Tech Tuesday on a Wednesday

Oscar Gordon

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget.

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27 Responses

  1. Jaybird
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    says:

    TT1 is amazing. How hard is it to scale up? Like, let’s say that I wanted to compensate for Toledo. Is that doable on a human timeline?Report

    • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
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      Compensate how?Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird
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      I’m guessing that, as with most of these amazing magical seeming discoveries, economically scaling them presents enormous problems.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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        says:

        Sometimes it’s a question of scaling, sometimes it’s a question of economics.

        Take, for instance, the concrete in TT8. Let’s assume scaling production is easy, and it stores and transports the same, it performs as well as normal concrete, and can be tuned like normal concrete, plus it’s bendy, what’s not to love, right?

        But even at scale, it costs $X more than regular concrete per cubic foot. It’s just really damn hard to bring that $X down anytime soon. How do you convince people to use the new concrete, especially if the bending ability isn’t important to them?

        This is one reason a carbon tax is handy, because you can tax the carbon that comes from making OG concrete, which would add some $Y amount to the cost/cu.ft. of OG concrete, then perhaps the new stuff is competitive.

        The other hurdle for something like concrete is regulatory. Building codes and building inspectors love concrete, they know how it works, it’s familiar. The new stuff… all the codes have to be updated to allow it. It’s like when the 787 was being designed, no one at the FAA really knew how to validate the mechanical properties of the carbon fiber structures, so they basically said, you can make the spars out of carbon fiber, but we are going to pretend it’s black aluminum, so the spar shapes have to be something we know how to assess. Which is a shame, because carbon fiber is not aluminum, and has interesting mechanical properties that let you use unique structural shapes to reduce weight while increasing strength. They just are not shapes that exist in Roark’s Formulas for Stress & Strain. You’d need to use FEA models to validate them, and the FAA wasn’t at a place where they wanted to do that.

        Still, we don’t advance if we don’t try.Report

        • North in reply to Oscar Gordon
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          says:

          Yeah Scaling is economics. It’s all dollars and cents in the end. And a carbon tax remains the most sensible policy around.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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            says:

            Well, no, scaling isn’t economics, per se. A lot of times it’s a technical hurdle, or think of it as, can the process be scaled to industrial production?.

            E.g.using algae to create oil for bio-diesel has a hard time scaling, because algae needs sunlight to grow, and as the algae cells in the stock pond grow, they crowd out other algae cells, limiting the number of cells that can get exposed to sunlight. So you are stuck using very shallow ponds (like a few inches deep), which means you are constantly struggling with evaporation, and you have to constantly skim off the top layer of cells to process for oil, and it gets very difficult to scale the whole process such that you can produce enough oil to be economically workable.

            So we don’t have a lot of algae farms out there producing oil for bio-diesel, because there is a large industrial process* hurdle to over-come, in addition to the economic hurdles. Which is why TT1 is so interesting, because what if we could grow the algae in a tank like you see at a fuel storage depot. That kind of breakthrough might overcome the industrial scaling hurdle.

            *This is a one part of what Industrial Engineers do, figure out how to scale these kinds of process so a good can be produced at an industrial scale.Report

            • North in reply to Oscar Gordon
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              Yes, there is a technological/engineering element involved to accomplish a given process at all. But economics remains the score keeper that determines not if you can do a given process but whether it’s worth doing. Science and engineering answer “Can we?” and economics answers “should we?”

              Can we and should we transform silica into gold? Economics says “heck yeah!”; Engineering (and physics) says “sorry, not possible.”

              Can we and should we mass produce fuel with algae? Engineering says “We sure can!” but (currently) economics says “meh, not worth the effort.”Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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                I’ll concede to avoid talking past each other. We agree that scaling is both economic and process, and they both have to be workable for the nifty stuff to happen.Report

  2. Philip H
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    Lots of oceany goodness this week. I can’t decide if I like the hubless propeller (a godsend for boat maintenance) or the mussel glue more.Report

  3. Michael Cain
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    TT8: I note in the article that the principle component they mention is fly ash. Assuming that they are using the term correctly, stop burning coal and the new-and-improved concrete goes too.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      Yeah, I saw that too, although IIRC, there are some pretty massive fly ash storage facilities out there that would probably love to get rid of that headache (I’m sure the TVA spill still haunts operators minds to this day).Report

    • North in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      I am bemused at the idea of lawyers across the industrialized world going to war over rights to mine the massive fly ash deposits left by past industry.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to North
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        Don’t laugh. Fly ash is becoming an increasingly useful byproduct.

        There are already multiple ways to use it in cement/concrete. Remember stories about how the secret of “Roman concrete” that would set underwater was lost for centuries? The key ingredient the Romans added was volcanic ash. Fly ash can be used to obtain similar results. (As with so many other things, the Romans actually stole the idea from older Mediterranean cultures to their east and scaled it up.)

        I was reading an article the other day describing a method researchers have found for extracting rare earth elements from fly ash that may yield economically viable quantities. The technique works better on fly ash that has been stored in an ash pond for a few years.Report

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