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Nanoparticles, Turbines, and Renewable Energy – the Direct Energy Buzz for November 2016

Welcome to the November edition of The Direct Energy BuzzWe’ll set sail to examine self-healing circuits, why engineering the right materials makes wind turbine blades work better, and how a famous hi-tech US aerospace defense contractor is getting its feet wet with renewable energy in Scotland’s Pentland Firth.

Self-Healing Printed Circuit

Nanoparticles, Turbines, and Renewable Energy - the Direct Energy Buzz for November 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

When you hear the term “auto-repairing circuits,” it sounds like something out of Star Trek (or even the more esoteric Blake’s 7. However, researchers at University of California San Diego have developed an inexpensive and reliable means of printing a circuit that heals itself when it’s cut or torn – and even if it happen repeatedly. They use magnetic ink, and that’s the beautiful simplicity of it.

The ink contains magnetic nanoparticles aligned in a certain direction due to their magnetic charge. If the circuit path is cut or torn, the particles bridge the tear using their magnetic attraction. And it does it in about 0.05 seconds. This technology can be used for self-healing batteries, electro-chemical sensors, and wearable, textile-based electrical circuits where having  robust reliability makes all the difference for field researchers, military. And yes, it will be especially helpful with space travel.

Foam Blades and Sea Foam

Nanoparticles, Turbines, and Renewable Energy - the Direct Energy Buzz for November 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

It’s estimated that offshore wind farms have a capacity of 4,223 GW just in US waters alone — four times the capacity of the entire US grid. Part of the challenge of deploying offshore wind turbines is that they face far more treacherous conditions than their land-based cousins. One component in particular is the blade, which measure around 80 meters in length and have a rotor diameter of over 160 meters in order to maximize energy yields. The problem? The long blades need to be designed to stand the continual stress and vibration, while also being lightweight.

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft recently announced that, by using a sandwich of thermoplastic foams and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, it has been able to make wind turbine blades that are easier to make, stronger, much lighter, and recyclable.

This might be just in time, as the first offshore wind farm in the United States is scheduled to begin generating this month off the coast of Rhode Island. Block Island Wind Farm will generate 30 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 17,000 homes.

Turning with the Tide 

Nanoparticles, Turbines, and Renewable Energy - the Direct Energy Buzz for November 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

Lockheed Martin has been a high tech airplane manufacturer for decades, building such famous military aircraft  as the U2, C-130 Hercules, F-16 Falcon, and the F-22 Raptor. But following recent cuts to the U.S. defense budget,  Lockheed told investors in its 2015 annual report it was “seeking to lessen our dependence on contracts with the U.S. government” and is now pivoting to enter the renewable energy industry.

Having already diversified into synthetic natural gas and flow batteries, a unit of Lockheed’s missile and fire-control business based in Prairie, TX has now installed a tidal turbine at a tidal energy farm in Scotland.

Atlantis Resources Pentland Firth Project  will initially feature four tidal turbines, one of which is the Lockheed’s AR1500 tidal turbine. Rated at a capacity of 1.5 MW, it features 360 degree yaw capacity and a survival lock system.

The four turbines now in place are anchored on the seabed and are connected to the mainland switching station via a 4.4kV turbine subsea cable. Each turbine is 15 meters tall (49ft), with blades 16 meters in diameter, and weighing about 200 tons. The first turbine was officially unveiled in September 2016.

Ultimately, the Pentland Firth Project will have 269 turbines, generate 398MW of power and have to capacity to provide enough electricity to power 175,000 homes in Scotland. Full-scale production is expected to start by 2020.

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