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best of 2016

10 Tech Stories From 2016 You Should Know About

A power plant hidden in a cave drilled deep into the Swiss Alps, a jet engine so large it could swallow Shaquille O’Neil with Kobe Bryant sitting on his shoulders and DNA research that’s helping doctors fine-tune the immune system to fight disease. These are some of the best science stories from 2016 that involved GE technology. Take a look.

 

Mountain Of Power

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Above: The power plant is connected to the valley bellow by what is essentially a subway line several kilometers long. Image credit: GE Reports. Top GIF: The a so-called pumped-storage power plant generates or stores electricity by moving water between two mountain lakes separated by a 630-meter cliff (2,000 feet) twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. GIF credit: GE Renewables

Hidden away above the tiny Swiss Alpine town of Linthal, deep inside a snowcapped granite massif, sits Europe’s newest engineering marvel. It is a hydropower plant like no other, able to generate as much electricity as a nuclear power plant and, at the flip of a switch, act as a giant battery.

 

The World’s Largest Jet Engine

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Since March 2016, the GE9X engine has gone through hours of grueling tests and simulated takeoffs and landings to assess how it will operate in flight. All images credit: GE Aviation

How large is the world’s largest jet engine? So large that Shaquille O’Neil would fit inside it with Kobe Bryant sitting on his shoulders. Engineers at GE Aviation started testing the first of these engines and put it on a test stand at the company’s massive boot camp for jet engines located in the woods near Peebles, Ohio. The engine included 3D-printed parts as well as components from space-age materials called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs).

 

Doctor DNA

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (leaning) announced the construction of the new cell therapy center. Image credit: GE Reports

A new biotech center in Toronto will help doctors and scientists speed up the development a new type of personalized regenerative medicine called cellular immunotherapy, which seeks to reengineer cellular DNA and make cells attack disease. “We are on the cusp of a revolution in medicine,” says Phil Vanek, general manager for cell therapy technologies at GE Healthcare. “These are living drugs. The reprogrammed cell itself becomes the treatment that gets reintroduced to the patient.” He says that “cell therapy has the potential to cure everything from cancer to diabetes.”

 

Catching Eclipse

Last summer, a commercial jetliner used navigation software from GE Aviation to intercept a total solar eclipse in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. “Here’s a football analogy,” says veteran pilot, instructor and engineer Hal Andersen, who was in charge of the Alaska Airlines flight last March. “Think of the airplane as a football, the software as the quarterback and the eclipse shadow as the receiver. The quarterback in this case launched the football out of Anchorage and got it into the arms of the receiver running across the field at 10,000 miles per hour thousands of miles away.”

 

He’s Got The Power Plant In His Hands

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“The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power,” says GE’s Hofer. “The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both.”

GE scientist Doug Hofer developed a special turbine powered by CO2 in a fluid state. It so small that it fits on his desk but could one day generate 10,000 kilowatts of electricity. “This compact machine will allow us to do amazing things,” Hofer says. “The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both.”

 

Sweat Sensors

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A prototype of a wireless sensor from Duggal’s lab. Image credit: GE Global Research

Scientists working in GE labs are on the verge of turning years of abandoned research into what might be the world’s most advanced skin-surface medical sensors. The slim, wireless devices, which GE is developing with the support of the Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, stick to the wrist like Band-Aids. They remotely analyze sweat, check vital signs and even keep track of patients’ medical progress after treatment. “This will really improve patient experience and get doctors better data about patients,” says GE Global Research chief scientist Anil Duggal.

 

Floating Wind Turbines

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The wind turbines will stand on a steel and concrete floating system, allowing them to operate in waters up to 200 meters deep. Images credit: DCNS

GE and the French naval shipbuilding and energy company DCNS are developing floating wind turbines that sit on a steel and concrete system that allows them to operate in waters up to 200 meters (roughly 650 feet) deep. Workers can assemble the turbines in port rather than on the open seas, where bad weather can cause delays that result in unexpected costs. A tugboat pulls the finished turbines to their final destination. The turbines also can be brought back to port for heavy maintenance rather than repaired by crews dispatched out to sea. Léonore Petit, strategy and business development coordinator at GE Renewable Energy, says the technology can be developed more quickly in areas where the sea shelf drops off to deeper waters, such as Japan or the west coast of the United States. “Floating wind farms are very innovative and can be a crucial part of the energy mix of the future,” he says.

 

Digital Coal

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GE’s “ultra supercritical” steam turbine. The water pressure inside reaches 4,000 pounds per square inch. That’s more than when a bullet slams into a solid object. Image credit: GE Power

Coal still supplies nearly 30 percent of global energy consumption — its highest share since 1970 — and provides 40 percent of the world’s electricity. While this number is expected to drop to 30 percent by 2040, it will remain the backbone of the power systems in many countries despite new natural gas power plants coming online and renewables. Boston’s NeuCo, now part of GE Power, is using AI, neural nets and deep learning to make coal-fired power plants more efficient and reduce their emissions.

 

Digital Tomatoes

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“We want to use our knowledge and expertise to provide the best-tasting and healthiest tomatoes in the world,” says Prominent’s Ferdi van Elswijk. Software is helping.

The massive greenhouses of Holland’s Prominent Growers Association produce one out of every four tomatoes produced in the country. Predictive software and analytics tools developed by GE help save it millions of dollars.

 

5G Networks

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Using advanced metallurgy and tricks learned from the semiconductor industry, California’s Menlo Micro has shrunk the traditional device down to the width of a human hair. Image credit: Menlo Micrsosystems

The digital micro switch works a thousand times faster than the current generation of switches. When it shows up in mobile devices and fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks, it could boost data transfer rates into the gigabits per second. That should be enough to download an HD movie in seconds flat. The switch was developed at GE Global Research, and GE spun it out into a company called Menlo Microsystems. The technology could start rolling out in the early 2020s.

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