Don’t get me wrong: I’ve long been more than passing fond of heavy machinery and Victoriana, but I’m getting pretty bored of steampunk as an aesthetic – it’s just too damned ubiquitous right now, a fashionable marketing veneer. New wine in old bottles, you know.
And few things sing out “steampunk!” quite so loud as the humble dirigible, of course – but there’s nothing to say that airships have to be a retro trope. So I suggest we reclaim the dirigible for near-future science fiction: witness this concept drawing from Australian aeronautics outfit Skylifter, which drags the dirigible bobbing and floating into the 21st Century… complete with 150 tonnes of cargo hanging beneath it [via SlashDot].
Designed to carry entire buildings to remote locations, folks. Entire buildings. And in case you were wondering about the flying saucer shape, that’s practical:
Rather than use either a spherical or a cigar-shaped aerostat, as the gas-filled envelope of a lighter-than-air craft is known, Skylifter has developed a discus-shaped one. This means that like a traditional, round ballon—and unlike the elongated dirigible blimps that have hitherto been used as serious modes of commercial transport—the craft is “directionless”. In other words, it is oblivious of where the wind happens to be blowing from, which simplifies load-handling in places where the wind is fickle. At the same time, being flatter than a sphere, the aerostat acts less like a sail than a traditional balloon does, making it easier to steer. The flying-saucer shape also acts as a parachute, affording greater control during descent.
Clever stuff. However, don’t hold your breath for stately fleets of disc-shaped dirigibles delivering shipping-container tower-blocks or solar-panel arrays to an urban void near you any time soon… Skylifter have a scale version working, but it’s only three meters across and capable of lifting a single kilogram. 🙁
Only the other day we were talking about tracking trash to find out where it goes. Well, it turns out it’s not just people that end up immigrating into countries that don’t want to deal with them; the Brazilian environment agency Ibama is demanding that 1,400 tonnes of hazardous waste – everything from rotting food, used condoms and dirty hypodermics – be repatriated to the UK where it came from.
Among the rubbish were the names of many British supermarkets, and UK newspapers were also clearly identifiable.
Ibama officials say they want the waste sent back to the UK.
“We will ask for the repatriation of this garbage,” said Roberto Messias, Ibama president. “Clearly, Brazil is not a big rubbish dump of the world.”
Reports in the UK media say the waste was sent from Felixstowe in eastern England to the port of Santos, near Sao Paulo, and two other ports in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.
The Brazilian companies that received the waste said they had been expecting recyclable plastic, The Times reported.
I guess this is the nation-state version of the rocks-in-an-iPod-box scam. Hopefully it’ll get harder for organisations to pull off this kind of switcheroo without getting caught by shipment tracking systems… but while there’s money to be made, you can guarantee they’ll keep trying it on. I expect corruption is a large part of the problem – as much at the UK end as elsewhere. [via SlashDot; image by bejnar.net]
Sails on boats? Using wind to move ships? My God, what will they think of next!?
Our own Tomas Martin brought up this novel concept back in January. Now that the Beluga has completed the first leg of its voyage and the costs have been calculated, it turns out that the savings estimates of 20%/day (roughly $1500, or 3 euros and a handful of beans on the exchange market) were spot on. To put it in perspective, the normal fuel budget is around $7500/day. That’s a big chunk of change, and a boon to an industry that has been found to be even more damaging in terms of carbon emissions.
(via Dailytech, image from Skysails website)
The Oil Drum has a fascinating article on the new developments by the German company SkySails. Their system flies a kite the size of a football field above a normal cargo vessel or tanker. The kites fly around 1000 metres up, where winds are higher and can help pull the ship along, cutting fuel needs and increasing speed. A German cargo firm, Beluga, will be making the first voyage using a SkySail this month.
“It marks the beginning of a revolution in the way that ships are powered,” said Stephan Wrage, the inventor of the SkySails idea. “We calculate that the sails can reduce fuel consumption by between 30 and 50 per cent, depending on the wind conditions. “The system could be applied to about 60,000 vessels out of the 100,000 or so listed in the Lloyd’s register. Bulk carriers, tankers — they could all benefit from the flying sails.”
The kite is computer controlled to get the best of the wind available and is attached to a rail running around the edge of the ship’s hull. The first test will use a 160 square metre sail and aim to save around 15% of available fuel. In later products the company aims to scale up to sails as big as 5000 square metres able to boost the speed of the biggest cargo vessel. With the kite sail pulling, the ship is able to spend less on the increasingly costly bunker fuel needed for engines. A US company, KiteSail, also produces a similar technology aimed more at the leisure market.
[via The Oil Drum]