Tag Archives: MIT

Storage for renewable energy

One of the criticisms always levelled at renewable energy is that it’s intermittent. Or in layman’s terms, unreliable.
In recent years, that failing has become less acute thanks to all sorts of batteries, but to supply the kind of energy the modern world needs, the capacity of batteries has to become bigger, much bigger.

The link below leads to an article that describes an energy storage system being developed by MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. The system uses a variation of hydro power…under the sea:

The idea is that you’d build humungous hollow concrete balls and place them on the ocean floor. When wind farms floating on the surface produced energy, the excess energy – i.e. the energy not immediately needed by the grid – would be used to pump seawater out of the balls. Then, when the wind farms stopped producing energy, water would be allowed back into the balls via generators. That water would turn the turbines which would produce electricity until the balls filled with water again.

The bigger the ball, the better. 😉 Ahem…

I love the simplicity of the MIT concept. My Dad was a mechanical engineer and I loved watching his prototypes working simply because the laws of physics or whatever made it so. Think gravity, or water always flowing downhill etc. As a result, I absolutely love the idea of this underwater hydro system. Nevertheless, achieving such apparent simplicity would not be cheap. As the article says, there is no ship currently powerful enough to tow even one ball from the land to its resting place on the ocean floor. The problem is not insurmountable, but the startup costs would be substantial.

I’m really looking forward to the next ten years when so many of today’s wild ideas become reality. I hope this is one of them.

cheers,
Meeks


#science – the best discoveries are often accidental

The modern world is built from materials our cavewoman ancestors could never have imagined – just think silicon and plastics. But now, thanks to 3D printing, and research into graphene, MIT scientists have discovered a powerful new geometry that will change our world yet again. You see, the geometry that can turn 2D graphene into a usable 3D form works just as well on other materials such as steel and concrete:

To me, however, the most fascinating part of this discovery is that it came about as the by-product of research into something else. Like Marie Curie, who discovered polonium and radium while researching uranium, the MIT scientists did not realise all the other uses for the geometry until after they had created it for graphene.

3D Graphene may or may not become the next you-beaut material, but the geometry used to create it will become the next ‘great thing’. Why? Because it will reduce the cost of manufacturing common materials while simultaneously increasing their strength. Imagine a single span of concrete ‘foam’ that’s capable of bridging an entire river, or cars that can protect their occupants from even the worst of crashes. Or, my personal favourite, how about a dome capable of covering an entire city?

Domes have been a favourite device of science fiction writers for a very long time. We’ve imagined them on distant planets, protecting human colonists from all sorts of dangers. Planet X has a toxic atmosphere? No problem. Just pop up a dome and away you go. Planet Y is an ocean world? Still no problem as domes can be built on the sea bed.

But why travel to distant star systems when domes could be used right here on Earth, to protect us from runaway pollution and climate change?

Unfortunately, the technology to actually build such huge, unsupported domes simply has not existed…until now [maybe].All that’s needed for this next ‘great leap forward’ is the development of manufacturing grade 3D printers capable of producing such materials in quantity.

Given how quickly 3D printers have gone from cutting-edge curiosities to mass produced, ‘domestic’ products, I don’t think we’ll have long to wait.

So excited!

Meeks


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