Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Improving Our Infrastructure to Be Competitive as a Nation

Hello everyone, I have been away from my blog because I was on vacation the last two weekends.  However, now I am back and feeling good.  I finally took my comprehensive exam for my ME program and I am now just waiting to formalize the graduation process.  I probably won’t walk across the stage but it feels good to know all my education is done.  I can now focus on finding work and some other personal education stuff. (like learning Spanish, how to use Revitt, etc.)  Today I want to talk about improving our infrastructure so that it can be the best in the world.

I was just reading this article (“Can ‘D+’ in infrastructure lead to ‘A’ in economics?”, http://tinyurl.com/lfxn4kt) earlier this week and it really made me rethink the whole infrastructure improvement concept.  For a while now, I have been a proponent of improving our infrastructure so that it will improve the economy and give us the much needed infrastructure repairs that are needed.  As someone who lives in Texas, I can tell you a lot needs to be done here and this is one of the places that is better in regards to infrastructure.  However, this article put it in a light that I think is important – how we can use the opportunity to surpass other countries with a system overhaul.

Our infrastructure is ranked at a D+ right now by ASCE – definitely not a good grade and one that needs to be improved.  And I think that instead of just repairing it like it was before, this complete repair of the whole system that is needed gives us a great opportunity.  We can put in new and improved roads, public transportation, energy grids, monitoring technology, etc. into every new road, rail, or energy system.  As soon as I read the article I thought of this analogy – getting a new car.  Going out and getting a car that looks exactly like your old car without any new features seems a little wasteful right.  If you are like most people you have had your car at least 5 years, and by then a lot of improvements have been made and can be implemented for the same price as buying the same car you had before.  That’s the logic we need to apply now.

The article outlines three main areas that the author thought that we can easily do some upgrades.  The first idea is in interconnected public transportation.  This is something I have talked about for years amongst my friends.  Having interconnected hubs of planes, trains, buses and any other modes of public transit would greatly improve traffic flow on roads and allow people to travel easier.  Places like California have already started and I think it’s something that needs to be done all across the country.  The second idea is a micro-grid energy system that can work together with other systems or work independently.  This would give the system freedom to disconnect if needed in an emergency or work together and share excess energy in peak usage hours as needed.  A good example of this is a neighborhood in Brooklyn which could operate during Hurricane Sandy by disconnecting their micro-grid system from the larger system.  The last idea is increasing efficiency in newer buildings.  When building new buildings or renovating old buildings, money is already being spent to get new materials.  By using systems that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, improvements in energy and resource usage can be obtained for very little extra cost.

Do you think that these ideas will help improve our infrastructure?  What are some other ways that you think we can improve our infrastructure?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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Small Modular Nuclear Reactors…the Future of Nuclear Power?

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well and had a good 4th of July.  Today I want to talk about an article I read a while back which discussed plans for small modular nuclear reactors to be built in the US with the next five years.

These types of nuclear reactors are defined as having a generating capacity under 300 MW.  These reactors will be designed by Babcocks and Wilcox – who will receive $150 million of initial funding for the Department of Energy.  This reactor is a modular, advanced light water reactor system which operates 4 years without refueling and has a capacity of 180 MW at a cost of $5000/kW.  These reactor units can be combined to create a larger nuclear reactor.  The intent is to reduce the financial risks involved with building a nuclear reactor.  The Internatial Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that between 43 and 96 reactors will be built by 2030.

I know this isn’t nearly as complicated or expansive as some of the other innovations I mention; however, I believe this is important in the advancement of energy production in the US.  If we are to continue to improve our percentage of clean energy usage with an increasing population, our reliance on coal, natural gas, or oil in energy production needs to be reduced.  One option has always been nuclear power but accidents have made them a generally unpopular investment.  Along with that, the expense of building one is much larger than other types of power plants.  These reactors will vastly reduce the expenses.  Another benefit I could possibly foresee even though it isn’t mentioned in the article is increased safety.  Since the designs of units are meant to be easy to repeatably build, this would make the safety analysis much more accurate and predictable.  What do you think about the small unit nuclear reactors?  Do you think their usage will increase in the United States?  Thanks for reading and have a good day!

Source: “U.S. Sustains Support For Small Modular Nuclear Reactors”, Forbes, 6/15/2013, http://tinyurl.com/lmdkrur

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