Engineering News (July 2018)

A new window on household electricity supplies

Building trends that that are environmentally friendly have been boosted through the popularity of specially coated windows which are able to keep the heat in and the cold out. This technology has in turn inspired scientists and engineers to create thin, translucent solar cells that can turn windows into small electricity generators.

Chinese researchers have since combined these two systems into one and produced a window that has the facility not just to be energy efficient but to provide a house with enough energy on a daily basis. Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Hin-Lap Yip based at the South China University of Technology explained about manufacturing these organic photovoltaics into semi-transparent, lightweight films, which are more suitable for this purpose than using silicon photovoltaics due to their appearance and weight.

The prototype produced needed to have the ability to perform three ways. It had to be able to harvest light, as well as block light for insulation purposes and still allow for the transmission of that light through it as you would find in a normal window. By mixing and matching materials and chemical composites, they were able to put together a device that allowed small amounts of sunlight through, and allowing infrared light to rebound then convert the mixture of these two forms of light into an electric current as a result of the photovoltaic effect.

By installing windows with dual electricity-generating and heat insulating systems, it is believed that it could reduce household’s external electricity supplies by as much as 50%. These figures are based on every square inch of every window being panelled with these solar cells. It is still early days for the development of these multifunctional materials, but the foundations of these beneficial technologies have been created.

“Making heat-insulating multifunctional semi-transparent polymer solar cells is just the beginning of exploring new applications of organic photovoltaics,” Yip says. “A version tailored for self-powered greenhouses is only one of many impactful products that we want to develop for the future.”

The house that Jack printed

A 3D house has been designed, printed and completed, and a family have already moved into their new 4-bedroom residence in Nantes, France. The 4-bedroom property is a prototype for larger projects with a view of the housebuilding industry to create more affordable housing with faster completion dates.

The design of the house includes curved walls, reducing the effects of humidity and includes digital controls for householders with mobility impairments. The lucky occupants have been named Nordine and Nouria Ramdani, along with their three children. The chosen location was in a deprived area of the north of the town. The family were living in a block of council flats that were built in the 1960s – moving into a brand new revolutionary house and being the guinea pigs to this project has been a joyous moment for all.

Nordine said “It’s a big honour to be a part of this project,”, she continued “It’s really something amazing to be able to live in a place where there is a garden, and to have a detached house.” The property took 54 hours to print, with an additional 4 months to complete the windows, doors and roof at a cost of £176,000. The build has made a saving of 20% compared to traditional construction methods and similar houses in Nantes.

The 95m (1022ft) square abode has been developed jointly with the city council, housing association and the University of Nantes who have worked together closely throughout the project. The councils lead on Technology and Innovation, Francky Trichet explained that the reason the project went ahead was to see if 3D constructions could be produced and then used for mainstream housing. The same principles could also be used for other buildings like community centres and sports halls.

He said “For 2,000 years there hasn’t been a change in the paradigm of the construction process. We wanted to sweep this whole construction process away,” he continued “That’s why I’m saying that we’re at the start of a story. We’ve just written, ‘Once upon a time’.” Trichet believes that following the completion of this project will no doubt force private companies to “take the pen” and continue the story with further plots and chapters.

Benoit Furet, from the University of Nantes was the mastermind behind the project and since his recent success, he wants to see whole suburban neighbourhoods built using the same techniques and principals.

He believes that by having the facility to print the houses in 3D, it will allow architects to be more creative with their designs and shapes, as well as keeping down building material wastage.  Furet wants to see modern architecture combined with social housing. He described his childhood as being raised in a working-class environment, within a small house identical to the others in the street; he wants to see changes made to these styles of houses with each having their own individual characters and more modern surroundings.

Furet’s current project involves the printing of 18 houses in the North of Paris as well as working on a commercial building that will measure 700 meters square.  He firmly believes that within 5 years the cost of constructing houses and other buildings could be cut by 25%, and as much as  40% in 10-15 years due to the changes in technology and the economy.

Goonhilly releases details of future plans

Nestled in the beautiful Cornwall countryside lies the Goonhilly Earth Station with its majestic (a contentious term maybe?) satellite dishes. This 164-acre site was formerly owned by British Telecom until its purchase by the company ‘Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd.’ in 2014.

Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd’s approach has been described by the company’s CEO and Co-founder, Ian Jones, as having a disruptive, entrepreneurial approach to business. This coupled with another description that the company has the agility of a start-up with many innovative firsts in Space engineering and technology in its portfolio means that for many ‘satellite’ (sorry!) companies, Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd is a preferred business and technology partner. The company’s links with universities and research projects are also numerous and the company hopes to grow these even further in light of recent events.

So what are the recent events for the company and what do they mean for the company and the field of space communications and satellites?

Goonhilly Earth Station has recently had a large private funding injection of £24million as well as securing an £8.4million tender from the European Space Agency (ESA). With private investments and the solid growth performance of the company, Goonhilly Earth Station has revealed expansion plans and new developments to help further support its solid reputation as a partner in the satellite and deep space communication industry. These plans include: new deep space antennae and the development of the first ever deep space communication network capable of supporting exploration missions to Mars; investing in infrastructure and facilities in the US and Australia; a new research, development and manufacturing facility for the development of a range of satellite communication products and the construction of a groundbreaking green data centre.

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Largest battery storage facility in the UK goes live

British Radar Renewables EPC (BSR EPC) have completed the construction of the largest battery energy storage project in the UK for SMA Sunbelt Energy, a subsidiary of SMA Solar Technology. The 49.9mw Pelham project located near Bishops Stortford was completed within 6 months. The project was initially established by Statera Energy, a British engineering firm; however after re-financing, the project finally reached completion.

The facility is approximately 4500 m2 and has the capacity to house batteries and other apparatus within a custom built building. The design of the facility is means that its carbon footprint is reduced by up to 50% compared to other sites of this kind. The site has been connected to a 400kv substation located nearby via a 132kV grid connection, home to 27 inverters, 12 km of cable and 150,000 lithium-ion battery cells.

Head of Engineering, Tim Humpage, as well as BSR’s Procurement and Construction division believes that energy storage facilities are essential in the future of low carbon environments. “Renewables are meeting more and more of our energy needs, and projects like this have the power to turbo-charge this trend, as batteries have the ability to balance supply and demand.”

Sellafield pond to be cleaned up

The Sellafield reprocessing plant, close to the village of Seascale on the coast of the Irish Sea in Cumbria has announced a “major breakthrough” in the clearing and cleaning up of nuclear waste storage. In excess of 1,200 nuclear fuel skips were used to store fuel for atomic weapons. These went on to be stored at the bottom of the ‘First Generation Magnox Storage Pond’, making this area one of Europe’s hazardous facilities.

Local company Barrnon, based in Appleby has manufactured shielded containers to safely store the large metal boxes on site. Currently, 100 containers have been removed from the 66 year old pond. The pond is one site that has been nominated for clearance under the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority clean-up plan.

Dorothy Gradden, the Head of Legacy Ponds at Sellafield has described the removal as a “game changer”, being a significant step in the removal of nuclear debris out of the pond. Head of Operations, Steve Wordsworth said that the future of the containers were never thought about after they had been placed into the pond.  Now that the removal effort has started, Sellafield are able to access the pond and proceed with the elimination of sludge and fuel that remains on the pond floor.

Mackintosh building to be rebuilt

Historical significance is always a major driver in the conservation of historic buildings and this is certainly true of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building that is part of the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. The second devastating fire in June 2018 followed a major fire in 2014, and has left architects divided over what to do with the building.

The first fact that is acknowledged by all is that the structure must first be made safe and a careful manual dismantling process has begun to allow the masonry and brickwork to be removed carefully ensuring its reuse if possible and to minimise any damage to nearby properties (some of which sustained damage themselves). Once the safety of the building is guaranteed, then the arduous process of a ‘forensic’ level sifting of the remains can begin to save any parts of the building that can be easily repaired and reused or repurposed elsewhere in the building.

Luckily, if one is looking for a silver lining, is that due to the 2014 fire and the fact that there was a restoration project already occurring on the building, many of the original fixtures and fittings of the original building were in storage or being repaired in remote workshops. This, as well as the extensive digital modelling of the building and laser surveys prior to this fire, will help make the rebuilding of the Mackintosh much easier.

It has been announced that the 110-year old building is to be rebuilt by the School of Arts director Tom Inns. The approach of dealing with fire-damaged historic buildings is often best viewed on a spectrum from complete preservationism of a site, through keeping just the facade, and partial demolition and building new. To a certain extent, the approach along this spectrum is determined by historical significance and the money available for the works.

