Energy in a flash – what can we do with lightning?

Lightning is one of the scariest forms of energy in nature. What Halloween movie isn’t complete without a sudden thunderous bolt from the heavens right when the bad guy emerges from the shadows?

But lightning isn’t all just theatrics. It also contains a lot of power which, if it could be harnessed, could be of great use. This week’s dramatic electrical storms in Melbourne and Adelaide (storm photo gallery, ABC News) got us thinking… if we could capture lightning, what would we do with it?

*cue maniacal laugh*

In the 1931 film Frankenstein, the eponymous scientist used lightning-like bolts of electricity to create a monster.  In the 1990’s film Back to the Future, Doc used lightning to power his DeLorean to travel in time.

While it is fair to say we’re not quite ready to raise the dead or travel in time, using lightning to power our homes – or even a simple appliance like a toaster – could one day be a possibility.

Tall buildings like The Sydney Tower are regularly hit by lightning. According to recent reports, a million volts can charge through the Sydney Tower’s metal frame countless times per storm. Depending on which reports you read, there are about 500 megajoules in the average bolt.  This could easily power a 1000 watt two-slice toaster for over a year.

storm

Capturing the energy in a lightning bolt has been tried but with limited success. Other ideas have included conducting electricity using rods, or using the energy to heat water which could then be used to generate electricity. This is similar to solar thermal technologies which use the sun to heat water and then generate electricity.

For now, we’d say you’d be mad to try and power your toaster with lightning (unless you like it really burnt); but if we can find an efficient way to capture, store and distribute this energy, then one day it may form a small part of our energy mix.

Learn more about how we’re already harnessing nature’s power to produce energy with supercritical steam.


Putting over-crowded emergency rooms to bed

By Emily Lehmann 

Ever waited for a long time in a hospital emergency department and thought, there must be a better way?

It’s a common problem in the hospitals of Australia. While our nurses, doctors and medical staff are undeniable miracle workers, even they can only do so much. If there’s a sudden rush of sprained ankles, broken jaws and bruised elbows at your local hospital or medical centre needing urgent attention, then bed management can become crucial.

To help figure out how to manage this, we’ve come up with a handy tool to crunch the numbers and found that hospital demand is actually pretty predictable – particularly around major annual events (think Schoolies Week).

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Today, the Victorian Government has announced that it will fund CSIRO to work with HealthIQ and Melbourne’s Austin Hospital for the first Victorian trial of our Demand Prediction Analysis Tool.

This tool is an adaptation of technology which is already being used by more than 30 Queensland hospitals to predict bed demand by the hour, day and week, helping to ease pressure on their emergency wards.

Using historical data to forecast bed demand, the tool has been shown to have a 90 per cent accuracy rate. It can predict how many patients will come through the doors, how serious cases will be and how many will likely be admitted to the hospital or discharged.

The tool anticipates the number of different injuries or illnesses likely to occur on any given day, so that hospitals can plan the staff, medical supplies and beds needed to care for patients.

The aim is to help hospitals manage waiting times so that patients arriving in emergency departments are seen and admitted or discharged within only a few hours.

The technology has the potential to save the Victorian public health sector around $9 million a year.

If the rest of the country was to adopt prediction tools like this, a huge $23 million in annual savings could be made across Australia.

The $230,000 trial is the first to be announced through the Victorian Government Technology Innovation Fund and will be completed by mid-2015.

Read more about our work to reduce hospital waiting times using new digital technologies.


Prize-winning scientist works with antimatter, to make substances that are bigger on the inside – and real

Dr Matthew Hill

Dr Matthew Hill

Matthew Hill’s work sounds as though it should be directed by George Lucas. The main difference is that it’s real. But a job where the tools of trade include the Australian Synchrotron AND antimatter still sounds like science fiction.

As do the results that come from it. Matthew has just been awarded the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year (presented as part of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science awards), for his work on Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).

These are networks of metal atoms that are linked and separated by carbon-based compounds. They’re incredibly porous – about ten times more so than any material discovered previously. Their internal storage capacity can be as much as 6000 square metres for a gram of material. That’s a whole football field, stored in a tiny space.

It doesn’t end there. They form as crystals, so their structure can be worked out precisely. And, because they can be made using a broad range of metals and organic compounds, it’s possible to construct a huge number of different structures with different characteristics. This means they can be designed to suit specific applications.

MOFs aren’t just for storing things, although they’re very, very, good for that. About forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things, whether it’s in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production or pollution control.

The first of these is well under way. Matthew and his team have developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants, and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. He’s working with gas companies to develop the patented technology that could replace the multistorey processing plants found on gas fields with smaller truck-sized systems.

Patented applications for the food industry are also in the works. And further down the track are carbon dioxide scrubbers; safe compact storage systems for gas and hydrogen; and even crystals that could deliver drugs or fertilisers on demand.

One big aim is for carbon capture and storage. Matthew says, ‘The energy-expensive part of carbon capture is in its release. So we teamed up with Monash and Sydney Universities to make a MOF that soaks up the CO2 part, and changes shape when concentrated sunlight shines on it. It wrings itself out like a sponge, and releases 70 per cent of the CO 2 it has stored.’

So how sci-fi is that? Reducing the amount of energy needed to store things – and thus also reducing the carbon emissions, then finding a way to store the carbon at the other end.

