Engineering News (April 2018)

Propping up the wind turbine industry

17th March, 2018 was an important day for renewable energy resources in the UK. It was on this day that the National Grid reported that more than a third of the energy generation for domestic use in the UK was generated by wind power, a record amount to date. As the UK seeks to lower pollution and raise the use of renewable resources this is very positive news.

How can the amount of wind power generated be increased further? The use of inshore and offshore wind farms is difficult when land fit for this particular purpose in the UK is sparse and large areas are needed for new housing, as well as the issue of actually being in an area with enough wind. There is also the noise factor and an element of ‘Nimbyism’ around the construction of wind turbines too, whether on or offshore; wind turbines are not particularly pretty either.

New turbines (mostly offshore) could be made bigger to capture a larger volume of wind-power. A prototype in 2016 was kitted out with blades 88.4m long, longer than two Olympic sized swimming pools. The Dutch company who produced this prototype, LM Wind Power (which is owned by General Electric), has another project on the cards; a wind turbine with blades a staggering 107m long (with which they aim to produce 12MW of electricity). This surpasses the Siemens Current Turbines projects producing 10MW or thereabouts.

As well as larger blades capturing more passing wind energy, the larger scope of the blade turning circumference also means that the blades reach a higher altitude where wind is more consistent. One of the main concerns in engineering terms, is whether the blades are able to withstand the forces of the buffeting wind. The glass and carbon fibre blades are tested rigorously in wind tunnels, stretched and bent along with other tests to check for fatigue in the materials. LM Wind Power hope to have the larger wind turbines fully developed in 2020.

How to buy, improve and sell an engineering giant

Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has sought assurances from Melrose ahead of the shareholder’s vote on the company’s takeover of GKN. Melrose, a British based investment company based in London, has a logo which incorporates the motto ‘Buy, Improve, Sell’. However, some have been concerned that they would take over GKN without meeting their obligations with regards to pensions and the UK workforce.

As a result of these concerns, Clark has asked for commitments from Melrose to maintain GKN as a UK business, keeping its share listing and GKN’s HQ in the UK, maintaining the UK workforce and continue to respect its existing employment terms. He has also raised concerns that GKN needs to remain within certain research and development projects such as the ‘Wing of the Future’ project and ‘eDrive’.

Clark has also asked for assurances that GKN continue to invest in on-going workforce training and maintain apprenticeships, as well as guarantee prompt payment to its suppliers, and ultimately that it makes satisfactory arrangements for current and future pension provisions for its workforce.

Melrose chairman Christopher Miller replied that Melrose had already put forward a number of legally binding commitments in their offer for the takeover of GKN, concerning these issues, as well as a commitment to a minimum period of ownership. GKN has already seen improvements due to Melrose investments in the company, such as a new £30 million factory in Newcastle, and investment in the remaining 10 centres around the country including £6 million in Doncaster.

GKN is a solid manufacturing and engineering company which produces parts for the Airbus 350 aircraft. However, they are also a listed company, leading some to question whether the government should have been involved at all.

How to cure those draining blues

Next time you are stuck in a traffic queue due to the repair of the water network, you may be reassured by the fact that the ‘risk assessment’ engineers of the water company responsible for the repairs have been through a careful process looking at not just the cost of repairs, the longevity, and the environmental impact but also the impact on the day to day lives of the community. The work is completed in such a way to ensure that the down time of the particular work area is as short as possible, using technology and engineering to ensure this happens.

One such situation is when manhole chambers (often under heavy traffic areas) suffer from something called ‘Biogenic Sulphuric Acid Corrosion’. Manhole chambers and associated covers need to be repaired quickly to stop further damage, in order to limit water supply interruption or the collapse of road parts. The often humid or wet manhole chambers need to be repaired using a quick curing material that will ensure the repair lasts. Master Builders Solutions – a brand of BASF – have developed a protection and waterproofing system to do just this called Masterseal 7000 CR.

The chemical system is used regularly by water companies such as Anglian Water to keep its 113,000km water and waste network running smoothly for its 6 million customers. The innovative system involves the onsite mixing of two components, which are then either spayed or rollered on to the chamber walls. Once applied these chemicals cure quickly, the end product having enough elasticity to fill any gaps effectively as well as being highly resistant to even extreme chemical attacks.

Another benefit of this protection system is that it cures even at very low temperatures, which has been a useful feature in the recent cold UK weather.

Rolls Royce start work on Derby testbed facility

Rolls Royce has announced that it has started work on its new testbed facility in Derby, boosting employment opportunities in the area. The testbed will be larger than 7,500m² and will have two 1.7m thick concrete walls surrounding it, and will be designed for use as a well-resourced testbed for the civil aerospace engines the Trent XWB, the Trent 1000, and the new generation UltraFan®. It will also have an x-ray capability.

The construction of the testbed also ensures 7,000 East Midlands based jobs in Rolls Royce are safe as well as ensuring that their capacity to complete an increasingly large order book is fulfilled. It is part of Rolls Royce’s long term £150 million investment in the UK civil aerospace industry.

Nanoparticles improve catalytic conversion processes

The quest for clean energy and the ability to store it is a vital one, and one possible answer has been developed in the United States. A new catalyst has been formulated by researchers at the Northwestern University that can aid the clean energy conversion process and its storage for later use. There is also the potential at a later date to further develop the catalyst to increase the efficiency of processing petroleum products. The traditional catalyst used in fuel cells is platinum but the price of platinum is high and it is relatively rare.

The new approach uses a technique called Scanning Probe Block Copolymer Lithography to produce a catalyst of nanoparticles, thus creating a larger particle surface area for catalysis, containing platinum, copper and gold. Researchers found that this approach was seven times more effective than the traditional approach.

The catalytic nanoparticle surface was created using two techniques in order to be able to manipulate the size and properties of the nanoparticles. The Scanning Block Copolymer Lithography was used to control the size of the nanoparticles on the supporting surface and the second technique, Density Functional Theory was used to ‘code’ the particles in terms of their electronic, structural and magnetic properties.

One of the problems with finding catalysts is that most reactions (needing a catalyst) have different chemical catalysts that are often very specific, rare or expensive (or all three). This approach of the very carefully controlled printing of nanoparticle catalysts, opens the doors to a higher efficiency of catalytic reactions, lower costs and the potential to create more valuable products from very simple ones through the use of different elements in a nanoparticle nature.


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Engineering News – March 2018

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