Archive for September, 2006

PostHeaderIcon MIT tool aids cost estimates for complex projects

On September 14 in a blog called The Pipeline I speculated about how to develop a number of the pieces for a 1000 mile long pipeline. I had a lot of fun anyway. But really, how much would such a project cost? Last week I discussed Changing World Technology’s thermal depolymerization process — which today produces diesel fuel profitably from biomass–including city sewage– with fresh clean water as a byproduct. But once again, it would be nice to have a breakout on its costs for any given particular location and feedstock. There are number of power plants up and down the California coast for which a number of different technologies can be used to harvest waste heat and waste carbon dioxide to make fresh water and energy. It would be nice to have a tool that would enable you to easily cost out the variables. All over the west oil men are pulling up brackish water with their oil. How much would it cost to clean up that water for public use per any given location. Once again it would be nice to have a tool that answered that question. Then there’s the big research question: How much would it cost to develop a cheap low maintenance semi permiable membrane that desalinised water at room temperaterature and pressure.

Likely a company like GE has some kind of in house software that they use to predict costs of big projects. But what about everyone else? How do people comfortably bid on big projects. How do government agencies evaluate those bids. MIT News put the problem this way in this article entitled

MIT tool aids cost estimates for complex projects

Michelle Gaseau, Lean Aerospace Initiative
September 19, 2006

Consider the following scenario: A project manager at a major aerospace company is about to bid on the development of a new air fighter for the U.S. Air Force.

The bid must bring the project in on time, on budget and meet all the government’s requirements. If the bid is too low, the project will miss these markers; too high and the company will be seen as wasteful or inefficient and may disqualify itself from the competition.

Now a new, first-of-its-kind systems engineering cost-estimation model developed by an MIT researcher can ensure that the bid is right on target, which means project risk (and costs) can be reduced. The model allows companies and organizations to develop more accurate bid proposals, thereby eliminating excess “cost overrun” padding that is often built into these proposals.

The software takes the guesswork out of bidding on projects and allows government administrators to effectively evaluate those bids.

The Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model (COSYSMO), now available commercially, helps eliminate the guessing game played by many large corporations in planning and executing large systems in many different industries. It also helps government agencies evaluate proposals from contractors with a more objective approach.

“In the past, a program manager would look at an earlier aircraft program and estimate by analogy, but now we can go beyond that and use parametrics to go beneath the surface to the underlying reasons why a certain aircraft costs what it does to develop,” said Ricardo Valerdi, a researcher at MIT’s Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI) who developed the new model.

This software is good for not only aerospace but also any large diversified project.

Validated with assistance and historical data from seven major aerospace companies, COSYSMO can be adapted to systems engineering programs in many different industries.

“The inputs to the COSYSMO model are generic, they are not domain specific, so it could be used in estimating effort associated with waste management systems or building new highway tunnels in Boston,” said Valerdi.

That means pipelines, — desalination and dual purpose plants would also be appropriate for this software.

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach to creating successful systems by focusing on variables including customer needs, system requirements, design synthesis and system validation all while considering the complete problem.

According to the article — this is a very new thing. On this I have my doubts. But cost over runs do seem to be a way of life in the government. And this software does claim to solve this problem.

Others have developed cost-estimation models for computer hardware and software development, but until now no models have been created to estimate the costs associated with systems engineering.

Computer hardware and software cost-estimation tools help companies estimate costs specifically associated with developing and designing computer hardware and software components and platforms. The costs associated with systems engineering are more difficult to estimate because the discipline deals with multiple factors in the big picture such as system design and customer needs.

COSYSMO helps companies estimate “person-months” specifically associated with a systems engineering effort and costs — such as how many people it will take to develop a command and control system in an aircraft and meet all the customer requirements.

According to Valerdi, the failure to adequately plan and fund systems engineering efforts appears to have contributed to a number of cost overruns and schedule slips, especially in the development of complex aerospace systems.

In fact, some of the companies most famous for cost over runs participated in the validation of the new software.

In addition to its availability via commercial channels, the academic version of COSYSMO and its new user’s manual are both available to members of the LAI Consortium. Many of the consortium members, including BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and L-3 Communications, participated in the validation of COSYSMO.

