High-temperature superconductor transformer
The "world's first" demonstration of a high-temperature superconductor (HTS) transformer, designed and built by Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) with HTS wires developed and made by American Superconductor Corp.--took place recently in Geneva, Switzerland. The 630-kVA transformer, placed in the Geneva electric power grid, will power the headquarters of SIG, the city's electric utility, through the end of this year. The oil-free HTS transformers use environmentally friendly liquid nitrogen to cool the wires so that they are resistance-free. This translates into less winding losses and a more effective power network. In addition, the transformers will be about 30 to 50% lighter than conventional units--allowing for smaller substations with increased capacity. "When we discovered the HTS ceramics more than 10 years ago, we didn't foresee how quickly they would begin to dramatically benefit the utility industry," says Professor K. Alex Muller, the 1987 Nobel Prize winner for discovering HTS ceramics. "This demonstration illustrates the tremendous practical and environment benefits that HTS brings to the table." FAX (508) 836-4248.
Liquid-crystal fibers provide optical protection
The aircraft cockpit's heads-up display suddenly blazes white and the pilot, blinded by the laser flash, doesn't see that all the optical sensors are fried. At this point in a futuristic novel, the computer or the inexperienced passenger takes over. Back in the real world, a Pennsylvania State University engineer has developed an optical switch that would automatically prevent such an overload. "These optical fibers made from liquid crystals will allow low levels of laser light to pass through," explains Dr. I.C. Khoo, professor of electrical engineering. "But once the intensity reaches a set level, the fibers automatically absorb the light." Conventional light limiters only absorb very specific wavelengths. For instance, a pair of yellow sun glasses, made to absorb 50% of the light, will absorb half the green light at dusk and half the green light at noon. The liquid crystal fibers absorb all colors of light and react non-linearly to intensity. Khoo's cable of glass has tiny holes the shape of wires running through it. These empty channels are filled with liquid crystal mixed with carbon 60--a fullerene. The channels of liquid crystal become the optical fiber, passing low levels of light and limiting higher levels. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smallest ever force measurement reported
Imagine a force barely strong enough to lift a protein molecule, and far too weak to budge a blood cell. Until now forces this small have been virtually undetectable. But scientists from Stanford University and IBM's Almaden Research Center report that they have successfully measured forces of such an infinitesimal magnitude. The measurements of the "auto-newton" forces (a newton is about one-fifth of a pound) were made using a microscopic cantilever being developed for a new instrument called a magnetic resonance force microscope (MRFM). The instrument combines the scanning tunneling microscope's ability to image individual atoms with magnetic resonance imaging's capability of telling one kind of atom from another. The MRFM holds promise of "revolutionizing the study of biological processes at the molecular level, and adding an entire new dimension to the study of electronic materials at the atomic level," says Thomas Kenny, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford. E-mail email@example.com.
Ceramic valves for advanced heat engines look promising
Heavy-equipment engines that operate around the clock in huge mine-haul trucks can be a pain in the neck if the engine valves fail in service. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have under development ceramic valves that offer longer life and better durability. The valves, developed as part of the Ceramic Technology Project, an ORNL-led DOE Office of Transportation Technologies program, tackled three areas: material and process, design methodology, and life-prediction analyses. The researchers discovered early on the reason for the high failure rate of metallic valves. "They fail due to corrosion caused by sulfur in the fuel," says D. Ray Johnson, project manager. However, it was not advantageous for a manufacturer to buy ceramic valves, even though they are more durable. The biggest problem, other than cost, was their unreliability. Now, that problem has been overcome because the ceramic valves produced by the researchers have passed the reliability and durability test criteria of conventional valves. "Four valves are currently running in an engine in a mine-haul truck and have accumulated over 2,000 hours," reports Arvid Pasto of ORNL's High Temperature Materials Laboratory. "If they were going to fail, they would have done it in the first 1,000 hours." FAX Fred Strohl at (423) 574-0595.
U.S. lab to design powerful Chinese locomotive engine
The People's Republic of China's largest locomotive maker, Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Works (DLW), has selected the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to team with it in the design, building, and testing of a new diesel locomotive engine. "This will be a state-of-the-art design," says Nigel Gale, vice president of SwRI's Engine and Vehicle Research Div. The robust engine will be compact, lightweight, require low maintenance, and will meet anticipated international emissions standards. The first three phases of the three-year project--concept design, design analysis, and definitive design of the engine--will be carried out at SwRI over a 16-month period. Building and testing of the prototype will take place at DLW, with SwRI engineers providing technical support. One design constraint: loading on tracks and road beds in China can be no higher than 25 tons per axle, as opposed to the average 30 tons in the U.S. FAX Elizabeth Douglas at (210) 522-3547.
