Saul Griffiths' sun-tracking solar systems and intestine-inspired car gas tanks

Extreme maker and MacArthur "Genius" Saul Griffih, of inflatable robots and algorithmically-designed hoodie fame, writes:

(My independent research lab) Otherlab has recently received ARPA-e awards for two great projects in clean energy. ARPA-e is having a vote to have the best projects present at the ARPA-e showcase in a few weeks in Washington DC to get national exposure. We'd like to see both of these projects receive the attention they deserve to enable them to succeed as fast as possible.

You can vote for one, and in fact both, at the links below. Make sure to watch the intestine video beautifully drawn by Nick Dragotta and narrated by Tucker Gilman.

* Safe, dense, high pressure, conformal energy storage for natural gas vehicles

* Low cost high precision heliostats for solar energy.


    1. If you live in SF and drive accordingly, I’m pretty sure that your catalytic converter is already pushing out sulfur farts.

  1. For high pressure cylinders, 1/2 the diameter will mean you only need 1/2 the wall thickness.  1/2 the wall thickness and 1/2 the diameter means 1/4 the weight.  But 1/2 the diameter also means 1/4 the volume.  So at first blush, it’s a wash.  But you’ve now got twice the surface area to volume ratio, increasing potential failure points.  And you have half the capacity to tolerate damage.

    For instance, 1mm of damage on a 10 mm wall is far less trouble than 1mm of damage on a 1 mm wall.

    As for the heliostat proposal, there’s not enough information to evaluate it properly.  If all you go by is the use of plastic and the picture, it appears one good storm and you can kiss your solar farm goodbye.

    1. The wall thickness is chosen to accommodate a particular pressure.  Assuming the pressure stays the same, then wall thickness is independent of diameter. So if one wants to accommodate the same volume of gas, the weight of the container increases proportional to the increase in surface area.  Am I missing something?

  2. Why are gas tanks cylindrical? It equalizes the stresses and minimizes surface area. So you need less material to make a stronger tank. Why are intestines the shape that they are? Partly to maximize surface area to absorb nutrients so more material required. The novel tank is going to be much heavier.

    1. That’s a good point, if anything the stomach is a better analog to a gas tank than the intestines.

  3. That makes the tank much more expensive to make, customized for each vehicle, and exposes it more crash zones.

  4. Also, methane contributes 75 times more per unit of straight up CO2 added to the atmosphere over a 20 year time-horizon.  That may make the broad use of natural gas a wash unless you can leak 75 times less per unit CO2 into the atmosphere.

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