Dynamic Wireless Charging, Steam Locomotives among Featured Topics at IEEE Sustainable Technologies Conference

Dynamic Wireless Charging, Steam Locomotives among Featured Topics at IEEE Sustainable Technologies Conference

BY Chris McManes Posted: 19 Sep 2015

The opportunity to network with your peers is a major reason for attending an IEEE conference. Meeting people who are working in similar areas, finding out about collaboration or job opportunities, and learning the latest technology trends, make the investment worthwhile.

Kevin Anderson, professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cal Poly Pomona, thinks the IEEE Conference on Technologies for Sustainability (SusTech) provided “an excellent networking opportunity.” He also credited the event for its multi-disciplinary aspect.

“I was in a room with a civil engineer, a mechanical engineer and an electrical engineer, and I think there’s only one other time where that’s happened at one of these conferences,” said Anderson, who served as co-chair of the Energy Efficiency track. “… These teams can only help us advance what we’re trying to do.”

SusTech was staged at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, 30 July to 1 August. Attendees heard from engineers, scientists, technologists, and others who are working to protect the environment—by using and replenishing earth’s natural resources—not depleting them.

Efforts in these major areas were explored:

  • Agricultural Sustainability
  • Alternative Energy
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Transportation Electrification
  • Smart Grid
  • Sustainable Electronics
  • Social Implications

“Sustainability is truly interrelated,” SusTech General Chair Dan Donohoe said. “The young engineers were really excited by this. The reason was the breadth of technical scope.”

Through Donohoe’s efforts, two representatives from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office attended part of SusTech, including a panel session at the Salt Lake City Main Library that was open to the general public.

Wireless Power for Electric Vehicles

One of the event’s final paper presentations was also one of the exciting. Braden Limb and researchers at Utah State University are examining the “Feasibility of Wireless Power Transfer for Electrification of Transportation: Techno-economics and Life Cycle Assessment.”

Wireless (or inductive) power transfer occurs over an air gap across a magnetic field, and is nothing new. Nikola Tesla first demonstrated the phenomenon in the 1890s.

While stationary wireless charging of an electric vehicle’s (EV) battery is close to being commercialized, Utah State engineers are looking at wirelessly charging an EV in motion. Such a breakthrough would probably lower EV prices, because of the reduction in size and number of batteries.

“With this analysis, current EVs’ onboard energy storage costs about half the total cost of the vehicle,” Limb said. “With these systems, we can decrease the onboard energy storage, which would significantly reduce the cost of these vehicles.”

Utah State recently completed its Electric Vehicle and Roadway Research Facility and Test Track to research wireless electricity transfer. The quarter-mile track has electrified roadway pads.

Dynamically charged EVs would carry a host of benefits. Limb said greenhouse gas emissions would fall 49 percent, and vehicle operation cost would drop 75 percent.

“This technology is not only environmentally friendly, but it’s also much more economically friendly than current internal combustion vehicles on the market today,” he said.

Limb, an IEEE student member, had a chart showing the energy efficiency delivery of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine is 28 percent; for EVs with wireless transfer technology, that figure is 84 percent.

“These wireless power transfer vehicles are going to use a lot less energy, due to the fact that they have such higher efficiencies associated with the energy delivery to their systems,” Limb said.

A major drawback to dynamic wireless power transfer is the cost to retrofit existing roadways with the necessary infrastructure. According to Paul Barr, P.E., a Utah State civil engineer, it would average about $2.4 million per mile. Who would pay is undetermined.

“The technology isn’t at that point yet,” Limb said, “Whether it’s going to be the government or private companies that implement this technology, that’s yet to be seen.”

Steam Locomotives Making a Comeback?

Wolfgang Fengler, a technical adviser to the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR), wrapped up SusTech with his closing keynote, “Sustainable Transportation and Alternative Energy.” He said CSR is researching the feasibility of bringing the steam locomotive back, one of which it owns, the historic ATSF 3463.

Fengler said the diesel locomotive does well at speeds up to 55 mph, and electric-powered trains perform well between 125 and 186 mph. Steam-driven trains could help fill in the gap between 55 and 125 mph. He noted that steam locomotives are highly adaptable to a wide variety of fuels.

CSR’s research extends into distributed (localized) generation, and it could potentially benefit a family in a developing part of the world.

“Indigenous fuels can be used not only for locomotives, but you could use it for cooking,” Fengler said. “Think about some places in Africa where they use low-grade fuels, dangerous fuels that off-gas a lot of nasty stuff. This is much cleaner, because the torrefaction process removes a lot of the impurities, so you have much-cleaner combustion.

“And you can create jobs and an economy around this technology.”

Machine Guns & Silicone

Prolific Western author and historian Will Bagley was the opening keynote speaker.  Bagley gave a brief history of Ogden and its technological innovations. He noted that the Browning M1917 machine gun, used by the U.S. Army in World War I, was developed and manufactured in Ogden.

The city is also close to Promontory Summit, the spot where the transcontinental railroad was completed by a last spike ceremony in 1869, reducing cross-country travel time from months to days. Ogden was the junction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, making it a major hub for transporting freight and people.

“Junction City,” Bagley said, also had the only significant black population in Utah, and many famous black musicians performed in town. The city still has a vibrant jazz scene.

Dr. Michelle Poliskie, of specialty chemical manufacturer NuSil Technology, delivered a keynote speech on “Designing Sustainable Packaging for Implantable Electronic Devices.” She spoke most about the versatility of silicone, which NuSil manufactures. Silicone is a man-made polymer composed of silicon and oxygen.

Here’s a story from the conference that ran in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, focusing on two solar energy projects at Weber State: http://bit.ly/1Pj6eDs.

SusTech 2015 was sponsored by IEEE Region 6 (Western United States), the IEEE Oregon and Utah Sections, and IEEE-USA. Cosponsors included the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society, the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Utah Section. Weber State University was a silver patron.

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Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager. 

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