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Six Scientists Show Six Super Surprises
April 14, 2014 7:49 AM   Subscribe

New smartphone battery charges in 30 secondsProgrammable nanobots injected into cockroaches I for one welcome our etc etcMIT unveils shape-shifting furnitureWindtraps from Dune I mean the Smithsonian announces towers that distill water out of airBody heat may soon power wearable gadgetsUS Navy converts seawater to fuel
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering (54 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
fine formatting, fffm.
posted by mwhybark at 7:56 AM on April 14


"US Navy converts seawater to fuel"

I saw this headline (different link) on my FB feed this morning and thought, "Man, someone trolled the IBTimes hard." But no.... they actually broke down seawater and made fuel, and ran a two-stroke combustion engine with it. Takes 23,000 gallons of seawater to make ~one gallon of fuel, which seems inefficient as hell, but IIRC, the average, largish swimming pool is about 25,000 gallons, so it's really not that much water.

So, proof of concept. They think applying the technology will take about 7 - 10 years, but once they do... imagine the possibilities. They could literally refuel from the ocean. No more worrying about protecting and escorting your tanker supply line. Etc.
posted by zarq at 8:02 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


man, that israeli prototype 30-second charge battery. NEED.SO.MUCH.
posted by dabitch at 8:03 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


MIT unveils shape-shifting furniture

It's a trap!

posted by Ian A.T. at 8:04 AM on April 14


"US Navy converts seawater to fuel"

So not only can we massively overfish the ocean, we can now massively overexploit the ocean itself? Like we've proven ourselves so good at managing our fossil fuel use...
posted by fnerg at 8:21 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


See also: EATR*

*Note: EATR does not, repeat NOT, subsist on human flesh.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:23 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


The Guardian article about the rapid-charge battery is confusing as hell. The entire article is written as if it's the charger that uses new technology and that the battery is the plain old smartphone battery.
But this line:

"uses StoreDot’s patented organic compounds, called “Nanodots”, instead of the standard lithium-based chemicals used in current battery technology, to store energy rapidly in a compact form."

makes it seem like it's the battery that's different, and the video showing the new brick attached to the back of the phone seems to bear that out.

So is it a new battery or a new charger?
posted by rocket88 at 8:24 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


'Tis a fine time to be alive.1


1Until the body heat powered nanobots take over the furniture and use it to kill us all by dumping 30 second cell phone charges into our heads.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:26 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


So is it a new battery or a new charger?

It seems very likely that it would have to be both.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:28 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


The important efficiency number for the seawater to fuel is how much electricity to make an energy-equivalent of jet fuel. That figure is nowhere in the press releases that I can find. There also appear to be no publications about this. That's not hugely surprising, given who did the work, and that it's likely considered sensitive info, at least for now.

I'm guessing that number is in the single digits of percent, but I'd be pleased to be proven wrong. However, with nuclear powerplants in most aircraft carriers, that number likely doesn't matter too much for the Navy.
posted by bonehead at 8:31 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


shape-shifting furniture

I'm surprised the article didn't focus more on how they went back in time to the 1970s and got the beanbag chari that used to be in my family's den.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:31 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


we can now massively overexploit the ocean itself

In this particular case, the cycle of making fuel then burning it in airplanes, the cycle is exactly carbon-neutral, given that power is ultimately coming from a nuclear source. In that case, it's a greener alternative than current conventional sources. If they're burning marine bunker fuel for the electric power, then it's considerably worse, of course.

Also, consider that the US Navy is responsible for the most oil spills in any year in the US. They're all quite small, but most of them happen because of fuel handling. Anything that reduces ship-to-ship transfers at sea, the most risky kind of transfer, cuts down on oil spill risks.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Given the rapid melting of the polar ice caps, burning the excess water for fuel is a brilliant response to the expected rise in sea level. Meaning I can still retire to the Keys! Right?
posted by stargell at 8:43 AM on April 14


I... I have shape-shifting furniture. It's called a futon couch, and I am not sure how much more shape-shifting furniture I need in my apartment, especially furniture that has thousands of breakable motors and rods and things.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:45 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Meaning I can still retire to the Keys! Right?

