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Engine On a Chip May Beat the Battery 321

Posted by kdawson
from the is-that-a-quarter-in-your-pocket? dept.
Krishna Dagli writes, "MIT researchers are putting a tiny gas-turbine engine inside a silicon chip about the size of a quarter. The resulting device could run 10 times longer than a battery of the same weight, powering laptops, cell phones, radios, and other electronic devices." From the article: "All the parts work. We're now trying to get them all to work on the same day on the same lab bench." The goal is to do that by the end of the year.
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Engine On a Chip May Beat the Battery

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  • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:03PM (#16139259) Homepage Journal

    Turbine blades, made of low-defect, high-strength microfabricated materials, spin at 20,000 revolutions per second -- 100 times faster than those in jet engines.


    And you thought a hot battery in your lap was scary.

    • p = mv & F =ma (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Since the mass of these materials is super small, the fact that they are moving at high velocity is no cause to hide under one's bed.

      Also, at 20,000 rpm .. assuming that the "revolution" is a distance of 1 or 2 millimeters .. the ACTUAL velocity is nothing to send a letter home with.

      Do the math (remember we are talking about the speed of the part of the object that is actually moving).

      Another way of looking at it .. the total force cannot exceed the energy output of the gas expansion .. which is the result
      • Re:p = mv & F =ma (Score:2, Interesting)

        by MustardMan (52102)
        the total force cannot exceed the energy output

        I think you need to check your units there, boyo.
      • Re:p = mv & F =ma (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gewalker (57809) <Gary.WalkerNO@SPAMAstraDigital.com> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:55PM (#16139687)
        Try 20,000 revs / sec

        E = 1/2 mV^2

        Mass should be small since mass/volume hase cubing scaling. I expect MIT is not too concerned about it since they did not mention it.

        I used to work at Cummins research center -- watch a turbocharger burst test if you get the chance, basically dump in as much fuel/air as it takes to get the flywheel to fly apart. Test is: is the casing is strong enough to contain all the flying pieces.
        • I saw a documentary on the development of the Airbus 380... they showed the blade failure test for the engines. Same problem. They ran the engine up to full speed then detached one of the turbine blades. Big noise but the engine housing held all of the debris... amazing.
        • Re:p = mv & F =ma (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gewalker (57809)
          Hate to reply to myself as a general rule, but I thought a little searching would pay off.

          Here [cam.ac.uk] is a movie from Rolls Royce, not exactly the same, but it's nice.

      • Also, at 20,000 rpm .. assuming that the "revolution" is a distance of 1 or 2 millimeters .. the ACTUAL velocity is nothing to send a letter home with.

        TFA said it runs at 20 krps, which would be 1.2 million rpm. Even if the mass is low, do you really want to be around when the compressor and/or turbine blades come apart? Historically, compressor disintegration [google.com] has been a Bad Thing.

        • Re:p = mv & F =ma (Score:4, Insightful)

          by JesseL (107722) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @03:09PM (#16140404) Homepage Journal
          Well according to another article the turbine is 4mm in diameter, so google says .5 * 4mm * pi * 20000 is about 125.6 meters. 125 meters per second is about the velocity of a low end bb gun. Given my adolecent expirimentation in terminal ballistics, a similar low end bb gun will barely penetrate both sides of a soda can. It should be a simple matter to provide the engine with a scatter shield stronger than a soda can.
    • by Moby Cock (771358)
      And...Beware the dangers of Second-Hand Computing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cosmicj (950743)
      yeah, what happends when the ballbearings wear out??
    • by Xymor (943922) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @02:28PM (#16139990)
      Lasers and turbines on chips? I think this is an elaborate plan to make deadly military level pc components. With the detection of non-drm'd media, the chip will eject, fly close to you and shoot you in the face. It's the next level after "Trusted Computing", "Feared Computing".
    • by x2A (858210)
      "And you thought a hot battery in your lap was scary"

