Unable to Take Lab Course to Graduate, Student Turns to Simulation

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  • July 31, 2020

For many students, successful completion of coursework for an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering includes lab courses in the senior year. But the labs were shut down during March and April as COVID-19 spread across the world. It was a desperate situation for those wanting to graduate in June.

No labs? No problem, said Vasilios Halkias, who was enrolled in the Otto H. York Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). 

Halkias knew from his first chemistry course that he was going to get into chemicals, just as he knew from his first physics course that he was going to be an engineer. A pandemic would not stand in his way. He, like all the other students, was taking his lecture-based classes online, but the labs required another solution.

Vasilios Halkias, recent graduate of NJIT with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and winner of the best paper in engineering.com/NAFEMS call for papers. (Picture courtesy of Vasilios.)

Vasilios Halkias, recent graduate of NJIT with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and winner of the best paper in engineering.com/NAFEMS call for papers. (Picture courtesy of Vasilios.)

This is 2020, thought Halkias. We have software, the Internet….  The reactions we were going to test in the labs—we will simulate them. The software will provide more—and less. More, in that fluid flow and heat transfer will make more sense with colorful 3D graphics (than hastily drawn rough sketches drawn on the whiteboard—no offense to the professors reading this, says Halkias). Less, as in less risk of an equipment failure in the lab and less risk of experiencing a COVID-19 infection.

One of the lab experiments involved tubular flow reactors—a fancy name for what is essentially a tube into which fluids are piped into on one end, are mixed along its length (and possibly causing a reaction), and come out on the other end. Ideally the heat is contained and the mix is 100 percent—but that depends on various factors: the length, radius, types of liquids to be mixed, etc. 

Just as the reaction can be controlled with valves on varying sizes of reactors in the lab to determine percent mixing, so it can be controlled with simulation software. COMSOL, the multiphysics solver, allowed for a variation of parameters far greater than would be possible in the lab.

We’ll accept the simulation as a substitute for the lab work, said NJIT, and Halkias was able to graduate. But that was not enough. Halkias knew chemical engineering students around the world were facing the same predicament. And not all of them would necessarily have the COMSOL application. 

But through the ability of COMSOL to spin off applets that could run as executables, without a license for the COMSOL program, Halkias could help other fellow chemical engineering students graduate, too.

Winner of the engineering.com/NAFEMS call for papers and a $1,000 prize, Halkias turned in the winning entry for his work on chemical reactors. (Pictures courtesy of Halkias.)

Winner of the engineering.com/NAFEMS call for papers and a $1,000 prize, Halkias turned in the winning entry for his work on chemical reactors. (Pictures courtesy of Halkias.)

The app derived from COMSOL would, in the words of another New Jersey scholar (Alfred Einstein, who taught at Princeton), be as simple as possible, but no simpler. With it, just the necessary parameters are asked for and the solver runs and provides results. It’s already set up with fluid and material properties. You push the button to see the quality of the mix and the resulting temperatures.

The app is self-contained, a free-standing executable file that runs on a PC or workstation and can be freely shared. COMSOL charges more for the ability to create specialized apps from its general-purpose solver, but once created, the apps can be passed around and used at no cost.

To build the app, Halkias needed to do a little programming—and take care of a few bugs. For example, the app would not resize the view properly. 

Halkias will have to wait until he gets back in the lab to verify the results with lab results.

An app was created from the COMSOL multiphysics program that can be used on any computer without the COMSOL software being loaded. (Picture courtesy of Halkias.)

An app was created from the COMSOL multiphysics program that can be used on any computer without the COMSOL software being loaded. (Picture courtesy of Halkias.)

