FUELSPACE

FuelSpace is a blog focusing on the emerging commercial space economy, space exploration, energy production, technology and innovation. We also cover the skills that enable great achievements in these areas including sales and persuasion, productivity, self-discipline, and leadership.

BrainFuel: Five Productivity Rules for the Driven Professional

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Productivity is hot these days, and like any hot topic, there is no shortage of information on web about how to be productive. This often leads to information overload. The next thing you know you are spending all day learning how to be productive and not actually doing anything. So...being a constant student of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness (those two are very different FYI), I have condensed this information into a short list for you. It is important to remember that everyone's brain is wired differently and therefore what ultimately works for one person may not work for another, but out of the chaos of productivity science, several standout rules have emerged that apply to today's business world.  Here they are:

1. Do not start your day with email.

The majority of the people you know begin their day by sitting down at their desk, grabbing a fire extinguisher, and then putting out fires. If you choose to do this, be aware that your day is automatically dictated by everyone but you. Luckily you have the power to change this.  Each day should begin with 10-15 minutes of careful reflection on what you would like to accomplish. Layout your single top priority, then three or four other tasks you plan to accomplish that day. Scheduling your entire day - even breaks, time to check emails, meetings and meals - will grant you full power to follow through on your daily objectives. That is exactly how Benjamin Franklin found time to manage so many successful projects. This simple change in your daily routine will shift the balance of power back to you.  It is your day; you decide what to do with it. 

2. Goals -> Milestones -> Tasks.

A goal is the big idea, the grand dream, the big win at the end of the year or even the decade. The goal is what you ultimately want to accomplish. However, you cannot put “build space station, explore new worlds” on your to-do list. You must first subdivide the goal into milestones that are achievable in the near future, and then determine what tasks need to be done TODAY to move toward that milestone. Break it down during your planning sessions and complete that next task today; this is how you get to the milestones and ultimately achieve your goal.   

3. Multitasking is a myth.

The concept of multitasking is myth. Science tells us that the brain simply does not handle multiple tasks at the same time. More specifically, it does not handle multiple tasks WELL. This is why texting and driving is possibly the stupidest thing you can do. Human brains are designed to focus on the task at hand, and then move on. Learn from this and stop trying to do six things at once. Read, work on the proposal, make a sales call, prep for the big meeting. Pick one thing you will work on, get after it for your allotted time, dedicate yourself to it, and then move on.  I am going to repeat this for those of you who decided to do something else while reading this: you are terrible at everything when you multitask. Stop multitasking and realize your true potential by single tasking instead.

4. Breaks are not helpful, they are absolutely essential. 

The human brain can focus on any given task or project for 60-90 minutes at an absolute MAXIMUM. After this amount of time, the brain's ability to produce any meaningful work declines dramatically. Divide your day into 60-90 minute sections and then take a break. The break is the most important part. It allows the brain to recoup its energy, recover, and prepare for the next project. Schedule breaks, lots of them...take a walk, get outside, change your environment and surroundings, allow yourself to DAY DREAM. Commit to actually allowing your mind to rest for 15 minutes. When you return, switch to a new project for 60-90 minute section of your day. The results are nothing short of astounding. 

5. Sleep and exercise will maximize your potential every day.

If you want to excel at school, work, and life in general, you have to exercise. The human brain developed in a state of motion and this has never been undone. Exercise increases the oxygen flow that is the fuel for your brain and maximizes your thinking, learning, and cognitive potential. This is beyond all of the other health benefits - this is pure brain power we are talking about. Sleep is very similar. If you do not get enough sleep, your cognitive abilities begin to drop off at an immense rate. Sleep is also the time when you brain moves into cleaning and repair mode, something you should not miss. If you are driven to succeed, sleep and exercise will put you ahead of your competition. That is not a recommendation; it is a fact. 

If you want to delve into the science behind these rules even more, pick up a copy of Brain Rules by John Medina.  He explains them all in an amazingly digestible and fascinating form.

