Hydrogen would be a nearly perfect fuel if it didn’t take more energy to extract it than you can get out of it.  Scientists have been working for years to isolate it in an economical fashion.  The most common element in the universe, hydrogen makes up 10 percent of the weight of living things here on earth – mainly in water, proteins and fats.  Its bonds in water make it pervasive, but still distant.  Obtaining it can be as simple as the video below. But the short bursts derived from this approach will exhaust the battery and not provide as much energy in return.

Waste Not, Want Not

Ironically, much of the earth’s other resources, more easily gained, are wasted in our society’s rush to consume.  Recent reports show that up to a third of the food produced today goes to waste.  Huge quantities of biomass could seemingly be put to good use rather than adding to the methane that threatens to speed up global warming.  The University of Cambridge points out, “As natural resources decline in abundance, using waste for energy is becoming more pressing for both governments and business.”

Scientists there have shown that sunlight at ambient temperatures can produce hydrogen gas from just about any biomass source as long as it’s loaded with lignocellulose, a major component of plants and trees.  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, explains the difficulty in working with it.

“Lignocellulose is nature’s equivalent to armored concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibers that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilization of lignocellulose so challenging.”

We usually obtain energy from such products by burning them, but the need to get clean hydrogen fuel from such sources usually involves high temperatures and pre-processing to break down the materials’ rigid walls.  Cambridge researchers found ways around that.

An Ideal Solution?

In their “simple photocatalytic conversion process,” they add catalytic nanoparticles to a container of alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended.  Researchers then place the container in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light.  They report, “The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.”

A leaf in water exposed to sunlight gives off hydrogen.  How much?

Absorbing solar light, the nanoparticle absorbs energy and uses it “to undertake complex chemical reactions,” rearranging the atoms in the water and biomass to form hydrogen fuel and other organic chemicals, such as formic acid and carbonate.

Dr David Wakerley, also of the Department of Chemistry, says: “There’s a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it’s unrefined, so you can’t expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine. Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful. We have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel.”

The head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Erwin Reisner, adds: “Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions. We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production.

Future development can be envisioned at any scale, from small scale devices for off-grid applications to industrial-scale plants, and we are currently exploring a range of potential commercial options.”

Although only test tube-sized now, the potential applications could be a future source of clean energy.  We’ll have to see whether larger size systems provide usable hydrogen in as economic a fashion as the researchers predict.


Equator P2 Assembled, Ready to Go

Exciting new pictures from Tomas Brodreskift show that his nearly decade-long project has reached a happy completion.  The Equator P2, born in the mind of a talented industrial designer, seemed like a nice dream when your editor first saw it in renderings.  As one would expect from an accomplished product designer, the aircraft looked wonderful, set in inspiring backgrounds.

Tomas with some of the friends and family who made Equator P2 possible. Photo: Monica Stromdahl

A Man, A Plan, An Airplane

As Tomas’ web site explains, “In 2008 the two Industrial Design students and pilots Tomas Broedreskift and Oeyvind Berven started work on the new EQP2 Xcursion, Equator’s first attempt on the light aircraft market. In this start–up phase the Equator team are working on making project assignments, design briefs, and specified diplomas that can be worked on by students. Therefore we encourage every student with relevant studies and an aerospace dream to join our efforts and in time become part of the new Equator Team that will ultimately bring amphibian flying to a new level. Objectively spoken, your fantasy truly is the only limit!”

Equator showing roomy cabin, large canopy. Photo: Monica Stromdahl

Students did join their efforts, contributing many of the over 12,000 person-hours in turning the renderings into reality.  A true home-built aircraft, the P2 evolved in a garage with minimal tooling and a great deal of work-around cleverness.  Volunteers contributed intellectually and practically, with aerodynamic surface design, mold building, computer simulation and work that led to many bachelors’ degrees and diplomas.   The following video, released three years ago, shows the garage in which this was at least initially executed, and gives a hint of the many talents applied to getting the details right.

