Posts Tagged ‘James Watt’

Converting Kinetic Energy to Electrical Energy

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

     When acting as an engineering expert I’m often called upon to investigate incidents where energy converts from one form to another, a phenomenon that James Prescott Joule observed when he built his apparatus and performed his experiments with electricity.   Today we’ll apply Joule’s findings to our own experiment with a coffee mug when we convert its kinetic energy into electrical energy and see how the units used to express that energy also change. 

     We had previously calculated the kinetic energy contained within our falling coffee mug to be 4.9 kg • meter2/second2, also known as 4.9 Joules of energy, by using de Coriolis’ Kinetic Energy Formula.   Now most of us don’t speak in terms of Joules of energy, but that’s easily addressed.   As we learned in a previous blog on The Law of Conservation of Energy, all forms of energy are equivalent and energy can be converted from one form to another, and when it does, the unit of energy used to express it also changes.

     Let’s say we want to put our mug’s 4.9 Joules of kinetic energy to good use and power an electric light bulb.   First we must first find a way of converting the mug’s kinetic energy into electrical energy.   To do so, we’ll combine Joule’s apparatus with his dynamo, and connect the mug to this hybrid device with a string.

Converting Kinetic Energy to Electrical Energy

                     Converting Kinetic Energy to Electrical Energy

     As the mug falls its weight tugs on the string, causing the winding drum to rotate.   When the drum rotates, the dynamo’s magnet spins, creating electrical energy.   That’s right, all that’s required to produce electricity is a spinning magnet and coils of wire, as explained in my previous blog, Coal Power Plant Fundamentals – The Generator.

     Now we’ll connect a 5 Watt bulb to the dynamo’s external wires.   The Watt is a unit of electrical energy named in honor of James Watt, a pioneer in the development of steam engines in the late 18th Century.

     Now it just so happens that 1 Watt of electricity is equal to 1 Joule of energy per a specified period of time, say a second.   This relationship is expressed as Watt • second.   Stated another way, 4.9 Joules converts to 4.9 Watt • seconds of electrical energy.   Let’s see how long we can keep that 5 Watt bulb lit with this amount of energy.    Mathematically this is expressed as,

Lighting Time = (4.9 Watt • seconds) ÷ (5 Watts) = 0.98 seconds

     This means that if the mug’s kinetic energy was totally converted into electrical energy, it would provide enough power to light a 5 Watt bulb for almost 1 second.

     Next time we’ll see what happens to the 4.9 Joules of kinetic energy in our coffee mug when it hits the floor and becomes yet another form of energy.

Copyright 2015 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog


Transistors – Voltage Regulation Part X

Monday, September 24th, 2012
     Through the ages it’s been common practice to name important discoveries after those who discovered them.  For example, James Watt was a mechanical engineer who improved the steam engine by finding a solution to the problem of steam condensing into water inside the engine, a phenomenon which resulted in the engine cooling and reducing its efficiency.  Thus it was fitting that a metric unit of power, the watt, was named in his honor.  Today we’ll become acquainted with the man behind the naming of the Zener diode, Clarence Zener, and take a look at his contributions with regard to the function of this electrical component.

     Last time we began our discussion on electrical components known as diodes and saw how they’re used on circuit paths to govern the flow of current.  The Zener diode is a particular type of diode and a key component in transistorized voltage regulator circuits, as we’ll see later.  For now, let’s see how it works.     The symbol for the Zener diode is almost identical to that of a standard diode, introduced in my previous blog, but the Zener version has a bent line going through it resembling a distorted letter “z.”  See Figure 1.

Zener diode voltage regulator

Figure 1       


      Electric current flows through the Zener Diode just as it does through a standard diode.  But when the current flows in reverse, that’s where the similarity ends.  See Figure 2.

  Zener diode

Figure 2    


     When current tries to flow in the reverse direction, the Zener diode acts as an electrical conductor and allows current to pass through it.  In other words, it doesn’t block current flow as standard diodes do.

      At this point, you may be asking, “What’s so special about that?”  Perhaps you’ve made the connection that it behaves no differently than a metal wire.  But that isn’t entirely correct.

     You see, when current passes in the reverse direction through the Zener diode, it maintains a constant voltage.  This is called the Zener Voltage and is denoted as VZener.  The significance here is that within the circuit, any electronic component connected across the leads of a Zener diode will be supplied with a constant, unchanging voltage.  Thus the Zener diode works as a voltage regulator, enabling devices connected to it to have smooth, uninterrupted operation at a constant voltage.  It should be noted that this phenomenon only happens when the current flowing through the Zener diode is flowing in reverse.

     Next time we’ll look at a basic regulated power supply circuit to see how a Zener diode is incorporated in order to maintain a consistent output voltage.