Amazon Founder is Developing a Natural Gas Rocket Engine

Blue Origin, the secretive spacecraft company founded by entrepreneur and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced today they will develop a liquefied methane rocket engine in partnership with the largest space launch provider in the US, the United Launch Alliance (ULA). This comes on the heels of similar news from SpaceX, the private space exploration firm founded by Elon Musk. SpaceX announced in April that they will begin testing liquid methane as a fuel for the next generation Raptor engine at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The Raptor engine is anticipated to replace the current Merlin engine which powers the Falcon 9 rocket.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas Rocket

The United Launch Alliance Atlas Rocket

Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft 

Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft 

Methane rocket engines use high quality natural gas, which is refined into 99.9% pure liquid methane as the primary fuel. The methane is combined with liquid oxygen and burned in the thrust chamber of the rocket, producing the incredible lift required to escape Earth's gravity. Methane engines have numerous performance, storage and cost advantages over tradition RP-1 rocket fuel, which is made from Kerosene, a petroleum product. The fuel is also attractive because it can potentially be made from the atmosphere of Mars, eliminating the need to carry the fuel required for a return journey. 

NASA tested a liquid methane engine in partnership with XCOR in 2007, shown in the video below. The liquid methane for the NASA tests was provided by Clean Energy, a natural gas provider and cryogenics specialist based in Newport Beach, CA.  

This marks the first major partnership for Blue Origins, which has until now been a quiet player in the commercial space industry. The ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.  Founded in 2006, the ULA operates the Atlas and Delta rockets and have launched a combined total of 1,300 missions. 

The official announcement can be found on the ULA website here.

3D Printing, CNG Stations, and Space Spiders

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you have at least heard the term 3D printing by now. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of adding thin layers of a specific material on top of each other to “print” a product.  Each layer is fused together until the finished product is created. This is an alternative to the traditional method of subtractive manufacturing where you would remove material to form a final product. Current 3D printers can print objects out of wood, plastic, and now metal. Historically these systems have been used for rapid prototyping but are quickly making their way into the realm of manufacturing. We are now seeing 3D printers which are actually manufacturing high-end finished components. One of the most impressive products currently in 3D production is jet fuel nozzles. General Electric’s aerospace division has been printing high quality metal fuel nozzles for some time now. The program has been successful enough to warrant a substantial investment and expansion of the program.  

                                                          GE's LEAP engine will use 3D printed fuel nozzles.

                                                          GE's LEAP engine will use 3D printed fuel nozzles.

3D printing on a small scale is fantastic for a several applications. Rapid prototyping using 3D printers allows designers and manufacturers to test a variety of design configurations in real time. Modifying and testing prototypes much faster and more efficiently than ever opens the door to superior products that can be brought to market much faster.  In the realm of Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs), this technique will be applied to compressors. Gas compressors are single most expensive component of a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling station. Rapid prototyping will allow compressor manufacturers like IMW, Ariel and GE to develop new, more efficient, and more affordable compressors. 3D printing will also enable the entire fueling station to be serviced much more reliably and cost-effectively. Today, if a compressor component fails, a technician is dispatched to repair the faulty part. Typically the service providers maintaining these systems must stock a huge inventory of critical parts. In the near future, 3D manufacturing will take the place of large parts inventories and allow technicians to simply print the part they need on-demand vs. stocking the component in a warehouse. Taking this concept further, we may very well have fueling stations that one day print their own replacement parts on-site when they sense a failure is eminent. A station technician can be dispatched and coordinated to arrive when the part is complete; he can then perform the repair without ever needing to visit a warehouse to locate the part.  The current barrier to this solution is printing times, which are still very long.  But be assured that production times are improving at a rapid pace.

And that is just the beginning. 3D printers are often thought of as being limited by their size. You can only print an object small enough to fit inside the printer itself. Well…not for long. The next evolution of 3D printing is already underway, and it involves scaling up 3D printers by combining the printers with sophisticated robotics. Researchers at the University of Southern California are developing a robotic 3D printing system that can print an entire house in 24 hours.   

                                                                     The Construction: 3D Printed Houses

                                                                     The Construction: 3D Printed Houses

A system of rails would be installed around the job site allowing the printer to move in three dimensions. Using concrete printers these robots would print a house from the ground up.  This technology will revolutionize every aspect of the construction industry.  In the NGV world, this means fueling stations that once took months to build, could now be assembled and operational in just days. While it is extremely unlikely an entire compressor would ever be printed on site, there are still several benefits to such an approach. The robotic printers would prepare the entire fueling station site in a short period of time, printing the concrete pad, high pressure piping and the electrical systems. For stations with time fill systems where each vehicle has a dedicated fueling hose, the entire time fill system consisting of concrete K-rail, gas lines and plastic-metal hosing is an ideal candidate for robotic printing.   

