Engineering News (November 2017)

HS2 announces manufacturers

HS2 Limited have announced the five manufacturers that will build the new 225mph trains that will form the workhorses of the line.  As reported in the Bulletin’s Business News (July 2017), the eagerly awaited ‘High Speed Train network’, HS2, will travel initially between London and the Midlands then, as the phases progress, it will expand to include routes to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, York, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The HS2 network will cut down journey times to and from London and connect the North to the South in a more accessible way. The introduction of the network will generate thousands of new jobs through its creation and maintenance of the network and trains. It will also increase employment in the areas surrounding the network lines, stations and at the proposed train depot and control centre at Washwood Heath, near Birmingham.

So, we know about the route and the network, but what about the trains themselves? Who will build and maintain the 225mph high speed trains carrying potentially up to 300,000 passengers a day? We are a step closer to answering this question with the announcement, by HS2 Ltd of the 5 bidding companies that will be invited to tender next year, with many of them already having an engineering presence and facilities within the UK. The companies that have successfully bid for this stage are Alstom, Siemens, Bombardier Transportation, Hitachi Rail Europe and the Spanish engineering company Patentes Talgo S.L.U.

The first of these companies, the French firm Alstom, already have a strong pedigree in high speed train manufacture illustrated by their current production of 4 different models of high speed trains, and train modernisation and manufacturing facilities located in Widnes. Interestingly, Alstom are currently in the stages of a merger with Siemens due to complete in 2018, once approved by the regulators. This merger would bring together the digital technologies of Siemens with the experience of high speed train manufacture of Alstom in a ‘super company’ to rival competition from large far Eastern companies. The German company Siemens submitted a bid for the contract separately and were also shortlisted to tender.

Trains are currently being produced for Crossrail in Derby by the third named bidders – Bombardier Transportation. As well as having an existing presence in the UK rail industry, this Canadian based company have expertise in aerodynamics that they can utilise in high speed train design.

The fourth bidders are Hitachi Rail Europe who have an assembly plant in County Durham and currently manufacture high speed trains for use on many European networks. The final bidders were the Spanish company Patentes Talgo S.L.U. who, although they currently have no facilities in the UK, are reportedly keen to enter the UK Rail network industry and are currently looking for locations for their high speed train manufacturing facilities close to Leeds or Liverpool.

The short-listed bidding manufacturers will now be invited to tender for the available contracts in 2018 and the contracts themselves awarded in 2019. It is expected that the first trains will roll off of the production line in the early 2020’s and start operating in 2026.

Dyson to clean up in car industry

There has been an announcement of a new player in the electric car market, and as with their existing products, it promises to turn around the way that we look at the electric car and its uses. James Dyson has unveiled plans to have an electric car available to buy in 2020 and although he has warned it will be expensive, this high level technology driven (excuse the pun!) product will solve some of the existing problems with other electric cars, such as range and battery life.

Dyson revealed that research and development into the new car has actually been carried out since 2015 in a project worth £2.5 billion and involving 400 engineers. There is no overall prototype available as yet, but the engine is ready and research and development is moving forward on two new possible designs of batteries that are solid state batteries, rather than the traditional lithium ion batteries used currently in electric cars. Dyson is planning to move its R and D for the electric car to a fully dedicated new facility in Hullavington near its HQ in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

There has been a surge in demand for electric cars over the last 4 years with over 120,000 new registrations already this year. It is likely to remain a burgeoning market as the consumer seeks to lower pollution levels and increase efficiency as well as save money by using government incentives on car tax. The advantages of the electric cars are limited by range and the current availability of charging points.

The range of most electric cars is around 100 miles or less on a full charge, although the Tesla’s report a longer range. Dyson’s electric car promises a long range and efficient batteries although the details are as yet unannounced. The annual production total, cost and top speed are also secret at this stage although Dyson has warned the car will be expensive.

Once released the car will be at the higher end of the market, and is likely to be alongside the level of the Tesla electric cars. What we do know is that it will not be a sports car and will not contain any robotics or artificial intelligence other than any already seen on the market.

Up, up and away

It is predicted that the launch of around 3,000 satellites (worth $5.3 billion) will be needed before the year 2022 to keep up with global technological advances. As the requirements for the number of satellites in orbit increases, engineers continue to study the methods in which to launch and put these crafts in orbit in the most economical ways.

The ARCA Space Corporation in conjunction with NASA amongst others, is due to start ground tests of its new engine which uses linear aerospike technology. If successful, the engine will be placed into the 53ft long ARCA’s Demonstrator 3 Rocket which is ultimately destined to provide the power to enable the first ever SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit) satellite launcher known as the Haas 2CA SSTO rocket to go into orbit. After the initial field tests, this high efficiency engine, which uses the propellant hydrogen peroxide 70%, will be placed into the Demonstrator 3 Rocket, and tested on a space flight at an altitude of 120km, flying over the New Mexico desert.

The efficiency of the linear aerospike engine is achieved by the auto-expansion of the ‘burn area’ from the nozzle area as the altitude increases (‘altitude compensation’) and the ejection of the propellant from outside the engine ‘nozzle’ coupled with recirculated fuel in the nozzle itself which provides the most thrust to power the rocket. ARCA’s website also describes the composite materials used to build the engines which keep the construction costs and the weight of the engine as low as possible and enables the use of the low energy propellant to help the craft achieve orbit.

