Science Briefs: New technology can improve efficiency of hybrid electric vehicles

Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have shown how to improve the efficiency of current plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have shown how to improve the efficiency of current plug-in hybrid vehicles. University of California at Riverside

Getting more miles from plug-in hybrids

Research engineers from the University of California, Riverside have taken the technology for plug-in hybrid electic vehicles one step further, demonstrating how to improve their efficiency by almost 12 percent.

Since plug-in hybrids combine gas or diesel engines with electric motors and large rechargeable batteries, a key component is an energy management system (EMS) that controls when they switch from “all-electric” mode – when stored energy from their batteries is used – to “hybrid” mode, which utilizes fuel and electricity.

Most plug-in hybrids start in all-electric mode, running on electricity until their battery pack is depleted and then switch to hybrid mode. But that isn’t the most efficient way to combine the two power sources. In lab tests, blended discharge strategies, in which power from the battery is used throughout the trip, have proved to be more efficient at minimizing fuel consumption and emissions, but until now they haven’t been an option for real-world applications.

“Blended discharge strategies have the ability to be extremely energy efficient, but those proposed previously require upfront knowledge about the nature of the trip, road conditions and traffic information, which in reality is almost impossible to provide,” said said Xuewei Qi, who led the UC Riverside research. While the EMS his team developed does require trip-related information, it also gathers data in real time using onboard sensors and communications devices, rather than demanding it upfront. Comparison test results show an average fuel savings of 11 percent.

The new EMS technology is described in the journal Transportation Research Record.

Cotton candy machines may hold key for artificial organs

Cotton candy machines may hold the key for making life-size artificial livers, kidneys and other essential organs.

For several years, Leon Bellan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., has been tinkering with cotton candy machines, getting them to spin out networks of tiny threads comparable in size, density and complexity to the patterns formed by capillaries – the tiny, thin-walled vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells and carry away waste. His goal has been to make fiber networks that can be used as templates to produce the capillary systems required to create full-scale artificial organs.

In an article published by the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal, Bellan and colleagues report they have succeeded in using this unorthodox technique to produce a 3-D artificial capillary system that can keep living cells viable and functional for more than a week, which is a dramatic improvement over current methods.

Discovered: Galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way

Hundreds of hidden nearby galaxies have been studied for the first time, shedding light on a mysterious gravitational anomaly dubbed the “Great Attractor.”

Despite being just 250 million light years from Earth – very close in astronomical terms – the new galaxies had been hidden from view until now by our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

With the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia, equipped with an innovative receiver, an international team of scientists was able to see through the stars and dust of the Milky Way, into a previously unexplored region of space.

The discovery may help to explain the Great Attractor region, which appears to be drawing the Milky Way and hundreds of thousands of other galaxies toward it with a gravitational force equivalent to a million billion suns.

The study was published in Astronomical Journal.