News

In this issue: Revealing secrets of mummy through magnetism, key role for coal in UK energy, Satcoms leaders divided on LEO/GEO, $100m for iPhone applications, IntET gives IEng recognition, and more.

Car-makers energised by better batteries

By Bob Cervi

Major automotive manufacturers have signalled that they plan to develop advanced lithium-ion battery technology as a key way of providing 'green' energy for their vehicles.

Several companies highlighted the technology at this month's Geneva Motor Show, with German group Daimler saying it would be the first to put a series-produced car onto the market incorporating a lithium-ion battery.

The batteries are widely used in consumer electronics applications but have not so far been developed for the demanding environments of automotive applications.

Daimler attributes its lead to a technological breakthrough that integrates the battery into the vehicle's climate control system. This keeps it within an operational temperature range of 15-35°C, which optimises its service life and performance.

The company said the main advantages of the newly developed lithium-ion battery were its very compact dimensions and far superior performance compared with nickel-metal hydride batteries such as those used in the Toyota Prius hybrid petrol-electric car.

Daimler will next year launch an S-Class Mercedes hybrid incorporating a lithium-ion battery produced by technology group Continental.

US auto giant General Motors (GM) said it planned eventually to produce 100,000 cars a year powered by lithium-ion batteries, starting in 2010. The batteries will be made by Hitachi.

Toyota has indicated that it plans to begin mass production of lithium-ion batteries for cars by 2010, using batteries supplied by Matsushita. Japanese rival Nissan already has a joint venture with NEC to produce lithium-ion batteries.

Meanwhile, industrial conglomerate GE announced it would invest $20m in US lithium-ion battery maker A123Systems, which will supply batteries to Norwegian electric car maker Think.

"[Lithium-ion batteries] are starting to turn the corner," said Prabhakar Patiel, head of Compact Power, which is helping to develop a lithium-ion battery for GM. "For the first time with a lithium-ion, we see a battery that can make the technology work."

However, other manufacturers such as Honda are also developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, which converts hydrogen to electricity. The Japanese company is launching the FCX Clarity, which uses this technology, later this year in the US.

Coal 'has key role' in UK energy mix

By Mark Venables

The UK Government has signalled its support for coal-fired power stations, accusing opponents of "gesture politics". Environmental groups saw this as a worrying indication of early consent to build Britain's first new coal-fired power station in over 20 years, at Kingsnorth in Kent.

Energy giant E.On wants to demolish an outdated plant and replace it with two 800MW units using cleaner coal technology by 2012. The controversial proposal is currently awaiting govern--ment approval, but the £1bn scheme has been attacked by green campaigners.

Speaking at a London conference, Business Secretary John Hutton said the UK was taking a global lead on clean coal power generation, and would within seven years have the world's first commercial-scale demonstrator plants, generating electricity from coal with up to 90 per cent less carbon emitted.

Hutton said power generation from fossil fuels would continue to play a key role in the UK despite the planned expansion of nuclear and renewable power. "For critics, there's a belief that coal-fired power stations undermine the UK's leadership position on climate change," he said. "In fact the opposite is true."

Hutton insisted that a mix of energy sources would be needed for the foreseeable future, adding: "Our leadership role is best promoted by the actions we take on capping emissions, carbon pricing and supporting the development of new carbon capture and storage technology. Not by gesture politics.Electricity demand fluctuates continually, but the fluctuations can be very pronounced during winter, requiring rapid short-term increases in production. Neither wind nor nuclear can fulfil this role."

He concluded: "We will continue to need this back-up from fossil fuels, with coal a key source of that flexibility, as we increase the proportion of renewable energy in our electricity mix."

Leila Dean, Kingsnorth campaigner from the World Development Movement, criticised the speech, saying: "Hutton has the audacity to accuse green groups of gesture politics, but it seems that today he is hinting that he will give a quick consent for Kingsnorth.This is undemocratic and dangerous."

Magnetism reveals secrets of the mummy

By David Sandham

Anatomists have used magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) for the first time to look inside a Peruvian mummy that is almost 1,000 years old, without causing any damage to it.

MRT is often used on living subjects. It generates 3D images by exploiting the magnetic properties of hydrogen nuclei, which are found in large numbers in soft human tissue. MRT devices can create a field about 30,000 times stronger than the magnetic field of the Earth.