For something started in a simple garage, Equator P2 is a complex and refined machine.  Its configuration combines amphibious functionality with aerodynamic rarefaction.  Ergonomically, it looks tempting with its ability to transport two to a distant lake in roomy comfort.  Its fly-by-wire controls and lack of rudder pedals simplify coordination and ease a pilot’s workload.

EHPS (Equator Hybrid Power System)

Recently tested, the power system features an Engiro DMM97 electric drive system with a Wankel Super Tec (WST) KKM 352 multi-Diesel fuel engine driving an Engiro DMG60 generator that produces 60 kilowatts.  This keeps the two kilowatt-hour Kokam battery pack charged that in turn drives the tail-mounted motor with its custom DUC propeller.  All of this is controlled by a single lever in the cockpit, a kind of hybrid FADEC.

Modularity, redundancy enhance P2 operation

Commitment to the Design

To see this futuristic airplane revealed in its mostly original form shows that Tomas’s initial ideas were good.  A fringe of cooling inlets around the trailing edge of the canopy indicates practical considerations addressed by the designers, but does little to spoil the pristine lines of the craft.  Considering the eight-year development time and the issue of being “locked in” to a design once one begins pulling parts from molds, we must admire the courage and commitment it takes to press ahead with such a project.

With the airplane assembled and the EHPS having been tested, we are impatient to see that this advanced airplane flies as well as it looks.  Good luck to Tomas, his family and friends who’ve made this possible.


CubeSats, Airplanes Made of Batteries?

Dr. Luke Roberson, Dr. Ryan Karkkainen, and Dr. Xiangyang Zhou are now collaborating on “Creating a structural battery material [that] could revolutionize the way NASA operates small payloads.”  Batteries now take up 20 to 35 percent of the volume in some CubeSats, 10 centimeters (3.97 inches) ×10 cm. × 11.35 cm (4.47 inches) cubes, as the name implies.  Each CubeSat can weight up to 1.33 kilograms (2.93 pounds).

Normally made of aluminum, CubeSats carry batteries for communication, storing energy collected from solar cells on their host vehicles, or powering sensors, cameras, and providing environmental norms for science experiments they carry.  Obviously, their small size dictates using every square centimeter wisely.  Replacing their inert walls with a structural battery could free up invaluable space that would allow “researchers to perform more science,” according to Roberson.

Graduate student Daniel Perez with potential wall for CubeSat. Photo: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Roberson is a senior principal investigator for Flight Research within the Exploration Research and Technology Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  He collaborates with Karkkainen, a composite material expert at the University of Miami, and Zhou, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, also at the university.  The three combined sets of expertise enabled them to develop a two-to-three millimeter thin battery

Daniel Perez, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering from the University of Miami visited Kennedy’s Prototype Lab to learn how to make the structural pieces for the battery prototype.  He layered several pieces of small carbon fiber squares in a vacuum bag, then attached a vacuum hose.  The vacuum draws air from the bag and squeezes the fibers together in a debulking process.  After about an hour, he uncovered the squares and then placed them in a 250-degree oven for curing.  Several such layers comprise the structure for the battery.  “Back in Miami, two other students are working with Dr. Zhou on a prototype of the solid-state structural battery layers that will be placed between the layers of compressed carbon fiber squares.”  The researchers will begin testing the composite reinforcement and mechanical properties at Kennedy “in the near future.”

Daniel Perez lays up carbon fiber for vacuum bagging. Photo: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Roberson foresees applications beyond CubeSats.  “This technology could be used on satellite structural trusses, the International Space Station, or to power habitat structures established on another planet,” said Roberson. “Commercial applications could include automobile frames or tabletop battery rechargers.”

Further, according to the report, “If this type of battery could be added to current homes or buildings or included in the walls during construction, they would be an added or alternate source of power. With the proper structure elements, the batteries can be made to be impact and moisture resistant, and flame retardant.”  Like Tesla’s PowerWall, this technology would help homeowners store their own solar- or wind-generated energy and avoid power fluctuations.

