Archive for September 24th, 2012


juice from water

Post from Harry Hutchinson:

Harry Hutchinson

I’ve never been to Nepal, but judging from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the bars could be pretty exciting there. So it could be an interesting trip.

If I’m lucky enough, I might get to visit the factory where they’re going to build the hydropower turbines.

Nepal has its eye on developing what it sees as a vast potential for hydroelectric power. It is a mountainous country full of rivers. The Independent Power Producers’ Association, Nepal, estimates that the country has the potential for 40,000 MW of hydropower. Right now, it has developed about 600 MW.

Hydroelectricity represents about 1 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, and just about all of its electricity.

I came across all this because the Global Window department in the October issue of Mechanical Engineering includes a story about a new venture that is going to set up that turbine factory. A Nepali power company, Glow Tech Solutions, ordered some turbines designed to work in river and tidal currents from a Dutch manufacturer, Tocardo B.V International. Now they are in a partnership to make turbines in Nepal.

But later on, just a few days ago, I read about something closer to home. Another manufacturer, Verdant Power, is testing hydroturbines in the East River, near New York City’s Roosevelt Island. I knew that this kind of turbine, designed to be rotated by natural currents, has been in the river for a while. But it seems they have a history of breaking down in the river’s current.

According to a story in the last week’s New York Times, the company has tested a turbine for 10 days, and has retrieved it unscathed.

According to the newspaper, “After 10 days in the river, the blades gleamed in the September sunlight, showing no obvious signs of wear or damage. The turbine’s pristine appearance brought smiles to the faces of Mr. Corren [Dean Corren, Verdant’s director of technology] and his colleagues. Dean Whatmoor, a logistics manager, who had been monitoring the test from a converted cargo container filled with computer screens and gauges, admitted that he was a little sad to see the test end.

“In about five years, the company hopes to have 30 turbines arrayed in the river, each capable of producing 35 kilowatts of electricity. All told, the project would produce about as much power as one wind turbine, enough to power a few hundred homes.”

That comes to a little more than a megawatt, modest for a power plant in the U.S., and certainly a tiny fraction of what the region uses. But there are places in the world where a contribution like that could make a big difference for a great many people—places like Nepal, for instance.

I’m glad to see they’re working on it.


Still steamed

Post from Harry Hutchinson:

Harry Hutchinson

When I was in Ontario in May I did some of my favorite things: I tried some interesting local brews, of course, and also got to talk to people with a different view of the world. As it turns out, it was an interesting time to go because this year is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

The U.S. and Canada are good friends now, but there are lots of historical markers and artifacts across the border that reminded me that we weren’t always so. Many Canadians, including a retired judge in Brockville, Ontario, are conversant about the occasions when my ancestors tried to invade their northern neighbor.

More recently, I was reminded of another anniversary. It has been 300 years since Thomas Newcomen gave the first public demonstration of his atmospheric steam engine. I have spoken to engineers who consider that demonstration in 1712 to be the first shot in the Industrial Revolution. Watt came later and improved steam technology, yes, but Newcomen was the first guy to put heat to work—pumping water from mines.

It was a letter to the editor from an ASME member, Stan Jakuba, that brought this to my attention. Stan’s letter appears in the October issue of Mechanical Engineering.

Bob Woods, an ASME Fellow, wrote an article about Newcomen, his engine, and its legacy that ran in the December 2003 issue.

When I was a kid in school, history books would talk about “the Age of Steam,” a phrase that conveyed a sense that steam power was not unlike the War of 1812: off in the past.

After all, vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines—airplanes too, when they aren’t propelled by turbines. They stopped making steam locomotives early in the 1940s. Diesel moves the ships.

But even so, steam is very much with us in our electrified world. Steam carries heat through the pipes of my home, and I believe, of my office building. But most important, steam still keeps most of the lights on and the devices running.

Coal is the fuel that generates 40 percent or more of the electricity consumed in the United States each year. Nuclear reactors account for another 20 percent. In either case, reaction of the fuel heats water to produce steam. Combined cycle plants capture the hot exhaust of gas turbines to generate steam to produce more electricity.

And of course, I don’t think of steam without a nod to the thousands of people over the years who have developed the codes and standards that make the technology affordable and safe.

Electricity is one of the most important commodities supporting our civilization. And most of it comes from steam-driven technology.

Thank you, Newcomen.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

September 2012

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