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Bicycle research has overcome scepticism

He has a reputation as the leading researcher on bikes, a topic that elicits a certain level of scepticism in academic circles. Despite this, the research has been undeniably productive, not only in terms of fundamental knowledge, but also practically. For example, last year saw the launch of the steer-assist system as a way of combating the increasing number of accidents involving cyclists. I ended up conducting bicycle research more or less by accident. I started to study mechanical engineering at the technical college (HTS) in Dordrecht and simply loved it. I’m still nostalgic about that atmosphere of nuts and bolts and tinkering with things. As a child, I always wished my father had a car scrapyard...” “After the HTS I went to the predecessor of TU Delft and did my doctorate quite late. But I’ve always kept that fascination. A company like Hoogovens, with its iron and steel, warms the cockles of my heart. But, in the early days, I certainly wasn’t hankering to conduct research into bikes.” Cornell ““The bikes only became part of the picture when I took a sabbatical in around 2001. I went to Cornell University in the US, where I met the researcher Andy Ruina. He was working on robots and biomechanics, just like me. We immediately clicked. At the time, he needed to submit a research proposal to the National Science Foundation and asked me if I would look into what scientific research had been done on bikes. It turned out there’d been a lot, but the knowledge was quite fragmented. This made me realise what huge opportunities there were for interesting research. That was back in 2002. And it hasn’t actually stopped since then….” Science When he returned to TU Delft, Schwab’s new-found fascination for bikes led to the establishment of the (now acclaimed) TU Delft Cycling Lab. Later, there was even a publication in the prestigious journal Science. “That was quite a milestone for my specialisation.” Schwab and Jodi Kooijman (along with Ruina, Jim Papadopoulos and Jaap Meijaard) then turned their attention to writing an article on the question: why is a bicycle stable when travelling above a certain speed? A bicycle travelling at speed can be given a serious shove without it falling over. It was always thought that stability was strongly associated with two factors. Firstly, the gyroscopic effects of the spinning wheels would cause stability. Secondly, it was thought that the “trail” factor played a significant role. Trail is the degree in which the front wheel follows the steering axis. The publication of the TU Delft article in Science put an end to that old idea once and for all. Gyroscopic effects and trail can contribute to stability but are not necessary for it. This has not only been proven theoretically but experimentally as well. Nothing new As indicated earlier, this was a milestone. But bicycle designers continued to apply the old concepts, even though they were shown to be wrong. Nothing had essentially changed in basic bicycle design for almost a century. “At that time, we developed a mathematical model with some 25 physical parameters that successfully predicted the stability of a bicycle design at various speeds. We also experimentally proved that the insights behind the theory were correct.” “The model we developed will enable manufacturers to work specifically on the stability and steering of their bicycles. That could prove interesting for all kinds of bikes.” The Delft student team HPT’s high-speed bike, which briefly held the women’s world speed record last year, also benefited from the fundamental knowledge acquired. Steer assist The same also applies to conventional bikes. For example, recent years have seen the launch of the steer-assist bike. TU Delft and the bicycle manufacturer Gazelle have developed a prototype of a bike with smart steering assistance that may help to reduce the number of falls with bicycles. Schwab sees this as a necessary move. “The number of accidents involving bicycles is on the rise: it grew by around 30% from 2000 to 2010. Serious bike accidents are often the result of the cyclist losing control of their bicycle, and in many cases the victim is an elderly person. Every year, some 120 cyclists of 55 years and older are killed in an accident, while more than 4,000 cyclists over 55 are involved in a serious accident.” Simple “This is why we developed a prototype of an electric bike with steering assistance. This steer-assist system is the first system in the world that can keep a bicycle upright. It does this with a motor installed in the steering column that adjusts the steering if the bicycle threatens to fall over. This system keeps the bike and its rider stable at speeds above 4 km/h,” says Schwab. “It’s actually technically quite simple. “There’s a sensor that detects when the bike is falling over, a motor and a processor to control the motor. The hardest part is finding the right algorithms for the processor, which was where our scientific research into bicycle stability proved enormously important.” Further development “We’re now working with Gazelle on further tests and development. Considerable research is still needed before the steer-assist system