Tag Archive | wind turbines

Robotic insects take to the skies

Half the size of a paperclip, weighing less than a tenth of a gram, it leaps a few inches, hovers for a moment on fragile, flapping wings, and then speeds along a preset route through the air.

The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot is the culmination of more than a decade’s work, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, said Pakpong Chirarattananon, co-lead author of a paper published this week in Science.

“This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” explained Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, Wyss Core Faculty Member, and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBee project.

“It’s really only because of this lab’s recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well.”

Inspired by the biology of a fly, with submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap almost invisibly, 120 times per second, the tiny device not only represents the absolute cutting edge of micromanufacturing and control systems; it is an aspiration that has impelled innovation in these fields by dozens of researchers across Harvard for years.

“We had to develop solutions from scratch, for everything,” explains Wood. “We would get one component working, but when we moved onto the next, five new problems would arise. It was a moving target.”

“Large robots can run on electromagnetic motors, but at this small scale you have to come up with an alternative, and there wasn’t one,” says co-lead author Kevin Y. Ma, a graduate student at SEAS.

The tiny robot flaps its wings with piezoelectric actuators—strips of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric field is applied. Thin hinges of plastic embedded within the carbon fiber body frame serve as joints, and a delicately balanced control system commands the rotational motions in the flapping-wing robot, with each wing controlled independently in real-time.

At tiny scales, small changes in airflow can have an outsized effect on flight dynamics, and the control system has to react that much faster to remain stable.

The robotic insects also take advantage of an ingenious pop-up manufacturing technique that was developed by Wood’s team in 2011. Sheets of various laser-cut materials are layered and sandwiched together into a thin, flat plate that folds up like a child’s pop-up book into the complete electromechanical structure.

The quick, step-by-step process replaces what used to be a painstaking manual art and allows Wood’s team to use more robust materials in new combinations, while improving the overall precision of each device.

“We can now very rapidly build reliable prototypes, which allows us to be more aggressive in how we test them,” says Ma, adding that the team has gone through 20 prototypes in just the past six months.

Applications of the RoboBee project could include distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, or assistance with crop pollination, but the materials, fabrication techniques, and components that emerge along the way might prove to be even more significant. For example, the pop-up manufacturing process could enable a new class of complex medical devices. Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, in collaboration with Harvard SEAS and the Wyss Institute, is already in the process of commercializing some of the underlying technologies.


Vault Energy Solutions Releases New Post

A recent post by Vault Energy Solutions looks at the optimistic future of the U.S. energy sector and the leading role Texas will play in transforming the U.S. into the world’s top energy producer. The piece, entitled “How Texas Will Lead America’s Energy Future,” discusses a recent report by the International Energy Agency which predicts that the U.S. will be the world’s number one oil producer in the next several years and how Texas leadership will help build such a future.

The U.S. is expected to pass both Saudi Arabia and Russia in oil production by the year 2015. Texas, as the state that produces the most oil, is at the center of the new U.S. oil boom. This oil resurgence is made possible by new technology that has revolutionized the oil industry in much the same way the natural gas industry was transformed.

Deposits of oil found in certain shale rock formations were once thought to be impossible to reach in an economically viable way. But new horizontal drilling techniques have unlocked vast swaths of oil rich land in Texas. Texas already has the experience, infrastructure, and culture to exploit these new finds.

In addition to being a leader in oil production, Texas also leads the country in the production of natural gas. The state uses natural gas to power much of its electricity grid. The abundance of natural gas brought about by the new drilling technology has helped to drive down the price of natural gas substantially. This, in turn, has pushed down Texas electricity rates. Cheap commercial electricity rates bring down the cost of doing business in Texas leading to further economic growth.

Beyond fossil fuels, Texas is also a leader in renewable energy. The state boasts the largest wind energy sector in the country. The state, in fact, generates more electricity from wind turbines than all but a handful of countries in the world. Texas, with its abundant mix of traditional and renewable energy sources and business friendly regulations serves as a model for the U.S. going forward.

