National Instruments customers are tackling some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges by designing innovative solutions. Green engineering, the use of measurement and control techniques to design, develop, and improve products, technologies, and processes, fosters this innovation, resulting in environmental and economic benefits. Although green may be a popular topic today, green engineering is fundamentally no different than any other type of engineering innovation; first you need to measure your variables, and then you begin the process of designing or fixing products and processes to achieve your goal. With measurement, automation, and design tools from National Instruments, engineers and scientists can acquire and analyze real-world data such as energy consumption and emissions. Armed with more accurate data, the resulting products and technologies are designed with improved efficiency and reduced environmental impact. The following green engineering solutions highlight some of the applications and systems created by NI customers.
1. Environmental Monitoring in the Costa Rican Rain Forest
Researchers at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica are trying to better understand the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. La Selva Biological Station is based in a 3,900-acre tropical rain forest averaging 13 feet of rainfall per year and located at the confluence of two major rivers in the Caribbean lowlands of northern Costa Rica. The researchers are using National Instruments technology to measure the exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2), also known as the carbon flux, and other materials between the atmosphere and the forest floor.
Figure 1. Researchers at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica are trying to better understand the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment.
Using wireless measurement technology, engineers from the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) at UCLA developed a networked infomechanical system (NIMS) that measures and analyzes a variety of environmental indicators and offers remote configuration capabilities using NI LabVIEW graphical system design and NI CompactRIO programmable automation controllers (PACs). NIMS was initially deployed in 2008 and is currently being expanded by the building of additional towers in the forest canopy to extend the coverage of the measurements. In addition to adding more wireless measurements and improving the infrastructure, the engineers also plan to provide remote access to the local units using LabVIEW so researchers can access data over the web from their labs and offices and configure additional measurements.
2. Monitoring Stack Gas Emissions
To comply with the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule and other regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Association (EPA), mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants must be continuously monitored. Coal-fired plants in the U.S. emit more than 40 tons of mercury each year, ranking these plants among the highest mercury polluters in the country.
Figure 2. Coal-fired plants in the U.S. emit more than 40 tons of mercury each year, ranking these plants among the highest mercury polluters in the country.
National Instruments Alliance Partner Data Science Automation, in collaboration with its client, Clean Air Engineering, developed a mercury emissions stack monitoring system that uses LabVIEW and an NI Compact FieldPoint PAC for measurement, processing, and control. This application seamlessly automates the data sampling, calibration, and leak-checking modes. Based on collected data and on-board analysis, the Compact FieldPoint system controls two processes, one of which maintains static temperatures while the other dynamically adjusts the stack flow rate. Finally, the Compact FieldPoint system publishes the data over a wireless network to a PDA, which provides all status displays and operator interactions. With challenging requirements for mixed signal measurement and complex control, the engineers at DSA noted that “the success of the project was due to the processing and automation power of Compact FieldPoint.”
3. Reduction of Herbicide Usage
For the Danish National Railway Agency (DNRA), train tracks covered in weeds are not only a safety issue, but also a maintenance nightmare. Traditionally, to manage weeds, a railcar loaded with herbicides sprayed the entire length of the track. Although this solution worked, it was not cost effective and was environmentally detrimental, because it dumped herbicides over large areas with no weeds. T&O Stelectric, in cooperation with Hardi International A/S, has developed a better solution for the DNRA. The system uses infrared cameras to detect foliage near the tracks and applies herbicides only to those areas. The railcar collects and inputs data into an onboard computer that uses NI vision software to process the images and detect precisely where to apply herbicide. This system reduced the amount of herbicides being applied by more than 50 percent and decreased the cost of maintaining the railways.
Figure 3. T&O Stelectric uses infrared cameras to detect foliage near the tracks and applies herbicides only to those areas.
4. Integrating Wind Power with the Grid
As wind power becomes a larger source of generated electricity, it is critical to ensure that wind farms are not damaged during disturbances on the grid. Faults on the grid can produce voltage dips that traditionally caused wind turbines to drop out or trip out of the system. However, it is now considered advantageous for wind turbines to stay online and connected during disturbances, but to do so the equipment must be tested for low-voltage ride-through capability. To do this, the test system generates short circuits through circuit breakers at voltages up to 36 kV, requiring significant user safety precautions.
Figure 4. As wind power becomes a larger source of generated electricity, it is critical to ensure that wind farms are not damaged during disturbances on the grid.
Energy To Quality S.L., based in Madrid, Spain, has been testing wind farms according to the main European and American grid codes for the past two years with a mobile voltage dip generator controlled by LabVIEW and a PXI/SCXI system. The PXI/SCXI system uses high-voltage input modules to measure secondary voltages at 110 VAC while controlling relays connected to tripping coils. This hardware then communicates results to an additional LabVIEW application on a remote computer via TCP/IP for user safety. With a test time of under a minute, operators know immediately if the wind turbine complies with the requirements, enabling new wind farms to come online more quickly.
5. Improving the Efficiency of Large Internal Combustion Engines
Large stationary internal combustion (IC) engines widely used in heavy industry for driving compressors and generators are responsible for significant emissions of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, collectively known as NOx. NOx emissions are by-products of the combustion of fossil fuels such as diesel and natural gas. NOx is a significant component of smog, because it forms ozone when it combines with hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. Ozone is a reactive gas that damages plant life and harms human lungs, resulting in congestion and reduced lung capacity.
Figure 5. Engineers at Enginuity use National Instruments data acquisition and PXI hardware and LabVIEW software in an engine/compressor simulator for factor acceptance testing of all control panels.
For the past 20 years, Enginuity has designed and installed efficiency improvement and emission-reduction technologies for large engines including fuel injection systems, engine monitoring, and turbochargers that are retrofitted to existing machinery. Engineers at Enginuity use National Instruments data acquisition and PXI hardware and LabVIEW software in an engine/compressor simulator for factor acceptance testing of all control panels. The simulator is used for both the development and validation of controllers by simulating the inputs from the engine and acquiring the output data from the controller. Enginuity’s systems and technology eliminate over 122,000 tons of NOx emissions annually, the equivalent of removing 6 million vehicles from U.S. roads each year.
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