The Ypselon – Beauty Two Years in the Future

Dan Johnson, reporting on his web site, said that on seeing this lovely display item at the E-Flight Expo at Aero 2015, he “was tempted to pass by as merely a concept that might go nowhere.”  His talk with the designer, airline pilot David De Ridder, convinced him that this project has funding and substance behind it.

Ypselon is a Y-tailed speedster that is also aerobatic, according to its video

Ypselon is a Y-tailed speedster that is also aerobatic, according to its video

Don’t send a deposit check just yet.  De Ridder told Johnson that the development of the aircraft should be finished by 2017 and kits should be available by 2019.  In the meantime, the project’s web site provides a tantalizing vision of what could be in electric light sport aircraft.

Although the site is an alluring demonstration of computer graphics and slick word play, the numbers in the specifications section (subject to change without notice), are something that might be accountable, and don’t seem unduly optimistic, given current technology.  A maximum cruising speed of 173 knots (199 mph) and economical cruising speed of 130 knots (149.5) don’t seem unrealistic given the sleek lines of the Ypselon.  Its wing doesn’t seem too diminutive to support a stall speed of 50 knots (57.5 mph) although its span may be marginal with the peak power (90 kilowatts or 130 horsepower) to achieve the promised 1,500 feet-per-minute rate of climb – especially fully loaded.  Despite the video, all this is probably predicted by computer drawings and calculations at this point, with no physical wind tunnel involved.

The airplane seems designed to fit into current European standards for two-seat light aircraft, with a loaded weight of 1,210 pounds (550 kilograms) and a payload of 484 pounds, more than enough for two average-sized Europeans and their luggage, but not for batteries, so those must be included in the airplane’s empty weight, or however the rules will shake out for future electric LSAs.  That would leave the empty weight at 726 pounds, possibly enough, with modern construction, to allow batteries for the promised 500 kilometer (310 mile) range.  That would require a little over two hours endurance at its economical cruising speed, which, given the empty weight, may allow enough batteries to make that possible.  In two to four years, the whole game may change significantly.

5 to 8 euro per hour operating costs would make the airplane a wonderful platform on which to go sightseeing

5 to 8 euro per hour operating costs would make the airplane an affordable platform on which to go sightseeing

Ypselon is what might be thought of as an aspirational airplane, much like a Lincoln Continental is an aspirational car for Ford Focus owners.  When new pilots earn their certificate in an Alpha Electro or Airbus or PC-Aero trainer, they might desire something like Ypselon.  The 100,000 euro ($109,000) price tag for the kit makes that a reasonable aspiration, a lateral move price-wise from the trainer market.  With its beautiful lines and promise of fun flying, the airplane will attract attention and buyers.

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With today’s AVWeb report from Mary Grady at Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the wraps are off the commercial reality that Pipistrel is ready to market its Alpha Electro, a new airplane for the training market.   The production version of the former WattsUp, the airplane’s primary mission is to provide training in the pattern for aspiring pilots.

Details abound in the video, with Tine Tomazic, Chief Engineer for the Slovenian firm, showing Mary the features of the craft.  One of the best features may be its 100,000 euro price tag, well under pricing for many conventionally-powered light sport aircraft that would compete in the trainer market.

Since Aero brings in exhibitors from all over the world and incorporates an E-Flight Expo, one can expect to see the latest developments in electric flight there, all displayed under the motto, “Electrical, Ecological, Evolutionary.“

The Chinese RX1E from Liaoning General Aviation Academy, similar in configuration and slightly lagging in performance to the Electro, is being displayed in the Expo, allowing potential buyers to make reasonable comparisons.

Potential clients size up the RX1E at Aero's E-Flight Expo

Potential clients size up the RX1E at Aero’s E-Flight Expo

With George Bye and the Aero Electric Aircraft Company (A. E. A. C.) having scored an agreement with Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Oklahoma, the first 20 delivery slots of the new Sun Flyer electric airplane are reserved for that school.  Another client, Independence Aviation in Denver, Colorado, recently made an advance deposit on an early delivery position for a new Sun Flyer.

In the press release, “Bob Stedman, President/CEO of IA, said the management of IA has been extremely concerned about the rapidly rising cost of learning to fly and the impact on the aviation industry. ‘We applaud the efforts of other companies that are working on giving re-birth to Cessna 152s and 172s, and consider those to be important efforts on their part,’ he said. ‘However, even rebuilding those venerable trainers doesn’t have the impact on training and experience costs that needs to happen. Only the new solar-electric Sun Flyer fully addresses those concerns. IA has great faith in looking at the industry differently, whether it is how personal airplanes are used or how we train today’s pilots. We believe the Sun Flyer is a true game-changer for our industry.’”

George Bye and the staff at A. E. A. C. show off the Sun Flyer prototype

George Bye and the staff at A. E. A. C. show off the Sun Flyer prototype

Writing for Wired Magazine in January, Mary Grady headlined the article, “Electric Airplanes Are the Future of Pilot Training.”  That may be less predictive and more breaking news very soon if current trends continue.