Daniel Perez concludes, “We have a great team working on this project, and I hope this technology will become a safe and efficient method to store energy while replacing electrically inert structural components in a wide variety of applications.  We’re all working hard for this technology to improve our spaceflight systems and contribute to the advancement of this industry.”

Quadrotor on which battery and structure are one and the same

Structural batteries have been pursued for several years. Researchers at NASA have characterized the various materials plausible for such applications.  London’s Imperial College has made strides in creating structural energy-storing car parts for Volvo.  NASA’s Kennedy efforts seem to have created the thinnest, lightest and most open to aeronautical use so far.


George Bye has been crafting and testing electric aircraft for the last decade and now has four craft of varying size demonstrating the reach of his vision.  Bill Moore interviewed George for EVWorld.com recently.  We’ll review the airplanes with which George is involved, starting small and working up to a spectacular cross-country cruiser.

Silent Falcon

Although the UAV company associated with the Silent Falcon is not part of Bye Aerospace, it had its origins there.  Now located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Silent Falcon operations are overseen by John Brown, former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Bye Energy.

Silent Falcon’s glider-like 14-foot wing, high efficiency airfoil, electric power and high-efficiency solar cells allow up to five-hour surveillance flights.  Its ability to carry a large contingent of cameras, sensors and mapping systems make it a good candidate for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) missions in civilian or military operations.

The airplane has scored a first civilian sale to Precision Vectors Aerial Inc. of Vancouver, BC, which has chosen the machine as their exclusive UAS for their BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) unmanned aerial services business in Canada and the United States. According to the Albuquerque firm, “Precision Vectors will use Silent Falcon exclusively in BVLOS UAS services focusing in the oil and gas, forestry, wildfire, mining and large scale precision agriculture sectors. Precision Vectors will also distribute Silent Falcon UAS Technologies products throughout Canada.”

Lorne Borgal, President of Precision Vectors Aerial Inc. explains that Silent Falcon fulfills Precision’s mission: “Five hours airborne, 100 KM range and the ability to map 6,000 acres in one flight, symbolize what makes this a unique platform.”

Although Silent Falcon has been used by NASA to demonstrate its Unpiloted Traffic Management (UTM) system, it is not certified in the U. S. to perform outside visual control yet.  It has performed pipeline inspections in New Mexico, and on a looser leash, in Canada performing a demonstration flight for an Alberta gas pipeline company last year.  Borgal reported, “The company had flown four other unmanned systems, but only the Silent Falcon was able to detect gas leaks.”


Like all of Bye’s solar-electric flyers, StratoAirNet mounts Solaero solar cells, highly-efficient thin-film cells with aerospace credentials.  UAS Magazine reports, “According to SolAero, its technology “achieves the highest commercially available performance level, offering a density exceeding 350 watts per square meter under standard conditions, increasing further under high-altitude, low-temperature conditions.”

Builders inspecting the SolarAirNet wing, placement of Solaero solar cells

Modifying a Windward Performance Duckhawk sailplane with an as yet unspecified motor and battery pack, StratoAirNet will fly an optionally piloted craft capable of medium altitude long endurance (MALE) performance.  Initially flying with a standard class sailplane wing (15 meters or 49.2 feet), the airplane might grow to 84-foot span.  The larger size of StratoAirNet over that of the Silent Falcon will enable extended ISR missions in both civilian and military modes.

Sun Flyer

Sun Flyer has own corporate identity, a far cry from George’s initial attempts at motorizing a Cessna 172 several years ago.  The current two-seat trainer benefits from better motors, controllers and batteries and is “very close,” to first flight tests in April or May.  George has been in negotiations with the FAA for the last few years and feels his trainer will be certified by the agency, a first for private electrical aviation.

The first prototype’s airframe was built in Tennessee and shipped to Denver where it has been fitted with its motor, batteries and instrumentation.  Motor instruments are unique because they monitor Amps and Volts rather than the normal fuel flow, temperature and pressures of a gasoline engine.

