Major Breakthrough Puts Dream of Unlimited, Clean Energy Within Reach


Nuclear fusion facility: JET interior with superimposed plasma. Nuclear fusion energy could be a pivotal sustainable energy source to complement renewables. Credit: UKAEA

The old joke is that nuclear fusion is always 30 years away. However, the dream of plentiful clean energy is no laughing matter as we meet an ITER researcher to catch up on progress at the reactor facility.

By creating light and heat through nuclear fusion, the Sun has fueled life on Earth for billions of years. Given that incredible power and longevity, it seems there can hardly be a better way to generate energy than by harnessing the same nuclear processes that occur in stars, including our own sun.

Nuclear fusion reactors aim to reproduce this process by fusing hydrogen atoms to create helium, which releases energy in the form of heat. Sustaining this at a large scale has the potential to produce a safe, clean, almost inexhaustible power supply.

The quest began decades ago, but could a long-running joke that nuclear fusion is always 30 years away soon start to look dated?

Some hope so, following a major breakthrough during a nuclear-fusion experiment in late 2021. This came at the Joint European Torus (JET) research facility in Oxfordshire, UK, in a giant, doughnut-shaped machine called a tokamak.

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Inside, superheated gases called plasmas are generated in which the fusion reactions take place, containing charged particles that are held in place by powerful magnetic fields. Such plasmas can reach temperatures of 150 million degrees Celsius, an unfathomable 10 times hotter than the Sun’s core.

In a sustained five-second burst, researchers in the EUROfusion consortium released a record-breaking 59 megajoules (MJ) of fusion energy. This was almost triple the previous 21.7 MJ record set at the same facility in 1997, with the results touted as “the clearest demonstration in a quarter of a century of the potential for fusion energy to deliver safe and sustainable low-carbon energy.” Follow the link to learn more about the successful nuclear fusion experiment at JET.

JET Experimental Fusion Reactor Plasma

View of JET experimental fusion reactor plasma. Credit: © EUROfusion consortium (2022)

The results provided a major boost ahead of the next phase of nuclear fusion’s development. A larger and more advanced version of JET known as ITER (meaning “The Way” in Latin) is under construction on a 180-hectare site in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, southern France.

ITER, which is being built as a collaboration between 35 nations, including those in the EU, is aimed at further firming up the concept of fusion. One of the most complicated machines ever to be created, it was scheduled to start generating its first plasma in 2025 before entering into high-power operation around 2035 – although researchers on the project expect some delays because of the pandemic.

Major milestone

The results at JET represent a major landmark, said Professor Tony Donné, program manager of the EUROfusion project, a major consortium of 4,800 experts, students, and facilities across Europe. “It’s a huge milestone – the biggest for a long time,” he said.

“It’s confirmed all the modeling, so it has really increased confidence that ITER will work and do what it’s meant to do.” While the energy generated at JET lasted just a few seconds, the aim is to ramp this up to a sustained reaction that produces energy.

The results were the culmination of years of preparation, with Prof Donné explaining that one of the key developments since 1997 involved changing the inner wall of the JET vessel.

“It’s a huge milestone in nuclear fusion – the biggest for a long time. It’s confirmed all the modelling.”

— Prof Tony Donné, EUROfusion

Previously, the wall was made of carbon, but this proved too reactive with the fuel mix of deuterium and tritium, two heavier isotopes – or variants – of hydrogen used in the fusion reaction. This resulted in the formation of hydrocarbons, locking up the tritium fuel in the wall.

In the rebuild, which involved 16 000 components and 4 000 tonnes of metal, the carbon was replaced with beryllium and tungsten to reduce tritium retention. Ultimately, the team was able to cut the amount of trapped fuel by a large multiple, contributing to the success of the recent fusion shot.

DEMO run

In preparation for the next stage of fusion’s epic journey, upgrades to JET ensured that its configuration aligns with the plans for ITER. Further in the future, the next step beyond ITER will be a demonstration power plant known as DEMO, designed to send electricity into the grid – leading on to fusion plants becoming a commercial and industrial reality.