Three corporations now offer COSYSMO commercially: Price Systems, Galorath and Softstar Systems.(my note: Softstar has a free trial vers
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2006 (download PDF).

It would probably be a very good thing if desal people in each of the DOE, the EPA, the DOD, a couple Federal labs, a California, Texas & Florida water agency, a couple desalination non profits like WaterReUse, American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation, an oil driller–as well as GE and a couple smaller desalination companies…picked up a copy of this software, each hired a $90k year staffer to follow around some old water desalination/energy systems engineer goober and adopted his knowledge to the software.

That would be an ugly sight. So it might be best to hire someone for 60k who will go around and teach everyone to use the software. In any case¬† with enough diverse people working off the same software cross checking each other and building a library of cost-estimation models — the industry would be well positioned to react fluidly to rapid changes in technology and, indeed, the world.


PostHeaderIcon Changing World Technologies

I was in Santa Barbara last week for a business conference. Nice town. Plenty of palm trees and & sail boats. Inland I walked through several groves of eucalyptus trees. I love the smell of eucalyptus trees. There’s a natal memory there that goes to the groves in Golden Gate Park up in San Francisco.

Santa Barbara is a prosperous town. The conference I attended was at Fess Parker’s Double Tree Hotel. League sanctioned frisbee teams played in the green field across the street. A sign by the field said “Reused water. Don’t drink.” –Or something to that effect. I didn’t check — but likely they were using cleaned up sewage water — to water the grass.

There’s a much better way to handle sewage now days. Its called thermal depolymerization. The process turns raw sewage and darn near anything that’s carbon based–into diesel fuel. The company with the most experience with this procedure is Changing World Technologies. They have a demo plant in Philadelphia which turns sewage into oil and a profitable plant in Missouri that processes turkey offals into oil.
I’ve been following this company since 2003 when Discover Magazine first wrote them up. Discover Magazine returned this year in their April 2006 edition with an update on the company which showed they had pulled the bugs out of their technology and made it profitable. According to this April press release:

Changing World Technologies’ waste-to-oil subsidiary, Renewable Environmental Solutions, shipped more than 250,000 gallons (6000 barrels) of renewable diesel fuel in April 2006, representing approximately 30% of the plant’s capacity. The plant is expected to achieve full capacity in the near future.

The technology is touted for its ability to turn waste into oil for a profit — so that –say–a municipal sewage plant could be turned into a profit center rather than a cost center.

There’s a kicker. What’s left over from this procedure is clean pure water.

The technology received Federal Tax Credits of $1@gallon or equal to those of ethanol. But the technology only receives state tax credits from California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It would be helpful if the rest of the states came on board.

There is no town in the southwest of the USA that should be without one of these plants to convert their raw sewage into oil and fresh water.

On the flight back from Santa Barbara I picked up a copy of this month’s Discover Magazine which featured an interview with Newt Gingrich. He makes the same points that I made in Computer Power in 5-10 years, The Golden Age of Math, and Nanotechnology’s Future. That is, not only is technology advancing quickly now. The pace of advancement is accelerating significantly.

Discover Magazine Interview with Newt Gingrich
Oct 2006
subscriber only

Q: You have predicted a fourfold to sevenfold increase in scientific discovery in the next 25 years. What does that mean?

Gingrich: I began thinking of the fact that you have more scientists alive now than in all of previous human history. You have better instrumentation and computation. The scientists are connected by email and cell phone. And they are connected by lisencing to venture capital and royalties — and to China and India as reserve centers of production. Put all that together and it leads to dramatically more science than we have ever seen before. And if you get a breakthrough in quantum computing then you’re in a totally different world. My instinct as a historian is that four is probably right. I used that figure when I spoke to the National Academy of Sciences working group in computation and information, and afterwards the head of the group said to me, “That’s too small a number.” He said its got to be at least seven. What it means is that if you have a planning committee looking out to 2031, and you’re going to have four times as much change, that puts you in position of someone in 1880 trying to imagine 2006. If you are going to have a seven times as much change, that puts you in 1660. And nobody understands that.


PostHeaderIcon The Pipeline

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, as to the goal of seawater desalination research — my favorite idea is just a pipe with a semi permiable membrane that you stick out in some part of the ocean with a good coastal current or rip tide.

