A Greener Malta

The facts are clear: Malta has a challenge. It needs to build up a 10% electricity generation from renewables by 2020. Beyond that, it needs cleaner air, cleverer homes, and a consistent power source for its people and economy. The big question is how can we enjoy Malta’s newly won benefits of the developing world without compromising our environment? This challenge motivates researchers worldwide. Malta is doing its bit in environmental engineering: developing green skies, green energy, green homes, and the opportunity for a green Malta.

Greener Skies

Nearly 100,000 commercial flights take off every day worldwide causing 2% of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year. In Malta, over one million tourists visit each year and flights are critical in connecting an island to the outside world. How can we address Malta’s economic needs with a growing public concern on airplane pollution, noise, and contribution towards climate change? A €1.6 billion Clean Sky project funded by the European Commission is trying to make this apparent conflict work. It brings together major European industrial partners, research establishments, and academia to develop breakthrough technologies for the air transport industry. In Malta, the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering is optimising flight paths known as trajectories.

The idea: reduce a plane’s flight path, reduce the time it is airborne, lower CO2 release. Computer algorithms can find a plane’s best trajectory and minimise air pollutants and noise. Malta is handling a part of the software development to optimise flight paths. The purpose of the software platform being developed by the Maltese team is to allow partners to bring together their optimisation models and tools. This will allow the international consortium to solve the complex algorithms that come with flight trajectory problems. 

Another project called Clean Flight is tackling local airplane flight paths. Current flight trajectory calculations are based on lowering costs. This does not necessarily mean that these trajectories provide the least pollution for our skies. Clean Flight’s approach is to lower flight costs by being green. Usually these two qualities match: burn less fuel, spend less, pollute less. Commercial aircrafts should have new flight paths for Malta. 

Harnessing the winds

Every time we switch on an appliance at home or at our workplace we are consuming energy. And energy means money and pollution. Pollution can be nullified by using renewables. Denmark, famous for windmills, has invested heavily in wind energy. By 2011 it generated around 26% of the total electricity demand through wind farms. Denmark also has one of the lowest electricity prices in the EU.

An offshore windmill farm located in the Oeresund, three km from Copenhagen harbour.

Wind energy’s success has come with a backlash. The rapid increase in land use has caused public outcry on despoiling views, animal activists are worried about bird deaths, and increased pressure on limited land availability. In Malta land is of premium value. Green and open spaces are limited. Out at sea these problems could disappear and floating offshore wind structures may provide accessibility to deeper waters. Deeper seas have other plusses. Out there, the wind speeds are higher and more consistent, which makes electricity generation more realistic. The flipside is the expense in sending the precious electrical energy back to shore to power homes.

Floating wind turbines may be the key to fulfil Malta’s renewable energy targets. Malta has agreed to a 10% electricity generation from renewables by 2020 with the EU. If the country fails to meet its target it will be smacked with a huge fine.To give more opportunities for the government to reach this target the Faculty of Engineering is pushing new research into wind energy. There are major differences between floating and fixed offshore structures. Waves cause ever changing stresses on the turbine’s structure and bobbing movement could change the turbine blades’ aerodynamics that reduces power output.

The researchers at the Faculty’s Fluids Lab are testing a model floating wind turbine. Till now, the experiments have examined the change in power experienced by a wind turbine’s rotors when bobbing up and down on waves. The data has been inputted into a computer model to simulate large-scale floating wind farms. By simulating the air flow the drop in generation can be better understood. The simulations are based on the application of free-wake vortex methods. Since the air flow changes with the oscillation of the platform and therefore with time, these methods are capable of capturing the changes in the wake formed by the rotor.

Large wind farms face the problem of having generators and gearboxes mounted on each turbine at great cost. Instead the energy generation could be centralised, with individual turbines pumping seawater towards a central station which makes use of a positive displacement pump. This concept would mean that a centralised hydroelectric power station could be located on our shores.

Replacing every wind turbine’s gearbox and generator with a hydraulic pump offers many advantages. It reduces expense, by minimising the number of moving parts’ maintenance costs, and make a lighter turbine. Wind farms that pump water could also be easier to combine with wave energy, energy storage systems, and reverse osmosis plants that use up a big chunk of Malta’s electricity to make drinking water from the Mediterranean.