That depends. How long can you tread water? :D
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I'm not MIT material, but I still have no idea what the "shape-shifting furniture" is or does.
posted by Legomancer at 9:09 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Programmable nanobots injected into cockroaches: The nanoscale robots were made using DNA strands that fold and unfold like origami. They can function like mini-computers, carrying out simple tasks. One day similar nanorobots could be...

We are horrible.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:11 AM on April 14


New smartphone battery charges in 30 seconds, lasts nearly 2 minutes while playing Angry Birds.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:14 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


"Dogs flew space ships! • The Aztecs invented the vacation! • Men and Women are the same sex! • Our forefathers took drugs! • Your brain is not the boss!" - Dr. "Happy" Harry Cox.
posted by tommasz at 9:19 AM on April 14


New smartphone battery charges in 30 seconds

The secret is it's a really small battery.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:20 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


We are horrible.

Allow me to finish the quote you abruptly cut off...

"One day similar nanorobots could be programmed to seek out diseases inside humans and treat them at the site, with medical precision."

So, no...not so horrible.
posted by rocket88 at 9:20 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


I saw some of these links earlier, though I didn't click on any until now, as I had automatically translated them to:


Transform your vermin problem into your cleaning crew with this one weird trick!

Charge your iPad in less than a minute using this one crazy device!

Convert your pool into fuel using this one insane ruse!

Power your house with your body with this one wild stunt!
posted by Debaser626 at 9:21 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I am enjoying imagining many of these creators throwing their heads back and crying at their lab ceilings "The fools! They laughed at my furniture/battery/cockroach! They called me mad! Is this the work of a madman!?! Bwahahahaha!"
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Forbes columnist Tim Worstall says the system could be great for the Navy, but he doubts it will be an economically feasible or energy-efficient alternative for those of us on land. "We need more energy to go into the process than we get out of it," he wrote of the Navy's method for converting seawater to fuel, adding later, "[A]s a general rule it’s not really all that useful. We want to produce energy, not just transform it with efficiency losses along the way."
With shipboard lasers and railguns suddenly appearing as weapons maybe a couple of years out instead of perpetually 10 years away, and now this, the Navy is really, really trying to tell us something.

At this point, they're all but putting up a banner on their side of the Pentagon that reads "ASK US ABOUT OUR FUSION REACTOR PROGRAM!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:25 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Rail guns are down to two years now. But yeah, the US Navy does seem very intent on switching everything over to electric power.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on April 14


"We need more energy to go into the process than we get out of it," he wrote of the Navy's method for converting seawater to fuel, adding later, "[A]s a general rule it’s not really all that useful. We want to produce energy, not just transform it with efficiency losses along the way."
I know what he means but this drives me crazy - "transform[ing] [energy] with efficiency losses along the way" is all we ever do, all we can do. That's all there ever is, that's all there ever will be. That's what we do with oil, solar, etc. as well. We gloss over this all the time, but I think that's a bad thing.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:40 AM on April 14


They think applying the technology will take about 7 - 10 years, but once they do...

This idea has been done before. Seafuel

The book - Methanol: Bridge to a Renewable Energy Future point out a late 1970's process. The logo for seafuel

imagine the possibilities.

With the ability to 'project power' all over the world the sun will not set on the US Dollar. The lessons of the loss of The Pound being The Pound world round is not lost on leadership.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:16 AM on April 14


"One day similar nanorobots could be programmed to seek out diseases inside humans and treat them at the site, with medical precision."
So, no...not so horrible.


Yea, because such will never be used to select for, say, skin color...just dis-ease.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:18 AM on April 14


If one wants to make a fuel from water and air - why not pick an element that is not a small part of air but a large part - Nitrogen?