Sun Flyer may become first FAA certified electric trainer

Bill Moore asked about cabin heat, because an electric motor is 95-percent efficient and therefore throws off only five-percent waste heat.  Internal combustion engines can keep an airplane cabin toasty even at altitude because the best of them release 70-percent waste heat.  George noted that even that five percent is enough to maintain comfort, but that for very cold climates, the airplane will have an electric heater to supplement that.  He envisions modular electric heating and air-conditioning unit options.  One concern remains, though, the reduction in aircraft range from running electrical add-ons.  Perhaps the solar cells will offset that concern.

With orders for over 100 airplanes and ongoing cooperation with the FAA, George may indeed be the first to have a small fleet of electric training aircraft in the skies by 2018.

XTI Tri-Fan

Ambitious as these three projects are, they pale in comparison to the XTI-Tri-Fan, a five passenger (one pilot) hybrid vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) cruiser.  Because of its size and performance, the airplane uses an electric hybrid turboshaft combination, batteries not providing the necessary energy, despite their increasing performance.  XTI has 700 investors who’ve helped underwrite this though a crowd-funding program.

A two-thirds-scale prototype XTI will be powered by a Honeywell HTS900 turboshaft engine, driving a generator to power the electric ducted fans for vertical takeoffs and landings, and helping provide thrust for horizontal flight.  The third fan, mounted in the aft fuselage, does not pivot, but has sliding doors, top and bottom, to streamline it when the Tri-Fan is in forward flight.

Now going through the normal development phases of mockups and prototypes that lead to test aircraft, with Bye providing engineering capabilities and power system development, the airplane is about five to seven years from production.  Tri-Fan can conduct all missions that helicopters normally fulfill, and has the speed and range of light bizjets.  The pressurized machine can take passengers 500 miles in VTOL mode, over twice that in conventional flight mode, while cruising in the 300 mph range.

Looking beyond terrestrial ambitions, George sees possible flights on Mars, with specialized aircraft designed for the thin atmosphere making solar-powered, long-range surveillance flights.  Mars’ cold and thin “air” actually add to the efficiency of the solar cells, so even further removed from the sun than on earth, they could provide the necessary energy for extended flights.

George Bye has been exploring electric aircraft sustained by sunlight for over a decade.  His efforts are finally beginning to reflect a new reality and a dawning hope for future clean flight.

{ 1 comment }

A disposable drone that will make a one-way trip to a disaster area won’t add to the suffering if it dissolves within a few weeks of delivering its life-saving cargo.  That’s the promise of the “Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions” (APSARA), currently being developed by Otherlab, a San Francisco-based group specializing in next-generation creations.  Funded by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), APSARA is part of their ICARUS program (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems).  The acronyms are becoming overwhelming.

Disposable medical supplies are a commonplace in today’s clinics and hospitals.  A recent chat with a nurse elicited her concern that medical supplies were so readily disposable.  Latex or nitrile gloves, single-use syringes, and protective paper covers and wraps make up a considerable amount of medical waste each year.  The materials have the benefit of being inexpensive, though.  That’s part of the thinking behind APSARA.  Instead of a costly powered drone that would represent a significant loss if it crashed in a jungle or desert, APSARA will be made of cheap cardboard, shipped flat to a point of intended use, and readily folded into a flying wing that can carry up to two pounds of life-saving medicine or gear.  And instead of being incinerated like all those latex gloves, the drone will degrade into the landscape and even, possibly, fertilize the native plants.

Star Simpson, in a Digital Trends interview, explained the reasonable expectations for the technology she is helping develop.  “There are two use cases that make the most sense: delivering humanitarian payloads to remote areas lacking suitable road infrastructure, or in cases where it’s worth minimizing human exposure, transporting blood, vaccines, and other medical supplies.  Alternately, [these vehicles] may also enable the delivery of other equipment, such as batteries, to specific locations. We enable distributed delivery with precise landings, solving the ‘last leg’ problem for battlefield or low-infrastructure locations, and also reduce supply chain vulnerability in those cases.”

