Quite surprisingly, rockets in their primal form were invented before turbomachinery, even though turbines and pumps are both present in modern launcher engines. However, it is interesting to note that both can be traced to the same ancestor. In this post we will discuss some of the history and technical evolution of rockets and turbomachinery – and this all starts with an old pigeon.
Circa 400BCE, a Greek philosopher and mathematician named Archytas designed a pigeon-like shape made out of wood that was suspended with wires and propelled along these guides using steam demonstrating the action-reaction principle long before Newton formalized it as a rule in Physics. As we know today, the faster and the more steam escapes the pigeon, the faster it goes. Turn this 90 degrees to have the bird face upward, and you have a very basic rocket concept. However, rockets are a lot more complex than this, and do not typically use steam (except in the case of liquid hydrogen + liquid oxygen propellants) as the propelling fluid. Read More
Ever since circa 100 BBY, Podracing in its modern version has drawn crowds from far far away to watch pilots compete in races like the Boonta Eve Classic which made Anakin Skywalker famous and won him his freedom. By beating Sebulba, the Dug, and the other Podracers, Anakin became the first human to be successful at this very dangerous sport. The Force helped him in his victory by sharpening his reflexes, but his repulsorcraft was also superior due to its size and the modifications made to its twin Radon-Ulzer 620C engines, especially the fuel atomizer and distribution system with its multiple igniters which makes them run similarly to afterburners seen on some military planes on Earth.
Let’s take a deeper look at what repulsorcrafts are and how we can help Anakin redesign his to gain an even better advantage against the competition, provided that Watto has the correct equipment in his junk yard. Read More
HVAC (Heat, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) is all about comfort, and comfort is a subjective feeling associated with many parameters like air quality, air temperature, surrounding surface temperature, air flow and relative humidity. For example, while it is easy to understand how the temperature of the air in your living impacts how good you feel, the surfaces with which you are in contact also strongly affect your comfort. For example, last night I got out of bed to clean up after my dog who thought it would be a good idea to swallow (and give back) her chew toy. If I was wearing my slippers, it would have been much easier to go back to sleep between the warm bed sheets without the discomfort of waiting my cold feet warm up to normal temperature.
Speaking of sleep discomfort, many stem from HVAC imbalances. If you wake up in the middle of the night quite thirsty, then you should probably check how dry your bedroom is. The recommended range is 40-60% relative humidity. A higher humidity puts you at risk for mold while lower humidity can lead to respiratory infections, asthma, etc.
Now that we know how HVAC contributes to our comfort, let’s look at the HVAC unit as a system and see its role, functioning and simulation at a high level. The following examples provided are for a house, but similar concepts apply to residential buildings, offices, and so on.
The easiest parameter to control is the air temperature. It can be set by a thermostat and regulated according to a heating or cooling flow distributed from the HVAC unit to the different rooms through ducting. Without the introduction of thermally-different-than-ambient air, the house will heat or cool itself based on a combination of outside conditions and how well the building is insulated. Therefore, to keep a constant temperature a certain amount of energy must be used to provide heating (or cooling) at the same rate the house is losing (or gaining) heat. This is a match of the house load and heating/cooling capacity. Figure 1 provides a graph of the energy needed.
If you’re looking for clean, free energy… a song comes to mind.
Tide after tide. If you flow I will catch – I’ll be waiting. Tide after tide.
With no particular link to Cyndi Lauper, waves just want to have fun so let’s allow them to do so while catching their drift as a potential energy source using tidal turbines.
Wave energy is a form of hydropower used to convert energy obtained from tides into mechanical and/or electrical power. Wave energy is produced when electricity generators are placed on the surface of the ocean. The energy provided is most often used in desalination plants, power plants and water pumps. Energy output is determined by wave height, wave speed, wavelength, and water density.
How are Tides Generated:
Tidal forces are periodic variations in gravitational attraction exerted by celestial bodies. It is these forces that are responsible for the currents in the world’s oceans. A local, strong attraction on a part of the ocean allied with moving celestial bodies and the rotation of the Earth leads this bulging part of water to meet the adjacent shallower waters of the shoreline which creates the tides.
Last month we discussed a few basic aspects of wind as a source of clean energy. We showed what wind was, how it forms and where it goes. Then after going on a tangent about the history of turbines, we showed where on the Earth we could recover the highest amount of wind energy and how this potential changes with altitude. Today’s post offer the pros and cons of wind energy while touching upon several topics discussed in the previous post before diving into the optimal where and when.