Make Ammonia instead.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:22 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


If that 30 second charger can be scaled to electric car sized use, that's a pretty big deal.
posted by calamari kid at 10:29 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


New smartphone battery charges in 30 seconds

Yeah, but how long does it take to run out of charge?
posted by mstokes650 at 10:39 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


If that 30 second charger can be scaled to electric car sized use, that's a pretty big deal.

If one uses a 5KWh = 1 gal of gasoline rate for a calculation base, the big deal is sourcing the energy to the place where such batteries can get charged. For a 10 gal tank, that is 50KW over an hour. Rounding down, 100 amps at 480 volts. Now fill the batteries in 1/100th of an hour - 36 seconds and you need 10,000 amps at 480 volts.

Rule of thumb - the current capacity of copper is 4X the cross sectional area. Now add in a scrap Copper price of about $3 a lbs and the electric economy gets expensive fast.

Now lets think about the heat dissipation of charging that 30 sec car-sized battery. How and where ya gonna dump the heat in 30 seconds of a 10,000 amp current? Or even over an hour of 100 amps?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:40 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Ammonia is a bitch to store compared to hydrocarbons though. It corrodes tanks, unlike most hydrocarbon fuels. It's also a huge hazard when released (remember that explosion in Texas last year? Ammonia). Jet fuel, and particularly straight-chain hydrocarbon synthetic fuels are non-toxic and much less of a fire/explosion risk.
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on April 14


This Discover Mag article states a 92% efficiency rate for the Navy's seawater fuel process. So yeah, they get out less than they put in, but with nuclear reactors on board the ship powering it, who cares?
posted by msbutah at 10:51 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Ammonia is a bitch to store compared to hydrocarbons though.

But is a common industrial material so handling is known.

It corrodes tanks, unlike most hydrocarbon fuels.

Most hydrocarbon fuels are liquid at STP.

Ammonia is more like Propane. Different tanks and tank material.

Jet fuel, and particularly straight-chain hydrocarbon synthetic fuels are non-toxic

Non-toxic? Really? Last I knew of the liquid hydrocarbons biodiesel was considered such. Rock-oil based ones were not.

It's also a huge hazard when released (remember that explosion in Texas last year? Ammonia). [snip]
and much less of a fire/explosion risk.


Explosion and fire would be less likely with a ruptured ammonia tank than with gasoline or ethanol.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:02 AM on April 14


rough ashlar: "
If one uses a 5KWh = 1 gal of gasoline rate for a calculation base, the big deal is sourcing the energy to the place where such batteries can get charged. For a 10 gal tank, that is 50KW over an hour. Rounding down, 100 amps at 480 volts. Now fill the batteries in 1/100th of an hour - 36 seconds and you need 10,000 amps at 480 volts.

Rule of thumb - the current capacity of copper is 4X the cross sectional area. Now add in a scrap Copper price of about $3 a lbs and the electric economy gets expensive fast.

Now lets think about the heat dissipation of charging that 30 sec car-sized battery. How and where ya gonna dump the heat in 30 seconds of a 10,000 amp current? Or even over an hour of 100 amps?
"

Thanks for the insight.

So is this a place where superconductive materials might be of use instead of copper? Would it be possible to store energy onsite at charging stations? Say, replacing underground fuel tanks with some sort of giant capacitors? The heat dissipation problem makes me envision giant swoopy heat sinks on top of the stations, echoing the '50's era "futuristic" designs. Which would be cool.
posted by calamari kid at 11:04 AM on April 14


Well if it's in a home obvs you'd channel the heat into the home heating system. In the summer, into the hot water system.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:10 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


So is this a place where superconductive materials might be of use instead of copper?

For there to be an electric economy functioning at the rate the present one does the infrastructure would have to be replaced and that starts to make sense with a viable room temp semiconductor.

Ideals like the RUF become more viable if the road becomes the superconductor conduit.