The app makes some simplifications in the interest of simplicity and time. Flow is laminar all the time. Turbulent flow, which makes for more rapid mixing, is not modeled, so the app could be considered a conservative solution. If complete mixing occurs in a length of reactor with laminar flow, it will be sure to have occurred if there was turbulent flow.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/DesignSoftware/DesignSoftwareArticles/ArticleID/20517/Unable-to-Take-Lab-Course-to-Graduate-Student-Turns-to-Simulation.aspx

Apple and Google Enter an Uncommon Partnership During Pandemic

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  • July 29, 2020

Although the COVID-19 infection curve rate has begun to flatten in some regions, the pandemic isn’t expected to be over anytime soon. As is common practice with disease outbreaks, public health organizations and departments have conducted contract tracing investigations to help curb new infections by informing people who have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Those people in turn can get tested or quarantine if necessary to prevent further spread. In an attempt to make contact tracing a high-tech enterprise, Apple and Google have partnered to release a joint application programming interface for a smartphone-based contact tracing program.

On April 10 the companies announced the joint effort to use Bluetooth beacons to track those who downloaded an optional tracking software on their phones (iPhone and Android). The software is geared to be available next month and the companies have promised that privacy and security will be top priorities. “Contract tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy,” tweeted Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. “We’re working with @sundarpichai and @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent.”

When two people who have the apps installed on their phones have close physical interactions, their phones will send anonymous but universally unique identifiers mutually. As a security precaution, the identifiers will automatically change every 15 minutes and the data will only be stored on user’s phones. Then, if one of the people is later diagnosed with COVID-19, they can input that information on a public health authority app, and with the infected person’s consent, 14 days’ worth of the identifiers will be uploaded to the cloud where the information can be used to contact those with flagged identifiers.

The system holds some promise for reducing infections but many are concerned about privacy, effectiveness of the software and whether there will be a critical mass of users. Because the initiative relies on adequate COVID-19 testing, in places where that’s not occurring, the technology will be moot. Also, enough people must be willing to install the software on their phones and contact health authorities if they test positive to make a difference. Another consideration is whether the Bluetooth beacons will be able to discern distances down to mere feet or the presence of a protective barrier between individuals in proximity. Beyond the plethora of concerns, privacy tops the list stemming from the tech giants’ reputation for privacy invasions as well as whether the tracking program will continue once pandemic is over. Furthermore, Bluetooth itself has been fraught with security concerns.

“No contact tracing app can be fully effective until there is widespread, free, and quick testing and equitable access to health care,” said Jennifer Granick, American Civil Liberties Union surveillance and cybersecurity counsel. “These systems also can’t be effective if people don’t trust them. People will only trust these systems if they protect privacy, remain voluntary, and store data on an individual’s device, not a centralized repository. At the same time, we must be realistic that such contact tracing methods are likely to exclude many vulnerable members of society who lack access to technology and are already being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

Despite the warning, Granick credited Apple and Google for being proactive about mitigating privacy and centralization risks and called for more measures that will protect the general public from adverse consequences of the technology’s use. However, an ACLU white paper published on April 8 outlined limitations of using technology for contact tracing, including testaments from engineers and business executives stating that location data isn’t a suitable means of COVID-19 contact tracing.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/IOT/ArticleID/20188/Apple-and-Google-Enter-an-Uncommon-Partnership-During-Pandemic.aspx

Entergy Commits US$1.3 Million for COVID-19 Relief

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  • July 27, 2020

Since establishing the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund in March, Entergy Corp. shareholders have committed more than US$1.3 million to help community nonprofits and qualifying customers who are struggling with the financial impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Through grants made to United Way and other nonprofit partners, Entergy’s relief fund is addressing community impacts and helping customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, and Texas pay for basic needs such as food and nutrition, rent and mortgage assistance, and other critical living expenses until financial situations become more stable.

“Experience has shown us that in times of disaster, vulnerable customers are disproportionately impacted. That’s why we have focused on teaming up with community partners to address the basic needs of our working families and low-income elderly and disabled customers in the communities we serve,” said Patty Riddlebarger, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Entergy. “We’re so grateful for our community partners who mobilized quickly to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, relief funds are being distributed to people who need them most.”