      No, but I did think it was a PITA having to quickly plug into a wall socket as my laptop's about to put itself to sleep when the battery's getting low... now I'm gonna have to jump in the car to buy some fuel! I could syphon out of the car, but that's a bad habit to get into, which could lead to me finding myself having to /cycle/ to get some fuel for the car /and/ the laptop!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by srk2040 (973509)
      I'd be impressed if these guys can rig up a setup that collect methane as fuel for the turbine. Imainge every small appliance running on your fart. Now that would be Nobel worthy.
  • Cripes! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:05PM (#16139269) Homepage Journal
    Yesterday they were putting lasers on a chip. [slashdot.org] Today it's engines. Tomorrow, I suppose I'm just going to live on a chip.


  • I guess instead of building a better battery it's build a better generator. I guess all that matters is the efficiency of the design. My question is obviously heat production, and probably not as important exhast gases. How clean will this device burn. How well will these gases coexist with heat, and ionization.

    Sounds like a interesting replacement for motors too.
  • Wow! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kirin Fenrir (1001780) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:07PM (#16139299)
    It's the energy source of the future! It's...

    ...gas?
  • by Bryansix (761547) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:10PM (#16139319) Homepage
    The article doesn't mention what happens to the hot exhaust after it passes through the turbine. Does this mean that have not tackled this problem yet? This could give a whole new meaning to the whole "laptop frying your balls".
    • by Gulik (179693)
      The article doesn't mention what happens to the hot exhaust after it passes through the turbine. Does this mean that have not tackled this problem yet? This could give a whole new meaning to the whole "laptop frying your balls".

      Well, more like air-popping, really, so at least they'll be low-fat. Which, I concede, will likely not be much of a comfort.
  • by jakedata (585566) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:10PM (#16139324)
    Miniature fighter jets with lasers all etched out of a silicon crystal.

    We could drop half a billion of them over the middle east.

  • That's a really interesting read (pancake analogy aside), although it sounds like the resulting device will be pretty fragile. A small grain of sand or a little dust buildup would cause complete failure. Large mechanical systems have the ability to power through minor problems like that, but such a small one will not really be suited for military field use, I imagine.
    • I have to wonder how efficient it will be. Two things drive the efficiency of a gas turbine. The heat differentials and that leakage between the blades or impeller and the housing.
      The leakage is going to be a real issue since it is a ratio between the disk size and the gap. Bigger engines mean a higher ratio. That is one of the reasons that BIG gas turbines are relatively efficient while small one suck fuel like there is no tomorrow.
    • I'm not sure that's entirely fair; there are lots of systems that don't much like getting dirt in them, but that's what filters are for. Compared to a horse, an internal-combustion engine probably seems like it's really prone to problems -- after all, a horse doesn't mind if there's some dirt in its feed, but put the same amount of dirt into a tank of gas and run it directly into an engine, and you'll probably have issues. Hence, fuel and oil filters.

      They're not unsolvable problems. I assume that actual pro
    • That sounds like what happened with the M-16 machine gun. It's a really nice gun, but it has really tight tollerances, and doesn't operate very well when it's dirty, and hence it requires lots of cleaning, or it tends to jam. The AK-47 on the other hand, operates pretty well even when it is dirty, which is nice in combat situations, since you don't want your gun jamming in the middle of a battle. For more information, check out the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        That's not entirely true anyway. The real problem (mentioned by the wiki article) is that the M16 was believed to be self-cleaning, and isn't. They didn't issue cleaning kits. If you clean the gun, it remains fairly reliable, and if you configure it properly, it can be more accurate than the AK, anyway. (The AK's first two rounds are pretty good, but it climbs heavily after that.) Of course, M16s are usually set up for tumble, so that the tiny .223 caliber rounds have more of a tendency to hit bones and bou
  • Generator? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by camperdave (969942)
    OK, I can picture the gas microturbine, and I can picture how a fuel/combustion energy source can outpower an electochemical energy source. However, do we have the capacity to make a generator that small. After all, we have the rotary power, how do we convert that into electrical energy?