Once the site is prepared, the core equipment components would be installed.  While real world advances such as this will be implementing incrementally, the end result will be fueling stations that are built in far less time. This will improve costs by reducing construction time and labor, simplifying permitting, and even reducing insurance costs.

                                Finally...Space Spiders.

                                Finally...Space Spiders.

For one last wow factor, I will share with you the ultimate domain of 3D printing: space. Doing anything in space is incredibly expensive, especially construction projects. For this reason you will see some of the most incredible advances in 3D printing occur in space, where the lack of gravity, abundance of raw material and free solar energy create the foundation for technologies that sound like science fiction, but are quite real. SpiderFab is developing 3D printing robots that will be utilized for space-construction projects. These are the enabling technologies that will allow space-based solar energy facilities and orbital fueling depots to become a reality. Companies like Planetary Resources will deliver fuel and raw materials to the resident staff of spider printers…setting the stage for the Trillion dollar commercial space economy. 

WSJ Reports the US is Taking Asteroid Threats Seriously

Asteroids and meteors have recently returned to the spotlight. After the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in Russia last February, more government agencies are beginning to look at near-earth asteroids as a potential threat. The full story from John R. Emshwiller at the Wall Street Journal can be found here. 

The Chelyabinsk Meteor shown above released 20-30 times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb. 

The Chelyabinsk Meteor shown above released 20-30 times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb. 

Water, Oceans of Methane, and the Future of Rocket Fuel

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Water is really amazing.  It is one of the primary reasons we exist.  We need it to live, and many people need to live near it. it is one of our world engines, affecting almost everything we experience from weather to thirst to a relaxing bath.  It is absolutely essential to our species. 

Water is also essential to space exploration.  When searching for life elsewhere in the universe, we typically begin by searching for water.  It will satisfy the biological needs of astronauts. It can be used to shield us from cosmic radiation, to grow plants and food, and eventually produce rocket fuel.  Our current rockets utilize massive amounts of liquid propellant to escape the earth’s gravity well.  This means that launching from the planet’s surface is incredibly inefficient and very expensive.  As much as 90% of a rocket’s mass is the propellant, limiting the size of the payload it can actually deliver to space.  The solution to this problem is in-situ or space-based fuel production.   If we can develop the means to produce fuel in space, we can refuel spacecraft in orbit and eliminate the need to haul huge amounts of fuel from earth’s surface.  Producing fuel in this manner is one of the key strategies which will allow humans to become a spacefaring civilization.  This is also the exact business plan of one FuelSpace's favorite companies: Shackleton Energy.

Asteroids, comets, moons, and even the atmospheres of other planets are all sources of water that can be mined.  It is highly likely that the oceans of our own planet are a result of asteroid and comet strikes during the late heavy bombardment of earth.  During this period of time, Jupiter’s gravity created chaos in the asteroid belt and earth was bombarded by millions of asteroids, many containing huge amounts of water in the form of ice.  Many scientists now believe this is one of the primary reasons that our planet now holds so much water.  This means that asteroids were potentially the seeds for life here on earth.  

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A large asteroid can potentially hold more freshwater than is found on all of earth, making them extremely attractive targets for water mining.  Planetary moons can also hold an abundance of water.  Our own moon is thought to contain huge amounts of water in the form of ice sheltered in deep craters on the surface.  Such areas are never exposed to the sun and therefore contain vast quantities of minable ice.  Jupiter’s moon Europa has been one of the most attractive locations in the solar system in our search for life.  Europa took it a step further in 2013 by exposing her undergarmets. Scientists have discovered what they believe are huge geysers of liquid water on Europa.     