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Doubling Down on Sulfur

Lithium-sulfur batteries have been off-stage hopefuls, waiting for their chance to strut their stuff – and that time may have arrived, at least in trial performances.  Researchers at the Department of WCU Energy Engineering, Hanyang University in South Korea and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Rome, Italy have “demonstrated a highly reliable lithium–sulfur battery showing cycle performance comparable to that of commercially available lithium-ion batteries while offering more than double the energy density.”

The team, led by a group from Hanyang University, designed a lithium-sulfur cell using “a highly reversible dual-type sulfur cathode (solid sulfur electrode and polysulfide catholyte) and a lithiated Si/SiOx nanosphere anode.”

Their paper in the ACS journal Nano Letters reported that their cell showed “superior battery performance in terms of high specific capacity, excellent charge–discharge efficiency, and remarkable cycle life,”   The cell delivered ∼750 mAh g–1 over 500 cycles (85-percent of the initial capacity).

Lithium-sulfur battery capacity, charge retention

Lithium-sulfur battery capacity, charge retention

Researchers suggested these “behaviors” may result from “a synergistic effect of the enhanced electrochemical performance of the newly designed anode and the optimized layout of the cathode.”

Battery makers such as Sion Power and Saft, have developed commercially-viable lithium-sulfur batteries, but not with energy densities competitive with lithium-ion to this point.  Lithium-sulfur does offer promise, however, with the low cost of sulfur (partly from its abundance) and high theoretical energy density.  Hanyang and University of Rome see numbers of sulfur-based cathodes of 1,675 milliamps per gram and 2,500 Watt-hours per kilogram, both exceeding those for lithium-ion units.

Researchers had to overcome at least two issues presented by lithium-sulfur batteries, “low active material utilization, and low stability of the sulfur electrodes due to the formation of soluble lithium polysulfides during cell operation.”  Fighting fire with fire (not a reasonable approach in battery development normally) the team added lithium polysulfide to the battery’s electrolyte to improve cycle performance and energy density.

The abstract for their Nano Letters paper gives a few of the reasons for the battery’s superior performance.  “Lithium–sulfur batteries could become an excellent alternative to replace the currently used lithium-ion batteries due to their higher energy density and lower production cost; however, commercialization of lithium–sulfur batteries has so far been limited due to the cyclability problems associated with both the sulfur cathode and the lithium–metal anode. Herein, we demonstrate a highly reliable lithium–sulfur battery showing cycle performance comparable to that of lithium-ion batteries; our design uses a highly reversible dual-type sulfur cathode (solid sulfur electrode and polysulfide catholyte) and a lithiated Si/SiOx nanosphere anode. Our lithium–sulfur cell shows superior battery performance in terms of high specific capacity, excellent charge–discharge efficiency, and remarkable cycle life, delivering a specific capacity of ~750 mAh g–1 over 500 cycles (85% of the initial capacity). These promising behaviors may arise from a synergistic effect of the enhanced electrochemical performance of the newly designed anode and the optimized layout of the cathode.”

The paper, “Highly Cyclable Lithium–Sulfur Batteries with a Dual-Type Sulfur Cathode and a Lithiated Si/SiOx Nanosphere Anode,”  by authors Sang-Kyu Lee, Seung-Min Oh, Eunjun Park, Bruno Scrosati, Jusef Hassoun, Min-Sik Park, Young-Jun Kim, Hansu Kim, Ilias Belharouak, and Yang-Kook Sun was published in Nano Letters this month.

Many of the same researchers performed related work on a polysulfide-added electrolyte as a buffer to prevent cathode dissolution.  Their full paper on that research can be seen here.

The abstract for their Nano Letters paper gives a few of the reasons for the battery’s superior performance.  “Lithium–sulfur batteries could become an excellent alternative to replace the currently used lithium-ion batteries due to their higher energy density and lower production cost; however, commercialization of lithium–sulfur batteries has so far been limited due to the cyclability problems associated with both the sulfur cathode and the lithium–metal anode. Herein, we demonstrate a highly reliable lithium–sulfur battery showing cycle performance comparable to that of lithium-ion batteries; our design uses a highly reversible dual-type sulfur cathode (solid sulfur electrode and polysulfide catholyte) and a lithiated Si/SiOx nanosphere anode. Our lithium–sulfur cell shows superior battery performance in terms of high specific capacity, excellent charge–discharge efficiency, and remarkable cycle life, delivering a specific capacity of ∼750 mAh g–1 over 500 cycles (85% of the initial capacity). These promising behaviors may arise from a synergistic effect of the enhanced electrochemical performance of the newly designed anode and the optimized layout of the cathode.”

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BASF NiMH Battery Rebirth?

BASF, according to Wikipedia, is the largest chemical producer in the world and is headquartered in Ludwigshafen, Germany.  BASF originally stood for Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (English: Baden Aniline and Soda Factory). Today, the four letters are a registered trademark….”