Getting into the “What”
With an established worldwide potential of more than 400 TW (20 times more than what the entire human population needs) and a clean, renewable source wind is definitely attractive to the current and future generations. In terms of harvesting it, over 99% percent of wind farms in the USA are located in rural areas with 71% of them in low-income counties. Indeed, the more land is available (and the fewer buildings), the higher the possibility and interest to transform this kinetic energy into mechanical work and then most likely electricity.
Where one would see sporadic turbines on the side of the highway, these stand-alone equipment have begun to turn into actual modules (farms) that can work as an overall unit instead of individual ones. This strategy of creating a network of turbines follows the philosophy of “the Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”. What this translates into is that by having 20 (arbitrary number) wind turbines working together to determine the best orientation, pitch, etc. of their blades in such a way that it least negatively impacts the downstream units we can produce more energy than if each of them were live-optimized individually (some interesting A.I. work is going into this). This means that the overall system is more efficient at converting energy and therefore it is more cost effective to provide bulk power to the electrical grid. This is similar to the concept in the post on solar energy comparing PV panels and CSP. Read the full post here.
In terms of power production per wind turbine, the utility-scale ones range from about 100 kW to several MW for the land-based units (Offshore wind turbines are typically larger and produce more power – getting ahead of myself here but check out the figure below for wind potential in Western Europe that clearly showcases coast vs. non-coast data). On the low-power end of the spectrum, we find some below 100 kW for some non-utility applications like powering homes, telecommunications dishes, water pumping, etc. Solar power (PV) is generally regarded as the first choice for homeowners looking to become energy producers themselves, but wind turbines make an excellent alternative in some situations. It would take a wind turbine of about 10 kilowatts and $40,000 to $70,000 to become a net electricity producer. Investments like this typically break even after 10 to 20 years.
Onto the “Where”
One of the elements of wind formation we covered in the last post here was a different in pressure (and therefore temperature). This simplification works rather well at the macro-scale, but as we zoom in closer to the surface we can see that wind flow speeds and patterns vary quite significantly based on more than just the general location of Earth. On top of the altitude we already discussed, factors like vegetation, presence of high-rise buildings or bodies of water come into play.
Choosing how to start something is often the most challenging part since the rest is usually about moving with the flow (turbomachinery pun intended). So, now that we got that out of the way let’s talk about our next topic after we do a quick flashback on the previous episodes of this Clean Energy series.
In thefirst post in this series, we discussed clean energy as a whole. After describing what it is and what it is not, we pointed out some of the energy sources we would analyze in subsequent articles.
The second post in this series took us on an extraterrestrial journey for two reasons: we looked at solar energy and we also went on a tangent about the rovers operating on planet Mars. I got so many “Likes” on these little droids that I figured I would keep going with them (that or I found a cool article that I’ll be sharing here) for this current post on one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world: Wind Energy. What’s the link between Mars equipment and wind? See this recent discovery – https://www.space.com/41023-mars-wind-power-landers-experiment.html
The wind we are looking at in today’s post is somewhere in between bovine flatulence and hurricanes in terms of intensity. Wind as we know it is created by air (or any fluid) moving from a zone of high pressure to one of low pressure. This high-to-low concentration migration might sound tricky, but it is easy to understand if you think of cars on a highway. It is more likely that cars stuck in a slow lane on the highway would move on to a lane with less traffic rather than the other way around.
Pressure varies with things like irregularities on the Earth surface, AKA altitude (“in case loss of cabin pressure occurs, oxygen masks will drop […]”), but also with temperature. This means that two people at the same altitude but in areas of different temperatures would experience different pressures. For example, think of standing at the North Pole vs. standing on a Caribbean beach vs. standing on a paddleboard in the Great Lakes. This example of standing at different places demonstrates the uneven heating of the Earth from the sun due to its shape (not flat), its rotation and its tilt, as we introduced in the previous post. But which location is under the most pressure? Colder temperature equals higher pressure. Let me explain with another analogy, (even though this example has nothing to do with pressure, it will help the information stick). When people get stressed, we say they are under pressure. We can imagine somebody above the Arctic Circle is more stressed (cold, where to find food, shelter, etc.) than somebody enjoying a Mai Tai on the beach at an all-inclusive resort in Aruba. So here is your mnemonics; colder equals higher pressure.