Grants awarded to date include the following:

Company shareholders agreed to match employees’ contributions to United Way relief efforts dollar for dollar up to US$100,000. Entergy’s executive officers also committed US$100,000 to United Way’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Further fundraising efforts led by Entergy have made more funds and materials available for emergency assistance. These efforts include:

  • Entergy shareholders recently doubled their match of customer donations to The Power to Care from US$500,000 to US$1 million. Because of COVID-19, the company made the increase in matching dollars available immediately to provide emergency bill payment assistance to low-income seniors and disabled persons.
  • Employees at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One plant delivered US$2000 worth of PPE, including nearly 500 coveralls, 120 lab coats and disinfection supplies, to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville.
  • Entergy New Orleans donated US$13,000 to the Second Harvest Food Bank to provide 21,000 meals for service industry workers across Orleans Parish.
  • Entergy donated US$100,000 to Orleans Parish Public Schools to provide 500 Chromebooks to help students participate in distance learning. Entergy’s donation helped launch a national campaign that raised US$2 million to purchase a total of 10,000 Chromebooks for parish students.
  • Entergy’s Waterford 3 Nuclear Station donated 1000 hazmat suits to the New Orleans Veterans Affair Hospital.
  • Employees at Entergy’s New Orleans Power Station teamed up with Burns & McDonnell, an engineering and construction firm, to donate approximately 1500 N95 masks to New Orleans East Hospital health care workers.

Enjoy this article at https://www.tdworld.com/disaster-response/article/21129990/entergy-commits-us13-million-for-covid19-relief

How COVID-19 Is Accelerating Telemedicine Technology

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  • July 24, 2020

The concept of telemedicine, which is the practice of doctors delivering care and consultation to patients remotely, is well-established. However, the adoption of telemedicine has been slow, mostly because technology adoption in the healthcare sector tends to trail other industries. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has changed the dynamic of technology adoption in healthcare. The virus-causing COVID-19 has the unfortunate combination of being more transmissible than SARS or Ebola and deadlier than the flu. As a result, patients who visit hospitals or clinics have a much higher probability of getting the virus from other patients. 

Therefore, it is preferable that patients and doctors practice social distancing, especially in clinical settings. As a result, the adoption of telemedicine has spiked recently. Now, some healthcare systems are conducting more than half of their primary care visits via telehealth.

In addition to replacing routine, primary consultations, telemedicine also has significant potential in addressing other needs that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it can help healthcare workers and ordinary citizens identify COVID-19 cases and prevent the spread.  Also, telemedicine can help healthcare staff monitor potential COVID-19 cases that are in quarantine. In addition, telemedicine takes a page out of the Amazon playbook and uses drones to deliver essential medical supplies without endangering the medical staff.

Using Phone Apps to Trace COVID-19 Cases

Contact tracing is a public health intervention tool that is used every day to monitor and prevent the spread of transmissible diseases, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, HIV, Ebola and COVID-19.  Through numerous and painstaking phone calls with patients with the identified condition, the medical staff tries to track down everyone who may also be in jeopardy of developing the disease (contacts).  

Due to a limited budget and human resources, the staff needs technology to reduce their workload so that they can identify more contacts quickly.  

Asian countries gravitate toward using big government databases. Centralized databases of phone numbers and time-specific locations are already in use in China and South Korea. Data analytics can link positive test results of a patient to their most recent contacts and GPS locations. The algorithm then sends text messages to people who have been in contact with a confirmed case. However, Western countries have much more concerns for data privacy, as most people will not agree to have their movements tracked so extensively by the government. Also, GPS location is not always accurate. Being in the same place does not indicate if the person-to-person interaction was close or long enough to transmit. 

Alternatively, phone-to-phone notification apps are being developed for smartphones. Such apps use Bluetooth technology to track the contacts a person has had and if the connections have been close and long enough—within 6 feet for 15 or more minutes—to be potentially dangerous exposure to infection. Some manufacturers have already implemented these solutions.

These apps help patients become more aware and proactive of potential exposure so that they do not have to wait for guidance from public health officials. While such apps preserve patient privacy to a higher degree, they are only useful if a large number of people use the app—10 to 20 percent at minimum, depending on population density—and take the conclusion from the analytics seriously. However, the debate between privacy and public health will be an ongoing hot topic. 