With ongoing research into increasing energy storage capabilities of nickel metal hydride (NIMH) batteries to rival or exceed that of lithium batteries, BASF could make breakthroughs in building a safer, lower-cost battery.  Using an Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) award of $3.8 million, the company is working on a project titled, “High Performance NiMH Alloy for Next-Generation Batteries.” Funding applies through February of next year.

Imagine this Prius battery 1/10th the volume or incorporated into the vehicle structure, as BASF would like to see

Imagine this Prius battery 1/10th the volume or incorporated into the vehicle structure, as BASF would like to see

ARPA-E’s project description lists some of the anticipated benefits of “these new battery chemistries,” including better energy density allowing up to three times the driving range of current products, prevention of overheating, and immunity to catastrophic failure.  The improved NIMH batteries could be “incorporated into the structure of a vehicle to improve strength in some cases. Much of this can be accomplished at a 30% lower cost compared to conventional batteries, thus bolstering widespread adoption of EVs.”

Over five million EVs drive around on NiMH power today; newer designs strive for lighter weight and higher energy density in their power packs.  BASF wants to compete with a lighter, more powerful NiMH battery pack.  One benefit of the nickel batteries is their longevity.  One friend who owns a first-generation Prius reports his has over 200,000 miles and is “just fine,” while PriusChat.com has corroborating reports with some owners having over 300,000 miles on Gen 2 and 3 Priuses with their original battery packs.

Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, writing for TransportEvolved.com, reports that BASF hopes to increase the energy density of NiMH batteries by 1,000 percent, the much-desired 10X battery for which EV designers keep hoping.  Even though they start with an energy density of 60-120 Watt-hours per kilogram, BASF projections could have them at 600-1,200 wh/kg if their research goes well, topping the best lithium batteries at 300 wh/kg.  BASF is apparently shooting for 700 wh/kg, a big jump over current technology – and if accompanied by much lower prices – a strong sales point.

The stability and freedom from flammability make the NiMH batteries worth examining.  At the cell level, lithium batteries are much more powerful for their weight than NiMH, but when one adds the battery management system (BMS) required to keep things under control in the lithium battery pack, that advantage is reduced considerably.

Current state of relative energy density of NiMH, lithium batteries could change radically if BASF research bears fruit

Current state of relative energy density of NiMH, lithium batteries could change radically if BASF research bears fruit, with the NiMH battery going literally off the chart upward and to the right

TransportEvolved suggests that such a breakthrough in NiMH technology “could very well pave the way to cars that could travel more than 1,000 miles on a battery pack the same size as the ones in today’s mid-priced electric cars.”

Perhaps stretching the point, the writer adds, “At that point, the use of hydrogen fuel cells and indeed any kind of fossil fuel, would become something of a moot point for most car drivers.”

Noting that although results so far are only at the lab scale, the article explains that BASF is a huge company with enormous research resources, and seems willing to press on with this effort.

Kevin Bullis, writing for the MIT Technology Review, says that “BASF researchers are aiming for batteries that cost $146 per kilowatt-hour, roughly half as much as the cheapest lithium-ion electric car batteries.”  This would put the cost of a Nissan Leaf battery pack at around $3,800, about two-thirds the cost of the pack now being used.  The 4.75 kw-hr battery pack used in the Pipistrel “Plug and Play” system would cost under $700, not counting charging or battery management systems – the latter much simpler than those for lithium systems.

MIT reports NiMH batteries “don’t catch fire if they overheat or are overcharged so their cooling systems and electronic controls are far simpler. Safety systems can add about 25 percent to the cost of a lithium-ion battery pack, and increase their weight by 50 percent, based on data from the industry group U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium.”

Relative heat tolerance of NiMH batteries compared to lead acid, Nicad and lithium-ion cells

Relative heat tolerance of NiMH batteries compared to lead acid, Nicad and lithium-ion cells

Because of this added weight, “One recent analysis found that the total usable amount of energy storage in lithium-ion electric car batteries is between 60 and 120 watt-hours per kilogram. Researchers still need to test whether BASF’s cells can last as long as conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries.”

If BASF is able to pull off these radical changes in NiMH cells, there may be a new contender in EV energy storage, including batteries for electric aviation.

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Corn Stalks and Cobs Into Clean Hydrogen

Hydrogen has several demerits in coming to the energy market.  A primary issue for H2 critics – that hydrogen requires more energy to produce than it gives back – may have been answered by Dr. Percival Zhang of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, which is in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering.  We’ve covered his work before, usually in terms of turning corn into biofuels or in finding biological ways to produce hydrogen with low energy input.

Percival Zhang (right), and his recent doctoral graduate Joe Rollin in their Virginia Tech laboratory

Percival Zhang (right), and his recent doctoral graduate Joe Rollin in their Virginia Tech laboratory

Part of his exploratory mandate comes from his ECHo cycle.  “I wish to suggest constructing the electricity-carbohydrate-hydrogen (ECHo) cycle… could meet four basic needs of humans: air, water, food and energy, while minimizing environmental footprints. In it, electricity is a universal high-quality energy carrier; hydrogen is a clear electricity carrier; and carbohydrate is a hydrogen carrier, an electricity storage compound and sources for food, feed and materials. By using this cycle, we could replace crude oil with carbohydrates (CH2O), feed the world, power cellular phone[s], produce renewable materials, etc.”