The cardboard will readily dissolve into the surrounding terrain, but what about the electronics that help guide the flying pizza box to its destination?  An earlier DARPA program, Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR), was “intended to create self-destructing electronic devices able to stop high-tech military equipment falling into enemy hands.”  Electronics on Otherlab’s drone might include GPS guidance units and flap actuators.

Otherlab’s disposable drones can be dropped from large aircraft, cover an area the size of California

Unlike powered drones with limited range, Otherlab’s concept could be widely dispersed from large craft such as C-17s or C-130s, ostensibly covering an area the size of California with targeted deliveries.


What will Pop.Up next?  We’re floating away, being carried skyward by PAL-V’s, JetPack’s 12-rotor machine, e-volo’s 16-rotor design, and even Hoversurf’s four-rotor flying donor-cycle. At least a half-dozen other varieties of VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) commuter machines are coming at us with bewildering speed.  If nothing else, the competing visions of future aerial transport show some kind of deeply felt need to escape the surly bonds of earth, or at least its eternal gridlock.

Airbus and ItalDesign’s Pop.Up can be attached to air or ground power module

Airbus has already played one hand, showing its cards with Silicon Valley-based A3 (A Cubed) and a vehicle looking like a combination of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell and Joby Aviation’s S2.  It pulled another card from its sleeve this week at the Geneva Auto Show, unveiling its Pop.Up concept vehicle, conceived with ItalDesign.

Pop.Up is a carbon-fiber pod that can be attached to self-driving wheels, a railway or Hyperloop link, or lifted by an eight-rotor autonomous drone carrier.  An artificial intelligence platform will determine the best mode for your selected journey, although you might choose the manner in which you go.  A user interface communicates with you in the pod (“dialogues with users”), while the wrap-around head-rests apparently read your mind.

In the video, Sara wakes to be alerted that a meeting is imminent.  Not to fear, since she can sip her morning coffee while summoning her Uber-like ride, a Pop.Up in its wheeled configuration.  Beginning the journey, it performs a biometric assessment to ensure Sara is the correct rider, and sorts out her mental state, letting her know she is 70-percent joyful.  Much nicer than a (sometimes) gruff Uber driver.  At some point, Sara is swept away when a large cluster of rotors attaches itself to her pod.


Her friend in the video, strolling by a stream, is picked up by the pod in aerial configuration, and like Sara, he gets an assessment as to when the pod will arrive, and how much the proposed journey will cost.  His smart glasses keep him informed until he steps into the machine.  Then screens, apparently aware that he is of a more purposeful frame of mind than Sara, display schedules and other practical information.  (Is this a light dusting of sexism from the collaborators?)

A second version of the video, with interpretation from Airbus and ItalDesign collaborators, gives a more nuanced view of what they hope to achieve.  Jorg Astalosch, CEO of ItalDesign is surrounded by the Lamborghinis which his company designs, as well as the manufacturing lines on which they are built.

The aerial configuration uses eight 17-kilowatt (22.8 hp.) motors for a total of 136 kilowatts (182 hp.).  Its 70 kilowatt-hour battery pack can lift two passengers (600 kilograms gross weight, or 1,320 pounds) and whisk them 100 kilometers (62 miles).  Pop.Up, according to the designers, carries more than its own weight (43.9 percent of the gross weight), an impressive number if achieved.

Disk loading of 30.4 kilograms per square meter (6.23 pounds per square foot) is greater than even a Bell JetRanger.  Noise might be a problem, and it’s hard to determine how the 150 meters per second (492 feet per second) tip speed of the rotors will affect overall noise – especially in their protective ducts.

Batteries top or bottom, but not simultaneously

The ground configuration uses to 30 kW (40.2 hp) motors powered by a 15-Kilowatt-hour battery which can be recharged in 15 minutes and would give 130 kilometers (80.6 miles) range.

A bit like a kinder, gentler Transformer, Pop.Up could point the way toward a differently mobile future.  The nifty animation understates the infrastructure necessary to support these seemingly independent pods.  At its heart, such a transportation device will require a significant, sophisticated system to manage its various permutations.  Whether such investments will seem wise in the near future remains to be seen.