Remote Patient Monitoring

After medical staff have located people who have been exposed to the virus, the potential cases need to be persuaded to quarantine themselves so that they do not expose more people to the disease. The staff must check on the potential cases to make sure they are adhering to the quarantine. Also, the medical team needs to continuously monitor the patients, such as taking body temperature and checking for the presence or disappearance of symptoms.  

Daily calls to cases and contacts are time-consuming for everyone. Apps can be developed to enable quarantined people to enter their symptoms into a database and alert the staff of unusual scenarios or quickly worsened symptoms. The apps do not replace the role of human interaction and direct phone calls but automate the routine cases so that they can process more cases.  

During the quarantine, people may need help getting food, medicine or social support. They will be more likely to adhere to quarantine guidelines if they receive frequent reminders and adequate support. Telemedical apps can send text messages to the quarantined people to remind them to stay isolated and ensure they have the support or resources they need.  Lastly, telemedicine can keep a quarantined person’s support network updated so that it can step in to help.

Robot Delivery of Medical Care

While telemedical software can reduce the non-essential face-to-face interaction between healthcare providers and patients, there are still times when physical objects, such as medication or medical devices, need to be delivered to the patient to implement care or collect data.  

Drones have been used during the pandemic in China to check the temperature of residents who live in high-rise buildings. A drone carrying an infrared thermometer was flown up to whichever floor the residents lived in, and the residents would stand on their balconies to have their temperatures taken.  

Drone delivery of goods has made significant progress by companies, such as Amazon, and many drone enthusiasts. Therefore, telemedicine and drone delivery can potentially be combined in a way that they can deliver medicine or other essentials to the patient without jeopardizing the healthcare staff.  

Robots can make a significant contribution to minimizing infections in the hospital. Robots that perform cleaning tasks can be used to clean and sanitize areas in a hospital that have a high count of virus particles. This way, the human cleaning crew can reduce their exposure. Lastly, chatbots, or robots that can interact with patients and fill out questionnaires, will help reduce the workload of nurses in the hospital.

Remote Patient Management Technologies

A senior patient uses the TytoHome kit to listen to the heart and interact with a caregiver over the Internet without leaving the house. (Image courtesy of TytoCare.)

A senior patient uses the TytoHome kit to listen to the heart and interact with a caregiver over the Internet without leaving the house. (Image courtesy of TytoCare.)

One silver lining of COVID-19 is the acceleration of telemedicine technology development. With the pandemic, many are willing to adopt the use of telemedicine. Here is an example of what is to come. TytoCare offers a home kit with an app allowing healthcare professionals to remotely diagnose and treat many common conditions including ear infections, fever, eye irritation, sore throat, allergies and more.

How does it work? 

The TytoHome kit is a handheld device that, with the help of the patients, enables a healthcare professional to perform guided physical examinations of the ears, lungs, heart, throat, skin and abdomen, and measure heart rate and body temperature. It comes with a camera, thermometer and attachable adaptors. Additionally, an otoscope adapter can be attached to the device for the examination of the ears, a stethoscope for the heart and lungs, and a tongue depressor for the throat.

The TytoHome kit is a handheld telemedicine device that comes with a camera, thermometer and attachable adaptors. (Image courtesy of TytoCare.)

The TytoHome kit is a handheld telemedicine device that comes with a camera, thermometer and attachable adaptors. (Image courtesy of TytoCare.)

The FDA has recently cleared other medical devices, including remote noise-cancellation stethoscopes. Additionally, Eko Enterprise offers digital stethoscopes with EKG capabilities. Most of these home devices would cost around $300. This is only the beginning. We can expect more telemedicine innovations to come.

Future Trends

In the past, telemedicine gained wider adoption among specific segments of the patient population, such as Type 1 diabetes patients, who need intense, around-the-clock monitoring. COVID-19 will push the adoption of telemedicine to a much broader segment of the general population.Here are some of the promising trends.