There’s nothing like it out there right now. What’s currently being built is an Under Ocean Floor Intake and Discharge Demonstration System at Long Beach California.

Together with its funding partners, Long Beach Water is also undertaking design and construction of an Under Ocean Floor Intake and Discharge Demonstration System, the first of its kind in the world, that will seek to demonstrate that viable, environmentally responsive intake and discharge systems can be developed along the coast of California.

That plant incidently expects to save 20%-30% in energy costs for RO.

Using a small 9,000 gallon-per-day pilot-scale desalter, the Long Beach Water Department has reduced the overall energy requirement (by 20 to 30 percent) of seawater desalination using a relatively low-pressure two staged nano-filtration process, developed by Long Beach Water engineers, known as the “Long Beach Method.”

This unique process is now being tested on a larger scale. With funding assistance from the United State Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Long Beach Water is conducting research at a constructed 300,000 gallon-per-day, fully operational facility incorporating the two-stage nano-filtration process. This large-scale facility is needed to verify the energy savings when employing full-scale membranes and energy recovery units, among other things. The goal is to verify energy savings of the two-stage nano-filtration process and to optimize the process so that it can be duplicated.

But the Long Beach intake discharge system should only be considered first generation. So what’s the next generation? Interestingly enough, according to this article in photonics.com some researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have used steel tubing to grow carbon nanotubes.

NEWARK, N.J., Aug. 7, 2006 — In less than 20 minutes, researchers can now seed, heat and grow carbon nanotubes in 10-foot-long, hollow thin steel tubing. The ground-breaking method will lead to improvements in cleaner gasoline, better food processing and faster, cheaper ways to clean air and water, the scientists said.

Mitra.jpg“The work took us three years to develop and get right, but now we can essentially anchor nanotubes to a tubular wall. No one has ever done anything like this before,” said lead researcher Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) department of chemistry and environmental science. Graduate and post-doctoral students who worked on the project are Mahesh Karwa, Chutarat Saridara and Roman Brukh.

This is especially interesting because of the work at Lawrence Livermore announced back in June.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a membrane made of carbon nanotubes and silicon that may offer, among many possible applications, a less expensive desalination.

Artist’s rendering of methane molecules flowing through a carbon nanotube less than two nanometers in diameter. (Click here to download a high-resolution image.)

The nanotubes, special molecules made of carbon atoms in a unique arrangement, are hollow and more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Billions of these tubes act as the pores in the membrane. The super smooth inside of the nanotubes allow liquids and gases to rapidly flow through, while the tiny pore size can block larger molecules. This previously unobserved phenomenon opens a vast array of possible applications.

The team was able to measure flows of liquids and gases by making a membrane on a silicon chip with carbon nanotube pores making up the holes of the membrane. The membrane is created by filling the gaps between aligned carbon nanotubes with a ceramic matrix material. The pores are so small that only six water molecules could fit across their diameter.

“The gas and water flows that we measured are 100 to 10,000 times faster than what classical models predict,” said Olgica Bakajin, the Livermore scientist who led the research. “This is like having a garden hose that can deliver as much water in the same amount of time as a fire hose that is ten times larger.”

Of course anything you stick out in the ocean is going to quickly encrust in barnicles algae and such. One solution, I’ve mentioned previously is sharkote — a US navy funded coating announced last year.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida engineers have developed an environmentally friendly coating for hulls of ocean-going ships based on an unlikely source of inspiration: the shark.

UF materials engineers tapped elements of sharks’ unique scales to design the new coating, which prevents the growth of a notoriously aggressive marine algae and may also impede barnacles, according to preliminary tests.

If more extensive testing and development bear out the results, the shark-inspired coating — composed of tiny scale-like elements that can actually flex in and out to impede growth — could replace conventional antifouling coatings. These coatings prevent marine growth but also leach poisonous copper into the ocean.

“The copper paints are wonderful in terms of keeping the ship surface clean, but they are poisonous and they accumulate at substantial rates in harbors,” threatening marine life, said Anthony Brennan, a UF professor of materials science and engineering and the lead developer of the coating. “By contrast, there are no toxins associated with our surface.”