Zhang and his researchers have used sugar cane and corn as means to produce biofuels, and found ways to break down xylose, an abundant sugary component of plants, to produce hydrogen with very low heat and therefore low energy inputs.

Better yet, he’s advanced his program to use non-food materials – in this case corn stover, the stalks, cobs, and husks from that plant – to produce hydrogen, fulfilling at least part of his ECHo philosophy.  Leaving the kernels for people and animal feed, the usually non-edible parts of the plant supply the energy to maintain our high-flying lifestyle with minimal environmental effects to air and water.

You and the cattle will never eat this, but it makes great hydrogen fuel

You and the cattle will never eat this, but it makes great hydrogen fuel

Virginia Tech says, “The team’s findings, published Monday in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help speed the widespread arrival of the hydrogen-powered vehicles in a way that is inexpensive and has extremely low carbon emissions.”  For those who want to pursue the findings, the Proceedings makes this article available as an open-source document.

Zhang explains the importance of the work“This means we have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy – producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources. The team already has significant funding for the next step of the project, which is to scale up production to a demonstration size.” 

Joe Rollin is a former doctoral student of Zhang’s at Virginia Tech and co-founder with Zhang of the start-up company Cell-free Bioinnovations. He graduated in 2013 with a doctorate in biological systems engineering.  He and Zhang are building on previous work with xylose “to develop cell-free enzymatic biosystems that can economically competitive produce biofuels (e.g. hydrogen, electricity), biochemicals, fine chemicals, biomaterials, food and even feed from nonfood biomass.”  They’ve received over $375,000 in funds from the National Science Foundation and the U. S. Department of Energy.

Skipping the steps of cleaning and refining the source sugars, Zhang’s researchers used “dirty” biomass – the husks and stalks of corn plants – create their fuels.  Using local fuel sources further helps save manufacturing costs.

Virginia Tech explains, “Rollin used a genetic algorithm along with a series of complex mathematical expressions to analyze each step of the enzymatic process that breaks down corn stover into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. He also confirmed the ability of this system to use both sugars glucose and xylose at the same time, which increases the rate at which the hydrogen is released. Typically in biological conversions, these two sugars can only be used sequentially, not simultaneously, which adds time and money to the process. “

Rollin’s alorithmic model tripled reaction rates, decreasing the required facility size to about that of a gas station, which reduces associated capital costs.  Localization of manufacturing and distribution could help solve one of the major impediments to hydrogen’s acceptance – the lack of a hydrogen infrastructure.

Each one of these gas station-sized centers would benefit from the efficiency of the process, “at least 10 times that of the fastest photo-hydrogen production system,” according to Virginia Tech.  The reaction takes place at “modest conditions,” with the high-purity hydrogen easily separated from aqueous reactants and enzymes – ready to be used in fuel cell vehicles.

“We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels,” Rollin said.

The project was funded in part by the Shell GameChanger initiative and the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Technology Transfer program.

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On Monday, while waiting for Bertrand Piccard to land Solar Impulse 2 in Chongqing, China, Andre’ Borschberg tweeted, “Congratulations to Yael Maguire’s team on their first test flight with #Aquila, taking Mark’s vision to a new level.” “Mark” refers to Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, and Aquila refers to a 737-size, solar-powered drone that will be capable of months-long flights, bringing Internet access to billions who lack connectivity today.

Test flights of Aquila are currently being held in England, although it's hard to tell if this is a full-size prototype

Test flights of Aquila are currently being held in England, although it’s hard to tell if this is a full-size prototype

According to the Christian Science Monitor, “At this week’s F8 developers conferenceFacebook has highlighted exactly how far the company is looking to expand beyond its social-network roots. “On Thursday, the tech giant announced that it had completed the first test flights for its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, in the United Kingdom.” The New York Times reports that the Aquila weighs as much as a small car and has a wingspan of 95 feet, slightly larger than a Boeing 737.  Developers say it can maintain flight at 60,000 to 90,000 feet for three months at a time, beaming Internet connections via laser beams.

Juliette Garside, reporting last year on the Guardian web site, said “Facebook has bought a Somerset-based designer of solar-powered drones for $20m (£12m) as it goes head-to-head with Google in a high-altitude race to connect the world’s most remote locations to the internet. “Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has unveiled plans (Editor’s Note: Where else, but on his Facebook page?) to beam broadband connections from the skies, using satellites, lasers and unmanned high-altitude aircraft designed by the 51-year old British engineer Andrew Cox. “His Ascenta consultancy will become part of Facebook’s Internet.org not-for-profit venture, joining a team of scientists and engineers who formerly worked at Nasa and the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory.”

In a strange kind of competition with Google, which has been promoting its high-altitude Internet program, Project Loon, the two web giants use two very different technologies.  Google proposes using a network of stratospheric balloons to provide “an uninterrupted Internet signal around the 40th parallel of the Earth’s southern hemisphere,” according to the Guardian. Financial incentives abound to there “first with the most.”  Facebook serves 1.3 million existing Internet users.   Four million are not currently on the net, a sizable new client base that could potentially triple revenues for either Facebook or Google.