can be made available to consumers. The prototype is currently being used to test users’ experience of the steer-assist system and to find out what kind of assistance works best. “We now want to study what kind of assistance is appreciated by the cyclist and when.” “This latter aspect, the human factor, is increasingly reflected in our research. It is shifting from fundamental bicycle research towards human and machine interaction. In that area, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, we still don’t know exactly how we actually steer a bike. Another very important factor is user acceptance of technological innovations. What exactly do users appreciate and how far do they want to allow the influence of technology to reach, for example in the form of steer-assist systems?” Olympic Games Schwab’s field of research is therefore very wide-ranging. Sport has turned out to be an unexpected, but now quite important, part of the research. “This is something I would never myself have considered. But thanks to the Sports Engineering Institute here at TU Delft, that kind of research has been given a real boost.” One of many examples of this is the model TU Delft developed to optimise the team time trial for Team Sunweb during the last Tour de France. Optimising the team time trial is far more complex than the individual time trial because the performance depends on several racers. One of the things involved is switching the positions of the cyclists. Mathematical models allow you to develop the ideal strategy. It’s also important to keep a record of exactly how long a cyclist is at the front, because that has a major influence on how quickly their body’s “battery” runs down. The model works out the times at the front on the basis of details including speed and wattage. “We also looked at track cyclists and their bikes. What struck me immediately is that most bikes for track cyclists are actually too small to transfer power most effectively. Another subject we worked on was bicycle handling, with a particular focus on steering rigidity.” The aim of all of this is to achieve some more great successes for our cyclists at the Olympic Games, later this year in Tokyo. Schwab will definitely be there. Scepticism At the age of 64, with the end of his long TU Delft career looming, Schwab still sees plenty of potential for further research. “The folding bicycle is one example. I don’t know about you, but mine is terrible to ride. I wouldn’t dare ride it no-handed. I would actually be interested in taking a completely new look at the whole basic design of the folding bike, and I feel similarly about the development of cargo bikes.” “I’m a bit of an odd one out in the academic world. There has always been a certain level of scepticism: bicycle research, what has that got to do with science? But the Cycling Lab I initiated in 2002 will certainly continue to exist even if I am no longer working for TU Delft. That’s something of which I’m very proud.” The human factor is increasingly reflected in our research. It is shifting from fundamental bicycle research towards human and machine interaction Arend Schwab +31 15 27 82701 A.L.Schwab@tudelft.nl This is a Portrait of Science from 3mE I ended up conducting bicycle research more or less by accident. I started to study mechanical engineering at the technical college (HTS) in Dordrecht and simply loved it. I’m still nostalgic about that atmosphere of nuts and bolts and tinkering with things. As a child, I always wished my father had a car scrapyard...” “After the HTS I went to the predecessor of TU Delft and did my doctorate quite late. But I’ve always kept that fascination. A company like Hoogovens, with its iron and steel, warms the cockles of my heart. But, in the early days, I certainly wasn’t hankering to conduct research into bikes.” Cornell ““The bikes only became part of the picture when I took a sabbatical in around 2001. I went to Cornell University in the US, where I met the researcher Andy Ruina. He was working on robots and biomechanics, just like me. We immediately clicked. At the time, he needed to submit a research proposal to the National Science Foundation and asked me if I would look into what scientific research had been done on bikes. It turned out there’d been a lot, but the knowledge was quite fragmented. This made me realise what huge opportunities there were for interesting research. That was back in 2002. And it hasn’t actually stopped since then….” Science When he returned to TU Delft, Schwab’s new-found fascination for bikes led to the establishment of the (now acclaimed) TU Delft Cycling Lab. Later, there was even a publication in the prestigious journal Science. “That was quite a milestone for my specialisation.” Schwab and Jodi Kooijman (along with Ruina, Jim Papadopoulos and Jaap Meijaard) then turned their attention to writing an article on the question: why is a bicycle stable when travelling above a certain speed? A bicycle travelling at speed can be given a serious shove without it falling over. It was always thought that stability was strongly associated with two factors. Firstly, the gyroscopic effects of the spinning wheels would cause stability. Secondly, it was thought that the “trail” factor played a significant