A team from Siemens Healthcare developed a new imaging technique called Ultra-short Echo Time (UTE) that works better for dry tissue.

"We were even able to examine the intervertebral discs, cerebral membranes, blood vessels and residue of the embalming fluid in the mummy," said project leader Dr Frank Rühl of the University of Zurich. "The growth cartilage in the upper arms could be easily identified, indicating to us that the dead person was a youth aged around 15 or 16."

UTE could be used in the future to examine metabolic processes in the heart and identify abnormal changes to the body's metabolism or the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Renewable energy soars

The renewable energy industry is stepping up its meteoric rise into the mainstream of the energy sector, according to a new report. Renewable energy production capacities are growing rapidly as more countries enact far-reaching policies.

The 'Renewables 2007 Global Status Report' was prepared by the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) in collaboration with the Worldwatch Institute. It paints an encouraging picture of rapidly expanding renewable energy markets, policies, industries, and rural applications around the world. In 2007, global wind generating capacity is estimated to have increased 28 per cent, while grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity rose
52 per cent.

"So much has happened in the renewable energy sector during the past five years that the perceptions of some politicians and energy-sector analysts lag far behind the reality of where the renewables industry is today," said REN21 chairman Mohamed El-Ashry.

A team of 140 researchers and contributors from both developed and developing countries produced the report, which says that renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and small-scale hydropower offer countries the means to improve their energy security and spur economic development.

Lead researcher Dr Eric Martinot said that renewable energy sector now accounts for 2.4 million jobs globally, and has doubled electric generating capacity since 2004 to 240GW. More than 65 countries have national goals for accelerating the use of renewable energy.

Worldwatch president Chris Flavin commented: "The science is telling us we need to substantially reduce emissions now, but this will only happen with even stronger policies to accelerate the growth of clean energy."

Airbus picks li-ion

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus will use lithium-ion battery systems as the starting and emergency power supply on the A350 aircraft. This is the first time the company has chosen the new technology.

The system was developed by the French firm Saft, a specialist in the design and manufacture of high-tech batteries, which has worked with Airbus on alkaline technologies since the origin of the aircraft company in the 1970s.

Saft describes the new system as "truly innova-tive". It includes an integrated monitoring and charging system using proprietary electro-chemistry algorithms.

London pushes ahead with carbon cuts

London is leading the world in a programme to cut carbon emissions in big cities. The Greater London Authority has appointed energy services companies Dalkia and Honeywell to help cut energy use in public buildings by a quarter through measures such as improving insulation and installing energy-efficient technology.

The scheme is part of the Clinton Climate Initiative, designed to help the C40 group of large cities reduce greenhouse gases. London is the first of these cities to complete the municipal tendering process under the programme.

The companies will now begin auditing 42 properties, including those owned by the Metropolitan Police Authority, Transport for London and the London Fire Brigade stations, to assess possible carbon savings.

Under the scheme, they will guarantee a set level of energy savings for the GLA's buildings and retrofit all 42 with a range of technologies to lower their CO2 output - everything from low-energy light bulbs to new heating and cooling systems.

Energy bills for the buildings once they have been retrofitted will be slashed by an estimated £1m, with energy use cut by 25 per cent, said London mayor Ken Livingstone. "This marks the start of the transformation of London's buildings from the major source of carbon emis--sions in the city to a beacon of modern, low-carbon efficiency."

Livingstone also plans to create a Low Carbon Building Unit that will offer support to other public authorities. Many of the capital's municipal buildings, schools, universities and hospitals are poorly insulated and use old, inefficient technol--ogy to heat and cool them, he said. "Improving their energy efficiency could save a million tonnes of carbon emissions a year and millions of pounds in energy bills."

He added that if commercial buildings were refitted with low-carbon technology, emis--sions savings could rise to 3.6 million tonnes, or around 8 per cent of the capital's total output.

Canary Wharf Group announced its support for the programme. A spokesman said: "We will work with the Mayor and with the Clinton Climate Initia-tive to see if their interesting ideas can support our own work to reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings and to retrofit existing buildings with the latest environmental technology."

Ideas that make a difference

Television presenter Maggie Philbin will host the 2008 IET Innovation Awards. Now in their fourth year, the awards are a showcase for bright ideas, celebrating innovation throughout engineering. This year's ceremony will take place on 3 November at the Park Plaza Riverbank, London. Organisations and individuals have until the end of June to submit details of any engineering project, product or process for commercial use that shows innovation and represents a signifi-cant technological advance. Entries will be judged by a panel of industry leaders and engineering experts.

