Advances in battery technology

The opportunities for spin-out businesses and industries from university research projects are multiplying. The growth in this sector comes from the acceleration of technology in general, but also because the increased investment in education means there are a lot more research students, some with good ideas, but others just looking for topical subjects to latch onto for their research project. Also, industry has learnt that by funding some low cost university research, other ideas might emerge that might be of benefit.

A lot of attention is being given to new designs of battery, as there are some well-known major commercial projects where new systems are needed. First to come to mind would be batteries for electric cars like the Tesla. Here, low-cost, lightweight and relatively compact devices are needed, with high-power output and fast charging. Second are the batteries (or systems) needed to store the power generated by solar farms or wind turbines, during the hours when it is not needed, so that it is available for different times of the day. Possibly lower down the priority list are the small long-life battery systems needed for IIOT sensors and industrial sensors in general. These do not have the major numbers, or the (relatively) high price, so do not attract as much attention.

Eliminating standby power drain

So, it was all the more interesting to hear of research at Bristol University, in the UK, where Dr Stark and his colleagues in the Bristol Energy Management Research Group have developed an electronic chip that can switch on a sensor only when that sensor is being asked to provide or monitor data: for the rest of the time the chip and the circuits which it controls consume no energy at all. It may not be a new battery development as such, but it would allow a much extended battery life, by eliminating all stand-by current drain.

The principle is that the chip uses the small amount of energy transmitted in the interrogation signal from the system asking for the data, to trigger a circuit that switches the device on. The interrogation signal could be from an infrared remote control, or a wireless signal. The team developed their circuit using the same principles as those used in computers to monitor their internal power supply rails – to ensure the voltage does not dip below a certain threshold. The trigger signal uses a few picoWatts of energy, and a signal threshold level of 0,5 V, which is achievable from a passive sensor, just using the received wave energy.

The natural follow-on from this concept is that the trigger signal on some sensor applications could be derived from the event being monitored, such as a rapid increase in the sound or vibration levels of plant machinery. Also, for a security alarm, the movement of a hinge or similar could be sensed magnetically. Conventional power management techniques would be used to switch the sensor off once the data has been transmitted to, and acknowledged by, the monitoring systems.

Power storage

With solar and wind energy providing such a large part of the power used by the National Grid in certain areas, many ways are being researched to achieve power storage over the short term, such as 24 hours. There are already companies providing large storage systems with banks of conventional batteries, acting like very large uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. In Spain and the USA there are solar collector systems where the sun’s heat is concentrated onto a central collector, melting sodium salts: the heat is later used to drive a steam turbine. Further systems are being trialled where surplus energy is used to liquefy gases, or compress them in a high pressure chamber, later the stored gas can be used to drive a turbine generator.

A novel development of a battery cell reported recently is the use of a low cost electrolyte for use with aluminium and graphite electrodes. Dr Dai, at Stanford University, in collaboration with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, demonstrated such a battery powering a motorbike in 2015, but the electrolyte was expensive. The new electrolyte is 100 times less expensive – it is based on urea. Dr Dai sees this as a useful solution for storing solar power, even domestically – maybe new houses will have such a system underground, and call it a “Power storage pit”!

This article was first published in the April issue of “South African Instrumentation & Control”, a TechNews publication. This journal is kind enough to publish an article from Nick Denbow every month, as a report on stories of interest from Europe.

Yokogawa EPMS and SCADA for the UK’s BPAL pipeline system

Yokogawa has received an order from the British Pipeline Agency Limited (BPAL) to supply a management and control system for one of the UK’s major multi-product fuel pipeline systems, to replace the current BPAL pipeline management and SCADA systems.

The BPAL UK pipeline system consists of three integrated multi-product fuel pipelines that link two, refineries, one at Ellesmere port on the Mersey near Liverpool and the other on the Thames in Essex, to inland distribution terminals. These pipelines, operational since 1969, meet over 50% of the jet fuel needs at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and are altogether some 650 km in length. BPAL, jointly owned by Shell and BP, are the operators of these pipeline systems (known as UKOP and WLWG), which are owned by a consortium of partners.

This order is for Yokogawa’s Enterprise Pipeline Management Solution (EPMS), which will manage functions such as delivery scheduling and oil storage, and their Fast-Tools SCADA software, to monitor and control the oil pipelines and related equipment such as compressors. The EPMS uses specific gas and liquid applications that enable a pipeline operator to manage delivery contracts in a time and energy efficient manner. With the SCADA system covering monitoring and control, the EPMS will integrate the management of the SCADA data. Delivery of these systems will be completed by March 2018.