Yael Maguire, an Internet.org engineer and engineering director at Facebook, explains: “In suburban environments we are looking at a new type of plane (he prefers that phrase to “drone”) architecture that flies at 20,000 meters (65,800 feet), at the point where the winds are the lowest. It’s above commercial airlines, it’s even above the weather. They circle around and broadcast internet down but significantly closer than a satellite.” Invisible infrared laser beams, which can carry large amounts of information at high speeds across space using free-space optical communication technology (FSO), will connect the satellites to each other and to receivers on the surface of the Earth. A possible explanation for Google’s south-of-the equator strategy is that only 16-percent of Africa’s population used the internet last year, compared with 75-percent of Europeans.

Balloons and slow airplanes will also present a challenge for ground controllers, both in Google centers and national air control systems.  Either’s ascent or descent through other traffic will have to be monitored carefully, with pre-determined protocols probably necessary to prevent conflicts.  Existing FAA rules in this country require airplanes, because of their greater maneuverability, to give the right-of-way to balloons, and maintaining separation between slow-moving aerial vehicles at high altitude will certainly add a new level of need for some form of sequencing and separation.

The Internet giants at the core of these new technologies are stretching the limits of communication and our ability to make the World Wide Web a truly world-wide part of everyone’s life.

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Solar Impulse 2’s 20-hour flight from Mandalay, Myanmar to Chongqing, China included the slowest ground speeds in the massive solar airplane’s history.

The Solar Impulse web site reported at 17:35 UTC on “Bertrand Piccard has finally landed Si2 in Chongqing, China, under the applauses of the solar teams and solar impulse fans around the world. The landing has been difficult as the pilot had to manoeuver the aircraft in a rather windy spot after a 20h30 long flight. The team in Monaco is honored to receive the visit of Prince Albert of Monaco at the Mission Control Center. “

Bertrand Piccard's wife, Michelle, happily displays her pass that allows her to be on hand for SI2's landing at Chongqing.  Logistics for this trip must be daunting

Bertrand Piccard’s wife, Michelle, happily displays her pass that allows her to be on hand for SI2′s landing at Chongqing. Logistics for this trip must be daunting

Piccard reached 26,500 feet on his traversal of the Himalayas, certainly a cold and hazardous flight in the dark.  Earlier, he enjoyed an earth-friendly serving of taboulé, quinoa & spelt over Myranmar at 24,000 feet.

According to MSN, “The flight has already set two records for solar-powered flight. The first was for the longest distance covered – the 1,468 kilometers from Muscat, Oman to Ahmedabad, India. The second was for the speed of 117 knots (216 kilometers per hour) reached during the leg to Mandalay from Varanasi, India.”  This leg set a record for the slowest speed, with Piccard battling headwinds that actually had SI2 flying backwards as it neared the airport at Chongquing.

It hardly seems that either pilot has time to sit down during their stays in the countries they visit.  In Chongquing, they reached out to 1,500 junior high students, and gave them a lesson in solar flight and the applications such technology might have in their polluted land.  To be fair, China is making intense efforts to close down coal-fired power plants and replace them with systems powered by solar and wind energy.

The kids, obviously intelligent, well-informed and energized could not have helped asking the questions which The Daily Mail, an English tabloid, had also presented to the two explorers.

Their lead sentence on the flight displays the curiosity most juveniles and adults possess, along with the audacity to ask questions which many would find embarrassing.  “Imagine spending five days cooped up in a cold box with barely enough room to stretch your arms as you forego shaving, showering and eating proper meals.

“That’s what two pilots flying around the world in the Solar Impulse plane are currently subjecting themselves to.

“But while the conditions sound grim, the pioneers are keen to stress that the flight is essential to prove to the world how useful solar power can be.”

The Mail explains that one can’t stand or move about easily, and that “A ‘visit’ to the toilet is pretty uncomfortable too – they simply use a hole in their seat.”  There.  Now we all know.

Piccard and Borshchberg do not shower, using wet tissues to clean themselves.  They don’t shave on board, since the weight of a razor is unwelcome.  “…They must eat things that are sustainable and rewarding for their bodies.  The daily intake for the pilots is 5.2 pounds (2.4 kilograms) of food, 84.5 ounces (2.5 liters) of water, and 33.8 ounces (one liter) of sports drink.”  Their personalized diets are designed by Nestle.

Changing clothes is a challenge, since pilots must keep their harness on at all times.  “’On the harness you have a life preserver, you have all your materials, in case you have to jump out in an emergency. Everything has to be on you at all times.’”  The Daily Mail reports, along with the news that the airplane moves like a “leaf in autumn” in windy conditions.  This requires the pilots to retain control at all times until they find a spot of calm air, put the airplane on its partial autopilot, and take a “catnap.”