Now that we have seen what wind was and the theory behind how it forms, we can start thinking about how to utilize this energy. Today we will talk about the aerodynamic aspect of wind turbines while in a future post we will be focusing on the assessment of such technology as wind power; pros, cons, where, what, etc. Read More
“That sun is trying to kill us” is something I hear every other day from my wife. Growing up and settling in the Midwest of the USA, she is used to the beating heat from our local star. I remember a particular summer when the consecutive number of days over 100F (~38C) was well over 60.
As you can imagine this post is about the sun. (By which, I mean the star closest to us, but similar principles would apply to other solar systems). The emphasis will be made on understanding what this energy is, and how we can harness it.
First, let’s discuss solar energy in general. As its name suggests, this type of energy comes from the sun. (Solaris means sun in Latin and is where our word solar comes from). So far, so good. Now, even though “radiation” gets a bad reputation, this is actually how the heat and energy from our star reaches us. The radiation is produced by nuclear reactions in our sun’s core. Two hydrogen atoms get fused together to form one helium atom. The chemical reaction releases heat and light. And all of this is occurring inside the sun 93 million miles away in space. The light and heat travel through space. Then some of that energy, in the form of radiation, reaches us here on Earth.
Now that we know what energy solar energy is and where it comes from, let’s briefly discuss the processes we currently have to capture this energy and what uses we can make of it.
There are primarily two types of sun power harnessing systems:
Concentrated Solar Power (also known as CSP)
Solar panels are typically photovoltaic (PV) which means that they will convert photon energy (photo) into electricity (voltaic). When you think of such technology the roof of houses and office buildings (PV panels – comprised of several PV cells) is usually the first example to come to mind. But, don’t forget the small solar cells used to power your calculator (PC cell), or the much larger installations on the side of the highway (PV arrays – comprised of multiple PV panels). After capturing this solar energy, you can either use it for your personal needs, or in some cases you can sell it back to the grid. Note: Amazon recently completed its 17th rooftop solar project by installing a 1.1 MW array on its Las Vegas fulfillment center (https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2018/05/amazon-s-onsite-solar-just-went-up-a-notch.html).Another way solar panels work for domestic application is to circulate a liquid through the panels to heat the home (air heating, water heating, and so on).
CSP use a different technology altogether. Fields of mirrors (that rotate with the sun) are used to concentrate the energy from the sun into what is called a “black body”. In heat transfer terms, this refers to something that has a high thermal coefficient (emissivity) and typically sits at the top of a tower. If you have ever used a magnifying glass to concentrate solar energy on some dry twigs to start a fire, you have seen how effective this approach can be.
The previous blog post of this series mentioned that both nuclear and solar sources were considered clean energies with solar being renewable while our sun still shines. What makes it clean exactly? I am glad you asked! (I know you did not, but let’s pretend you did.) To quote my last post, clean energies are defined as “energies that do not pollute the atmosphere when used.” With solar energy, the process of energy creation is indeed harmless to the surrounding. The environmental impact of the systems to manufacture items needed to capture the solar energy and recycling/disposing of waste products from that process may pollute. Some will argue that solar arrays can be a visual pollution, but that objective opinion does not make solar a “dirty” energy since gathering the energy neither produce pollutants nor emits carbon dioxide. Read More
As turbomachinery engineers, it is not always easy to tell non-technical folks what we do. If we start with “I design turbines,” the first thing most people think of are those giant wind turbines, and we are stuck with the nickname “wind guy/gal”. What we do is far more complex than putting 3 blades on a stick and confusing bystanders with why the turbine is rotating on a seemingly windless day; and don’t even get me started on the claims that wind turbines are a non-visually pleasing ploy from the government to make use of our taxpayers money.
Okay, maybe I will get started on those topics, but not in this series. Today, I am introducing a new series of blog posts related to clean energies and how turbomachines tie in with this not-so-novel concept making a lot of noise nowadays.