Further order for UAE Power and Desalination Station

Yokogawa also recently received its first ever DCS order for a power and desalination plant in the UAE. The company is to supply the Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (SEWA) with control and safety systems, plus field equipment, for Units 7 and 8 at the Layyah Power and Desalination Station.

Each unit comprises a 75 MW oil and gas-fired thermal power plant and a 27,000 m3 per day multi-stage flash (MSF) desalination plant: a technology that involves the heating and evaporation of seawater in multiple vacuum distillation tanks to produce steam, which is then condensed to produce fresh water. Such systems are energy-efficient because they use the heat from the steam that is created in the vacuum distillation tanks.

Yokogawa Middle East & Africa will deliver the CentumVP integrated production control system for the boiler, turbine governor, turbine protection system and the desalination plant at each of these units, as well as the ProSafe-RS safety instrumented system for burner management and boiler protection. The field instruments will include Yokogawa products such as the DPharp EJA series differential pressure and pressure transmitters, continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS), and steam and water analysis systems (SWAS). In addition to being responsible for engineering, the company will provide support for the installation and commissioning of these systems, with all work scheduled for completion by September 2017.

Demand for electricity and water is soaring throughout the Middle East due to their rapid economic growth. Power and desalination plants that rely on the region’s abundant oil and gas resources make up an important part of this region’s infrastructure.

ABB 1.2 Million Volt Transformer

ABB has developed, manufactured and energized a 1,200-kilovolt (kV) ultra-high-voltage power transformer to support India’s plans to build a 1,200 kV transmission system, supplementing the existing 400 kV and 800 kV transmission grid as demand for electricity increases. The transformer was manufactured and tested at ABB’s state-of-the-art Vadodara facility in India.

Ultrahigh voltage (UHV) 1,200 kV alternating current (AC) power

Ultrahigh voltage (UHV) 1,200 kV alternating current (AC) power transformer installed at Bina site – Level 2

This 1.2 million volt transformer represents the highest alternating current voltage level in the world and is installed at the national test station at Bina, Madhya Pradesh in Central India, as part of a collaborative initiative by the country’s central transmission utility, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID).

India’s geographic span means that resource-rich generation centers and urban and industrial load centers are often far apart therefore requiring efficient power transmission. Along with the country’s commitment to enhance the contribution of renewables, these factors are driving the development of an ultra-high-voltage transmission infrastructure.

The 1,200kV transmission system will help strengthen the grid and enhance load capacity up to 6,000 megawatts (MW). Transmission at higher voltages enables larger amounts of electricity to be transported across longer distances, while minimizing losses. At the same time, less space is needed for fewer transmission lines, which reduces the environmental impact and overall cost.

“ABB has a pioneering track record in India and this 1,200 kV achievement is another concrete example of our commitment to support the country in the ongoing development of its power infrastructure” said Claudio Facchin, President of ABB’s Power Grids division. “This project also underlines how ABB delivers differentiated value through innovation and customer collaboration, both key elements of our Next Level strategy.”

In addition to the transformer, ABB has also developed a 1,200 kV circuit breaker that was previously commissioned at the test station. This was the first hybrid gas insulated switchgear in the world to be energized at this voltage level. The uniquely designed circuit breaker is safely housed with the disconnector in a tank filled with insulating gas – resulting in a space saving potential of up to 60 percent compared with conventional designs.

New ABB inverter boosts solar performance

The new ABB PVS980 central inverter – an essential component in every solar installation that converts direct current (DC) produced in solar panels into alternating current (AC) for use by electricity grids – allows the amount of incoming solar power connected to a single inverter to be increased by as much as 40%: a dramatic improvement that completely changes the economics of a solar installation. Thanks to its increased power, the PVS980 inverter also means a site needs 30% fewer inverters than previously.

The PVS980 high power 1500 VDC central inverter is capable of processing more incoming DC power from photovoltaic (PV) panels through one inverter, reducing the total number of inverters needed on-site, which helps reduce overall costs across the lifetime of a solar plant. Central inverters are used for applications such as large field installations as well as large arrays installed on buildings and industrial facilities. Originally introduced at the Intersolar exhibition as a concept last year, the PVS980 is now shipping commercially and has already seen strong interest among customers, with a number of pilot projects in place. The new inverter is designed to seamlessly integrate into digital smart grids and operate efficiently, while reducing the carbon footprint of the installation.