For a massive airplane, the cockpit of SI2 has little wiggle room

For a massive airplane, the cockpit of SI2 has little wiggle room

“’We plan to rest 20 minutes at a time, sitting sometimes, laying down other times – and only over the ocean of course,’” Borschberg told the Mail.  The pilots’ yoga training comes in handy here, beyond its ability to help them withstand long hours in the cramped cockpit.

“Flashing goggles” wake the pilots, along with a vibrating chair and auditory alarms.  With five-day ocean crossings and 20-minute naps, enforced alertness will be a necessity.

Winning over officials and students along their flight path, Piccard and Borschberg are elevating their mission to educate people of every major culture along their way.  They’ve even made it to hero status with a major tabloid newspaper and expanded their message to a broader population.  That is a major accomplishment in a media-saturated and often bored world.

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As reported here last year at this time, University of Transylvania researchers led by Dr. James Whale, Director of the Tuber Genetics Energetics Laboratory, announced a major breakthrough in GMO potato batteries, ending with research in potato chip batteries, which despite their extreme energy (think of how many calories one takes on from only a 12-ounce bag – even washed down with diet soda) were not viable candidates for vehicular applications, readily crumbling at the merest pressure.

(Again, officials in America’s Southeast warn that the U of T is NOT to be confused with Transylvania University, an actual liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky.  Repeated attempts by potential enrollees who’ve either seen one too many Todd Browning films, or Bigfoot himself or herself, have been repulsed by University officials, all too aware of the confusion in the two schools’ identities.  Because of that unfortunate confusion, it’s the only legitimate academy that has to maintain restraining orders against a majority of its applicants.)

Whale and his research assistant, Dwight Frye, AA (We are unable to determine whether that represents an Associate of Arts degree or a more likely senior membership in Alcoholics Anonymous) turned their attention to a long-neglected facet of aerodynamics research, the multi-winged aircraft.  Most aerodynamicists have concluded over the past 100 years that a monoplane is the most efficient form of aircraft.  But Whale and Frye discovered an unknown feature of extreme multi-winged machines – their ability to generate their own levitating electrical power.

Horatio Phillips' 120-wing multi-plane - inspiration for Dr. Whale and associate Frye to expand on electrically-generated lift

Horatio Phillips’ 120-wing multi-plane – inspiration for Dr. Whale and associate Frye to expand on electrically-generated lift

Drawing on experiences by Horatio Phillips, who had attempted flight with coal-fired steam and petrol engines, Whale and Frye built a near-replica of Phillip’s 120-wing machine, which had venetian-blind-like slats only five inches apart.  Even with only wood and calico fabric as primary materials, the pair found the airplane created enough static electricity to give pilots painful shocks after even short flights, the flights and the shocks erratic and terrifying, as one would expect.

The researchers found an electric current flowing between the lower and higher wings, with maximum energy being collected in the upper wings.  The airplane was its own battery, lower wings acting as cathodes and upper wings acting as anodes, with airflow over the wings providing electrolytic flux.  It’s the only known example of a wood/air battery.  At least that’s how they explained it to one another.  Indicative of the open-mouthed response from academic colleagues, Whale and Frye’s paper on the subject, “How We Did It,” could only find publication in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Dr. Frankenstein's magnum opus, inspiration for Dr. Whale's How We Did It

Dr. Frankenstein’s magnum opus, inspiration for Dr. Whale’s How We Did It

Whale and Frye enlisted a test pilot, known outside their circles as merely, “Frank.”  He managed longer flights than either researcher had before, and because of this became so electrified with the mysterious lifting power of the craft that he had to be restrained to keep him from floating away.

Electricity generated by multi-wing airplane so suffused test pilot "Frank" that he had to be restrained with chains to prevent his floating away

Electricity generated by multi-wing airplane so suffused test pilot “Frank” that he had to be restrained with chains to prevent his floating away

All research was suspended after superstitious villagers, wary of science and higher learning, burnt the University to the ground, one of scores of times that’s happened in its history.  Recent standardized testing has shown the country’s young people fortunate enough to escape public school and be raised by wolves had IQs 20 points above the national average, but still lower than isolated Basque sheepherders and Outer Mongolian yak farmers.

Sadly, we may never know what aeronautical and electrical wonders may have been revealed had the University of Transylvania’s Luftmensch Akaflieg survived.

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Making the Siemens Motor Light and Powerful

Siemen’s recently-announced 260 kilowatt (348.5 horsepower) motor has brought several comments,  one from a skeptical blog reader who asked some interesting questions.

“VO” or “Volker” comments on Siemen’s claims for the motor, and throws in speculation as to the company’s veracity.  (Note to readers who submit comments: please don’t attribute conclusions not intended by the editor, as in the last sentence of VO’s comment, and avoid speculating on the honorable intentions of those who announce new concepts or projects.)

Dr. Frank Anton and associates examine 50 kilogram, 260 kilowatt motor

Dr. Frank Anton and associates examine 50 kilogram, 260 kilowatt motor.  Streamlining the installation should be easy and elegant

“The first three you mention are kind of concepts but with reasonable or high efficiency. What is the efficiency of the Siemens motor? And whose tech are they using? They have been circling the makers you mentioned for years. Did they license something or steal again? On most you mention, I could find efficiency numbers (Emrax with a whopping 98%?) and more or less detailed specs. I don’t know. Looks like a marketing ploy.

