Melting Tunnels Through The Earth
Tunneling. It's important, it's cool, and most importantly, the advent of TBMs has made it easier and quicker than ever to dig giant tunnels wherever you might need them, admittedly still with a decent sized tunneling crew and a very healthy budget.
What if there was a new way, though? Maybe you could just melt your way through the Earth with a giant plasma torch mounted on a robot? Well, that's what the new startup Earthgrid claims to be going for.
It (in theory) blasts the rock with a giant spiral of plasma torches, vapourising it into tiny pieces that are then carted away behind it in the existing tunnel. Sounds great, apart from one small issue - it needs 40 to 120 megawatts of power to run. That is basically an entire small power station's worth of power. Better make sure the supply cables to this thing don't melt first!
Why Isn't The US Full Of Manufactured Homes?
Manufactured homes - also known as trailers, or static caravans in the UK - seem like an obvious solution to housing issues. Built efficiently in a factory, moved around where demand is needed relatively easily, and cheaper than building a house to suit, they should be useful, but instead they have a rather negative reputation.
The wonderful Construction Physics newsletter (which I heartily recommend a subscription to) is diving into this conundrum in a multi-part series, starting with the history of them, their interaction with US building codes, and how they were unpopular almost from the outset. It's a really great read, and part two is already up as well.
Sticking Solar Everywhere
There's a lot of places in the world that could do with solar power - in some places, panels are already cheaper per square metre than roofing material, so you'd be an idiot not to build roofs out of them.
A Ukrainian enterpreneur has launched a new design of solar panels designed to go on apartment balconies, and feed up to 600W back into your wiring by plugging it into a standard household electrical socket. Backfeeding like this is only legal in some countries - it's very much not allowed in the UK, for example - but it does massively simplify installation.
Of course, these vertical panels will only be somewhat efficient compared to ones oriented at the sun, but hey, it's free power.
This Unique Number Is Worryingly Common
In what seems to be a very unusual event, two containers with exactly the same container number have been detected in a port in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
This is rather unfortunate, as containers are tracked by this supposedly-unique number, and the contents and customs declarations are all handled using it. The authorities now have to crack the containers open to see what's actually inside each one, before then going to the container manufacturer and asking "what happened?".
I like to think there's a secret ghost network of duplicate numbers out there, but in reality this is probably just a one-off manufacturing error. If the entire global supply chain unravels, though, now you have a conspiracy theory to blame.
It Turns Out Tigers Are Really Good At Hiding
The latest estimates of the world tiger population are in, and it's gone in an unexpectedly good direction - up. 40% up, in fact!
The reason appears to not be that there are more tigers, but that we have simply got "better at counting them", to quote the Wildlife Conservation Society's Luke Hunter. Turns out it's quite hard to count and track predators who rely on stealth!
There is some growth attributable to conservation and protection efforts, though, it's not all better counting - and tigers are still quite endangered, hovering around the 5,000 individuals mark.
Not Every Electric Car Is Efficient
Electric cars. They're going to save the day, right? Remove the need to worry about climate change and pollution from the US' favourite method of transport?
Well, not so fast. When you build a 9000 pound (4000 kg) electric Hummer, it turns out that charging the thing from a normal power grid causes more emissions per mile than running a small internal combustion car. Just because the power generation is moved away doesn't mean it's emissions free!
Even if there was a fully renewable source to charge this ridiculous beast, giant cars have problems on many other axes, too. They're a massive danger to pedestrians, they cause a lot more road surface degradation due to their weight, brake dust and other small pollutants still come off it, and they are also very much not emissions-free to manufacture.
What Are We Making Into A Battery Now? Sand?
Among all the many weird kinds of battery being worked on, there's a new entrant - a sand battery. It's not that different to some of the other kinds we've talked about before - it's essentially a big heat store that's heated with excess energy to high temperatures (over 500C) and then drawn down on later to get the heat back.
I do think they should maybe news articles like this with "thermal battery", though, as this is primarily to provide heat to local houses (and the swimming pool) during the long, cold Finnish winters rather than electricity!
Turn Left. No, More Left. More!
Ever wanted to have a car that could pull out of a tiny parking space? Well, some German engineers are on the case, inventing a steering axle that can rotate the wheels a full eighty degrees. The videos of this thing pulling out of a parallel parking space and doing U-turns are really funny.
Of course, wheels turning sideways are not new - forklifts have been doing it for ages, and there's even some cars that have done this via having a motor on each wheel - but transmitting power from a central engine to the wheels while they are all askew is the real innovation here.
I do wonder how needed this is in the world of electric cars where a motor per wheel is not unreasonable, but I'm sure there's efficiency reasons not to do that. Still fun to look at, anyway.
Is It A Heist If It's At A Truck Stop?
In a rather impressive heist, thieves made away with between $10 and $100 million worth of gems and jewelry from a Flying J truck stop in Lebec, just north of Los Angeles.
The two security guards stepped away from their truck for 27 minutes, and when they got back, a large amount of its precious cargo had been... removed. There's no indication how many thieves there were, how they knew where the supposedly-secret truck was, or how they got in so quickly, but there you go.
It also occurs to me that maybe both guards shouldn't leave the truck at once, but I'm not a highly-regarded valuables transport company, so there you go.
The Wind Will Put The Fire Out, Right?
What happens when lightning strikes a wind turbine and lights it on fire? Well, it's rather spectacular, as the smoke from the fire and the vortices from the turbine combine to make what I am going to dub "the giant smoke spiral of doom".
It does eventually come to a rather sad end, though. Probably going to be quite a tough repair, that one.