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'I am dismayed but unsurprised': your letters to Professional Engineering

Professional Engineering

Large-scale new energy storage methods are needed to make the most of renewable sources (Credit: Shutterstock)
Large-scale new energy storage methods are needed to make the most of renewable sources (Credit: Shutterstock)

Invest to tackle climate change

"After a working lifetime in engineering I am conscious that we have contributed to our present climate change emergency but left our following generations with the means to fight it.

Through the IMechE and Professional Engineering we have been able to keep up to date on many of the developments toward this end. 

For some years I have followed the work of Moltex Energy on the remarkable win, win, win possibilities of its stable salt reactor (SSR) technology. Moltex are convinced they can generate electricity cheaper than that from gas with plants that are far quicker to build than our expensive legacy-style nuclear plants that are increasingly seen as dinosaurs. 

Not only this but SSRs can be fuelled by nuclear waste, processing it into lower-risk waste with far shorter half-lives. Bearing in mind the UK’s expensively maintained stockpile of some 90 tonnes of plutonium, the possibility of reducing such stock while generating electricity just adds to all the ‘wins’.

Moltex has been seeking crowdfunding to advance to its next stage. Their target is £4m. I have invested what I can afford to lose yet may see a gain within five years. 

I hope to leave my shares to my next of kin in the hope of huge gains over several decades but certainly in a hope of helping to undo the harm to which I may have contributed. This being despite our considerable skills in minimising the carbon consumption of the products demanded from us."

Denis W Oglesby, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Machines wise up

"Interesting article from Tolga Kurtoglu regarding how Internet of Things-based data analytics brought maintenance efficiencies to the East Japan Railway (“Data delivers efficiencies,” Professional Engineering No 3, 2019).

At Rolls-Royce, it’s well known in the aerospace industry that we have been acquiring data from sensors on our engines in flight, transmitting the data via satellite communications down to ground-based advanced analytics systems, to signal to engineers information that is used to predict maintenance and improve engine and aircraft availability – for over 15 years. And these advanced analytics include the use of machine learning. Today, we’d call that an AI-enabled Internet of Things predictive maintenance system. However, 15 years ago, those terms weren’t really part of popular ‘language’ or didn’t even exist!

As part of our vision for the IntelligentEngine, we have been adding further capability into these systems over the last three years – I like to call it AI 2.0 – whereby we’re using AI-enabled analytics to undertake 20 dimensional multivariate analyses on 7,000 engines flying at the same time. And a maintenance prediction can be provided to our engineers within five minutes of receiving the data.

The analytics across 20 variates are so complex that a human cannot programme the ‘advisory levels,’ so the AI system teaches itself what good is and then looks for the drifts from which maintenance insights are derived. As Tolga states, these systems can bring efficiency improvements to maintenance, significantly increase availability to asset owners and be applied across many vertical (or even horizontal) sectors, and we are on the same journey to implement across all our products – land, sea and air. 

I like to think that, within this, we are seeing how AI and human wisdom can be completely complementary."

Lee Glazier, Head of service integrity at Rolls-Royce, Derby

We can't rely on lithium

"Our government has at last cottoned on to the fact that viable methods of energy storage are essential if we are to make efficient use of renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind turbines. 

In the government mind, energy storage appears to equal batteries, and we are therefore now investing much public money in the research and development of battery systems for grid-scale energy storage.

Batteries are rapidly emerging as the solution for non-polluting city vehicles and those vehicles will very soon create a huge global demand for the materials from which batteries are made. We should therefore consider seriously how the global uptake of grid-scale battery storage systems would further escalate the demand for those materials.

Lithium is the main contender as the material from which to make high-performance batteries. Lithium is one of the Earth’s most abundant elements, but does not exist in concentrations which allow it to be cheaply and easily extracted. Those places where it is most easily extracted tend to be in China or Russia or in countries under the control of nasty dictators who would like nothing better than to see the price of lithium and other similar battery materials rise to new heights.

The global uptake of grid-scale battery storage therefore has within it the seeds of its own destruction. The economic case for grid-scale energy storage by means of batteries would disappear out of sight if the price of the necessary materials went through the roof.

I am dismayed but, with the Brexit fiasco daily demonstrating the dysfunctional nature of our government system, unsurprised by the government’s inability to see beyond the end of its nose with regard to energy storage. 

Compressed-air storage, using new ideas for its implementation, offers a cheaper and equally efficient energy storage mechanism for offshore renewable energy of all types, and would have far less environmental impact than the large-scale mining of nasty toxic materials in countries under the control of ‘nasty toxic dictators’.

Government investigation into compressed-air storage systems for offshore renewables is however negligible, compared with the investment in batteries."

Ian Crossley, Camberley


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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