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Earth Day 2018: Research Efforts from IEEE that Help Cultivate a Sustainable Environment

Prior to 1970, April 22 was just another day of the year. People would look at their calendars and go "Meh.", proceeding with their ordinary day-to-day routines. The unrelenting cycle of wasteful consumption would pass unabated, because no one had the time or resources to care. As society reached a turning point however, with the spontaneous rise of globalization, people began to realize the need for moderating man-made efforts due to their detrimental effects on the environment. This realization, over time, was under-girded by advances in science, drawing arguments incisive enough to spur significant change and action. To increase effectiveness and to spread awareness, a particular day was chosen to demonstrate support for these environmental protection efforts. This special day, which was started by the U.S., is now celebrated in more than 192 countries and is called Earth Day.


IEEE does its share through its research efforts centered towards improving energy efficiency, thus drawing less from the environment and mitigating mankind's imprint. For example, electronic systems that can be optimized to draw fractions of power compared to the original, can not only reduce the amount of expended fossil fuels/coal, but also provide more energy to those who are in dire need of it. The following describe 4 research topics from IEEE that revolve around this ideal.

(Earth Collage - Photo credit: Astronomy Picture of the Day)

A New High Availability, High Quality Telecom Power Plant Architecture Helps Reduce Pollution Emissions and Save Energy

(credits to Michel Fraisse and Laurent Buchsbaum)

Conventional telecommunications facilities operate with battery reserve power lasting for 2 to 8 hours (that have to be replaced every 5 years or so) and a diesel generator to provide uninterrupted service during long power outages. A new structure though, promises to remove the added responsibility of battery replacement every lustrum, decreasing space and maintenance cost.

The solution hinges on a centralized UPS and micro-turbine system. Installation is easy because the entire system can be placed in the same room. The micro-turbine, which is a pollution-free, clean energy source - lighter and smaller than its diesel counterpart, may be relocated outside the plant if noise is undesired. Power distribution is simple because the expensive DC distribution is avoided through battery-less, point-of-use rectifiers.

New Environment-Friendly Decorative Board gets an Intelligent, Automatic Detective System for Pore Structure Analysis

(credits to Yan Ma, Yixing Liu, and Haipeng Yu)

Micron Flake Light Density Boards (MFLBs) are the new environment-friendly materials for indoor decoration. But its porosity is a key factor in determining its value, with physical and mechanical properties varying with pore size. Traditional methods used to characterize this figure have grown tedious and costly, with panel quality poorly evaluated in the production line.

Hence, an emerging technology was applied to this problem, i.e. the dynamic field of machine learning and vision. Using a stereo-microscope, the test specimen is imaged on a scanning platform. The feed is dealt with image pre-treatment, enhanced and threshold partitioned. The output is then analyzed and classified according to porosity, roundness, shape factor, and configuration coefficient. It is notable that added parameters of the board are characterized with this method, greatly surpassing conventional methods for this application.

Innovative Energy Efficient and Environment-Friendly Elevator System Uses Ultra-capacitors and Fuel Cells with Power Factor Correction 

(credits to Shreelakshmi M.P. and Vivek Agarwal)

Elevator systems are pervasive in society, present in almost every modern building and high-rise structure. It is rare to see a building more than 3 stories high without one. Therefore, savings in energy must be massive for every proposed solution in this area no matter how small given the total number of deployed elevator units throughout the world (not to mention the frequency of use).

The novel technique involves an ultra-capacitor that carries all the load of the inrush current transient during starting mode and serves as an active storage element during regeneration mode. This phenomenon is well-known when driving motors from a state of rest. As the motors are brought to motion, a starting current burdens the power grid causing significant transient losses. With an ultra-capacitor, power is supplied through a boost converter all the way to ride-through mode (with the help of fuel cells). The only hindrance in this research is the current costs of ultra-capacitors and fuel-cells. But with advances in materials science, overall cost is expected drop, making this solution viable in the near future.

New Control Design of Eco-friendly Microgrid to revolutionize Wind Energy Harvesting

(credits to Ambrish Chandra, et. al.)

Wind is an energy resource impossible to deplete (unless you're Boreas), which makes it a highly attractive option for energy harvesting. But wind velocity is not constant at all, with variations that can last in unpredictable intervals of time. At worst, if wind speed falls below a threshold, power must be drawn from a back-up diesel generator, which defeats the purpose of this renewable energy resource. To counter this, variable-speed operation wind turbine technology is used, and comes at a hefty price. Isn't there anything we could do to work around this problem without sacrificing the financial budget?

Fortunately, there is a way that relies on changing the manner of control through a flexible shaft. The problem to be mitigated is the inaccuracies accompanying initial rotor and wind-speed measurements. By re-thinking the control strategy of the DC/DC boost converter on the wind turbine side, the DC/DC boost converter on the diesel generator side, and the 3-phase 4W DC/AC interfacing inverter, a solution can be arrived at competing with the performance of a more expensive variable-speed operation wind turbine technology.

The solutions described above are but a mere portion of the total make-up of IEEE research involved in  preserving the environment. Plenty more are being conducted to help in the fight of saving our only planet. From the migration to a higher 48V bus voltage in mild hybrid electric vehicles to automated electronic systems that analyze eco-friendly materials in the industry, the IEEE community will continue to delve on technologies that will further man's cause toward a sustainable environment.


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