Throughout this series, we will be discussing the different “clean” technologies in power generation which people have been using for hundreds of years, some more recent “hipster-y” applications, and look at what could make a difference in tomorrow’s world. These short posts will cover general and practical information, which students as well as seasoned engineers can use to better understand the topic at hand. Some articles/parts will be more technical than others, and no matter what your current level of proficiency, you will be able to pick out some useful takeaways. Read More
Last week I described two ways which the turbomachinery industry addresses climate change. This week, I explain two more:
Waste Heat Recovery
Even though processes are becoming more and more efficient they are still mostly wasteful (Figure 1).
The excess energy from processes is eventually released into the environment but bringing down the temperature of the exhaust allows multiple things; direct reduction of the global warming potential as well as possibility to utilize this heat to boil a working fluid before running it through a turbine where it can generate some power without requiring burning additional fuel. A well-known example of such a system is the traditional gas-steam cycle that allows turning a 45% efficient gas turbine cycle into a 60% system by utilizing the gas turbine exhaust heat to boil some water in a secondary loop before passing the resulting steam through a different turbine. In the same manner waste heat recovery can be applied with different fluids (including the trending refrigerants like R134a & R245fa, steam and the state-of-the-art supercritical CO2 as shown on Figure 2) and a multitude of applications; internal combustion engines, steel production plants, marine transports, etc.
Selection of the best working fluid
Whether it’s deciding to design the main energy conversion cycle or its waste heat recovery system one of the critical parameters to pay close attention to is the working fluid selection; good selection of the fluid will often lead to make a compromise between cost/availability, thermodynamic performance (see Figure 3) and environmental friendliness. One must make sure that the performances of the designed cycle with the chosen fluid are high enough and the fluid cheap enough to make the concept financially viable without sacrificing pollution considerations which can prove devastating in case of leaks.
The working fluid selection is also performed so that in addition to the environmental footprint being reduced the physical footprint is minimized as well; this is done through the selection of high density fluids (helium, SCO2, etc.) which allows for a reduction in component size and therefore cost (as portrayed on Figure 4), – indirectly it also allows for less material being produced which also “saves trees”.
Most people complain about climate change, but few take measures to address it. In this article we will see some ways turbomachinery-oriented companies contribute to the well-being of the planet.
Selection and optimization of energy conversion technology (recuperation, proper selection of expander configuration, etc.)
Not all technologies are created equal; where you would use a steam turbine is not necessarily where you would want a gas turbine or an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) instead. Each one of them has its pros and its cons; ORC exist because they do not require as much energy as what is needed for steam cycles, gas turbines have a great power density and an outstanding start-up time (several minutes instead of hours) which makes them great candidates for punctual, unexpected peaks in power demand, etc.
Now, take the case of a gas, steam or ORC; they all include, in their most basic configuration, a compressing element (compressor or pump), an expander (usually a turbine), a cooling/condensing component and a heating component (boiler, combustion chamber, HRSG, etc.) as one can see on Figure 1 and each of these have an associated efficiency.
This means that their careful design and thorough optimization should be performed in order to maximize the overall performance of the full system. Whether it’s used for power generation or propulsion the result is the same; more power generated for the same amount of heat input (usually the combustion of fuel). However, before starting the full design of the different components the entire system needs to be optimized as well; correct positioning of extractions/inductions, appropriate cooling parameters, use of recuperation/regeneration (see Figure 6), and so on.
Only when the cycle boundary conditions (and therefore its configuration) are fixed the full design of the components can be performed although some preliminary studies should be undertaken to determine the feasibility of these designs and get an estimation of the components performances. Another goal of such feasibility studies is to determine such things as the estimated dimensions of the components, the configuration of the expander (axial, radial, axi-radial, counter-rotating, etc.) Finally some compromises always need to be done between efficiency improvement and cost of manufacturing, operation and maintenance.
Operation at optimal conditions (design point for overall cycle and each component)
Each energy conversion system whether it is for power generation, propulsion or any other application is designed for a set of operating conditions called a design point. This is where the system will typically be optimum for and where it will be running most of its “on” time. This is why ensuring that the design point (or design points) is accurately defined is critical since operation outside of these defined conditions will lead to additional losses that translate into a lesser power production for the same cost of input energy. Performance prediction of systems at off-design conditions is an essential part of any design task which allows restricting system operation to conditions of high components efficiency. If the pump/compressor is operated at a different mass flow rate its pressure ratio will be different and so will be the efficiency and therefore the amount of power generated by the expander, see Figure 4.
In our next post, we will continue the discussion of the turbomachinery industry as it relates to climate change. Stay tuned!