ABB engineers have improved the compactness of the device, enabling a power density increase of more than 40% – making it possible to build large power rated inverters in the same physical size. Avoiding external air entering the critical compartments of the inverter, the equipment can operate from below freezing to extreme heat in 100% humidity without jeopardizing functionality. The very wide temperature capability offers full performance without derating at up to 50°C, in a waterproof and dustproof enclosure.


Copper ore conveyor system by ABB

ABB is to supply one of the world’s most powerful and complex automated conveyor belt systems for the Chuquicamata Copper Mine in Chile. The belt system will operate at highest levels of availability and efficiency, to deliver copper ore from the underground mine directly to the concentrator plant, which is located 13 km from the mine site.

The final conveyor system will be one of the world’s largest, covering both steep gradients and long distances, with conveyor flights using up to 20 MW of power, and 55 MW used in the total system – the amount of energy typically needed to power 41,000 homes. In the final stage the system will transport over 11,000 tons of material per hour, the same amount that would fill around 158 freight wagon trains.


A conveyor belt similar to this will be used at the Chiqui mine

Major capacity expansion

The order won by ABB is for a complete power and automation solution: the project includes gearless drives, motors, instrumentation and power product supply. The equipment will be custom engineered to on-site requirements, in order to optimally power, control, measure and actuate the conveyor system. The belt power and automation will be fully integrated through the flagship ABB control system, 800xA, combined with the ABB Mining Conveyor Control Program, to ensure optimum power quality and control across the entire system.

Chuquicamata is one of the largest open pit copper mines, and the second deepest open-pit mine in the world: it is located 1,650km north of Santiago, Chile. Popularly known as ‘Chuqui’, the mine has been operating since 1910. It is owned and operated by Codelco, the world’s leading copper producer. A new underground mine is being developed at Chuquicamata to access the ore body situated beneath the present open pit mine. The new mine is scheduled to begin operations in 2019, and will significantly expand the output from the area.

“With mineral deposits becoming increasingly complex and more remote, our power and automation solutions can help customers become more efficient and optimize their operations enabling them to increase efficiency with less maintenance costs” said Roger Bailey, Head of the ABB Process Industries business. “We are delighted to support Codelco in their aim to be the leading copper supplier across the world.”

The gearless drive is key

A key feature of the solution to be provided by ABB is the gearless conveyor drive system. This is a state of the art solution that will meet the extremely high load requirements and the necessary power availability at the site: this would not have been achievable with a conventional drive solution.

This gearless conveyor drive system eliminates the gearbox from the motor, thus significantly reducing the number of main wear parts, resulting in less maintenance and ensuring a longer lifespan of the system. Another advantage is a considerable reduction in the drive system footprint and the amount of instrumentation required.

Power and water for the developing world

In the Journal ‘South African Instrumentation and Control’ I provide a regular column  giving some commentary on the I&C scene as seen from Europe, wherever possible referring to items that could be of relevance to their South African readers. This was the story published in the May 2016 issue.

Some of the products created for the consumers in the developed world have had perhaps surprising benefits in the less well-developed countries too. One example has been the use of mobile phones throughout Africa, enabling the development of a simple banking and payment system.

But there are other engineering developments that are specifically designed for use by people living far from the normal facilities offered in an urban setting, and many universities, philanthropists and aid organisations are active in supporting these ideas. desolenatorOne such development idea from the UK is known as a ‘Desolenator’. This is a portable, solar-powered water purification system, designed to produce clean drinking water, starting from seawater, or polluted groundwater. The device is the size of a flat-screen TV and is equipped with rugged all-terrain wheels to assist transport: it can produce 15 litres of distilled drinking water per day, enough for one family to use for drinking and cooking.

The device uses a solar panel to produce electricity: a thin layer of the water to be treated flows over the photovoltaic surface, absorbing the heat also produced by the sun, and cooling the panels to improve their efficiency. The heated water passes into a boiler, powered by the electrical output from the panel: the steam is condensed to produce distilled water, giving up its latent heat to the incoming water flow. A small drain from the boiler discharges a concentrated dirty liquid stream.

The Desolenator device is claimed to have a life of 20 years, and requires little maintenance: it has recently won two Innovation Award prizes from the UK’s Institute of Engineering Technology.

