Shout out for Acoustic Emission in Failing Materials – Kirkaldy Museum

The Kirkaldy museum in London have been torturing some materials using artists and test equipment.

The Kirkaldy museum preserves testing machines designed to perform mechanical tests on finished engineering components. It is the site of the testing house established by David Kirkaldy (1820–1897) a Scottish engineer who pioneered the testing of materials as a service to engineers during the Victorian period. In Southwark, London, a large hydraulic tensile test machine was constructed to measure the mechanical properties of engineering components.

The moto of Kirkaldy’s test house was “Facts not opinions”.

The Kirkaldy works tested components for the 1874 Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River, and for the Skylon that was built for the nearby Festival of Britain in 1951. It also helped accident analysis by tested materials from structures that failed, including the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879 and the BOAC Flight 781 De Havilland Comet crash of 1954.

Eads Bridge, St Louis

Eads Bridge, St Louis (image from wikipedia)

The Skylon

The Skylon (image from wikipedia).

Solar Cars and CO2

Tesla S has a three phase AC induction motor, 1 speed gear (9.73:1). It comes with 60 or 85 kWh lithium ion battery. 56,800 units have been sold worldwide as of Dec 2014. The EPA rates energy consumption as 237.5 Wh per km, giving a combined fuel economy of 89 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Tesla S 60 kWh
208 / 233 miles (EPA/NEDC)

Tesla S 85 kWh
265/ 310 miles (EPA/NEDC)

In their marketing they claim this as 0 CO2/mile. Since the electricity can be made by different methods that is fair, moving cars to electric power is one way to substitute renewable energy for ‘fossil fuel’.

At the moment though much of our electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, we need to consider another number then, how much CO2 is produced in delivering a kWh of energy to our home.

That is a a bit complex, but lets say it depends on the energy mix in your country. In France it would basically be nuclear powered. 🙂

France has 76.6 % Nuclear power, 10.2% Hydro, 4.47% non-hydro renewable, 4.08% coal, 3.69% gas, 0.58% Oil.

In the UK electricital power is mainly generated from burning gas, coal and oil, with 15-20% produced from nuclear power.

Logical magnets

Jeri Ellsworth has made a great video in which she explains magnetic hysteresis, and how magnetic properties can be used for magnetic storage and logic.

She fairly describes magnetic logic as a forgotten technology, but I wonder if people are looking at this again since for high end electronics since we now have not only magnetic recording media, but also magnetoresistive random-access memory.

Economic cost of nuclear power

About 1 year before the Fukushima disaster President Obama announced $8 bn dollars in loan guarantees to the Southern Company, for the construction of two new nuclear reactor piles at the Vogtle site, each having a capacity of 1117 MW. The expected construction cost of the plants is $8.87 billion.

The Southern Company provide the following information about costs.

Economic Impacts
* Up to $14 billion of investment in the state of Georgia
* Approximately 5,000 on-site jobs during the peak of construction
* 800 high-paying jobs for the life of the plant
* Tax dollars to the local communities and the state over the expected 60-year life

The Westinghouse AP1000 is design is based on the AP600, the design is boasted to use existing technology and simplified design to cut down on the number of safety valves, pumps and piping, control cable and ‘seismic building volume’. Two plants of similar design are currently under construction in China, and planned at 6 other sites in the USA.

Of course a full cost would also have to include any price premium or guaranteed market for electricity generated from the plant.

Vogtle site:
Vogtle site under construction

Benefits to financing during construction:

* The cost of the plant will be phased-in over 7 years, versus included in rates over only two years. (Approx. 1.3 percent/yr over 7 years for total of 9 percent, versus approximately 12 percent total over two years.)
* Customers will avoid paying $300 million in interest charges, thereby saving money over the life of the plant.
* The in-service cost of the plant will be reduced by nearly $2 billion (30 percent).
* Total rate increases required to cover the cost of the plant when it goes into service will be nearly 3 percent lower.
* Preserving utility credit ratings reduces costs for other projects and helps keep customer rates low.