    I would be more interested in a bioelectric power source, like electric eel cells fed with sucrose.
    • by Smidge204 (605297)
      Any electric motor can conceivably be used as an electric generator with little modification, or in most cases no modification at all. Considering how small we can make electric motors I don't think this will be the issue.

      =Smidge=
    • RTFA- they've got a 10-Watt microgenerator already working! Plus, anything you can run of gasoline, with a little tweaking of the carbuerator, will run off of Whiskey. If this gets popular, I'm going to start looking for an old bar that has DSL access for an investment property.
      • by compro01 (777531)
        you might want to keep in mind that high concentrations of ethanol is pretty corrosive. thus is will turn any rubbers or plastics, some of which are found in the fuel system, that aren't designed to withstand it into jelly.

        that's why flex-fuel vehicles a bit more expensive than ordinary gas ones. they need to replace the rubbers and plastics with either different, more expensive, rubbers and plastics or stainless steel or something else not affected by it.

        also, ethanol has less potential energy than gas,
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tx (96709)
      OK, I can picture the gas microturbine, and I can picture how a fuel/combustion energy source can outpower an electochemical energy source. However, do we have the capacity to make a generator that small.

      As usual, the answer is in TFA, and it is "Yes":

      Turbine blades, made of low-defect, high-strength microfabricated materials, spin at 20,000 revolutions per second -- 100 times faster than those in jet engines. A mini-generator produces 10 watts of power. A little compressor raises the pressure of air in pre

    • by Comboman (895500) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @02:01PM (#16139739)
      I would be more interested in a bioelectric power source, like electric eel cells fed with sucrose.

      Electric eel generator, bird beak phonograph needle and dinosaur garbage disposal are already patented by Fred Flintstone.

    • we have the rotary power, how do we convert that into electrical energy

      Let's see.... maybe put a magnet on the rotor and little coils of wire around the outside? The changing magnetic field will induce current in any nearby conductors. This part was figured out more then 100 years ago. After all the only new thing here is the size.

  • by Lurker2288 (995635) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:18PM (#16139391)
    ...a teeny, tiny seagull flies into the turbine?
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:20PM (#16139414) Journal
    ha, ha ha. How many times the rookies in my dept have come to me excitedly and said, "Great news Boss, Got all the functions implemented and unit testing checked out ok. All I need to do is to put it together. Finished 90% of the code in just 10% of the time. Want to take a month off to chill out in Aruba!"

    Then they spend 200% of the allotted time to make sure what they wrote in the first 10% interact with one another correctly.

    • by mnmn (145599)
      And thats just the development time. Wait till you see the debug cycle.
  • Given all the issues with "liquids" and flaming laptop batteries, I doubt this will be allowed on aircraft. (We'll see if methanol fuel cells pass TSA muster). I guess that's just another example of the terrorists winning their goal of keeping people out of the 21st century.
  • pointless? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by micromuncher (171881) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:24PM (#16139445) Homepage
    A microturbine requires a completely new energy source; can you imagine plugging a butane canister into your portable? All turbines have physical issues around energy lost through heat; remember in a traditional engine only about 50% of fuel burned actually goes to perform work.

    • can you imagine plugging a butane canister into your portable?

      Yes.

      It makes a whole lot more sense to me than just cursing as the machine shuts down because the battery is depleted, and you're nowhere near a power outlet.

    • Plus, you won't be able to take a laptop powered this way into the “secure” area of an airport... (Of course, once there is a rumor of someone trying blow up a plane with a Sony-made laptop battery, you won't be able to do that with any other laptop, either.)
    • by drinkypoo (153816)
      What does "traditional engine" mean? If you mean internal combustion, the most efficient ICE is only about 50% efficient, it's a diesel in a container ship the size of a house. Your automobile's engine is maybe 25% efficient.
  • by tinrobot (314936) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:30PM (#16139493)
    I would imagine if it burns a fuel, it spits out carbon.

