…as viewed by General Electric
Some Chicago Boyz know each other from student days at the University of Chicago. Others are Chicago boys in spirit. The blog name is also intended as a good-humored gesture of admiration for distinguished Chicago School economists and fellow travelers.
7 thoughts on “Some Key Technologies for 2015 and Beyond”
Very interesting stuff.
One thing that struck me was this quote:
“Physical and mental fatigue is a factor for air traffic controllers, fire fighters, heavy-equipment operators, and many other professions,”
I think that with better, cheaper, easier-to-use sensors of this type we will quickly learn that physical and mental fatigue is a major issue for people in high-stakes white-collar work such as computer programming, project management, medicine, etc.
re human stress sensors: in his book The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, author John Coates (a securities trader turned neuroscience researcher) argued that market success leads (for male traders) to increased testosterone levels, which lead to more risk-taking. IIRC, he argued that it would be wise for firms to monitor trader testosterone trends and give them some time off from trading when the levels are spiking up too rapidly.
I read a year or so ago about some research work being done by the US Air Force to monitor pilot cognitive load, with the idea of reducing the demand when it gets too high.
Not obvious how such reduction could really be done, though, in most cases…surely can’t ask the enemy for a time-out. OTOH, if you’re stressed out because of multiple problems…say, autopilot has failed, weather is bad, and ATC has just called to give you a modified and inconvenient routing…then it might be helpful to have a device suggest that you’re getting more stressed than you consciously realize and it would be wise to consider a change in plans and an early landing.
GE got sidelined, in my opinion, by Immelt and his forays into crony capitalism and the “green technologies” that even here they seem to be obsessed with.
There are great technological breakthroughs possible. One is the The Thorium Reactor which has real possibilities but is ignored because the greenies are also anti-nuclear power.
LFTRs differ from other power reactors in almost every aspect: they use thorium rather than uranium, operate at low pressure, fuel by pumping without shutdown, use a salt coolant and produce higher operating temperatures. These distinctive characteristics give rise to many potential advantages, as well as design challenges.
I understand the Chinese are building them as fast as they can.
“This is definitely a race. China faces fierce competition from overseas and to get there first will not be an easy task”,” says Professor Li Zhong, a leader of the programme. He said researchers are working under “warlike” pressure to deliver.
Good for them. They may do the world a big favour. They may even help to close the era of fossil fuel hegemony, and with it close the rentier petro-gas regimes that have such trouble adapting to rational modern behaviour. The West risks being left behind, still relying on the old uranium reactor technology that was originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s.
Aside from the reflex anti-fossil fuel rhetoric, he’s right.
Nanotechnology is another. Another is biology.
I have a group of six students this year of whom five are engineers and the other is a computer science graduate. All plan on careers in bioengineering. They chose me as an instructor on the advice of an engineer student I had last year.
One of my close friends in high school went to Marquette for engineering, wound up with a PhD in mechanical engineering, spent a few years at GE in Schenectady and then about 20 at Medical College of Wisconsin as Chair of bioengineering. I guess he is now at Northwestern I have to look him up next time I’m in Chicago.
This is the future. Sort of like this sort of thing.
>One is the The Thorium Reactor <
great idea. crowd source it at a low regulation state like haiti? oh my cheap electric for the black peeps.
the proggtards will disagree. #blackliesmatter
Interesting about the thorium project in China. I have to wonder, though, about this part:
“The project began with a start-up budget of $350m and the recruitment of 140 PhD scientists at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. It then had plans to reach 750 staff by 2015, but this already looks far too conservative.”
I would think that if the project is anywhere near ready for creation of a commercially-deployable system, then there would be less demand for “PhD scientists” and more demand for workaday mechanical & electrical engineers, manufacturing process planners, etc. Indeed, one of the Chinese quoted in the article “cautioned against too much exuberance on so-called fourth-generation reactors. “These projects are beautiful to scientists, but nightmarish to engineer.”
I certainly wish them luck, and wish we were playing at an equivalent level of effort. The really depressing thing is this: even if China developed the technology quickly, deployed it operationally, demonstrated its reliability, AND made it available to us on reasonable terms, either to buy the product or on a royalty basis….even with all, that adoption of the technology in the US would be fought bitterly by many powerful forces, mainly under the banners of “protecting the environment” and “safety.”
As a precedent, consider the situation with nuclear power and France. That country gets the majority of its power from nuclear, and it’s worked quite well for them. You can buy the technology from the French nuclear company, and I bet you could even get them to come over and operate systems here for you if you asked nicely and paid well. But even the most Francophile among the “progressives,” those who admire the TGV exorbitantly, would almost all draw the line at such a technology acquisition effort.
There was a small molten salt thorium reactor operated at Oak Ridge for several years back in the 1960’s. It ran well, but there are problems in scaling it up to a commercial size, mostly to do with corrosion of the piping by the coolant. Since the current LWR technology easily scaled up, and Rickover preferred that the commercial sector use the same reactors as the Navy, it was dropped. The economic benefits of the MSR thorium reactor would not pay back the cost of the engineering work needed to scale it up.
The same thing happened to the high temperature gas reactors using helium as a coolant. Fort St. Vrain was a disaster for both PS Colorado and General Atomic. It never worked properly as they tried going from a small test bed facility (Peach Bottom 1) to a commercial size facility without any intervening steps. The HTGR has a lot of promise as a highly efficient combined cycle nuclear plant (gas and steam turbines, along with MHD (if it ever works)), but no one is seriously pursuing HTGR’s now. Pebble bed HTGRs also suffer from problems scaling up from the tiny one in Germany that worked well for years to commercially viable sizes. I hear the Chinese are still trying, but without much success.
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