Maggie Philbin covers technology for BBC Breakfast News in its regular 'Tomorrow's World' features. "Highlighting the huge range of opportunities within engineering and technology is a powerful way to encourage more talent into the professions," she said.

For more informationand entry forms, go to www.theiet.org/innovationawards

International title gives IEng recognition

Thousands of engineers around the world will be eligible to register for the new title of International Engineering Technologist under a scheme being introduced by a group of professional registration bodies.

IntET has been established by the Engineering Technologist Mobility Forum, a group in which the Engineering Council UK (ECUK) works with its counterparts responsible for registering professional engineers in Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.

It is designed to provide the basis for mutual recognition of competence as an incorporated engineer in the UK or at an equivalent level in the other partner countries. Academic qualifications for IEng are typically a bachelor's degree, HND or HNC, and a minimum of seven years' postgraduate experience as an engineer with at least two years in charge of significant work.

ECUK estimates that around 90 per cent of the 39,000 incorporated engineers on its register would be eligible for the title, with a similar number in the other participating countries. It has already received the first applications, which will be ratified when the IntET panel meets in May. Other countries are expected to become involved, with Australia likely to be first to join, and the United States possibly following in a couple of years' time.

ECUK already maintains the UK section of the Register of International Professional Engineers, which allows chartered engineers to apply for the IntPE and European Engineer (EurIng) titles. Established in 2001, the register currently contains around 2,000 names.

UK registrants can apply for the IntET title through their engineering institution. A £90 fee grants use of the title for five years. IET members wishing to find out more should email profreg@theiet.org.

UK engineers urged to consider teaching

By Dominic Lenton

Engineers who want to swap industry for the classroom are the target of two recruitment drives by the UK education sector, one focused on school-teaching and the other on colleges.

As part of this month's national science and engineering week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown hosted a meeting at 10 Downing Street to mark the launch of Transition to Teaching, a scheme that aims to make changing career more straightforward.

The government believes that graduates with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) who take up second careers as teachers will help provide schools with more business know-how and practical experience. The aim is to recruit hundreds of additional teachers from the STEM workforce.

Big name companies already signed up to support the initiative include IBM, Lockheed Martin UK, Cisco and Thales UK.

Participating firms will work with the Training and Development Agency for Schools to support staff considering a switch to teaching, for example by giving them time off to find out more about the options available.

The group developing the programme is led by IBM chief executive Larry Hirst, who said he wanted to encourage companies to present teaching as an option to engineers leaving their workforce and provide them with support.

"By bringing in highly skilled employees from industry to the classroom we can help to inspire young people through real practical experience of the workplace and bring subjects such as maths and science to life," said Hirst.

The further education sector has launched its own recruitment campaign in the shape of Pass on Your Skills, an initiative run by sector skills council Lifelong Learning UK designed to address skills shortages in engineering and in health and social care.

Pass on Your Skills will offer a number of free courses on Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector. These form the early part of the initial training programme leading to FE teaching qualifications.

The project's manager is Saskia Coplans, who believes engineers have a lot to gain from becoming a teacher, tutor or trainer in the FE sector. "Because their expertise is in demand, they can choose whether to get involved full-time or even for just a couple of hours a week," said Coplans.

New law 'not practical'

The British Government has declared that it will not change the law to protect the title of engineer, saying that it looks to the Engineering Council UK to regulate the professional status of engineers.

The statement comes in response to an online petition on the Prime Minister's http://pm.gov.uk website, which attracted more than 35,000 signatures in favour of restricting the title 'engineer' to chartered engineers.

Astronautics engineer Jon Jennings, who initiated the petition, said he was concerned about the lack of respect the profession receives from the government, media and society.

An official reply posted on the website acknowledges that there is nothing to stop anyone from describing themself as an engineer, but points out that only people registered with ECUK can use the professional titles of chartered engineer, incorporated engineer and engineering technician.
"It would not be practical or appropriate for the government to attempt to introduce new legislation on this matter," the response says.

An ECUK spokesman commented: "While the government's response failed to properly explain why it thought that protection of the title engineer was not possible, it did at least provide a valuable endorsement of professional registration."