Technology heat treats ferrous materials faster
A new, cost-effective technology to heat treat ferrous materials promises higher quality, reduced cycle times, and more applications than other comparable methods. So claims Adaptive Coating Technologies, LLC, Waunakee, WI, of its Radiant Heat Treating (RHT) process, developed as part of a Small Business Innovation Research award. The company plans to complete its new RHT production facility next month. Patents are pending. The process will heat treat most carbon steel and steel alloys, including tool steels and martensitic stainless steels, according to John Krebsbach, Adaptive Coating Technologies' chief engineer. It can heat treat selective areas or the entire surfaces of flat, cylindrical, or complex shapes, Krebsbach adds. The hardening depth for one RHT unit can be electronically adjusted to heat treat from 0.010 to more than 0.500 inch deep without changing equipment. Most individual induction units are limited to a much narrower range. Moreover, says Krebsbach, hardening with RHT results in cost reductions because the technology requires no part specific tooling, such as an induction coil or RF electrode. FAX Krebsbach at (608) 233-1039.
Lonely Maytag repairman may become even lonelier
A few years ago, Maytag approached the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with the idea of a new, energy-efficient (agitator-less) washer built for high efficiency. About a year later utilities in the Pacific Northwest, led by Seattle City Light and EPRI, started a project aimed at moving the residential laundry market to high-efficiency washers for the energy- and water-saving benefits. However, EPRI and the utilities had no performance data or market studies on the washers. Hence, THELMA (High-Efficiency Laundry Metering and Marketing Analysis) was born. The analysis would confirm the findings of Maytag's tests and research on the high-efficiency washers that are built on a horizontal-axis (H-axis). Unlike conventional washers, they wash clothes by tumbling them like a clothes dryer, repeatedly lifting them in and out of a pool of water. In addition to getting clothes cleaner, the tumble action extends the life of clothing, making it look newer, longer. Several new high-efficiency washers have appeared on the market from U.S. manufacturers, including Frigidaire, Gibson, Amana, and Maytag. The THELMA researchers tracked the performance of these machines in several residences. Data from 26 homes indicate that the tumble-action washers provide an average energy savings of 65% and reduce water use by almost 40%. The high-efficiency washers are also 25% more effective in soil removal, the study concludes. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
New catalyst permits easy access to low-density polymers
Phillips Petroleum Co. has proven the use of a metallocene catalyst to make enhanced grades of polyethylene (PE) in its slurry loop reactor process. The company reports that evaluations of resins produced using the new catalyst have been successful in commercial-scale trials by several select customers. The catalyst requires minimal process changes, which is expected to keep costs down. The process will permit Phillips to produce linear low-density PE (LLDPE) films with high strength and clarity for use in many applications. Phillips researchers say the catalyst leaves a clean heat-exchange surface for continuous runs, provides uniform catalyst feed for proper mixing and reactions, reduces product of fluff particle fines, and "can equal the highest reactor output rates from conventional catalysts by maintaining low residence times and controlling fluff bulk densities." Phone (918) 661-6900.
Technology provides electrical conductivity to plastics
GE Plastics has introduced a resin based on Conductive Carbon FibrilsTM technology targeted to the automotive industry. The NORYL® resin meets eco-label standards, also making it suitable for eco-compliant computers and business equipment. "Conductive Carbon Fibrils is an exciting way to introduce electrical conductivity to plastic materials," says John Quinn, general manger of the NORYL resin business. "Two applications for these conductive plastics are electrostatic painting, particularly automotive parts, and static dissipation in business equipment where static buildup must be prevented." Although conductive plastics based on carbon powder and carbon fibers have been in use for quite some time, the Fibrils technology, made by Hyperion Catalysis International, Cambridge, MA, delivers equivalent levels of conductive performance with a lower level of filler loading. "Today, particularly in Europe, manufacturers are selecting materials based on the need for eco-labels," Quinn adds. "Almost every eco-label restricts or eliminates the use of halogens in plastics. E-mail email@example.com.