Brennan’s project is being sponsored by the U.S. Navy, the world’s largest maritime ship owner, which has contributed at least $750,000 to the effort so far.

A National Science Foundation funded project at Rutgers Camden has recently developed a new polymer-coating process which might be appropriate for sharkote and the desalination pipes.

As gas prices continue to soar, the Navy will be eager to learn of research underway at Rutgers University–Camden. “Barnacles that attach to naval ships are a huge cost to the Navy. Imagine if you drove a car with a parachute attached; this extra drag force requires more gas,” says Daniel Bubb, an assistant professor of physics at Rutgers-Camden, who has developed a new method for coating polymers.

Used in a variety of industries, including protecting battleships from freeloading barnacles, polymers are materials made from long chains of molecules.

Thanks to a $129,463 National Science Foundation grant in its third year, Bubb and his team (including a post-doctoral fellow, undergraduate, and graduate students) are refining this new coating process. By employing a pulsed laser deposition technique, a high-power laser is focused onto a target material in a vacuum chamber, creating a plume of vaporized material. The object that is to be coated is placed in the path of the vapor. The Rutgers-Camden research team then tunes the laser to a specific vibrational mode of the polymer to ease the vaporization process and limit photochemical and photothermal damage.

This research will benefit many industries that rely solely on the most commonly used method of spin-coating, a viable technique for certain applications but inefficient for coating devices that are too large or small for its apparatus.

“With spin-coating, it’s difficult to layer and adhesion can be a problem” says Bubb, whose research also could improve biocompatibility in devices that require coating only on very specific and sensitive areas.

The Rutgers-Camden researcher also has advanced coating polymers that are too thermally sensitive by treating materials with a solvent before using the laser. This aspect of the research is funded through a $35,000 Cottrell College Science Award.

A model for moving from R&D to manufacturing might be a deal signed by Los Alamos National Labratories and CNT Technologies Inc. in which CNT bought the rights to some nano tech developed by the Los Alamos Labs.

Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman

LANL has big plans for nanoscience
By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
August 22, 2006 A Seattle company has bought the rights to a nanotechnology development at Los Alamos National Laboratory and plans to manufacture a new product in the city’s research park based on lightweight nanotubes that are 100 times stronger than steel.

The lab has made some longer carbon nanotubes, which makes them easier
to weave into super-strong materials. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter in size. A nanotube is a long carbon molecule and its typical size is about two to three nanometers in diameter and up to five millimeters long. The company has developed a product called SuperThread made of these nanotubes.

“What we’re working with is nanotubes that are one to five millimeters long,” Tremper said. “But those are longer than anybody else’s at the moment. It’s the longer length that allows us to spin the fibers into threads and make a usable product.”

Tremper said his company plans to have a pilot plant based at Los Alamos Research Park within six months that will produce one kilogram of SuperThread a day.

“And that will allow us to give major quantities of samples to companies and government agencies that need material that is ultra strong and ultra light,” he said.

Full-scale production — if everything goes smoothly with the pilot project — would come in about 18 months.

Tremper said the pilot plant in Los Alamos would have 15 to 20 employees. He said it’s unclear where a full-scale production factory would be located, but he said the factory would have hundreds of employees. The company is seeking investors.

The lab researchers working on the technology and the company will be in the same building, Peterson said.

Kudos to Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman for pushing nanotechnology research.

Also Monday, U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced a new federal nanotechnology research effort that will be based at New Mexico’s national laboratories.

Los Alamos National Laboratory received $18.3 million for a research center, and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque received $57 million. The U.S. Department of Energy is establishing research centers at three other labs as well.

“It is vital that our nation remain competitive with the rest of the world when it comes to science and technology, so the work being done at DOE labs is particularly important,” Domenici said in a news release.

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PostHeaderIcon State of the Art

This article in Science Magazine mentions many of the scientists on the distribution list for this blog–so if you have a hankering to see what everybody is up to–click here. The article gives a pretty good overview of the state of the art in desalination research today. Everybody is trying something different. And I think too that a number of different technologies will survive because the requirements for desalinising salty aquifers are different from desalinising seawater which is different from purifying munincipal or agricultural run off & waste.