“ITER is a device which will create 10 times more fusion energy than the energy used to heat the plasma,” said Prof Donné. “But as it is an experimental facility, it will not deliver electricity to the grid. For that, we need another device, which we call DEMO. This will really bring us to the foundations for the first generation of fusion power plants.”

Prof Donné added: “JET has shown now that fusion is plausible. ITER has to show that it’s further feasible, and DEMO will need to demonstrate that it really works.”

Planned to provide up to 500 megawatts (MW) to the grid, he thinks it is realistic for DEMO to come into operation around 2050. “We hope to build DEMO much faster than we built ITER, making (use of the) lessons learned,” he said.

Yet there are other key challenges to overcome on the way to getting nuclear fusion up and running. Not least is that while deuterium is abundant in seawater, tritium is extremely scarce and difficult to produce.

“If we get fusion up and running, then really we have a very safe and clean energy source which can give us energy for thousands of years.”

— Prof Tony Donné, EUROfusion

The researchers, therefore, plan to develop a way of generating it inside the tokamak, using a “breeding blanket” containing lithium. The idea is that high-energy neutrons from the fusion reactions will interact with the lithium to create tritium.

Essential energy

Prof Donné said nuclear fusion could prove a pivotal green and sustainable energy source for the future. “I would say it’s essential,” he said. “I’m not convinced that by 2050 we can make the carbon dioxide transition with only renewables, and we need other things.”

And although he says the current method of creating nuclear energy through fission is becoming safer and safer, fusion has key advantages. Proponents for ITER talk of benefits such as an absence of meltdown risk, adding that nuclear fusion does not produce long-lived radioactive waste and that reactor materials can be recycled or reused within 100 to 300 years.

“It’s definitely much safer,” said Prof Donné. Referencing the stigma carried by nuclear energy, he said, “What we see when we interact with the public is that people very often haven’t heard about nuclear fusion. But when we explain the pros and cons, then I think people get positive.”

Referring to Lev Artsimovich, dubbed the “father of the tokamak,” he said, “Artsimovich always said fusion will be there when society really needs it. If we get fusion up and running, then really we have a very safe and clean energy source which can give us energy for thousands of years.”

Research in this article was funded by the EU.

This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research & Innovation Magazine.

Re-Thinking The Future – Clean Disruption and the Collapse of the Oil, Coal and ICEV Industries


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Pandemics, Negative Oil Prices, Political Divisiveness, Economic Warfare, Shifting Population Profiles ….

“It was the best of Times … It was the Worst of times.” (Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities) Perhaps a little of Dickens could be said to be true of our current times.

But to quote another Author, Coach and Inspirational Leader,

“Great Moments are born from Great Opportunity.” – Herb Brooks – 1980 Gold Medal Hockey Coach, ‘Miracle on Ice’

And that … THAT is exactly what we have here, right now.

These very well may be the Times, the Technological Disruptions and the Opportunity … that changes the Social, Economic and Structural Fabric of Our World.

Tony Seba a world-renowned author, thought leader, speaker, educator ( Stanford University) and entrepreneur is sharing his future vision with us in his new YouTube Video:

“Re-Thinking the Future – Clean Disruption and the Collapse of the Oi, Coal and ICEV Industries”

 

Editor of “Great Things from Small Things”I believe it is Our Moment and Our Time as Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Leaders to Create, Shape and Build Our Future.

“The Wind and the Waves are Always on the side of the ablest Navigators.” – E. Gibbons

 

 

 

3 Questions for Innovating the Clean Energy Economy (MIT Energy Initiative)


daniel-kammen-mit-energy-initiative-mitei-2018_0Daniel Kammen, professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke on clean energy innovation and implementation in a talk at MIT. Photo: Francesca McCaffrey/MIT Energy Initiative

Daniel Kammen of the University of California at Berkeley discusses current efforts in clean energy innovation and implementation, and what’s coming next.