1.    Patients using telemedicine technology to see their doctors will increase

Patients with underlying conditions, who usually go to clinics for an in-person checkup, are more vulnerable due to their compromised immune system. Telemedicine will reduce their chance of infection. 

2.    Real-time location system use will increase

The real-time location system used in telemedicine will be useful in identifying infected persons and equipment within a hospital so that these people do not go on to spread the infection.  

3.    More DNA sequencing 

Next-generation sequencing, which has massive DNA and RNA sequencing prowess, has been and will continue to be used to analyze the virus that causes COVID-19 during vaccine development and epidemiological studies.  

4.    Telemedicine technology innovation will continue to accelerate

Today, using telemedicine, many common medical conditions can be treated over the Internet. They include ear infections, cold and flu, fever, headaches, eye irritation, congestion, sinus pain, allergies, constipation and stomach aches, bug bites and rashes, coughs and upper respiratory issues, sore throat, and even minor heart conditions. Future innovation is expected to add new capabilities. Success belongs to those who can deliver easy-to-use yet accurate solutions. After all, COVID-19 may have revolutionized the telemedicine industry.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/IOT/ArticleID/20442/How-COVID-19-Is-Accelerating-Telemedicine-Technology.aspx

Thin as Paper, New Transistor Handles 8,000 Volts

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  • July 22, 2020

The most commonly used components in electronic devices are metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors, or MOSFETs. They’re essential for switching high-power electronics on and off instantly. Now, research by University at Buffalo engineers may improve the design and efficiency of these transistors and provide a breakthrough for electric vehicles.

The researchers discovered that MOSFETs based on gallium oxide can dramatically reduce the size and weight of automotive batteries. Thin as a paper sheet, the gallium oxide transistors can manage extremely high voltages of more than 8kV. The research was published in the June edition of IEEE Electron Device Letters.

Two features distinguish gallium oxide MOSFETs:

  • Gallium oxide bandgap
  • Passivation layer

The research focused on gallium oxide due to its bandgap, the amount of energy required to push an electron into a conducting stateThe most common material in power electronics, silicon, has a 1.1eV bandgap. In contrast, gallium oxide has an ultrawide 4.8eV bandgap. This causes a high electric field density of ~ 8MV/cm. 

Materials with wide bandgaps can manage more power than ones with lower bandgaps. Because of this, gallium oxide MOSFETs can be as thin as a sheet of paper. 

Gallium oxide MOSFETs can manage high voltages with a small size due to passivation, a chemical process that coats the device in an epoxy-based polymer commonly used in microelectronics (SU-8). The purpose of the process is to reduce the chemical reactivity of a surface. Research has shown that passivation improves breakdown voltages. 

“The passivation layer is a simple, efficient and cost-effective way to boost the performance of gallium oxide transistors,” said Uttam Singisetti, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo.

Ultimately, this new transistor could result in electronic systems that have increased efficiency and decreased size for use in locomotives, electric cars and airplanes to allow longer times between charge cycles.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/20505/Thin-as-Paper-New-Transistor-Handles-8-000-Volts.aspx

Tesla’s Project Roadrunner Gets Underway as New Facility Begins Construction

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  • July 20, 2020

New updates for Tesla’s much anticipated Project Roadrunner revealed that the Fremont facility has recently continued its expansion and production activities. A Tesla enthusiast paid a visit to the Fremont delivery site and uploaded pictures of the new battery facility’s construction via Twitter. According to @sensarpensar, Tesla Model Y units with vehicle identification numbers (VINs) in the 24,000 range were being prepared for customer turnover, suggesting that vehicle production has remained steady despite the slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Up ahead at Kato Road and Page Avenue, construction is in full swing. City of Fremont documents indicate that Tesla intends to add additional floors to its existing building facility as it plans to ramp up its pilot battery production line. User @sensarpensar also tweeted that a crane has already been set up on the site along with multiple construction workers. Judging from the photos, it appears that the steel framework for a new floor has already been erected.