    We need to stop burning stuff for our energy. Sure, batteries store energy made by mostly burning coal and stuff, but there other options for generating electricity to fill those batteries that don't involve adding carbon. I wish these people focused their research towards these types of energy sources.
  • Polution? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iansmith (444117) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:31PM (#16139509) Homepage
    Simple, small gas engines in lawnmowers and scooters are far, far dirtier than in a large modern car engine that has extensive polution control systems even when you take into account how much more gas a car uses than a lawnmower.

    So I can't imagine this thing will run very clean at all. Not much room to put in a catalytic converter or other cleaning methods.

    I have to wonder what a hundred million of these things running will do to indoor air quality. I don't think I want a thousand of these inside my office building.
    • Re:Polution? (Score:4, Informative)

      by egomaniac (105476) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:54PM (#16139672) Homepage
      The main reason that lawnmower engines are so incredibly dirty is that they are two-stroke engines. Two-stroke engines are inherently evil -- they burn dirty and emit huge quantities of unburnt fuel -- but they have a higher power-to-weight ratio and therefore see use where a small, powerful engine is required. It has a lot more to do with the engine design than it does the size. As for the pollution controls in cars, don't forget that car engines have to deal with an incredibly wide range of ever-changing speeds and power requirements. It's quite difficult to build an efficient engine which operates across such a wide range of speeds, but a simple engine driving a generator can operate at precisely one speed with a fixed load and can therefore be optimized for its precise requirements.

      Further. the researchers in TFA are not building a piston-driven engine at all, they are building a gas-turbine engine. While it's difficult to speculate on the efficiency at this point (the thing doesn't even exist!), I would expect it to be relatively clean.
      • 2-stroke engines are the worst, but even 4-stroke lawnmower engines are far dirtier than a car engine's output, mainly due to the lack of a catalytic converter. Check this out: Grass Cutting Beats Driving in Making Air Pollution [mindfully.org]

        From the linked article: "...the researchers used regular unleaded fuel in a typical four stroke, four horsepower lawn mower engine and found, after one hour, that the PAH emissions are similar to a modern gasoline powered car driving about 150 kilometers (93 miles)."

      • Re:Pollution? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bdonalds (989355)
        2-stroke lawn mower? I haven't seen one of those in ages. I think LawnBoy made two-stroke mowers for a long time, but I thought they were all 4-stroke nowadays. Now my chainsaw, leaf-blower, hedge-clipper and weed-trimmer, are a different story.

        For non-gearheads: If you need to fill 'er up with a mix oil+gasoline, you got yerself a 2-stroke.
  • Why??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thepacketmaster (574632) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:35PM (#16139531) Homepage Journal
    Other than the obvious geek factor, why would we want to increase our dependancy on a fossil fuel.
    • Re:Why??? (Score:5, Funny)

      by shrikel (535309) <hlagfarj.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:42PM (#16139580)
      Because as we move to hybrid gas-electric vehicles, more and more mechanics are finding they need a degree in electronics just to be able to fix your car. So to level the playing field, we felt that electronics geeks should have to learn how to fix an engine too.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)
      Other than the obvious geek factor, why would we want to increase our dependancy on a fossil fuel.

      Other than the obvious weight of history, why would you assume that the turbine runs on fossil fuels? The article never tells us what the fuel is.

      It could just as easily be run on butanol, alcohol, or hydrogen as gasoline, petrodiesel, or what have you.

  • Makes it look like the first gas turbine car of the 21st century will be a Matchbox car.
  • They will have to reinstitute smoking sections on aircraft.

    "Will you be flying in fumes or non-fumes, sir?"
  • by llZENll (545605) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:51PM (#16139650)
    How cool will it be when you turn your laptop on and it sounds like a jet engine starting up!
    • by powerlord (28156)
      How cool will it be when you turn your laptop on and it sounds like a jet engine starting up!