role. Trail is the degree in which the front wheel follows the steering axis. The publication of the TU Delft article in Science put an end to that old idea once and for all. Gyroscopic effects and trail can contribute to stability but are not necessary for it. This has not only been proven theoretically but experimentally as well. Nothing new As indicated earlier, this was a milestone. But bicycle designers continued to apply the old concepts, even though they were shown to be wrong. Nothing had essentially changed in basic bicycle design for almost a century. “At that time, we developed a mathematical model with some 25 physical parameters that successfully predicted the stability of a bicycle design at various speeds. We also experimentally proved that the insights behind the theory were correct.” “The model we developed will enable manufacturers to work specifically on the stability and steering of their bicycles. That could prove interesting for all kinds of bikes.” The Delft student team HPT’s high-speed bike, which briefly held the women’s world speed record last year, also benefited from the fundamental knowledge acquired. Steer assist The same also applies to conventional bikes. For example, recent years have seen the launch of the steer-assist bike. TU Delft and the bicycle manufacturer Gazelle have developed a prototype of a bike with smart steering assistance that may help to reduce the number of falls with bicycles. Schwab sees this as a necessary move. “The number of accidents involving bicycles is on the rise: it grew by around 30% from 2000 to 2010. Serious bike accidents are often the result of the cyclist losing control of their bicycle, and in many cases the victim is an elderly person. Every year, some 120 cyclists of 55 years and older are killed in an accident, while more than 4,000 cyclists over 55 are involved in a serious accident.” Simple “This is why we developed a prototype of an electric bike with steering assistance. This steer-assist system is the first system in the world that can keep a bicycle upright. It does this with a motor installed in the steering column that adjusts the steering if the bicycle threatens to fall over. This system keeps the bike and its rider stable at speeds above 4 km/h,” says Schwab. “It’s actually technically quite simple. “There’s a sensor that detects when the bike is falling over, a motor and a processor to control the motor. The hardest part is finding the right algorithms for the processor, which was where our scientific research into bicycle stability proved enormously important.” Further development “We’re now working with Gazelle on further tests and development. Considerable research is still needed before the steer-assist system can be made available to consumers. The prototype is currently being used to test users’ experience of the steer-assist system and to find out what kind of assistance works best. “We now want to study what kind of assistance is appreciated by the cyclist and when.” “This latter aspect, the human factor, is increasingly reflected in our research. It is shifting from fundamental bicycle research towards human and machine interaction. In that area, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, we still don’t know exactly how we actually steer a bike. Another very important factor is user acceptance of technological innovations. What exactly do users appreciate and how far do they want to allow the influence of technology to reach, for example in the form of steer-assist systems?” Olympic Games Schwab’s field of research is therefore very wide-ranging. Sport has turned out to be an unexpected, but now quite important, part of the research. “This is something I would never myself have considered. But thanks to the Sports Engineering Institute here at TU Delft, that kind of research has been given a real boost.” One of many examples of this is the model TU Delft developed to optimise the team time trial for Team Sunweb during the last Tour de France. Optimising the team time trial is far more complex than the individual time trial because the performance depends on several racers. One of the things involved is switching the positions of the cyclists. Mathematical models allow you to develop the ideal strategy. It’s also important to keep a record of exactly how long a cyclist is at the front, because that has a major influence on how quickly their body’s “battery” runs down. The model works out the times at the front on the basis of details including speed and wattage. “We also looked at track cyclists and their bikes. What struck me immediately is that most bikes for track cyclists are actually too small to transfer power most effectively. Another subject we worked on was bicycle handling, with a particular focus on steering rigidity.” The aim of all of this is to achieve some more great successes for our cyclists at the Olympic Games, later this year in Tokyo. Schwab will definitely be there. Scepticism At the age of 64, with the end of his long TU Delft career looming, Schwab still sees plenty of potential for further research. “The folding bicycle is one example. I don’t know about you, but mine is terrible to ride. I wouldn’t dare ride it no-handed. I would actually be interested in taking a completely new look at the whole basic design of the folding bike, and I feel similarly about the development of cargo bikes.” “I’m a bit of an odd one out in the academic world. There has always been a certain level of scepticism: bicycle research, what has that got to do with science? But the Cycling Lab I initiated in 2002 will certainly continue to exist even if I am no longer working for TU Delft. That’s something of which I’m very proud.” The human factor is increasingly reflected in our research. It is shifting from fundamental bicycle research towards human and machine interaction Arend Schwab +31 15 27 82701 A.L.Schwab@tudelft.nl This is a Portrait of Science from 3mE Other Portraits of Science The future of architectural glass Avoiding division in climate adaption