{ 1 comment }

Metamaterial Knows No Bounds

Jonathan Berger has come up with a foam structure that will make it more than the ephemeral filling in composite construction sandwiches.  Isomax™ foam could be the entire structure because of its unique geometry.  He claims it to be the world’s first material to achieve structural performance predicted by theoretical bounds.

Isomax exhibits highest possible strength, stiffness for weight

His letter in the journal Nature describes the geometry Berger and his collaborators created to enable such lightness, strength, and versatility.  Berger, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB’s mechanical engineering department, worked with mechanical engineering professor Robert McMeeking and materials scientist Haydn N. G. Wadley from the University of Virginia to prove the ideas Berger first conceived in 2015.

This solid foam, “a combination of stiff substance and air pockets,” uses three-dimensional pyramid and cross cell geometry to achieve high stiffness.  The ordered cells are set apart by walls forming three sides and a base, and as octahedra, reinforced inside a “cross” of intersecting diagonal walls.   This “mostly air” structure is “maximally stiff” in all directions.  It can resist distortion and collapse unlike other geometries that are strong in one or two directions, but not in all.  Isomax can resist crushing and shearing despite its lightness.

Anxious to see his theories demonstrated, Berger realized peer review was necessary. “There was obviously a lot of positive feedback, but for me as a scientist, it’s a bit too much hand waving until you have something in a peer-reviewed journal.”

McMeeking gave the theory mathematical backup.  “I carried out some simplified calculations of the stiffnesses of some of the foams and was able to see that the pencil-and-paper results agreed with the computer calculations.  This gave us confidence that the computer calculations were both correct and being formulated accurately.”  They also demonstrated that the researchers had obtained, “Optimal geometries for the heavier weight foams.”

Wadley noted that Isomax, “Is going to be a very interesting metamaterial.  It will also be an excellent thermal insulating and sound absorbing material.  Potential applications for this ultralight material are likely to emerge in aerospace structures, for lightweighting automobiles and in many robotic machines, especially mobile types that carry their own power and must maneuver.”  The design is compatible with various manufacturing methods, “From origami-like folding to bonding and 3-D printing.

Combining pyramids and crosses, Isomax can be used in structures of many sizes. Illustration: Jonathan Berger

Lighter and far stronger than balsa wood (used in early fiberglass sailplanes as a sandwich core), Isomax has potential for sporting goods, prosthetics, and far larger structures.  Inspired by his love of “gravity-related sports” such as skiing and mountain biking, Berger is happy to see the new material’s potential use in such applications.  He sees multiple possibilities and has started a company, NAMA Development, to further its use.

Read more about Isomax in, “Mechanical metamaterials at the theoretical limit of isotropic elastic stiffness: in  Nature (published online on February 20, 2017).

Thanks to Colin Rush for pointing your editor to this breakthrough.


Hoversurf, a Russian flying motorcycle, has been getting a lot of press lately.  “Looks like a hell of a ride,” trumpets TheNextWebMashable headlines, “The first manned hoverbike could finally fulfill your ‘Star Wars’ dreams,” but points out, “Those dangerous-looking propellers spinning right next to the pilot’s legs.” New Atlas (formerly Gizmag) says it is, “Equally amazing and horrifying.”

Hoversurf’s Scorpion evokes Star Wars with its clean white gloss.  But like the movie’s speeder bikes flung about by heroes and villains alike, seems equally dangerous with its wooden propellers at two different heights – ankle-biter and knee-slapper.  Protective shields theoretically will prevent slicing and dicing, and future plans call for an enclosed cabin with the occupant more secure from maceration.

Some qualms persist.  Rivals like e-volo’s Volocopter spread lift over 16 propellers, and the eHang 184 has eight blades.  The lack of redundancy at the four corners might be a problem if one motor or reduction belt fails.  Rivals feature direct drive from motor to propeller, eliminating the possible failure points of belts and pulleys.  New Atlas frets that initial impacts with the ground will shatter the wooden blades.