“Floating wind turbines may be the key to fulfill Malta’s renewable energy targets”

The only way is up

Normally we think of wind turbines as a tall central structure with a generator on top and propeller-style blades powering everything. But this is not the only possibility. Blades can spin around the turbines’ central structure doing away with expensive maintenance costs and complex gears to turn the blades into the wind. These Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs) do not need to be oriented into a specific wind direction. Their problem is a requirement for higher wind speeds before they start to spin.QR5-VAWT

Dr Ing. Pierluigi Mollicone is coordinating a project that is coming up with new design concepts for this type of wind turbine. By working with both local academics and industrial players, a state-of-the-art design has to improve both the starting speed and the capability of controlling the turbine at varying wind speeds. Starting off from a conceptual idea, the design is then detailed and developed in the first step to make a wind turbine. The computer design then needs to be tested for aerodynamics and structural integrity—does it spin well and can it take a beating? The computational model then needs to be translated into a real world structure and tested in a wind tunnel, with further experiments back and forth needed to come up with a new wind turbine.

Malta’s very own windmill: restarted

The Raddiena or Chicago windmill is a well-known sight in rural Malta. These windmills harness the winds to draw water from the water table and irrigate fields. In 2001, 300 windmills were listed across Malta and Gozo. Unfortunately, the introduction of electricity has led farmers to abandon this clean source. Many windmills are gradually deteriorating. Dr Ing. Tonio Sant (Department of Mechanical Engineering) and his team are developing a new wind turbine concept to replace these badly damaged Chicago windmills. Together with the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs they are upgrading the rotor design structure’s aerodynamics to improve water-pumping efficiency. At the same time, the researchers want to maintain the original visual appeal of a multi-bladed rotor. The turbine will also produce electricity and be grid-connected. It won’t just pump up water but also provide clean energy.

Green Homes

Malta is covered in houses. Covering their roofs with PV (photovoltaic) panels is a way we could all help by making renewable energy. In the past five years, Malta has seen a drastic increase in PV panel use. Electricity generation is shifting from a centralised power station to our homes. Distributed generation is characterised by small-scale electricity generation, deployed near the point of use: our homes.

Currently our national grid cannot handle large PV installations. The stability of the grid may be compromised leading to power outages. And we all know what being in the dark for a few hours means. No Internet, no TV, no cold drinks in summer. The storage of electric energy can be used to balance the generation and consumption demands for a single household or company. Excess energy generated during periods of high generation can be stored. This stored energy can then be used when supply cannot meet demand, perhaps when using several heaters on a cloudy day.

Microgrids can solve these challenges. These grids are low voltage (electrical distribution within a home) or medium voltage (electrical distribution within a neighborhood) electrical distribution networks designed to supply small electrical loads. They are needed to hook up PV panels to a small community like a housing estate, university, schools, shopping mall, or industrial area. They consist of three major components. The homes equipped with PV or wind turbine installations, systems to store the energy generated, and other electricity users connected to the grid.

Microgrids generate energy near where it will be used. This increases reliability and reduces losses due to long transmission lines. Microgrids can also be used to provide electricity in remote locations unconnected to a main grid. Researchers are developing new methods to reliably operate and control microgrids across an island. They want to implement a low voltage microgrid capable of reliable operation that is connected to the national grid.

Many households have PV panels and solar water heaters. Local researchers are combining the two systems. For a sunny country like Malta, such a system makes perfect sense. One major advantage of a combined system is efficient conversion of concentrated solar energy to heat energy. The homeowner can then flip a switch to either generate electricity or heat water.

A parabolic trough, a curved surface, is used to focus the sun’s rays onto a fluid. The heated fluid can reach temperatures of up to 300°C. Hot enough to power a stirling engine used to generate electricity or pump water.

Greener Seas

il-Qala ta’ San Niklaw, Comino

The Mediterranean has over 150 million people living on its coast. A quarter of a million fishermen live off its fish. Even closer to home, the sea around Malta sees one third of the world’s shipping. The only way this sea can survive is by knowing how much we are polluting and exploiting it by monitoring it. Then the effect needs to be evaluated and the situation managed by administrators around the Sea to balance development and environmental health.