“Typically, you would see boasting with efficiency in an aircraft app. Also which tech is it? AC induction, Sync PM, is it axial flux or not?

“As you pointed out, it does not seem to be a release of accurate info, so claiming world records is a bit irresponsible.”

VO is correct in thinking Siemens might employ a “marketing ploy.”  Your editor wrote technical white papers, sequences of operations, operations manuals and other detailed, dry bits of prose, but also turned out many proposals, marketing brochures, and scripts that called for a more poetic temperament.  That doesn’t make the former more correct than the latter – just different in approach and selected audience.

In a March 24 press release, Siemens explains that their earlier efforts with an electric hybrid drive in 2011, “optimized” in 2013, had a power/weight ratio of “around 5 kilowatts per kilogram, which at that time was unsurpassed, but it only delivered a relatively modest 60 kilowatts of continuous power — enough for a single-engine light aircraft at most.”

Part of the weight reduction that allowed Siemens to make its power/weight ratio claim for its 260 kW unit was “optimizing” the motor’s end shield, cutting the weight from 10.5 kilograms to 4.9 kilograms.  (Your editor’s manager discouraged the use of “optimized” numbers since that implied that one couldn’t do better.  Since statements made in press releases and advertising copy can be interpreted as legal contracts with a potential client, such hyperbole is reined in by many tech editors.)

This aluminum component “supports the motor bearing and the propeller, which is fixed to a continuous drive shaft without a gearbox in between.”  Dr. Frank Anton, head of electric motor development at Siemens, explains, “It’s subject to very large forces whenever the nose of the aircraft moves up or down, so it’s an absolutely vital component for the safety of the aircraft.  That’s why, in the past, it was always pretty solid and therefore correspondingly heavy.”

Using the Siemens computer aided engineering (CAE) program NX Nastran, engineers performed a finite element analysis on the end shield, identified the elements that are barely subject to stress and are therefore dispensable.  Dr. Anton explains, “Nature designs our bones in a similar manner.  Their structure follows the lines of stress from external forces. Using this iterative process, we end up with a solution an engineer would never have been able to work out by means of theory.”

Departing from the aluminum filigree structure that they crafted, Siemens’ researchers are now working with a carbon-fiber reinforced polymers end shield “that weighs a mere 2.3 kilograms, less than a quarter of the conventional component.”

Siemens engineers took on the electromagnetic design of the motor, using a cobalt-iron alloy in the stator for high magnetizability.  They arranged permanent magnets in the rotor in a Halbach array, with four magnets “positioned next to one another in such a way that the orientation of each field is in a different direction.”  Magnetic flux can reach high levels with a minimum use of materials.  This might help them attain the 97-percent efficiency goal they note in their press release.

Difference between Halbach and conventional arrangement of magnetic flux

Difference between Halbach and more conventional arrangement of magnetic flux

Cooling uses “direct-cooled conductors” and “an electrically non-conductive cooling liquid.” Siemens uses silicon oil or Galden.  The Solvay Plastics web site explains, “Galden® PFPE is a line of high-performance, inert, fluorinated fluids used as heat transfer and for various high-tech applications in the Electrical & Electronics and Semiconductors markets.”

The Halbach array is not a new idea, and is in use in LaunchPoint motors.  The fact that two different companies have developed motors using this technology is not an indicator of skullduggery on either’s part – no more so than that they both use electricity to power the motor.

Dr. Anton will be at the ninth annual Electric Aircraft Symposium in Santa Rosa, California on May 1st and 2nd, along with Michael Ricci of LaunchPoint Technologies.   Attendees will be able to compare the two company’s approaches, a benefit of an open forum and an exciting opportunity to hear about the latest in technological breakthroughs in motors.  (Now, that approaches hyperbole – but one within legitimate bounds.)

Doubtless, Dr. Anton will expand on this idea: “Only a very few companies have such detailed understanding of converters and motors, not to mention decades of experience working with them in very different and sometimes very extreme environments.  What’s more, at Siemens we’re committed to the idea of electrically powered flight and have the staying power to develop the new drives.”

First in electric flight: Tissandier Brothers fly their Siemens motor-powered aerostat in 1883

First in electric flight: Tissandier Brothers fly their Siemens motor-powered aerostat in 1883

History is on his side in the matter of decades of experience.  The Tissandier brothers used a Siemens motor on their electrically-powered aerostat in 1883, a world first.

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With recent news of a solid-state battery coming for the labs of Yi Cui, a second solid-state solution seems to follow from another Stanford Laboratory.  The All-Electron Battery, funded at least partly by an ARPA-E grant that underwrote the program from 2010 to 2012, has fostered a startup, QuantumScape.