Despite all this, Hoversurf proclaims, “For the moment, SCORPION platform is increasingly seen as an extreme sports instrument, yet the vessel’s transportation potential remains evident.”  The web site shows Scorpions taking off from a large rooftop platform similar to that in Uber’s white paper, and a sky cab similar to eHang’s.

Hoversurf launch area resembles that in Uber white paper

The big jump will be going from extreme sports-inspired risk-taking to risk-free commuting in a stable pod.  That pod will probably incorporate the group’s self-described, “Safety system powered by state of the art flight controllers, special logical programming and passive elements with computer aided speed and altitude limiting.”

Hoversurf’s sky taxi will provide greater protection for rider

Crowdfunding supporters who looked forward to delivery of a thrill ride will have to be replaced by paying customers seeking a secure commute over the gridlock below.  The mission statement will begin to look more like that of Uber’s and Airbus’s A3 rather than that of the X Games.  The Russian firm now has offices in downtown San Francisco, possibly a commitment to going in that direction.


Safe Rechargeable Solid State Batteries

If the man responsible for co-invention of the lithium-ion battery says he has found ways to make it better while eliminating its less desirable characteristics – we will listen.  94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, says as much.  He and researchers including Maria Helena Braga, claim to have created “A low-cost all-solid-state battery that is noncombustible and has a long cycle life (battery life) with a high volumetric energy density and fast rates of charge and discharge.”  Their findings can be found in the journal, Energy & Environmental Science.

John Goodenough in his Cockrell Laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin

Non-combustibility is a big sales point for those worried about having their vape pipe vaporize their underwear, or having a flight-diverting event on their jetliner.  Long cycle life will appeal to people seeing the odometer on their EV turn over in the left-most column.  High volumetric energy density will lighten up the car (or airplane) and make it perform better.  High charge and discharge speeds will have a profound effect on EV utility.  The Austin team makes some great claims, even though their battery is still in the laboratory stage

Currently working with commercialization of their technology, the team has created a battery that gains approval from Goodenough.  “Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries.”

.The researchers claim to have demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries.  Several factors make this possible.   Instead of using liquid electrolytes, the U of T battery has a glass electrolyte.  This allows the use of an alkali-metal anode, without the hazard of growing dendrites (“metal whiskers”) that cause short circuits in liquid electrolyte batteries.

Alkali-metal anodes, which can be lithium, sodium, or potassium, are not possible in conventional batteries because of their tendency to grow dendrites.  Their use in Goodenough and Braga’s solid-state battery increase the energy density of the cathode and allows up to 1,200 cycles (so far) with low cell resistance.

The solid-glass electrolytes, which Braga began developing at the University of Porto in Portugal, have high conductivity at -20 degrees Celsius, making for a solid-state battery cell that can operate under 60 degrees. Celsius.

Braga began developing solid-glass electrolytes with colleagues while she was at the University of Porto in Portugal.  Collaborating with Goodenough and researcher Andrew J. Murchison at UT Austin, she used their insights to help patent a new version of the glass electrolytes.

About two years ago, she began collaborating with. Braga said that Goodenough brought an understanding of the composition and properties of the solid-glass electrolytes that resulted in a new version of the electrolytes that is now patented through the UT Austin Office of Technology Commercialization.

Another benefit is the use of low-cost, earth-friendly materials.  Braga notes, “The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available.”

Their Paper

For the Advanced Placement students in the room, the team’s abstract is a condensed, and highly-charged item that is elucidated further in the paper’s text.

Structure and life cycle of solid-state battery following manufacture

The advent of a Li+ or Na+ glass electrolyte with a cation conductivity σi > 10−2 S cm−1 at 25 °C and a motional enthalpy ΔHm = 0.06 eV that is wet by a metallic lithium or sodium anode is used to develop a new strategy for an all-solid-state, rechargeable, metal-plating battery. During discharge, a cell plates the metal of an anode of high-energy Fermi level such as lithium or sodium onto a cathode current collector with a low-energy Fermi level; the voltage of the cell may be determined by a cathode redox center having an energy between the Fermi levels of the anode and that of the cathode current collector. This strategy is demonstrated with a solid electrolyte that not only is wet by the metallic anode, but also has a dielectric constant capable of creating a large electric-double-layer capacitance at the two electrode/electrolyte interfaces. The result is a safe, low-cost, lithium or sodium rechargeable battery of high energy density and long cycle life.

