean power and high performance. Green construction techniques further contribute to a reduced carbon footprint. An organic, bio-structure theme is carried through to the body construction where exterior panels are intended to use plant-derived bio-plastics.
Update: Here’s a video of the FC Sport, but the host spoils the news by revealing that . . . well, just watch and see:
Two Johns Hopkins researchers believe they have developed a new method to use lasers to manipulate electrons in a crystal array, and if the discovery holds up to testing, it could lead to new forms of computer memory, biohazard alarms and cancer cell detectors. Alexander Kaplan, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering and Sergei Volkov, a postdoctoral fellow in his lab, published their theory recently in the journal Physical Review Letters. Kaplan and Volkov’s ideas run slightly counter to the assumption that when lasers interact with atoms in a crystal, the light forces the electrons to move in a uniform fashion with their neighbors. The duo says that under the right conditions, electrons can abandon their lock-step motion and temporarily part ways with nearby electrons and then bump together. Kaplan and Volkov liken the action to swing dancing where partners push away and then pull back together.
“[W]e’ve concluded that under certain circumstances, the nearest atoms will behave much differently. Their electrons will move violently apart and come back together again, staging a sort of ‘nano-riot. By choosing particular atoms in the proper configuration and directing the right laser light at them, we could control the behavior of these ‘nano-dancers,’” said Kaplan.
According to a Johns Hopkins news release, at least three conditions are necessary for electrons to behave the way Kaplan and Volkov describe:
When these conditions are met, electrons can get “coupled” instead of behaving uniformly as predicted under the prevailing Lorentz-Lorenz theory. The practical implications are intriguing:
“The essential thing is, these are completely designable atomic structures. Fortunately, once this atomic structure is built, the ‘dancing style’ of the atoms can be controlled by the laser tuning,” Kaplan said. “Furthermore, if the laser intensity is sufficient, we believe the atoms in this lattice will engage in so-called nonlinear behavior. That means they can be made to behave like switches in a computer. They will act like a computer’s memory or logic components, assuming the positions of either 1 or 0, depending on the initial conditions.”
Such a logic component would generate little heat and allow further miniaturization of electronic components. The JHU news release also reports that Kaplan and Volkov believe that groups of atoms in the right lattice could be “designed so that when a specific foreign bio-molecule enters a system, the atomic electron ‘dancing’ would stop. Because of this characteristic. . . the system could be designed to trigger an alarm signal whenever a bio-hazard or perhaps a cancer cell was detected.”