According to Tesla’s official application for expansion submitted to the City of Fremont, the second floor will be approximately 21,485 square feet, while the third floor will be a smaller at 8,260 square feet. This means that the total floor plan of the existing building will increase by 29,745 square feet, making the facility’s total floor space 156,057 square feet.

The expanded facility will reportedly house 45 research and development employees and approximately 425 manufacturing workers. Tesla has already posted job openings in recent months for positions based in Fremont, Calif., such as cell engineers, production process engineers, and controls engineers. According to the company, the workers will be spread through four shifts in light of the still rising cases of COVID-19. In the company’s expansion application to the City of Fremont, Tesla wrote:

“The remaining 400 employees will work in shifts, such that there are 100 employees working at manufacturing and production operations at any given time, all day, every day. Shifts change at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. The shifts operate such that 100 employees work day shifts in the first half of the week, 100 employees work night shifts for the first half of the week, 100 employees work day shifts during the second half of the week, and 100 employees work night shifts during the second half of the week.”

Tesla first revealed plans for Project Roadrunner in June 2019. The project highlighted Tesla’s plans to begin producing its own in-house battery cell design. However, industry reporters still consider the new undertaking as part of Tesla’s research and development efforts.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/AdvancedManufacturing/ArticleID/20485/Teslas-Project-Roadrunner-Gets-Underway-as-New-Facility-Begins-Construction.aspx

Research Evaluates How U.S. Wind Plant Performance Changes with Age

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  • July 17, 2020

The project is expected to be operational in late 2022.

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows wind plant performance decline because of plant age in the United States can be partially managed and is influenced by policy. Compared with studies of how European wind fleets age, the U.S. wind fleet shows mild performance loss with age, and plants built after 2008 show the lowest levels of performance decline that have been found in a major fleet.

The United States is currently the second-largest wind power market globally, supplying 7.3% of the nation’s electricity generation in 2019. Yet, this is the first research effort to evaluate the impact of plant age on the performance of the U.S. wind fleet.

A team of researchers in the Energy Analysis & Environmental Impacts Division at Berkeley Lab analyzed the performance of 917 onshore wind projects in the United States. The team found U.S. wind plants maintain 87% of peak performance after 17 years and newer plants show almost no decline over the first 10 years.

To model the projected growth of wind power and determine the financial viability of wind plants, researchers and investors need to take into account wind plant degradation over time. Studies in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have shown that differences in each region’s weather, geography, and policies, as well as differences in technology can impact wind fleet performance over time.

Older (pre-2008 commercial online date) plants are shown in pink and newer plants in orange. The size of each dot is proportional to the nameplate capacity of the plant. The background map shows the annual average wind speed (m/s) at 80 m above surface level.

Older (pre-2008 commercial online date) plants are shown in pink and newer plants in orange. The size of each dot is proportional to the nameplate capacity of the plant. The background map shows the annual average wind speed (m/s) at 80 m above surface level.Berkeley Lab

The findings of the study further show that the U.S. wind fleet performance decline per year is on the low end of the range found in Europe. The studies conducted in Europe, however, found that performance declined linearly over time, whereas in the United States, the degradation does not happen smoothly over time. Instead, Berkeley Lab found a more abrupt change in the performance of U.S. wind plants after 10 years of operation, which also coincides with when U.S. wind plants lose eligibility for the production tax credit (PTC).

In the United States, the PTC was implemented as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to incentivize wind power development and installation. The PTC provides wind plants with a production-based tax credit for their first 10 years of operation and the authors of the study suggest that the 10-year duration of the PTC impacts the performance degradation rate of U.S. wind plants.

“We hypothesize that after wind plants lose eligibility for the PTC, they may choose to spend less on maintenance overall and their performance may therefore drop,” said Research Scientist Dev Millstein, an author of the study. “So, a sort of ‘bonus’ effect of the PTC policy is that operators may be keeping their plants running at peak performance while the policy is active.”