A study that will help gather information about maritime traffic across the Straits of Sicily is being carried out by the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the University of Catania. By quantifying the emissions produced, they will find out the consequences of these emissions on the local plant and animal life. The project aims at supporting the monitoring of pollution at sea in the Straits of Sicily and so contributing to future legislation at national and European level.

Engineers designed a towfish that will be used to monitor a number of pollutants in the Mediterranean Sea. A towfish is an underwater platform that is towed behind a surface boat and can reach a depth of 50m. The towfish will be equipped with an HD camera that can take images of zooplankton and phytoplankton in order to study colonies that exist in the Straits of Sicily. Another HD camera will be used to monitor swarms of jellyfish and their location.

A Green Malta

Pollution bothers everyone with dirty atmospheres and smelly odours. Pollution also makes us sick and causes many health problems including birth defects, and burdens health institutes. We all have a role to play to protect and safeguard our environment. Whether it is our skies, seas, or our homes we all have to do our part. A greener Malta means a greener future for all of us.

In 30 years’ time the electric energy we use in our homes and at the workplace will come mainly from renewable energy sources. We will all be driving electric vehicles. The familiar black clouds of smoke from dirty engines will be a thing of the past. But these advances in technology will not be possible without government funding, industrial collaboration, and the sweat of engineers and researchers to find exciting solutions to power nations and our green homes. 

Watch more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwCNHvD2gqY

KSU joins list of donors

In a typical case of charity beginning at home, the Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU) has donated €1,000 towards the research trust of the University of Malta. Speaking during the presentation of the donation, Mr Mario Cachia, former president of the KSU pledged that the KSU shall venture to promote the objectives of the Trust among the students it represents, and encourage them to support it, even by organising activities to raise funds for specific future research. 

Can you die of boredom?

A tricky question since boredom is a mental state. Usually it is triggered by an uninspiring, monotonous environment and/or certain brain chemicals like dopamine (more on dopamine). People who produce less dopamine, or are less sensitive to it, are bored more easily.

People bored for a very long time can suffer from clinical depression, which surely reduces lifespan. Other boredom sufferers have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and extreme ways of combating boredom can be equally dangerous. They could abuse drugs and alcohol or seek thrills in risky sports. Others could become sexually promiscuous. All of these behaviours reduce lifespan. 

Send your questions to think@um.edu.mt and we’ll find out if it’s the truth or just a fib!

An Alternative Currency

Mario Frendo

Malta — a tiny Island, a minute social reality, a precursory canovaccio of European unification — has a unique asset it ought to be prouder of: Culture. For millennia our bonsai place has attracted a continuum of passing civilisations leaving behind them a most colourful and diverse compendium of customs, behaviours, artistic expressions, and intellectual attitudes. Malta’s investment in this unique legacy should not be limited to conservation. It needs to be kept alive through constant support of the contemporary expression of its youth. This attitude will certainly transform our Culture into a most effective and efficient currency of change and growth.

To drive or not to drive

Rush hours, feasts, festivals, beaches in summer, Paceville on Saturday night, all have one thing in common: traffic. Malta has one of the largest traffic problems in the world. Researchers at the University of Malta are trying to figure out what can be done to ease road rage and reduce drivers’ lost time.

Continue reading

From DJ to videographer: Ruby on Science

Lily Agius, the artistic curator of Science in the City met up with DJ Ruby to talk about science and art. Ruby created a video for Science in the City that will be available in 2013 on scienceinthecity.org.mt

– Recently, you progressed from DJ to VJ (video jockey). Was it a hard transition?

No, not really, because it has taken quite a few years to get it in motion. For the past 5 years I have been working with videography on an amateur basis, but all of a sudden at the beginning of this year I decided to take it on professionally, and in a matter of few weeks I learned all that I needed to.

– Which was the art installation or event that you enjoyed the most? 

Certainly the live music session by Andrew Alamango and Mario Sammut a.k.a Cynga. It was electronically based, which is my cup of tea.

– One of the exhibits in the exhibition at St James presented fruit flies within their own eco system in bulbs. These organisms are used to investigate muscle-wasting diseases, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and more. Did you ever imagine that humans could be related enough to a fruit fly to use them to learn more about human disease?