Starting from the stated need for a battery “with twice the energy storage of today’s state-of-the-art Li-Ion battery at 30% of the cost,” ARPA-E worked with the premise that Stanford was “developing an all-electron battery that would create a completely new class of energy storage devices for EVs. Stanford’s all-electron battery stores energy by moving electrons rather than ions. Electrons are lighter and faster than the ion charge carriers in conventional Li-Ion batteries. Stanford’s all-electron battery also uses an advanced structural design that separates critical battery functions, which increases both the life of the battery and the amount of energy it can store. The battery could be charged 1000s of times without showing a significant drop in performance.”

The proposal’s Impact Summary noted that, “If successful, Stanford would create an entirely new class of EV batteries capable of storing much more energy than traditional Li-Ion batteries, facilitating widespread EV use.”

Stanford's patent drawing shows encapsulated layers with solid electrolyte and catholyte, an electrolyte surrounding the cathode, and which should be a solid, rather than liquid material

Stanford’s patent drawing shows encapsulated layers with solid electrolyte and catholyte, an electrolyte surrounding the cathode, and which should be a solid, rather than liquid material

As reported here last year, QuantumScape, despite the lack of substantive material on its all-too-reticent web site, attracted the attention of Volkswagen, which according to Bloomberg, will decide to go forward with more than a five-percent interest in the startup company.

“Volkswagen AG plans to decide in the first half of this year whether new battery technology under development at U.S. startup QuantumScape Corp. is ready for use in its electric cars.

“’The technology’s potential to boost the range of battery-powered vehicles is compelling and tests are progressing,’ VW Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said outside a press conference in Stuttgart, Germany, on Tuesday.

“’I was there last year,’ Winterkorn said. ‘Progress has been made,’ and the company will be able to determine how to proceed by July.”

As with all other automakers in the EV marketplace, VW needs to achieve Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in America, and rigorous CO2 and other emissions requirements in the European Union.   Despite lagging electric car sales, the carmakers need to press on to avoid penalties and meet ever tougher goals.

Bloomberg reports that Winterkorn said in November that he sees “great potential” in the new power-storage technology, with up to 700 kilometers (430 miles) range for unspecified VW models, more than three times that of the electric version of the VW Golf.   This would be half again as high as Tesla’s advertised Model S range of 270 miles.

Since QuantumScape’s web presence includes only pretty pictures and some contact information, speculation abounds on what’s in the potential VW battery package.  Professor Doctor Winterkorn’s address at the Science Award for Electrochemistry ceremonies on November 6, 2014, gives some clues as to why VW is interested.

As noted before in this blog, Winterkorn highlighted VW’s massive research and development investments.

“At our Group we have some 44,000 R&D experts in 20 countries.   We are spending roughly 13 billion Dollars on R&D – each year.  And we are making sure that all the relevant drive-train technologies are as efficient and economical as possible. Including, of course, our combustion engines which have great potential.”

Some of that potential seems to be near term, and other elements might be further in the future.  The structure of his talk makes it difficult to define the actual timeline, other than a few tantalizing hints.

“Take energy density, for example: Increasing the specific energy of lithium-ion cells to as much as 380 Wh/l will reduce driving range drawbacks. With a higher nickel content (editor’s italics), much more will be feasible. But we also need to intensify basic research into batteries with an even greater specific energy, such as solid-state batteries. I see great potential in this new technology, possibly boosting the range to as much as 700 kilometers (1,000 Wh/l).  Another matter is cost: Lowering the price of battery cells to 100 euros per kilowatt hour would significantly increase the market potential of electric vehicles.  And if we also improve reliability and battery lifespan, customer acceptance will grow fast.”

Several questions arise from his remarks.  Why is the reference to higher nickel content important?  Will this be part of a 700-kilometer battery?

Cleantechnica.com speculates about QuantumScape’s offerings.  Founded by Stanford researchers in 2010, the company’s lithium batteries focus on fundamental disruption in the energy storage sector (italics theirs).  Offerings might be commercial versions of all-electron batteries developed by Dr. Frederich Prinz and his team, with leadership by CEO Jagdeep Singh, described by Cleantechnica as “a Silicon Valley rock star,” with a “solid track record in cutting edge tech.”

Prinz’s work with an “all electron battery effect,” related “to the use of inclusions embedded in a dielectric structure between two electrodes of a capacitor. Electrons can tunnel through the dielectric between the electrodes and the inclusions, thereby increasing the charge storage density relative to a conventional capacitor.

Another patent describes the use of antiperovskite materials, those sharing a crystal structure similar to naturally occurring perovskite, a calcium titanium oxide.  According to the patent, “The formation and use thereof of antiperovskite material enables a metallic lithium anode, which increases the capacity and therefore the energy density of any lithium-based electrochemical storage device.”

This adds up to a battery with a solid-state electrolyte rather than a conventional liquid electrolyte.  Such batteries could be more energy dense and much safer, not being loaded with flammable liquids.  They could also survive thousands of charge-discharge cycles.  VW looks to hit a 100 euro per kilowatt-hour goal for such energy storage.  If Prinze, QuantumScape and VW can all come together (remembering Dr. Winterkorn’s  promised decision by July) this might lead to exciting battery developments in Silicon Valley on an aggressive schedule.

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