One source of desalination savings in the future I think will be in the manufacturing process itself. For example, this article in Electronic News shows how the photovoltaic industry expects to drop prices.

Solar Moves Front and Center
Sep 5 2006 7:49AM

Solar energy is about to get cheaper—much cheaper. In fact, the cost of installing solar panels on a roof is expected to drop to about a third of what it now costs over the next several years, turning an experimental industry into a mainstream boom.

In real dollars, that means the average residential installation will drop to $8,000 from the current $24,000, not including state and federal rebates

That said, photovoltaic cells are not like semi permiable membranes but they will both respond to economies of scale. As the article mentions the cost savings won’t come from solar technology itself.

The trigger this time isn’t the solar technology itself, which has shown only slow improvement in recent years. It’s the equipment used to make solar cells. Coupling that manufacturing equipment with the current processes used in making semiconductors is expected to add huge economies of scale.

Next week we’ll look into some interesting manufacturing methods.


PostHeaderIcon Scudieri Engines, AutoCad Designs & Nano

There is a lot interesting stuff this past week.

Wired ran a piece on the Scuderi Engine which promises to double fuel efficency and drop the cost and weight the internal combustion engine. The company that developed the engine was formed by the children of a retired — and now deceased Massachusetts engineer and inventor named Carmelo Scuderi. They have recently received 1.2 million from the DoD and 12 million from private investors. The company is in talks with all the big auto makers. The facinating thing to me …. is that for all the buzz they don’t have a prototype. That won’t come out until next year. What they have is a computer simulation developed by Southwestern Research Institute and the Scuderi Group.

The Scuderi Engine might someday make for a cheaper pump.

Everyone’s heard the aphorism that form follows function. Wouldn’t it be nice to specify function for a design and have the computer spit out form. Autodesk last week claimed it could do just that.

Unlike “dysfunctional design” (a phrase coined by Ten Links editor-in-chief Roopinder Tara), functional design, according to Autodesk, “enables customers to create designs based on the functional requirements of a product before they commit to complex model geometry, allowing designers to put function before form.”

In theory, a designer will simply draw a symbolic representation of an object in simple lines and blocks (as shown below), then use input parameters to specify the object’s function. Then the CAD software — in this case, Autodesk Inventor — automatically generates the geometry. With this approach, Anagnost pointed out, “Simulation can occur at any stage, engineers focus on product function, and they model geometry only if necessary.”

The functional design approach of Autodesk Inventor, promoted by Autodesk at its recent Manufacturing Solutions Media Summit, uses a product’s function to automatically generate the required geometry.

I think this tool might save some development time.

Get this. According to the Journal of Applied Physics, Nanoscience may provide a way to engineer materials that are virtually defect-free – perfect, that is.

A scientist at North Carolina State University has discovered that the tiny grains comprising many bulk materials can potentially contain nearly zero structural imperfections when the grains are smaller than a certain critical size, typically a few to several nanometers.

Therefore, materials created with grains of the right size could be structurally flawless.

Pretty nifty? Might make for a great space elevator or pipeline. But I’m thinking — with that level of specificity/purity/control — it might also be possible to introduce impurities with more control so as to affect the charge of a membrane.

So how would you introduce impurities? I dunno.
But curiously, a method for the desktop printing of carbon nanotubes was anounced this past week by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Using an off-the-shelf inkjet printer, a team of scientists has developed a simple technique for printing patterns of carbon nanotubes on paper and plastic surfaces. The method … is described in the August 2006 issue of the journal Small.

Most current techniques to make nanotube-based devices require complex and expensive equipment. “Our results suggest new alternatives for fabricating nanotube patterns by simply printing the dissolved particles on paper or plastic surfaces,” said Robert Vajtai, a researcher with the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and corresponding author of the paper.

Vajtai and his colleagues at Rensselaer – along with a group of researchers led by Kriszti–±n Kord–±s and G–?za T—Éth at the University of Oulu in Finland – have developed an approach that uses a commercial inkjet printer to deposit nanotubes onto various surfaces. They simply fill a conventional ink cartridge with a solution of carbon nanotubes dissolved in water, and then the printer produces a pattern just as if it was printing with normal ink. Because nanotubes are good conductors, the resulting images also are able to conduct electricity.


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