Further harnessing solar power

Whilst the Desolenator shows one potential application of solar power, making electric power available from such a widely available source is a major objective in both the developed and under-developed world. This is particularly needed in areas without any other source of power at night, when it is dark, which is a slight problem. How can children do their homework, or study anything, without some light?

In the developed world there is a need to store the power generated by wind farms and solar farms, to make it available in periods of high demand, or when the wind or sun are not there. So there is a lot of research into storing large amounts of power. Hopefully some of this might spin-off and make smaller domestic or small village units available soon.

csm_Photoelektrochemie_219a069346At the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien), current research is following the principles of photochemical cells, as used in nature, where plants absorb sunlight and store this energy chemically. The main problem was that quoted above, in relation to the Desolenator design, that at high temperatures, the efficiency of any current photovoltaic solar cell decreases. While the electrical energy produced by a solar cell can be used in an electrochemical cell to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, the energy efficiency of this process is limited, because of the high temperatures involved.

At TU Wien researchers have now developed new highly specialised materials, which form a photovoltaic that operates at a high temperature (400°C), so concentrated light beams can be used to produce a large energy output: currently achieving 920 mV. These cells use Perovskite metal oxide materials in the photovoltaic, which creates free charge carriers – electrons – that travel into the electrochemical cell. Here they ionise oxygen into negative ions, which can travel through a membrane, separating hydrogen and oxygen. Work continues to increase the power further and produce an industrial prototype, where a hydrogen cell would be used later to produce on-demand electrical power.

Other techniques

More conventional techniques, such as those having banks of rechargeable batteries, and even mechanical flywheel systems, are being installed in areas where short-term interruptions in supplies are common. But the spin-off from such university research will eventually lead to novel ideas to help the less-developed world as well.

ABB $90m order for 100MW ‘power from shore’ cable

A new 200-kilometer cable system to be supplied by ABB will deliver 100 MW of electricity from the Norwegian grid to the Johan Sverdrup offshore facility on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

ABB won this order, worth around $90 million, from leading international energy company Statoil, for a high-voltage cable system to supply power from shore to the Johan Sverdrup offshore oil field. Located 155 kilometres (km) west of Stavanger in the North Sea, Johan Sverdrup is considered one of the largest offshore oil fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). Once fully operational, production is estimated at 550,000 – 650,000 barrels of oil per day, accounting for nearly 40 percent of total oil production from the NCS.

ABB will design, manufacture and install an 80-kilovolt (kV) extruded direct current (DC) cable system with a capacity of 100 megawatts to transmit power from the Norwegian power grid to the Johan Sverdrup offshore production facility. At around 200 km in length, it will be the longest extruded submarine cable system to an offshore oil and gas platform facility in the world. Supplying electric power from shore for offshore oil and gas production avoids the need to burn diesel or gas out at sea to power the equipment and machinery on the platforms, resulting in substantial reductions in CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions. In addition to the environmental benefits of powering the cluster of platforms from shore, the cable solution is safer and more energy-efficient than generating the power offshore using fossil fuels.

“Delivering enhanced customer value through close customer collaboration is an important element of ABB’s Next Level strategy and we are delighted to be supporting Statoil with this cable system as well as the HVDC converter stations,” said Claudio Facchin, president of ABB’s Power Systems division. ”With this ‘power from shore’ cable solution, ABB will once again be pushing the boundaries of technology and lowering environmental impact, in line with our vision of power and productivity for a better world.”

In March, ABB was awarded an order to supply the two high voltage direct current (HVDC) converter stations for the same project. One will be located onshore at Haugsneset, where it will turn alternating current (AC) from the grid into DC, which can be transmitted efficiently over 200 km to the second station which is on one of the oil platforms. There, the DC current will be converted back into AC and distributed to the rest of the field.

ABB leads the way when it comes to cable systems delivering power-from-shore to both fixed as well as floating platforms. The company’s track record includes Statoil´s Troll A 1&2 with 3&4 currently under commissioning. Other major references include the Gjøa platform which was commissioned in 2010, the Martin Linge platform which will be the world’s longest alternating current (AC) cable from land to an offshore installation and the link to the Goliat power from shore installation in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea. ABB also performed the front-end engineering and design for the entire Johan Sverdrup HVDC power-from-shore system.

ABB is a global leader in high-voltage cable systems across applications such as integration of renewables, city centre infeeds, oil and gas platform power supplies and subsea interconnections. ABB has commissioned more than 25 DC and hundreds of AC cable links around the world.