Alternative Energy – Using Water, Earth, Wind, and Fire
For solar power, emerging technologies bring, Stirling engines fitted to a solar array panel farm. In this pilot plant for the state of California, 37-foot solar panels focus sunlight on a Stirling engine which is a highly efficient engine.
Stirling engines use a fixed amount of gas within an engine. Unlike an internal combustion engine which transfers gases in and out, the Stirling engine does not release any gases. By increasing the temperature and pressure in a cylinder, the Stirling engine generates movement of a piston and enough energy to reset the piston for the next cycle of operation.
Here’s an example in which virtual instrumentation controls the positioning of the solar array panels to generate optimum energy.
Wind power is the fastest growing alternative energy. The key to making wind power affordable is to make the turbine bigger so that it can generate more electricity with each rotation of the turbine blade. Virtual instrumentation plays a key part in this sector by monitoring the wind turbine for vibrations. Also, wind power generates swags and swells in the generated electricity due to fluctuations in the wind. Electrical power monitoring plays an important role in making wind turbines cost efficient. Here’s an example in which LabVIEW provides data acquisition and machine control.
Ocean power captures energy from the waves as they come ashore. Here’s one example of capturing energy from a wave of water by placing a chamber in a structure along the shore. As the water enters the chamber, it forces air through a compressor generating power.
Ethanol is processed corn which burns cleanly. In this article the authors created a model measuring net energy usage for ethanol and comparing it to fossil fuels. The article verifies the efficiency of ethanol over gasoline. An emerging technology, called cellulosic technology improves the process by using bacteria to convert the fiber content of plants (cellulose) into starches that can be fermented by other bacteria to produce ethanol. Virtual instrumentation brings advanced sensors and graphical software to the measurement of ethanol and control to the process of manufacturing it.
Biofuels use plants to create fuel. A variation of ethanol is biodiesel which uses plant matter, roots, stems, leaves and all as a biomass material. It is cheaper and easier to make than ethanol because it doesn’t require the process of distillation that ethanol requires. In this application a university team measured engine performance running biodiesel fuel by using virtual instrumentation.
Technology continues to improve the viability of alternative energies and virtual instrumentation supports these technologies.