I never knew about it before. I was mesmerised to find out at the exhibition at St. James. That was very interesting!

– How did you feel when interacting with the art: climbing the DNA staircase, or entering the echo-proofed room in Strait Street?

It was an amazing experience, not just as a regular person attending the event but also as film maker while on the job.

– Have you ever been to a festival of its kind in Malta or abroad before?

It was a first for me, and was very impressed about how professional the event was.

– Did you expect to see something more from the festival? Is there anything you would like to see at the festival next year?

Well, from my point of view it may be no surprise to hear me say: more music.

– How would you describe the audience of the Science in the City Festival?

People of all ages and from all walks of life were there — it was certainly an event for everyone!

– Do you think that art can be used to explain science?

Yes it can, Science in the City proved that.

– How does science play its part in your own life?

I am very into IT, computers, software, gadgets and electronic music/visual. Technology is all around me and with me everyday, and forever evolving and improving. 

Part of Science in the City, Malta’s Science and Arts Festival

For more stories click here

For more information on DJ Ruby: www.pureruby.com or www.facebook.com/djruby. For Ruby’s videography and visual work: www.facebook.com/puremediamalta

Football like you’ve never seen it before

Freeviewpoint television (FTV) is expected to become the ultimate 3D TV experience. With FTV, the viewer can choose from which angle and position to view a scene. Want to watch football from above, the East Wing, or with your fellow fans?  At the press of a button, with FTV you can. For FTV to work, the same scene needs to be captured from a number of different viewpoints and the virtual scenes in between generated. To broadcast the service requires a huge bandwidth, which on your mobile would quickly soak up all your data. Current mobile FTV frameworks cannot handle the broadcast capacity required and FTV has never been deployed over a specific cellular technology.

Terence Zarb (supervised by Dr Ing. Carl James Debono) proposed a framework to compress and transmit FTV to mobile devices. The system was adapted for the next generation long-term evolution (LTE) networks, currently available on high-end smartphones. To reduce bandwidth and reduce mobile phone workload, the FTV broadcast data is processed at the transmitting end, before it is sent over the mobile network. The physically captured views are transmitted. Depending on the user’s choice, the mobile phone either presents one of these views or generates an arbitrary viewpoint. By using the novel proposed framework, the bandwidth required was reduced by over 70% compared to current methods. It also provided a better viewing experience.

Taken together, the proposed framework can realistically be deployed on LTE networks, which means we might be seeing an incredibly innovative way of viewing sport, documentaries and maybe even films on our 3D TVs — is that enough to make you buy one?

Proposed framework to allow an incredible 3D video experience to be compressed and transmitted to mobile devices.
Proposed framework to allow an incredible 3D video experience to be compressed and transmitted to mobile devices.

This research was performed as part of a Masters of Science in Information and Communication Technology at the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology. The research is partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship Scheme (Malta). The scholarship is part-financed by the European Union – European Social Fund, under Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality of Life”.

Islands and Security

Islands have played different and unique roles throughout history. The process of decolonisation, starting in the late 50s, led to a proliferation of small island states. These new independent nations sought to develop their own foreign and security policies.André P. DeBattista (supervised by Dr Isabelle Calleja Ragonesi) studied International Relations in Malta’s history to examine the role of small island states in regional and global security. He found that small island states reinforce security and can stabilise regions.

Due to their geography, small islands can wield disproportionate influence. They may serve as military outposts and control waterways used for commerce, trade and defence. However, islands can still be vulnerable, weak and externally manipulated. For millennia, Malta has been fought over by regional powers for purposes of trade and defence. In 1964, for the first time in its history, Malta became independent and could chart its own political trajectory. Despite political independence, it was and still is reliant on other states.

Throughout its history, Malta has played an important role in the provision of regional security. It had a strong influence in both the Cold War period and also after its recent accession to the EU. DeBattista believes that Malta is well positioned to spearhead research on small islands; “as a small island state, Malta managed to adapt to different circumstances and challenges. It excelled both within its region and in the international community. This success should encourage us to conduct further research in this niche area, in order to provide solutions and policy options to other small island states.”

This research was undertaken as part of a Masters of Arts in International Relations.