Daniel Kammen is a professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group (which he chairs), the Goldman School of Public Policy, and the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

Recently, he gave a talk at MIT examining the current state of clean energy innovation and implementation, both in the U.S. and internationally. Using a combination of analytical and empirical approaches, he discussed the strengths and weaknesses of clean energy efforts on the household, city, and regional levels. The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) followed up with him on these topics.

Q: Your team has built energy transition models for several countries, including Chile, Nicaragua, China, and India. Can you describe how these models work and how they can inform global climate negotiations like the Paris Accords?

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A: My laboratory has worked with three governments to build open-source models of the current state of their energy systems and possible opportunities for improvement. This model, SWITCH , is an exceptionally high-resolution platform for examining the costs, reliability, and carbon emissions of energy systems as small as Nicaragua’s and as large as China’s. The exciting recent developments in the cost and performance improvements of solar, wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles permit the planning of dramatically decarbonized systems that have a wide range of ancillary benefits: increased reliability, improved air quality, and monetizing energy efficiency, to name just a few. With the Paris Climate Accords placing 80 percent or greater decarbonization targets on all nations’ agendas (sadly, except for the U.S. federal government), the need for an “honest broker” for the costs and operational issues around power systems is key.

Q: At the end of your talk, you mentioned a carbon footprint calculator that you helped create. How much do individual behaviors matter in addressing climate change?

A: The carbon footprint, or CoolClimate project, is a visualization and behavioral economics tool that can be used to highlight the impacts of individual decisions at the household, school, and city level. We have used it to support city-city competitions for “California’s coolest city,” to explore the relative impacts of lifetime choices (buying an electric vehicle versus or along with changes of diet), and more.

Q: You touched on the topic of the “high ambition coalition,” a 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference goal of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Can you expand on this movement and the carbon negative strategies it would require?

A: As we look at paths to a sustainable global energy system, efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will require not only zeroing out industrial and agricultural emissions, but also removing carbon from the atmosphere. This demands increasing natural carbon sinks by preserving or expanding forests, sustaining ocean systems, and making agriculture climate- and water-smart. One pathway, biomass energy with carbon capture and sequestration, has both supporters and detractors. It involves growing biomass, using it for energy, and then sequestering the emissions.

This talk was one in a series of MITEI seminars supported by IHS Markit.

Penn State U. – New ‘Flow-Cell’ Battery Recharged with Carbon Dioxide – Capturing CO2 Emissions for an Untapped Source of Energy


co2flowcell
The pH-gradient flow cell has two channels: one containing an aqueous solution sparged with carbon dioxide (low pH) and the other containing an aqueous solution sparged with ambient air (high pH). The pH gradient causes ions to flow across …more

Researchers have developed a type of rechargeable battery called a flow cell that can be recharged with a water-based solution containing dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from fossil fuel power plants. The device works by taking advantage of the CO2 concentration difference between CO2 emissions and ambient air, which can ultimately be used to generate electricity.

The new flow cell produces an average power density of 0.82 W/m2, which is almost 200 times higher than values obtained using previous similar methods. Although it is not yet clear whether the process could be economically viable on a large scale, the early results appear promising and could be further improved with future research.

The scientists, Taeyong Kim, Bruce E. Logan, and Christopher A. Gorski at The Pennsylvania State University, have published a paper on the new method of CO2-to-electricity conversion in a recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“This work offers an alternative, simpler means to capturing energy from CO2 emissions compared to existing technologies that require expensive catalyst materials and very high temperatures to convert CO2 into useful fuels,” said Gorski.

While the contrast of gray-white smoke against a blue sky illustrates the adverse environmental impact of burning , the large difference in CO2 concentration between the two gases is also what provides an untapped energy source for generating electricity.fossil-fuels-co2-to-green-images

In order to harness the potential energy in this concentration difference, the researchers first dissolved CO2 gas and in separate containers of an aqueous solution, in a process called sparging. At the end of this process, the CO2-sparged solution forms bicarbonate ions, which give it a lower pH of 7.7 compared to the air-sparged solution, which has a pH of 9.4.