TU Delft accelerating the electrification of the chemical industry

This week, NWO announced that the RELEASE project, lead by prof. dr. ir. Paulien Herder, will recieve funding within the Crossover-programme. The aim of RELEASE is to store sustainable energy, in order to make it available when it is needed. To do that, the consortium will use a multidisciplinary approach which extends from research in the lab to implementation in the field. Strong ambitions The objectives of the international climate agreement in Paris or that of her Dutch sister, the recently presented ‘klimaatakkoord’, are ambitious to say the least. Compared to the 1990 level, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 49% in 2030 and by as much as 95% in 2050. This has significant consequences for our chemical industry. Due to the scale and complexity of the challenge, we have to look far ahead. The chemical processes that this industry is currently using on a large scale will have to change fundamentally; higher efficiencies, more reuse, alternative raw materials, and alternative sources of energy are all necessary. Electrification All options to achieve these ambitions are currently being considered, but it is clear that the electrification of chemical production processes will be an indispensable component in the future. The field of electrochemistry revolves around the use of chemical compounds for the large-scale storage of energy and, conversely, the large-scale production of organic chemicals using electricity, instead of by burning fossil fuels. For example, with the help of electricity, water and CO2 from the air can be converted into syngas and the raw materials for the production of fuels or plastics. This process is called electrolysis. Scientists are studying and improving such chemical processes, with a major effort being placed on finding catalysts that accelerate electrolysis and make it cost effective. Huge scale This work mainly takes place on a laboratory scale. So, there is still a long way to go. Anyone visiting one of the Dutch chemical clusters, for example in the Eemshaven or the Botlek area, will quickly realize that the enormous scale of production by the chemical industry makes a rapid and painless transition impossible. There are high costs involved. And if that transition is to be completed in 2050, then the chemical plants of the future must be built from 2040 or even 2030 onwards. This leaves little time to develop, test and scale up new chemical processes. If we do not start testing on a relevant, large scale in time, we may develop electrolysis routes that cannot be scaled up at all. If we want to find the desired catalysts on time, we have to think ahead. Dr. Thomas Burdyny Common approach The Delft e-Refinery initiative was created last year to point the way for that approach. Within e-Refinery, around forty scientists from the Faculties of Technology, Policy and Management (TPM), Mechanical, Maritime & Materials Engineering (3mE), Applied Sciences (TNW) and Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EWI) work together to enable multidisciplinary and multi-scale research. In recent weeks, scientists from this e-Refinery have come up with new results. Furthermore the scientists cannot take these steps without governments, business and academic disciplines. Future catalysts For example, in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, mechanical engineer Dr Thomas Burdyny and chemical engineer Dr Wilson Smith provide advice on testing future catalysts. Burdyny: “The development of new catalysts is essential for our search for a form of electrolysis that is efficient on a large scale. Only with the right catalyst can we remove CO2 from the atmosphere and pump it into our economy. Our research now shows that the scale on which the chemical process is implemented (in technical terms: the current density) influences catalytic parameters that determine the efficiency of the process as a whole. In other words, if we do not start testing on a relevant, large scale in time, we may develop electrolysis routes that cannot be scaled up at all. If we want to find the desired catalysts on time, we have to think ahead.” Negative emission Recent results from energy scientist Prof. Andrea Ramirez Ramirez (also published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science) try to steer future developments in the right direction. She reviews the divergent definitions of so-called ‘negative emission