Energy update

What goes up, must come down…

Scottish engineering company Gravitricity looks set for a period of major expansion after it secured £650,000 of government backing to develop its innovative power storage technology which upcycles abandoned mine shafts. “We have just signed a major partnership with Dutch offshore engineering firm Huisman to turn our concept into reality in North Yorkshire and we plan to be feeding power into the National Grid by mid 2020,” explains Charlie Blair, Managing Director of the start-up based in Edinburgh. “The basic concept of our technology is based on what keeps your grandfather clock running – a system of weights and winches which can hold power and then slowly discharge it as the weight falls down.” A standard 4 MW (1MWh) system could A 4 MW (1MWh) system could power 10,600 homes for 15 minutes.

Over the next five years, the company will be looking for investors as well as senior mechanical engineers, senior electrical engineers, civil mining engineers as well as project managers.

Reusable robots to decommission nuclear power stations

Robots have been used in decommissioning nuclear power plants for decades, (they can’t get radiation poisoning) but they have tended to be huge and unwieldy with a very limited job spec. Now, a team headed up by Cumbria-based Createc, are developing software to install in smaller, cheaper human sized robots which will have gadgets such as 3D sensors and navigation aids to help them move around plants and feed back real-time data to operators.

Information from 3D sensors will allow operators to control the robot’s decommissioning work using virtual reality,’ says Matt Mellor, a director at Createc, which is funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in partnership with Sellafield.

Rampion wind farm

Visible from the South Coast of England between East Worthing and Brighton, the 400MW Rampion Wind Farm is nearing completion after construction started in September 2015. Its 116 turbines, standing 140 metres tall, are already a landmark which is majority owned and operated by Eo.N and many are already spinning and generating energy. Matthew Swanwick, project director for the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm said that it was the culmination of two years of tireless work in all weathers ‘to complete this remarkable engineering feat.’ When operational, the wind farm will employ 60 people including maintenance engineers.

Using green algae as solar energy cells

Algae could be one of the best sources of green energy and researchers have already found ways to make algae fuel cells powered by photosynthesis. In a step forward, Cambridge chemical engineers have developed miniature algae-powered fuel cells which work in two halves – one half turns solar energy into electrons while the other half instantly converts these electrons into an electrical current. Known as bio-photovoltaic cells, they need to be kept in water but regenerate themselves. ‘At miniature scales, fluids behave very differently, enabling is to design cells that are more efficient, with lower internal resistance and decreased electrical losses,’ says Professor Tuomas Knowles, who lead the team. Commercial development is still two to three years away but the development could mean that algae fuel cells could be efficient ways to generate power where there is plenty of sunshine but poor energy infrastructure.

Thea Jourdan
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