      I work next to a rack of development machines. Trust me when I say, "Its cool at first, but gets old fast." :)

      I DO however appreciate why all those people on the tarmac are always wearing ear protectors.
  • ...government agency to get involved in another product! I can see it now as a new advertising come on:

    Now! New MacBook Pro - EPA approved! Improved catalytic converter design! Larger, more efficient muffler! Meets EPA SPMML standards! (Seconds per micro-milliliter)
    • ...government agency to get involved in another product! I can see it now as a new advertising come on:

      Now! New MacBook Pro - EPA approved! Improved catalytic converter design! Larger, more efficient muffler! Meets EPA SPMML standards! (Seconds per micro-milliliter)


      With a body kit, cold air intake, stiffer suspecnsion and racing stripes.
  • so when... (Score:5, Funny)

    by not a cylon (1003138) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:57PM (#16139703)
    will they be putting tiny engines inside silicon*e* ? Just imagine, breasts that swing *themselves* even when the woman is standing still. It truly would be Utopia. Or Stepford. I always get those two confused.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:59PM (#16139720)
    Can it beat John Henry and his mighty hammer? Didn't think so!
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @02:03PM (#16139763) Journal
    When steam engines were invented and developed in England by Newcomen the science of thermodynamics was lagging the technology. The steam engines work obviously but they could not get scaled down versions of the steam engines to work at all in the lab. Mainly because real engines were made with cast iron but the lab models were made with brass and it conducted away the heat away too quickly. At this time a man named James Watt, an instrumentmaker by profession did lots of work on the lab models and made an improved steam engine by mainly making the steam condense outside the cylinder. Also he invented the Watts Governor to regulate the speed of the machine. The moral of the story is that, heat engines dont scale down as easily as electronics.

    Fluids in general behave much more differently in microscopic quantities than in large bulk quantities. I expect to be lugging large batteries for some time to come.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by giafly (926567)

      [Steam engines prove] that heat engines dont scale down as easily as electronics.

      Steam engines of the era you're discussing [cottontimes.co.uk] heated water in a big drum, just hot enough so it turned to steam, then cooled it just enough so it condensed back to hot water. Both stages (especially the second) were critically dependent on conduction. The heat engine in the example works by burning a fuel-air mix at the the melting point of steel apparantly, and doesn't bother condensing the result. I think the issues are diffe

  • ...then I can eat Mexican food for lunch and power my laptop for free!
  • Wonderful (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eno2001 (527078) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @02:09PM (#16139821) Homepage Journal
    Just what we need these days, not less but MORE dependence on fossil fuels. What idiots! Besides the obvious problem of trying to fuel something that small at the gas pump and then paying for it in fractions of a penny, what about the carbon dioxide emissions that conbustion engines produce? Aren't we going to be in for a lot of people with lots of headaches and brain damage from using a device like this? Even though it's so small, it's STILL emitting carbon dioxide which is known to cause the more serious cases of fatal death. I still get behind my roaring battle cry: SOLAR POWER IS WHERE IT'S AT FOLKS!!! The sun is an abundant energy source. Amp the solar panel production up so that they are 99.999% efficient, and you won't need any other source of energy anywhere on the planet. Combine that with electricity resevoirs that can hold a couple hundred gallons of electricity, and you have a clear winner. Thumbs down on this for sure.
    • *WHOOSH*
      *WHOOSH*
      *WHOOSH*
      *WHOOSH*
      *WHOOSH*
      *WHOOSH*

      I'm pretty sure that was the sound of a tongue-in-cheek post zooming over several posters' heads

  • by mnmn (145599)
    Imagine a Beowulf of these...

    I could build a car.
  • Hollywood has been waiting for this for decades.

    Now that's progress.
  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @04:46PM (#16141394) Journal
    Everything works great until you show it to your manager...

    "All the parts work. We're now trying to get them all to work on the same day on the same lab bench."


    "Hey boss, c'mere! I got our engine-on-a-chip to work!"

    *boss meanders on over*

    *turbine stops spinning*

    *boss walks away grumbling*

    "Bbbbbut it worked! Really, it did!"

    (PS: did anyone notice the "No Karma Bonus" checkbox?)

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