Water can also be found on planets, and not just in liquid form.  The atmospheres of some planets can be used to produce water.  Mars is the most likely candidate for human exploration in the near future, and the Martian atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide.  This carbon dioxide can be combined with a small amount of hydrogen brought from earth and, using basic chemical processes, can be used to produce methane and water. Both of which can then be utilized to produce rocket fuel. Here on Earth Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs), which are powered by methane, are making huge inroads into the commercial fleet markets (trucking, mining, rail, marine, etc.) and rockets are next on the industry's hit list. Liquid methane rocket fuel is less expensive than traditional RP-1 which is derived from oil-based kerosene, and it is also highly abundant in space. In the future, one could easily fuel up liquid methane powered rockets on Saturn's moon Titan. The moon holds vast oceans of liquid methane which will eventually be tapped as a refueling depot.  Elon Musk's Rocket Wizards over at at SpaceX have mentioned Methane as a potential fuel for Mars missions, and next year will begin testing a liquid methane powered Raptor engine.   The Raptor will be designed as a higher thrust version of the Merlin engine line currently in production on the Falcon 9 rocket.   

Water is essential to human survival and will be an integral part of our expansion into space.  Lucky for us,  it is readily available and throughout our solar system, as long as we know where to look. 

Natural Gas Vehicles: 2013 Year in Review and What to Expect in 2014

                Waste Management CNG Garbage Truck

                Waste Management CNG Garbage Truck

The Golden Age of Gas is here to stay proclaims Forbes Magazine. Few will disagree that 2013 was a breakout year for the new premier fuel of the planet. This is no surprise, given the advances in extraction technologies pioneered here in the United States, and now making their way across the globe. Shale rocks formations are some of the most common on earth, meaning we are just now beginning one of the largest energy transitions in history. Here in the US, we continue to see massive reductions in our carbon output due to the transition away from coal fired power plants towards natural gas plants.  Market driven carbon reductions…yes please!

The Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) industry has finally become a major contender to displace diesel fuel in the next decade.  Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)  are becoming the fuel of choice for commercial fleet operators.  CNG refuse trucks accounted for more than 51% of all new trucks ordered.  Meaning for the first time, CNG is no longer the “alternative” but rather the primary fuel of choice for trash fleets in the country. The over the road trucking industry, supported by the new 400 HP Cummins 12 Liter natural gas engine, jumped into the pool as well.  There were more natural gas powered trucks purchased this year than ever before. Infrastructure providers such as Clean Energy, Trillium, and Questar rolled out hundreds of new fueling stations around the Country, with many more on the way. 

We saw the birth of the new LNG powered Marine industry, with new fueling stations being developed at ports around the globe, and numerous LNG-powered ship orders being placed. The railroad industry also began their transition to LNG, and is now planning for the future with new liquefaction plants and fueling terminals across the country. 

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Caterpillar, which has been eyeing the NGV industry for years, is finally making moves into the market.  The engine giant will be looking to develop high horsepower engine applications for offroad mining equipment.  The first LNG mining trucks will be deployed in Alberta, Canada.  

 So what can you expect in 2014? 

Ozinga' CNG Powered Ready-Mix Concrete Truck

Ozinga' CNG Powered Ready-Mix Concrete Truck

Expect to see further adoption of natural gas in all fleet applications.  Electric vehicles will continue their march into the consumer sector, but in the commercial fleet sector, natural gas will be the fuel of choice.   This will include big moves in marine, rail, trucking, trash, transit, as well as high mileage light and medium duty fleets.  The biggest transition will likely be in the construction services sector. With new engines and fuel tank configurations for ready mix concrete trucks, asphalt trucks, and sand and gravel hauling.  This will be the industry to watch in 2014. In addition to on-road  vehicles, the industry will have access to new off-road mining equipment that is now becoming available. Construction giants like Cemex, Vulcan, Martin Marietta, and Holcim will begin their transition to natural gas.  With both return to base fleet applications, high mileage hauling trucks, and a plethora of mining equipment at their aggregate plants, these companies will be well positioned to take full advantage of lower fuel costs to drive up profits, secure new customers with green trucks, and increase shareholder value.      

On the technology side, expect to see more investment flowing into Absorbed Natural Gas (ANG) fuel tank and storage technology. This has been the holy grail for of the NGV industry for some time.  ANG tanks can be formed into any shape or size, and store gas in a solid carbon honeycomb matrix, as opposed to a cryogenic liquid or pressurized gas.  If companies can bring flexible ANG fuel tanks that accept both CNG and LNG to market at cost competitive pricing, it will set the stage for a commercial fleet industry checkmate.