Is this an interesting use of compound interest? if we increase by 1.3% every year we can claim the total increase is 9%. The real increase is (1.013)^7 = 1.0946 = 9.46%. 1.3 x 7 = 9.1 so pretty close between these two numbers. Why would we have to increase tax to 12% over 2 years then. We can only make such large numbers by borrowing all the money to build the plant before we start building which seems a strange way to do business.

It’s also strange that electricity bills have to increase to pay for the nuclear plant to be built when they also use nuclear power, I guess coal power is pretty cheap in comparison.

1M Prize for Engineering

Presumably to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee, and to also celebrate engineering, a 1M pound prize has been announced to be given biannually for achievements in engineering.

Lord Browne, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize Foundation, said, ‘Too often the engineers behind the most brilliant innovations remain hidden – The Queen Elizabeth Prize aims to change that. It will celebrate, on an international scale, the very best engineering in the world’.
Candidates from around the world are able to win the prize, which is funded by 11 British and Indian companies, including BP. Organisers hope that the £1m award will come to rival the level of prestige enjoyed by the Nobel Prize.

This is interesting, but I think to rival the Nobel prize a fund would need to be established where the funding for the prize is completely independent from the sponsoring companies. I also think it is worth pointing out that although the Nobel Prize is given in Physics, Chemistry, Peace, Literature and Physiology or Medicine, it is worth reminding people that is was established by an Engineer.

— update —

The first Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering of 1 Million Pounds was awarded to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin and Marc Andreessen for their pioneering work developing the the internet.

Read about the first QEEP at the BBC


My thought go out to all those in Japan in the continuing disaster which seems to be going on after the earth quake struck last week.

I didn’t understand what is happening in the plant from the media reports I heard on the radio… but the situation seems to still be developing.

Can anyone explain to me why it is not possible to cool a nuclear power station with a passive system like the ones used to move the water around a central heating system? Is it more expensive or less efficient? Are there cooling systems which don’t rely on water?

Information from Wikipedia page Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant:
The units are all GE designed, reactors 1, 2, and 6 were supplied by General Electric, those for Units 3 and 5 by Toshiba, and Unit 4 by Hitachi.

On 11 March 2011 an earthquake categorised as 9.0 MW on the moment magnitude scale occurred at 14:46 Japan Standard Time (JST) off the northeast coast of Japan. This led to cooling problems in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Over 170,000 people were evacuated after officials voiced the possibility of a meltdown. The external structure of Units 1, 2, and 3 collapsed after hydrogen explosions. The containment building of Unit 1 and 3 remained intact, but Unit 2 was feared damaged. On 15 March 2011, the Unit 4 fuel pond caught fire, increasing radiation levels and prompting more evacuations.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 have been filled with seawater and are likely to be decommissioned, since it is not cost effective to decontaminate.

Engineers are Terror-ble?

Engineers are angry – Beware!

Are engineers statistically more likely to be terrorists than other disciplines (or rather terrorists are more likely to be engineers) . If that is explained by greater ability to do something once they decide (they don’t have to learn much new to make a bomb etc.). They have ability to learn how to fly a plane? Or if it can be explained by their disappointment with engineering/science.

As discussed here Slate / Build-a-Bomber and here Fred Borz/ Are engineers more likely to become terrorists a study (reported as an essay in new scientist) found that among muslims, engineers were 3-4 times more likely to become terrorists. Also 60% of `muslim terrorists’ born in the west had engineering backgrounds.

Actually it seems like the disappointment from thwarted expectations is what made these people angry.

Gambetta and Hertog propose that a lack of appropriate jobs in their home countries may have radicalized some engineers in Arab countries. The graduates they studied came of age at a time when a degree from a competitive technical program was supposed to provide a guarantee of high-status employment. But the promises of modernization and development were often stymied by repression and corruption, and many young engineers in the 1980s were left jobless and frustrated.

Regarding American domestic terrorists I am not sure the trend holds true…
The Unabomber is said to be a talented mathematician, more likely to target engineers then be one. Timothy McVeigh left the education system after high school.