Many state that the Mackintosh building is too important and has a plentiful supply of original materials and information to work with so it should be rebuilt. Others believe it should not be a museum piece but a fully functioning building that is for student and artist use at whatever cost to the original layout and materials. The facade of many parts of the building may be able to be repaired or preserved but after the intense heat then the rapid cooling of the brickwork during the fire and the fire-fighting process, some argue that the facade itself now has a shorter life-cycle.

Psychologically speaking, rebuilding the Mackintosh building will ensure it continues to provide an important sense of place to this area of Glasgow, honouring an important man in the city’s history.

Boeing enters into new joint venture

Boeing and the Brazilian manufacturer of civil and military aircraft, Embraer, have begun the process to enter into a joint venture in which Boeing pays around $3.8bn for an 80% stake in Embraer. The remaining 20% will stay with the original company. The deal is on course to be completed by the end of next year and will see Boeing take over operations and management of the ‘new’ aerospace company partly based in Brazil. The new company will provide the whole cycle of aircraft manufacture from ‘end-to-end’ design, manufacturing and continuing service support to commercial passenger aircraft.

The creation of this new company will provide a strong strategic partnership and boost the Brazilian Aerospace industry.


The next bus will be here in…

It’s typical.  You get no autonomous bus concepts for ages, then several turn up at once. Baidu, one of China’s largest technology companies have announced that they have commenced mass production of a steering wheel-less self-driving bus. The announcement was made following the completion of their 100th Apolong vehicle at its factory based in the Fujian province.

These mass produced vehicles will be initially used within the commercial industries based within the cities of China. The company are also setting their sights on overseas markets. Robin Li, the Chief Executive of Baidu, announced their plans in detail at the Annual Artificial Intelligence Developer Conference in Beijing.

The Apolong is approximately one third the size of a normal road-bearing bus, fitted with a high level automated driving system that can handle most road conditions. The vehicle is not fitted with a driving seat, steering wheel or pedals, and has the capacity to seat up to 14 passengers. The vehicle is electric and is able to reach speeds of up to 62 mph after a short 2 hour charge.

The vehicle meets the classification set by the Transport Engineering Body, SAE International, and has been classified as a Level 4 Autonomy bus. The maximum level is 5, which extends its specifications to driving in all scenarios, including rare weather conditions and dirt tracks.

2018 looks set to be a pioneering year that will see commercialisation for autonomous driving according to Li. He sees China as having a bright future within the AI technology industry, with a vision of China exporting these new technologies across the globe.

The SoftBank Group, a Japanese multinational holding conglomerate plans to run the Apolong buses on the public roads in Tokyo, whilst Baidu currently foresees the vehicle being used for ‘last-mile’ drop-offs within airports and tourist sites.
SoftBank anticipate that it will commence demonstrations with 10 Apolongs in early 2019.

Recently, self-drive subsidiary SB Drive previously purchased several self-drive buses from its rivals, Navya based in France. These vehicles were classed as Level 3 Autonomy, which requires that the vehicle should have the facility to enable human interaction if required. The bus was tested at Haenda Airport in Tokyo early this year. The vehicles manufactured by Navya were also involved in trials at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, the streets of Las Vegas and Queen Elizabeth Olympia Park in London.

Professor Natasha Merat, from University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies said of these vehicles, “Any vehicle that can be deployed in a well-organised and controlled environment and that can be controlled and regulated by authorities… is more likely to be the starter for this sort of technology, than ones which will be provided to [a single] member of the general public, who would not necessarily be closely monitored.”

French based Easymile, Australia’s Intellibus and South Korea’s KT have also been recently named as companies that have developed and designed their own autonomous buses.

Engineering salary survey results published

If you train to be an engineer, whether via the degree route or through an apprenticeship, the average graduate/junior engineer salary was found to be £30,557. In 2018, this rises to an average of £47,972 for senior engineers/ managers and £72,072 for directors upwards.

Which is the most lucrative sector to work in? In 2018, it is the Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals and Medical Engineering field with an average yearly salary of £36,838. This is in comparison with the telecoms, electronics and utilities sector graduates/junior engineers who earned on average £25,958.

The survey also found that the proportion of engineers who trained via degree/apprenticeship route also varied within the different sectors with the Aerospace sector having the largest percentage of apprenticeship trained engineers at 46.1%. The Energy/Renewable/Nuclear sector, in 2018, has the highest number of engineers trained via the degree pathways at 57.8%.

The full survey results can be found here.

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Engineering News – June 2018

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