After sparging, the researchers injected each solution into one of two channels in a flow cell, creating a pH gradient in the cell. The flow cell has electrodes on opposite sides of the two channels, along with a semi-porous membrane between the two channels that prevents instant mixing while still allowing ions to pass through. Due to the pH difference between the two solutions, various ions pass through the membrane, creating a voltage difference between the two electrodes and causing electrons to flow along a wire connecting the electrodes.

After the flow cell is discharged, it can be recharged again by switching the channels that the solutions flow through. By switching the solution that flows over each electrode, the charging mechanism is reversed so that the electrons flow in the opposite direction. Tests showed that the cell maintains its performance over 50 cycles of alternating solutions.

The results also showed that, the higher the pH difference between the two channels, the higher the average power density. Although the pH-gradient flow cell achieves a power density that is high compared to similar cells that convert waste CO2 to electricity, it is still much lower than the power densities of fuel cell systems that combine CO2 with other fuels, such as H2.

However, the new flow cell has certain advantages over these other devices, such as its use of inexpensive materials and room-temperature operation. These features make the flow cell attractive for practical applications at existing .

“A system containing numerous identical flow cells would be installed at power plants that combust fossil fuels,” Gorski said. “The flue gas emitted from fossil fuel combustion would need to be pre-cooled, then bubbled through a reservoir of water that can be pumped through the flow cells.”

In the future, the researchers plan to further improve the flow cell performance.

“We are currently looking to see how the solution conditions can be optimized to maximize the amount of energy produced,” Gorski said. “We are also investigating if we can dissolve chemicals in the water that exhibit pH-dependent redox properties, thus allowing us to increase the amount of energy that can be recovered. The latter approach would be analogous to a flow battery, which reduces and oxidizes dissolved chemicals in aqueous solutions, except we are causing them to be reduced and oxidized here by changing the solution pH with CO2.”

Explore further: Chemists present an innovative redox-flow battery based on organic polymers and water

More information: Taeyoung Kim et al. “A pH-Gradient Flow Cell for Converting Waste CO2 into Electricity.” Environmental Science & Technology Letters. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00467

 

Bill Gates: We will have a clean-energy ‘miracle’ within 15 years


 

Green nature landscape with planet Earth

A ‘Green-er’ Clean Energy Earth?

 

In the latest edition of their annual letter published today, Bill and Melinda Gates argue that the world needs “an energy miracle,” and are willing to bet that such a breakthrough will arrive within 15 years.

 

Bill Gates cites scientists’ estimates that to avoid the worst effects of climate change the biggest carbon-emitting countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and the world must more or less stop such emissions entirely by 2100. And that’s not going to happen if we continue on our current trajectory.

 

You can see Gates explain the equation in the Quartz video above.

Gates says he was stunned to discover how little research and development money is going toward breakthroughs in cheaper, scaleable clean-energy sources.Gates announced last year that he was committing $1 billion of his own money over five years to invest in clean-energy technology, and has been pushing governments to increase their funding.

To explain the need for a breakthrough in energy technology, he uses an equation (similar to the Kaya identity equation) that represents the factors determining how much carbon dioxide the world emits every year.

“Within the next 15 years, I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.” Gates believes that cleaner options such as electric cars and LED lighting won’t bring down energy consumption enough to hit those climate-change goals. In fact, he doesn’t see any current clean-energy technology that will enable the world to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2100, partly because it’s not consistent or inexpensive enough.

 

Gates has personally invested in next-generation nuclear power technology, which he describes as “a very promising path.” He is also backing efforts to improve battery technology, so that energy from intermittent clean sources such as solar and wind can be stored affordably at large scale for use over time. “I think we need to pursue many different paths,” says Gates in an interview with Quartz.

 

And he’s betting on relatively fast progress. “Within the next 15 years,” Gates predicts in his letter, “I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.”

** Re-Posted from the World Economic Forum

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