Energy Department plans boosts
to wind, solar industries
The federal government is launching new programs to stimulate the harnessing of energy in winds and the sun. First, the Department of Energy (DOE) has inked two research pacts--each valued at about $20 million--aimed at lowering the cost of wind-generated energy. The cost-shared agreements are with The Wind Turbine Co., Bellevue, WA, and Zond Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Enron Wind Corp., Tehachapi, CA. By 2001, the firms are to complete design, construction, and testing of prototype wind turbines that will produce electricity for approximately 21/2 to 31/2 cents/kW-hr. What's more, the proposed turbines are for sites with moderate wind speeds that average 13 to 15 mph. The hope is that new regions of the United States will take to wind energy, reducing the cost of wind-generated power by 20 to 25% and stimulating more technological advances. DOE also is leading an effort to place one million solar energy systems on the roofs of buildings and homes across the United States by the year 2010. As the world's largest owner of buildings, the federal government controls more than 500,000 rooftops.
Government considers changing energy tests on dishwashers
Federal testers thought they had a good way to gauge the energy efficiency of dishwashers, but technology got ahead of them. Now DOE and the National Institute of Standards and Technology are studying ways to revise the tests. Current ratings are geared to conventional dishwashers in which energy consumption remains stable whether the dishes are soiled or not. Sensors in new adaptive-control dishwashers, however, gather information on the soil load. Internal controls adjust the wash cycle to meet the demand. In tests run on these dishwashers, the "clean" load prompts the unit to shorten the normal cycle. Result: The "smart" machines get low energy-consumption ratings. But NIST officials say when they loaded machines with dirty dishes, the energy consumption for units with adaptive controls climbed to about the same level as that of conventional units.
NASA licenses its technology for monitoring air quality
A technology developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for monitoring atmospheric air quality is now helping industries reduce smokestack pollution. The system features a fast-response remote gas sensor that can detect pollution at or near the ground. A "fence" arrangement allows the nonmechanical sensor to see around an area with the help of mirrors. Advantages over conventional gas sensors include: remote sensing, area source monitoring, higher reliability, faster response, and a more compact design. Through a patent license agreement, NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, is transferring the technology to MERCO Inc. of Golden, CO.
Mid-career engineers picked for 'Frontiers' symposium
The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has selected 82 engineers to spend three days in September discussing problems in each other's fields. They will attend the annual Symposium on Frontiers of Engineering, which NAE started in 1995. Participants, aged 30 to 45, come from industry, academia, and government. "Bringing together these outstanding engineers not only helps to establish contacts among the next generation of engineering leaders," says NAE President William A. Wulf, "but also will lead to collaborative work and the transfer of new techniques and approaches across fields." Among topics at this year's symposium in Irvine, CA, are decision-making tools for design and manufacturing, biomechanics, sensors and controls, and intelligent transportation systems. NAE chose the participants from 270 applicants recommended by managers and deans. This year's list includes Ronald A. Rinke, senior design engineer at Western Litho-tech, and Shalini Venkatesh, hardware design engineer at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories.
1998 National Engineers Week to feature Draper Prize
Presentation of the world's richest prize for engineering achievement will be part of next year's National Engineers Week. The week will be February 22 to 28. Headquartered in Alexandria, VA, coordinators of the week's events arranged for NAE to present the biennial $450,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize on February 24. National Engineers Week aims to increase awareness and appreciation of the engineering profession. Since its inception in 1951, the week has been expanding its breadth of activities from the marbled halls of NAE to kindergarten classes. Phillips Petroleum, for example, is developing a kit to support K-12 classroom visits by volunteer engineers. The kit offers activity ideas, a video, and hands-on props. Much of the kit focuses on the popular Slinkyฎ toy. The Slinky will demonstrate many factors engineers must take into account, including potential and kinetic energy, longitudinal waves, gravity, and inertia.