LEO or GEO? Satcoms leaders divided

By Mark Williamson in Washington

When Iridium entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 1999, most people thought the mobile satellite phone provider was dead. But financial results announced at last month's Satellite 2008 conference in Washington DC show that Iridium Satellite LLC, the company that acquired the old Iridium's assets in late 2000, is very much alive.

Iridium's subscriber base increased by a third during 2007, said chairman and CEO Matt Desch, to reach 234,000 users worldwide. Revenue was up 23 per cent.

According to Desch, this enhances the company's ability to finance Iridium NEXT, for which it expects to sign a prime contract by mid-2009. This new generation of low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites will gradually replace the existing constellation of 66 spacecraft, which provides full-Earth coverage for a variety of mobile satcoms users.

Iridium also unveiled an enhanced-bandwidth marine communications system at Satellite 2008. Desch declared that Iridium OpenPort will offer "an unbeatable value proposition of multiple phone lines, IP connectivity and flexible data speeds up to 128kbit/s, with equipment and airtime costs substantially lower than any competitor".

Although he avoided mentioning specific competitors, the new product is clearly aimed at the market currently led by Inmarsat. Matt Desch and Andrew Sukawaty, chairman and CEO of Inmarsat, went head-to-head in a conference session entitled 'Mobile Satellite Services: Industry Leaders Stake Their Claims'.

Sukawaty returned to what Desch disparagingly called "the age-old LEO/GEO debate" between low and geostationary orbit-based satellite systems. Inmarsat could provide near-worldwide coverage with three satellites in GEO for about $1bn, said Sukawaty, whereas Iridium's LEO system cost $2.7bn. "Even the LEO folks are turning to GEO", he added.

Desch, however, cited the advantages of a constellation with inter-satellite communications links, which obviate the need for a large ground station network. "The ground transmitters cost billions", he said, "much more than the difference between GEO and LEO constellations."

He added: "It's about differentiation, doing something no one else can do" - a statement he supported by reference to Iridium's offer to place secondary payloads for Earth remote sensing on its next-generation satellites.

Apparently unimpressed, a questioner criticised the discussion for taking place "in a vacuum", because "the terrestrial mobile industry is not standing still". With tacit reference to the original 'Iridium brick' phones and satellite companies that fiddled with the technology while terrestrial mobiles burned their way into people's pockets, fellow panellist John Mattingly, president of Mobile Satellite Ventures, retorted that it would be different this time, "for a lot of good reasons".

Chief among these, he said, was the fact that MSV was working together with the terrestrial operators, "getting satellite chipsets in mobile phones".

Satellites are 'green'

By Mark Williamson in Washington

Guiliano Berretta, Eutelsat's CEO, is a man who enjoys proselytising the role of satellites, as well as making the occasional controversial statement. Hot from the announcement that Eutelsat has placed an order with EADS-Astrium to build KA-SAT (a Ka-band 'supersatellite' offering up to 15 times the capacity of a large Ku-band satellite), Berretta was keen to stress the satellite's green credentials.

"Satellite communications is the most ecological comms application," he said bluntly. Contrasting satellites with terrestrial systems powered by fossil-fuelled power stations, he characterised satcoms as "the only comms application that uses only solar power." Moreover, he added, "we radiate nothing - only picowatts on the ground!"

To counter arguments that launching satellites into space uses chemical propellants that pollute the atmosphere, he produced the argument that this was less damaging than "a single middle-sized French car doing average mileage over the 15-year lifetime of a satellite".

It seems that satellites have large coverage footprints and small carbon footprints.

EU aims to protect minors online

The European Commission has proposed a €55m Safer Internet programme to enhance children's safety online. The proposals will tackle both illegal content and harmful behaviour like bullying and grooming.

Set to run from 2009 to 2013, Safer Internet has four main points of policy: raising public awareness; reducing illegal content and tackling harmful conduct online; promoting a safer online environment, fostering self-regulatory initiatives; establishing a knowledge base by bringing together researchers at European level.

"Children have been very quick in making the most of online services such as social networking sites and mobile phones - but many still underestimate the hidden risks of using these, from cyber-bullying to online sexual grooming," said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society & media.

"The EU has already contributed greatly to making the Internet safer for children, but the job is not finished yet. Rather, the need for action is increasing, in response to new uses of the technology," she said.