technologies’ and proposes a uniform definition. Ramirez Ramirez: “There is a lot of attention for techniques that use more greenhouse gases than they emit, and therefore have a ‘negative emission’. But because of different definitions, we run the risk of wasting time on techniques that actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gases. We propose four criteria for reliably labelling technologies as negative emissions technologies. In short, there must be capture and permanent storage of greenhouse gasses, with the inevitable emissions to achieve this being known in detail and less than the amount of captured greenhouse gas.” There is a lot of attention for techniques that use more greenhouse gases than they emit. But because of large differences in carbon footprint assessments, we run the risk of wasting time on technologies that could actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gases Andrea Ramirez Ramirez e-Refinery The work of Burdyny & Smith and Ramirez Ramirez are excellent examples of the e-Refinery approach. Burdyny: “Changing our energy system is an immense challenge. It requires breakthroughs at the scale level smaller than a human hair up to the scale of entire countries. Collaboration between science and industry and between multiple disciplines is essential. This is the approach of the e-Refinery initiative.” The e-Refinery was established to make the process of electrification of the chemical industry possible on all fronts. In consultation with Dutch industry, it was decided to start with three bulk chemicals: hydrogen, formic acid and ethylene. After that, the electrochemical production of methane and methanol, carbon monoxide and ammonia will also be examined at larger scales. Only through such an electrification will fuels become CO2 neutral in the future. This objective of the e-Refinery is inextricably linked to that of smart electricity storage. By integrating the two sectors, surpluses or shortages can easily be exchanged between electricity-consuming industry and electricity suppliers. To achieve both objectives, the e-Refinery follows an integrated approach; from material design in the laboratory to integration in large-scale systems. Ramirez Ramirez concludes: “Preventing disastrous climate change is a race against time. It requires international cooperation and technological development as we have never seen before.” Paulien Herder Paulien Herder is professor Energy Systems at TU Delft and program leader of e-refinery. “Our goal is to pave the way to the production of fuels and resources from CO2 with the help of sustainable electricity. E-refinery offers a number of promising technologies that will enable us to use CO2 as a raw material for our chemical industry, instead of oil, gas and coal. The products that we are going to create along this electrochemical path can subsequently also be used as a long-term storage medium for sustainable electric energy and as CO2-neutral transport fuels. The e-Refinery technology will thus play a key role in the transition to a climate-neutral society” Paulien Herder +31 15 27 82823 P.M.Herder@tudelft.nl Read more about e-Refinery Strong ambitions The objectives of the international climate agreement in Paris or that of her Dutch sister, the recently presented ‘klimaatakkoord’, are ambitious to say the least. Compared to the 1990 level, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 49% in 2030 and by as much as 95% in 2050. This has significant consequences for our chemical industry. Due to the scale and complexity of the challenge, we have to look far ahead. The chemical processes that this industry is currently using on a large scale will have to change fundamentally; higher efficiencies, more reuse, alternative raw materials, and alternative sources of energy are all necessary. Electrification All options to achieve these ambitions are currently being considered, but it is clear that the electrification of chemical production processes will be an indispensable component in the future. The field of electrochemistry revolves around the use of chemical compounds for the large-scale storage of energy and, conversely, the large-scale production of organic chemicals using electricity, instead of by burning fossil fuels. For example, with the help of electricity, water and CO2 from the air can be converted into syngas and the raw materials for the production of fuels or plastics. This process is called electrolysis. Scientists are studying and improving such chemical processes, with a major effort being placed on finding catalysts that accelerate electrolysis and make it cost effective. Huge scale This work mainly takes place on a laboratory scale. So, there is still a long way to go. Anyone visiting one of the Dutch chemical clusters, for example in the Eemshaven or the Botlek area, will quickly realize that the enormous scale of production by the chemical industry makes a rapid and painless transition impossible. There are high costs involved. And if that transition is to be completed in 2050, then the chemical plants of the future must be built from 2040 or even 2030 onwards. This leaves little time to develop, test and scale up new chemical processes. If we do not start testing on a relevant, large