(Oh and there should be some places "electromagnetic free" for the ppl who think they are under EM attack or EM sensitive. Such will give us humans a control group for seeing if this electo-future is biological folly no?)

Would it be possible to store energy onsite at charging stations?

Battery swapping stations have been a proposed method - yes. There is alot of energy doled out at fueling stations - now imagine how you are going to get that same amount of energy crammed into batteries?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:14 AM on April 14


If one uses a 5KWh = 1 gal of gasoline rate for a calculation base

I had thought it was closer to 36 kWh per gallon.
posted by nickmark at 11:22 AM on April 14


I really like the battery swap idea from a safety standpoint. Chemical batteries can be crazy dangerous if something goes wrong, so having them rotated out and inspected, removing bad ones from circulation for recycling, seems like a great idea. Some kind of quick-swap standard where you can drive into an automated bay, have the battery pulled and carted away for inspection and the new one put in would be just as quick for the driver as any theoretical quick-charge system. As newer and smaller batteries are developed you'd probably want to either sell adapters for older cars or just keep the same size and shape with more capacity.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:23 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Indeed, ammonia is most like propane by physical characteristics. Most firefighters I know consider propane fires to be the most dangerous fuel fires they can face. The potential for explosions, BLEVEs, is quite high with a liquid which boils to gas at ambient temperatures. Ammonia has the same set of concerns. CNG is dangerous too, but is more volatile. Flammables with boiling points below freezing through about a hot summer day are considered major explosive hazards. Jet fuel isn't "safe" (bp > 61C) but it's less dangerous than propane.

The corrosivity of ammonia is a major problem associated with it's use. There are even ammonia pipelines working in the US today, but they're more expensive and complicated to operate than hydrocarbon ones.

Non-toxic?

The target hydrocarbons for jet fuel are n-hexane through n-decane. Those are not completely safe, but neither are they terribly toxic compounds. The toxic components of petrogenic jet fuel fractions relate mostly to the aromatic (eg benzene). Synthetic fuels are generally saturate hydrocarbons only, the ones with the most energy density.

Additives are another question, but synthetic fuels, as long as they don't contain pentane, are typically are considered non-toxic.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I had thought it was closer to 36 kWh per gallon.

A web page on hurricane prepping claimed 18 gallons in 24 hours to get 5KW loaded generator. So I spit balled it with a crappier genset for simpler math. The 36kWh may be straight thermal watts, not electrical.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:29 AM on April 14


Well if it's in a home obvs you'd channel the heat into the home heating system. In the summer, into the hot water system.

I did a brewery tour last summer (Foolproof, in Pawtucket, RI, if you're in the area), and one of the things I found great was the way that they cooled the wort by running it through a heat exchanger, where the water cooling the wort was pumped into the next kettle, so that a lot of the heat was conserved for the next batch. it saved them money but also reduced the ecological cost of delicious beer.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:33 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


There's also the railgun my dad made for the Navy that made the news rounds last week. He was a bit put out he had to share a segment with that drone supply chopper, but so long as he doesn't start building something humming and metal in the shed, I think we'll be okay.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:42 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The 36kWh may be straight thermal watts, not electrical.

I think it's a simple BTU comparison (125,000 BTU/gal gasoline; 3412 BTU/kWh).

the way that they cooled the wort by running it through a heat exchanger, where the water cooling the wort was pumped into the next kettle, so that a lot of the heat was conserved for the next batch

That kind of heat recovery is pretty standard in breweries. Heating water is one of the main uses of energy in a brewery, so the more you can do to conserve heat, the better. Also, you want to crash the temperature of the wort after a boil as fast as possible, both to get a good cold break and to get it to the desired fermentation temperature. So running the hot wort past cold incoming water is a good way to do both.

Sad part is that because it's standard practice, it makes it tougher for me to offer rebates when somebody's building a new brewery in the area.
posted by nickmark at 11:50 AM on April 14


If one uses a 5KWh = 1 gal of gasoline rate for a calculation base, the big deal is sourcing the energy to the place where such batteries can get charged. For a 10 gal tank, that is 50KW over an hour. Rounding down, 100 amps at 480 volts. Now fill the batteries in 1/100th of an hour - 36 seconds and you need 10,000 amps at 480 volts.