But just to show once again that truth can be stranger than fiction, here’s one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ stories. The Malcolm McIntosh Prize is awarded in honour of a former CEO of CSIRO, who sadly died in 2000. Matthew is married to the niece of Dr McIntosh.


Shale gas, coal seam gas… what’s the difference?

By Tsuey Cham

A few weeks ago we took a look at coal seam gas (CSG) and the hydraulic fracturing (‘fraccing’) process used in its extraction. You may have also heard of shale gas, another type of natural gas found deep underground.

So what exactly makes them different?

In terms of their gas content they’re really quite similar, with both made up predominantly of methane – the type of gas used in homes for cooking and heating.

However, when it comes to extraction and production CSG and shale gas can be quite different. For example, CSG can be found up to about 1000 meters underground, whereas shale gas is found much deeper, usually 1500 to 4000 meters below the surface.

In Australia, hydraulic fracturing – a technique that increases the rate of gas flow for extraction – is used in CSG production 20-40% of the time, whereas in shale gas production it’s used every time.

Another interesting difference is that the process used to extract CSG produces more water than it uses – so there are large quantities of water produced as a by-product. Conversely, for shale gas, the extraction process uses more water than it produces.

Watch our latest short animation to find out more about shale gas, how it’s extracted and some of the potential environmental challenges involved in its production:

If you missed the animation on CSG extraction, watch it here.

You can also find out more from our fact sheets on CSG, shale gas and hydraulic fracturing in coal seams.


Investigator’s scientific sea trials are about to begin!

Nicholas Kachel:

Our new Marine National Facility, RV Investigator, is ready to hit the waves for its first scientific sea trials. We’ve got heaps of cool new equipment to try out… dive on in to find out more!

Originally posted on Investigator @ CSIRO:

Since Investigator arrived in Hobart in early September we’ve been really busy fitting out $6.7 million worth of scientific equipment, from one end of the ship to the other.

Now it’s time to go out for scientific sea trials on the new Marine National Facility research vessel, Investigator, to check all of the gear works to its optimum capacity and to also get some training on how to operate the scientific equipment from the manufacturers.

There are some really cool bits of gear that we’ll be testing on the first voyage, including the sonar that maps the sea floor, the TRIAXUS, the radon detector and the gravity meter.

The ship is scheduled to be back in port in Hobart on 1 November, when we’re going to do a fast turn around, and head back out to sea on the same day, with a whole new group of vendors.

On the second…

View original 38 more words


Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

There’s a new star in the making in the world of astronomy, with our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) named as a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category*.

We recently shared some of the first images produced  by the amazing ASKAP telescope. It comprises a cluster of 36 radio dishes that work in conjunction with a powerful supercomputer to form what is, in effect, a single composite radio telescope a massive six kilometres across.

This allows it to survey the night sky very quickly, taking panoramic snapshots over 100 times the size of the full moon (as viewed from Earth, of course!).

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

The world-leading facility is revolutionising astronomy, and this award nomination is a welcome recognition. You can vote for it here – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Now, for all you space cadets, here’s five astronomical facts about why ASKAP is out of this world and a sure-fire winner:

  1. ASKAP’s 36 radio dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, give it the capacity to scan the whole sky and make it sensitive to whisper-quiet signals from the Milky Way.
  2. ASKAP is an outstanding telescope in its own right, as well as a technology demonstrator for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This pioneering technology will make ASKAP the fastest radio telescope in the world for surveying the sky.
  3. Once built, the SKA will comprise of a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and Africa.
  4. The SKA will generate five million million bytes of information in its first day. That’s almost as many grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
  5. ASKAP is located in the remote Murchison Shire of Western Australia, which was chosen because there is hardly any human activity and so little background radio noise.

ASKAP is one of four CSIRO projects already in the running for different categories in the Oz’s Innovation Challenge (we’ve also written about swarm sensing and Direct Nickel). You can #voteCSIRO for any and all of them – just follow the links from the Challenge’s home page!


Four ways to lose weight and feel ‘electric’ this summer

As the mercury rises and our focus turns to hitting the gym and shedding those cuddly winter kilos, we thought we’d take a look at a few ways we could be making our workouts really count.

While the idea of working up a sweat and electricity might sound like a recipe for disaster, you’d be surprised how people and businesses are using sport and exercise to create electricity – with a conscience.

Giving light to rural communities


A company in the US has created a soccer balled called Soccket which can generate three hours of light with just thirty minutes of play. The ball is being used in rural off-grid areas of Mexico. Soccket stores the kinetic energy built up while you play using a pendulum-like mechanism.

Creating greener stadiums
At the Homes Stadium in Kobe City, Japan, the floorplan has been designed to harness vibrations made by cheering fans to create electricity. The electricity generates is fed back into the stadium’s power supply. The more fans cheer the less power the stadium needs to take from the ‘grid’.

Building safe places for kids to play


Soccer superhero Pele recently teamed up with global energy company Shell to launch a new type of pitch in a Rio. It is made from tiles which capture kinetic energy created by the movement of the players. The light is being used to power the pitch at night, resulting in a safe and secure community space.

Keeping your gym green
A gym in the UK made history by becoming the first self-powered gym using the energy of bikes, cross trainers and ‘vario’ machines to power its lights. Each machine feeds around 100w per hour back into the gym’s power supply. Treadmills also generate enough energy to power their own information screens.

And for those of us who may not be able to book a round the world trip purely for exercise purposes, why not try signing up for our new Total Wellbeing Diet online trial? Visit the website for more information and to sign up.

 


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