Enjoy this article at https://www.tdworld.com/renewables/article/21135013/research-evaluates-how-us-wind-plant-performance-changes-with-age

Construction Market, Including Utilities, was Slowing Before COVID-19

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  • July 15, 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses, caused stock markets to plummet and halted many U.S. construction projects, a survey of architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) professionals indicated that weaker conditions were already on the way. 

For the 4th quarter of 2019, design and construction industry firm leaders reported the lowest level of proposal activity in nearly a decade, according to PSMJ’s Quarterly Market Forecast (QMF), and the 1st quarter 2020 results showed more severe erosion in key markets amid the crisis. 

Although continuing opportunities in the healthcare and water/wastewater markets kept proposal activity in positive numbers for the 1st quarter of 2020, it marked the third consecutive quarter with a net plus/minus index (NPMI) under 20%. The last time this occurred was from the third quarter of 2007 through the first quarter of 2008, which preceded a Recession-era year of declining proposal activity. 

The NPMI expresses the difference between the percentage of firms reporting an increase in proposal activity and those reporting a decrease. PSMJ’s QMF has proven to be a solid predictor of construction market health for the A/E/C industry since its inception in 2003. 

After starting 2019 strong with back-to-back quarterly NPMI scores of 39%, the QMF recorded a steep decline to 19% in the 3rd quarter and 11% in the 4th quarter. The NPMI for proposal activity in the 1st quarter of 2020 was 17%, with nearly two-thirds of the respondents saying that proposal activity had declined or was flat when compared with the relatively weak 4th quarter results.

Psmj Graph

Of the 12 major A/E/C markets measured by the QMF, healthcare topped the field with an overall NPMI of 27%, followed closely by water/wastewater (24%). After that, the dropoff was sharp, with transportation taking the bronze (7%), followed by energy/utilities (1%) and environmental (-5%). 

The worst performing markets were both commercial – developers (-51%) and users (-47%). By contrast, healthcare’s NPMI led the previous quarter’s results at +55%, while education trailed the pack at +23%. “Close analysis of proposal activity reveals very sharp divisions in outlook by markets, some plummeting to levels not seen since the Great Recession.” said PSMJ Senior Principal Davis Burstein, P.E., AECPM. 

Among the 58 submarkets tracked, only 20 showed positive NPMIs. Healthcare submarket medical labs reported the highest level of activity at +27%. Predictably, the restaurant submarket performed worst (75%). Multifamily housing, which has consistently displayed some of the strongest activity in the past decade, was relatively flat (-2%), while other housing markets such as condos (-28%), single family developments (-28%) and single-family homes (-31%) slumped badly. 

“I expect to see a rapid rebound in housing and commercial development once the health crisis passes and the impact of record-low interest rates starts to be felt,” adds Burstein. “Pent-up demand should make its presence felt by the end of Q3, and even more so in Q4 if we see movement on an infrastructure bill.”

PSMJ has been using the QMF as a measure of the design and construction industry’s health every quarter for the past 17 years, assessing the results overall and across 12 major markets and 58 submarkets. The company chose proposal activity to gauge the AEC industry’s long-term outlook because it represents one of the earliest stages of the project lifecycle. A consistent group of over 300 firm leaders responds to the survey each quarter, including 289 for the most recent quarter.

Enjoy this article at https://www.tdworld.com/electrification/article/21129104/construction-market-including-utilities-was-slowing-before-covid19

U.S. Navy Breaks Ground on Cogeneration System to Enhance Resiliency

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  • July 13, 2020

A ceremonial groundbreaking of a cogeneration and microgrid system expansion was recently held at Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE NLON). The work is being performed through a 21-year, US$169.3 million energy savings performance contract (ESPC). The ESPC project will support 100% of the power requirements for SUBASE NLON’s mission-critical piers and nuclear submarines in port in the event of grid outages. NORESCO, a national leader in energy efficiency, resiliency, and infrastructure solutions, participated in the ceremony.