{ 1 comment }

Jetpacks to VTOL Multi-Rotors

You see a lot of articles petulantly demanding, “Dude, where’s my jetpack?” or “Where’s my flying car?”  It’s a bit like wanting a Formula 1 racer in which to commute, and fraught with similar problems.  An F1 race car, for instance, demands incredible driving skills – that’s why most F1 drivers are incredibly well compensated.  A jetpack is a very short-range machine.  Strapping one on, avoiding scorch marks on your heels and zipping even a mile or two might actually take more time than walking, or hopping on a bike.

Sean Connery, nattily attired as James Bond, but skipping the helmet for the publicity shot

From James Bond to Civilian Use

James Bond’s use of a Bell Rocket Belt to escape goons in Thunderball made it look quick, easy, and a great way to find your way to your Aston-Martin and the Bond girl of the day.  Movie editing couldn’t provide us with anything close to that before now, as commercially-available versions were too pricey (still are) and too demanding to allow untrained civilians anywhere near them.

An American team that has brought its JB-9 and JB-10 jet packs to market, JetPack Aviation combines the talents of David Mayman and Nelson Tyler.  Tyler is already famous for his Tyler mounts, a series of gyroscopically-stabilized camera mounts that allow smooth action shots from helicopters, airplanes, and other moving camera platforms.  Starting with large units for 70-mm productions in the 1960’s, Tyler has reduced the size of the mounts.  The steadiness of modern action scenes comes a great deal from his pioneering work.  Note the elimination of shake and judder in the Tyler Mount clips below.

Later models of Jet Packs are slated to have this stabilization hardware and software applied to their operation –necessary for keeping less adept pilots upright, probably.  Their web site explains, “in this day of accelerometers and 3 axis gyros the size of coins, we are working on auto stability systems.”  The team is now working on the JB-11 and JB-12, featuring enhanced safety systems including ballistic recovery parachutes for both pilot and the JetPack itself.  There’s bad publicity awaiting the first pilot to jettison one above a crowd.

Something a Little Less Taxing

Just as hang gliders are great fun, but involve using one’s legs as landing gear, JetPacks may not attract mass distribution because of a certain athleticism required.  Although Mayman and Tyler are promoting their newest JetPacks, they have another, less dodgy, alternative waiting for eager customers, or an Uber-type organization to adopt it.  Their mult-rotor, single-seat, electric vertical takeoff and landing craft is similar to the eHang 184 or e-volo’s Volocopter 200.  Its 12 rotors, mounted on six arms and counter-rotating one above the other, give the necessary thrust and redundant safety.  Just in case, a ballistic parachute will lower a failed machine and its passenger to the ground.

JetPack Aviation’s 12-rotor VTOL commuter lands on balls rather than wheels

All these approaches begin to resemble one another, with JetPack’s offering differing in having swing arms that allow pivoting several propellers close to the fuselage so the machine can be stored in a single-car garage.  This is the closest the thing gets to being a “flying car,” a term that really doesn’t fit these machines – as pointed out by more than one reader.  Balls instead of wheels allow the machine to be maneuvered laterally if needed, another unique feature for this multi-rotor craft.

Arms pivot to allow storage in standard garage

The designers talk about using a hybrid system to extend the endurance for the machine from the pure electrically-driven 20 minutes or so.  This would open up commuting opportunities to the suburbs and beyond.

With seemingly more room in its cabin than the eHang, JetPack’s machine is still a compact possible answer to alleviating traffic congestion on the ground.  Its developers are certainly veterans of the type of problem solving required for this new era of three-dimensional urban mobility.