scale in time, we may develop electrolysis routes that cannot be scaled up at all. If we want to find the desired catalysts on time, we have to think ahead. Dr. Thomas Burdyny Common approach The Delft e-Refinery initiative was created last year to point the way for that approach. Within e-Refinery, around forty scientists from the Faculties of Technology, Policy and Management (TPM), Mechanical, Maritime & Materials Engineering (3mE), Applied Sciences (TNW) and Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EWI) work together to enable multidisciplinary and multi-scale research. In recent weeks, scientists from this e-Refinery have come up with new results. Furthermore the scientists cannot take these steps without governments, business and academic disciplines. Future catalysts For example, in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, mechanical engineer Dr Thomas Burdyny and chemical engineer Dr Wilson Smith provide advice on testing future catalysts. Burdyny: “The development of new catalysts is essential for our search for a form of electrolysis that is efficient on a large scale. Only with the right catalyst can we remove CO2 from the atmosphere and pump it into our economy. Our research now shows that the scale on which the chemical process is implemented (in technical terms: the current density) influences catalytic parameters that determine the efficiency of the process as a whole. In other words, if we do not start testing on a relevant, large scale in time, we may develop electrolysis routes that cannot be scaled up at all. If we want to find the desired catalysts on time, we have to think ahead.” Negative emission Recent results from energy scientist Prof. Andrea Ramirez Ramirez (also published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science) try to steer future developments in the right direction. She reviews the divergent definitions of so-called ‘negative emission technologies’ and proposes a uniform definition. Ramirez Ramirez: “There is a lot of attention for techniques that use more greenhouse gases than they emit, and therefore have a ‘negative emission’. But because of different definitions, we run the risk of wasting time on techniques that actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gases. We propose four criteria for reliably labelling technologies as negative emissions technologies. In short, there must be capture and permanent storage of greenhouse gasses, with the inevitable emissions to achieve this being known in detail and less than the amount of captured greenhouse gas.” There is a lot of attention for techniques that use more greenhouse gases than they emit. But because of large differences in carbon footprint assessments, we run the risk of wasting time on technologies that could actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gases Andrea Ramirez Ramirez e-Refinery The work of Burdyny & Smith and Ramirez Ramirez are excellent examples of the e-Refinery approach. Burdyny: “Changing our energy system is an immense challenge. It requires breakthroughs at the scale level smaller than a human hair up to the scale of entire countries. Collaboration between science and industry and between multiple disciplines is essential. This is the approach of the e-Refinery initiative.” The e-Refinery was established to make the process of electrification of the chemical industry possible on all fronts. In consultation with Dutch industry, it was decided to start with three bulk chemicals: hydrogen, formic acid and ethylene. After that, the electrochemical production of methane and methanol, carbon monoxide and ammonia will also be examined at larger scales. Only through such an electrification will fuels become CO2 neutral in the future. This objective of the e-Refinery is inextricably linked to that of smart electricity storage. By integrating the two sectors, surpluses or shortages can easily be exchanged between electricity-consuming industry and electricity suppliers. To achieve both objectives, the e-Refinery follows an integrated approach; from material design in the laboratory to integration in large-scale systems. Ramirez Ramirez concludes: “Preventing disastrous climate change is a race against time. It requires international cooperation and technological development as we have never seen before.” Paulien Herder Paulien Herder is professor Energy Systems at TU Delft and program leader of e-refinery. “Our goal is to pave the way to the production of fuels and resources from CO2 with the help of sustainable electricity. E-refinery offers a number of promising technologies that will enable us to use CO2 as a raw material for our chemical industry, instead of oil, gas and coal. The products that we are going to create along this electrochemical path can subsequently also be used as a long-term storage medium for sustainable electric energy and as CO2-neutral transport fuels. The e-Refinery technology will thus play a key role in the transition to a climate-neutral society” Read more about e-Refinery Related stories In search of better Li-ion batteries and alternatives Developing a digital twin for the electricy grid Intelligent, self-driving wind turbines Related stories
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