Router market boost

By James Hayes

Worldwide sales of the devices that manage Internet traffic - high-end routers and switches - rose 16 per cent in 2007 to reach an all-time high of $11.2bn.

The market has been steadily climbing since 2003, as service providers upgrade the speed of their networks to meet the demand from consumer broadband, corporate applications, and video- and voice-over-IP.

According to Infonetics Research in its quarterly report, Service Provider Routers and Switches, content providers are offering new on-demand and broadband video services into the home that eat up more bandwidth.

"Traffic jams are being caused by user applications, like music and video downloading, online news, social networks like MySpace, and YouTube clips - even corporations are using YouTube for marketing videos," says Michael Howard, principal analyst and co-founder of Infonetics.

Briefing - latest

ARM in marketing push

By Chris Edwards

Microprocessor designer ARM is planning an offensive on the microcontroller market this year in a bid to extend the reach of its 32-bit cores.

The company has quietly launched a separate website for microcontroller users in advance of the upcoming Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose in April and recently told lead partners that it has put together a roadmap of microcontroller products. Currently, the company has two dedicated microcontroller cores: the Cortex M1 and M3. However, a number of customers use the older ARM7 as the basis for their microcontrollers.

Earlier this year, Warren East, president and CEO of ARM, admitted that progress with the M3 had been slow - telling analysts that the M3 had just "crawled past the 100,000 level" in terms of unit shipments. But, he added, momentum is picking up. In recent months, ARM has signed large microcontroller suppliers NXP Semiconductors, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba as licensees for the M3.

Geoff Lees, vice president and general manager of the microcontroller product line at NXP, said: "Our ARM7 family has been a runaway success. There is a huge demand for ARM cores: I don't see that much of a difference between the specific cores, just a general demand for ARM,"

Haydn Povey, product manager for ARM's microcontroller products, said the onarm.com website "creates a nexus where all the microcontroller data can be found." Povey claimed ARM can persuade users to migrate from other architectures to its 32-bit cores because they want to standardise architectures for tools and for code reuse. "People have found they have architectures in use and the cost of software support is killing them."

However, Bruno Baylac, head of worldwide marketing for Freescale Semiconductor's industrial operation, sees no need to standardise on one core. The company is an ARM licensee, but has two other 32-bit architectures in use: ColdFire and PowerPC. "The industrial segment, by its nature, is fragmented. The need for each processor really depends on the application. We are seeing some interest in ARM, especially for human-machine interfaces. Why? Because of [Microsoft] Windows CE. The customers are also PC users so they are very familiar with this environment."

Work starts on Singapore aero engine plant

By William Dennis in Singapore

Rolls-Royce has begun construction of a Trent aero engine assembly and test facility in Singapore, holding a formal ground-breaking ceremony to coincide with the Singapore Air Show. The plant, to be known as the 'Facility of the Future', will be the first in Asia to make large civil aero engines.

Rolls Royce is investing S$320m (US$225m) in the plant at the Seletar Aerospace Park in the north of the island republic. Construction is expected to be completed at the end of next year.

Production will commence in early 2010, with the Trent 1000 for Boeing's 787, and the Trent XWB for the Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. Up to 400 engines a year will be assembled and tested at the facility before being sent to Boeing and Airbus for installation on aircraft.

The plant will be Rolls-Royce's first engine assembly and test facility outside Derby in the UK. John Horsburgh has been appointed chief operating officer.

Rolls-Royce investment in Singapore is part of the company's plan to expand globally to boost its competitiveness. Derby, Rolls-Royce's hub for engine production, will remain the centre of expertise for large civil engines, with the capability to design and develop the Trent engines.

Speaking in Singapore, Rolls-Royce chief executive officer Sir John Rose said: "Our world class Facility of the Future will break boundaries in terms of operational and environmental efficiency. It will be our distinctive showcase in Asia."

The investment is a major boost for the local aerospace industry. Rolls-Royce accounts for 15 per cent of Singapore's aerospace output and 5 per cent of the total aerospace industry workforce.

The company employs over 1,200 people in the republic through joint ventures in engine maintenance and in energy and marine activities. It expects to recruit a further 330 to work in the new facility.

Singapore has the highest concentration of aerospace original equipment manufacturers in the Asia Pacific. Last year the aerospace industry achieved a record output of S$6.9bn.

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