The site provides news and analysis on energy related topics and the impact of energy policy on consumers and the electricity rates they pay. In addition, the site offers electricity rate comparison tools to help consumers choose from the dozens of Texas electricity providers which offer service in the state. Texas is a power to choose state where consumers can shop for the cheapest electricity rates among competing electricity companies.

Simple Power, which develops single wind turbines that feed directly into the electricity grid, will be attending the AGM and conference and its team will be providing information to young farmers interested in learning more about renewable energy.

William Wilson, YFCU president, said: “We are delighted to announce the continued support of Simple Power as our main sponsor of the AGM and conference. Paul Carson, CEO of Simple Power, is a great supporter of the work of YFCU and we look forward to holding our AGM and conference in association with Simple Power.”

Paul Carson, CEO of Simple Power, who was also a very active member of the YFCU in his youth, said: “We are delighted to once again support the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster. We believe young farmers have a crucial role to play in the growth of wind energy; leveraging natural resources to boost farm incomes while protecting the environment and helping to generate clean, affordable energy for their and future generations. We are looking forward to speaking at the AGM and conference in April 2013.”

Ontario to defend local content rules that have brought $30B in investment

Ontario plans to appeal an international ruling that smacks down its requirement green energy producers — paid hefty premiums at taxpayer expense — also build some of their hardware here.

The move comes as one group says Ontario’s green energy rules have already generated $30 billion in investment.

The subsidies Ontario pays have attracted many solar and wind-powered projects to the province, including more than 1,200 industrial wind turbines — many of them in Southwestern Ontario.

But Japan and the European Union complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that Ontario’s Green Energy Act violates the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the playbook for international trade.

As part of its push to create new manufacturing jobs and increase renewable energy, the province pays a premium to companies for every kilowatt of power they produce using wind turbines, solar panels and biogas.

The catch is that at least some their parts and services must be developed in Ontario — 40% for solar, 25% for wind projects. That’s drawn protests from Japan and Europe and, now, the powerful WTO.

A spokesperson for Energy Minister Chris Bentley of London said the WTO hasn’t officially released a statement yet, so it’s too early for a detailed response.

But “our position on this issue remains that the FIT (feed-in-tariff, or subsidy) program is consistent with Canada’s WTO obligations,” said Nauman Khan of Bentley’s office.

The program is helping attract innovators and manufacturers and has created thousands of jobs, he said, with more than 30 companies already operating or planning to build renewable-energy manufacturing facilities.

“We will continue to explore all options to sustain these jobs and investments for Ontario’s future, including working with the federal government towards an appeal.”

The Ontario Susatinable Energy Association says domestic content rules are doing the job — bringing investment and jobs to Ontario

“Somewhow, we’ve managed to attract $30 billion, thanks to the domestic content rules,” said OSEA executive director Kristopher Stevens.

Some of that investment is in the London area, with turbine blades and solar components either being made or planned for this region.

Stevens said most potential investors in green-energy construction have already jumped in here, so the WTO fallout’s not going to kill the business.

“There are lots of players here already. It may make others think about moving in.”

He noted it’s not the subsidized rates for producers at issue — European countries also offer feed-in-tariffs for energy that comes from renewable sources.

He said the best way to grow the industry though, is to develop smart electricity grids and energy storage solutions to reduce Ontario’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The Canadian Auto Workers and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ union said Monday the WTO ruling blows away inventive job-creation strategies essential to righting the sagging economy.

“Governments in Canada at every level must have the capacity to encourage local production through procurement policies. These kinds of thoughtful policies should be replicated right across the country — not dismantled,” CAW president Ken Lewenza said in a statement.

CEP national president Dave Coles called the decision “blatantly undemocratic.”

Both are urging the federal government to appeal the ruling.

That could leave the issue tied up in international courts for years.

Large industrial wind farms have been hotly contested in some areas, with the province having snatched away local control over their locations.

One wind-energy opponent says the subsidies and incentives — using taxpayers’ money to aid big corporations — aren’t the answer.