Captain Todd Moore, commanding officer, SUBASE NLON, hosted the event, saying, “These cogeneration and microgrid projects will ensure reliable, cost-effective, and uninterrupted electric power to support the base’s dual mission to deploy combat-ready submarines and crews, and train professional submariners.”

The new cogeneration system will provide 10.75 MW of electrical power generation capacity and generate steam heat for mission-critical waterfront operations and training buildings.

“NORESCO is extremely honored and proud to be working with the Navy on this critical energy infrastructure project,” said Neil Petchers, president and chief executive officer, NORESCO. “This ESPC project, which includes 18 years of ongoing operations, maintenance, repair, and replacement services, will be a key component in securing reliable, resilient, and efficient power integrated into a cybersecure base-wide microgrid.”

The project also includes other energy conservation measures for electrical infrastructure upgrades, steam distribution system improvements, lighting upgrades, and a new base-wide energy management controls system. The SUBASE NLON ESPC is expected to generate energy and operational savings for the Navy, paying for the project over an 18-year period.

Captain Kevin Bartoe, facilities and environmental director at Headquarters for Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC), said, “This ESPC will provide decades of resilient and reliable electrical power capacity to SUBASE NLON. It aligns perfectly with the secretary of the Navy’s Installation Energy Resilience Strategy providing essential utilities service to our submarine fleet.”

The project is expected to be operational in late 2022.

Enjoy this article at https://www.tdworld.com/distributed-energy-resources/article/21135450/us-navy-breaks-ground-on-cogeneration-system-to-enhance-resiliency

Nautilus Aims to Complete Construction of Floating Data Center

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  • July 10, 2020

In an aberration from building the traditional land-based data center, Nautilus Data Technologies is working on a six-megawatt floating data center with the aid of $100 million in funding from Orion Energy Partners. The company has been working on executing the vision for the past five years, with construction underway on the facility currently located at Mare Island in California. The additional funding will be used to complete the project, which is targeted for the end of 2020.

“Orion Energy is providing Nautilus with flexible capital to complete the commissioning of our Stockton I data center, strategically located in Northern California at the Port of Stockton,” said Nautilus CEO James L. Connaughton.

The floating data center is geared to provide a new location option for the land use constraints that exist in places such as California and Singapore. Even in places with less regulation and less costly real estate, such as Arizona, placing data centers in proximity to residential areas can cause nuisance noise pollution.

The Cost of Cooling

Part of the reason why data centers emit noise is because they need to be kept running at an optimal temperature, which also uses considerable energy. According to a report from CB Insights, 3percent of all energy consumption globally comes from data centers, and with over 175 zettabytes of data expected by 2025, the amount of energy used by these facilities will likely also increase. “Often hidden in plain sight, data centers are the backbone of our internet,” the report states.“They store, communicate, and transport the information we produce every single day. The more data we create, the more vital our data centers become.” The report’s authors go on to describe existing data centers as “clunky, inefficient and outdated.”

The floating data center model can make these facilities more efficient by harnessing the cooling properties of an aquatic environment. Nautilus uses a cooling system called Total Resource Usage Effectiveness, or TRUE, that combines maritime industrial cooling technologies with infrastructure to increase efficiency, reduce costs to operate, and decease greenhouse gas emissions. The cooling method also doesn’t use chemical and ozone-depleting refrigerants.

Higher Power Density

Once construction on the Nautilus facility is finished, it will be relocated to a waterway in Stockton, Calif. The company states that the cooling method will result in the ability to provide five times more power density per rack—and will be contained within a smaller footprint. Nautilus has an approved proposal for a similar floating data center in Limerick Docks, Ireland.

Innovative designs for data centers such as those utilizing flotation aren’t new. In 2009 Google filed a patent for a water-based data center. Some opponents of floating data centers have expressed concern about possible impacts on marine wildlife. Ideas have also been explored for developing fully submerged data centers; however, it’s been found that such facilities would cause warming of the ocean or waterway.

Enjoy this article at https://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/20348/Nautilus-Aims-to-Complete-Construction-of-Floating-Data-Center.aspx

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