Rule of thumb - the current capacity of copper is 4X the cross sectional area. Now add in a scrap Copper price of about $3 a lbs and the electric economy gets expensive fast.

Now lets think about the heat dissipation of charging that 30 sec car-sized battery. How and where ya gonna dump the heat in 30 seconds of a 10,000 amp current? Or even over an hour of 100 amps?"



Well, first off, more than 90% of that energy is going into charging the battery, which is the whole point, not generating heat.

Tesla already has super chargers putting out 120 KW, so the heat issue isn't insurmountable. We could assume 12 KW of heating which isn't much more than the electric stove in your kitchen. When you drive your gasoline car down the freeway, your radiator is dissipating a steady 20 KW or more of waste heat, so heat dissipation is a solvable problem.

30 seconds to charge a car is probably unreasonable, but you can't fill your gas tank in 30 seconds either. But some few minutes is certainly reasonable. The current Tesla superchargers will charge a car in 30 minutes.
posted by JackFlash at 12:03 PM on April 14


There's also the railgun my dad made for the Navy that made the news rounds last week.

Incidentally, "Real Railguns of the US Navy" sounds like a sassy new reality TV show where a group of real "sparkplugs" trash talk other ships and blow up the brass.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:03 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, "Real Railguns of the US Navy" sounds like a sassy new reality TV show where a group of real "sparkplugs" trash talk other ships and blow up the brass.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot


I think someone is envious that the Navy is getting all the toys these days....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:35 PM on April 14


"transform[ing] [energy] with efficiency losses along the way" is all we ever do, all we can do.

Depends what you want from the transformation. If heat is considered a desirable product you can get very very very close to breaking even.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:54 PM on April 14


> "Honestly, I am enjoying imagining many of these creators throwing their heads back and crying at their lab ceilings 'The fools! They laughed at my furniture/battery/cockroach! They called me mad! Is this the work of a madman!?! Bwahahahaha!'"

I regularly ask my spouse the scientist if her latest work will allow her to take revenge upon the fools at the academy who laughed at her. She instead seems stoically devoted to demonstrating that the fools at the academy who laughed at her were wrong by publishing quality, peer-reviewed research in respectable journals.

What's more, she routinely fails to cackle maniacally upon success, even though she quite literally regularly works deep within desert lairs, on top of extinct volcanoes, or inside the occasional crumbling European castle. These places are so well-suited to mad science that one was actually used as the lair of a Bond villain (it's the one that got blown up in Quantum of Solace.) And yet she stubbornly remains completely sane.

It's very frustrating. It's like she doesn't want me to be a minion at all.
posted by kyrademon at 4:22 PM on April 14 [12 favorites]


there should be some places "electromagnetic free"

Faraday cages? Very dark and cold Faraday cages?
posted by NMcCoy at 5:12 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


kyrademon: "It's very frustrating. It's like she doesn't want me to be a minion at all."

Well, that makes two of us. Maybe there's a support group for partners/spouses of scientists who refuse to try to take over the world? Maybe there should be.

"I love you and I'm more than happy to do all the cooking this week while you finish your publication, but I would sure appreciate it if you'd use those statistically significant findings to lay waste to all our enemies and teach a lesson to the neighbours, a lesson to the town, A LESSON TO EVERYONE!"
posted by barnacles at 8:37 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I... I have shape-shifting furniture. It's called a futon couch, and I am not sure how much more shape-shifting furniture I need in my apartment, especially furniture that has thousands of breakable motors and rods and things.

No worries. Once you've figured out programmable cockroaches, shape-shifting furniture's basically a one-liner.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:50 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you just need to make use of the furniture battery cockroach that everyone laughed at.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:10 PM on April 14


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