The ‘traditional’ two stage rockets have enough fuel to power a craft, however, as the altitude increases the lack of air pressure, low air resistance and the relatively small, unidirectional exhaust means there is loss of thrust and the engine becomes less efficient. The linear aerospike engine uses the drop in air pressure at higher altitudes to its advantage and the burning propellant will spread (increased ‘burn area’) and provide extra pressure on the external surface of the linear tapered nozzle to provide increased power and thrust. The savings on fuel at low altitudes are reported to be up to 30% compared to traditional engines.

The rocket has been developed to propel a 100kg payload to a low orbit level and the first flight of the Haas rocket is planned for 2018 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at a cost of $1million (per launch).

China digs deep for islands

Dredging the sea beds to dig up sand for land reclamation is carried out in many areas of the world including the US, the UK and Abu Dubai. But currently, the most contentious use of this technique is in the South China Sea. China has been carrying out this practice for many years and recently they unveiled a gargantuan dredging ship. The 140 metre long ship has been named ‘Tian Kun Hao’, after a character in a Chinese legend that is an enormous fish which can turn into a bird, but state-owned Chinese media have nicknamed the ship the “Magic Island Maker”. Due to these facts, there is speculation that although the ship could have many uses, its main purpose is the reclamation of land in the South China Sea. Once in operation, it will be the most powerful dredging ship in Asia with the capacity to dig 6,000 cubic metres of sand an hour.

Dredging ships dig large volumes of sand, mud and even coral from the sea bed and place it on a ‘foundation point’ such as a suitable rock formation or an existing small island, to form large islands. These islands are substantial enough to be able to support military facilities and functional airstrips. Chinese claims over the South China Sea and the reclamation of land in the sea itself is an issue of huge concern amongst China’s neighbours. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan and the Philippines also lay claim to areas of the sea and dispute China’s definition of its territory that is based on an historic map formerly criticised for being ambiguous. The rock beneath the South China Sea is thought to contains many oil and natural gas resources and there is also the issue of its 5 trillion dollar a year shipping route. Coupled with the fact that the sea is also strategically placed for military purposes, it is clear to see why the launching of the ship is causing unease.

As well as the all-encompassing Chinese claims over the sea itself, which were rejected by an international tribunal in 2017, there are also claims on the existing archipelagos within the China seas. The Spratlys archipelago is an important strategic territory placed amongst rich fishing waters, and the small islands are currently claimed by Vietnam, China, Malaysia and the Philippines. Taiwan runs the largest Island in the formation known as Taiping Island. China stated that it had finished its reclamation of land in this area however there are reports that they continue to dredge and reclaim in the northern part of the waters in this region.

The tensions over ownership run high and Taiwan has asked Google to partially obscure the images of areas of Taiping, however, the reasons for this request and the island’s possible extant structures are being treated as classified information. It is believed that the island currently has a solar powered lighthouse, a pier and an airstrip to bolster the Taiwan’s defences.

Chinese media reported that the testing of the ship is currently underway and it is likely to be completed in June 2018.

Move over Buck Rogers

Hypersonic flights delivering customers from London to New York in approximately 2 hours would have been the subject of science fiction in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As time progresses, and Concorde came (and went), we are getting closer to travelling at over 5 times the speed of sound to make journey times decrease beyond our 1970’s wildest dreams.

The possibility of hypersonic flights is getting closer but we still have a way to go with some predicting that it could be happening in the 2030’s. The speeds of the aircraft, the suitability of fuel and the possible construction material of the shell for travelling at such high speeds are all limiting hurdles which are keeping researchers busy. One set of particular researchers have found a possible solution to one of these problems – the material used for the nose cone and shell of the aircraft.

Researchers at the University of Manchester have developed a composite material that is able to cope with the 3000ᵒC temperatures generated on the surface of an aircraft travelling at Mach 5 or over. The material is made up of two main components, an ultra-high temperature ceramic (UHTC) and a carbon-carbon composite. The carbon-carbon composites can survive high temperatures due to their high melting point but they are broken down by the oxidation processes that occur during hypersonic speeds. UHTC’s are hard but brittle, and would not withstand the forces involved in hypersonic flight.
To combine the useful properties of the two materials in order to solve the problems that are raised by their isolated use, the researchers looked for ways to combine the two materials….and they found it. The carbon-carbon composite is porous and by using liquid metals Zirconium and Titanium in the UHTC rather than the traditional powder and mould method, they were able to fully integrate the ceramic into the carbon-carbon composite producing a ‘super-material’ that can survive the extreme heat of hypersonic flight and ensure the shell remains intact.

There are other exciting advantages and applications of the results of this research that are potentially useful. Firstly, the traditional UHTC production using compounds of powdered transition metals (such as zirconium and titanium) and moulds must be used in a way that is not too complex in geometry, or the UHTC becomes too brittle. However, using the ‘liquid metal’ method means the UHTC can be as complex in structure as needed and fully appropriate to the application. The lack of a mould in the process also means there are lower production costs.

The results of the research not only aid the innovations involved in hypersonic flight but also have the potential of being used in space travel for rockets and re-entry spacecraft as well as in energy generation (gas turbines and nuclear energy) and the defence industry.

Engineering News – October 2017

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