Not many 13-year-olds would describe themselves as an “amateur nuclear scientist.” That’s precisely what Jamie Edwards calls himself. When most kids his age are off playing video games, Edwards stays late after school to work on a control panel for a nuclear fusion reactor. He just reached his goal of becoming the youngest “fusioneer” in history, narrowly beating out the previous record-holder, who pulled it off at 14.
Last year, Edwards made a presentation requesting funding to build a nuclear fusion reactor, and his school, Penwortham Priory Academy, granted him a $3,350 budget to make the project happen. Let’s just take a moment to savor the sheer awesomeness of that. How many schools do you know would give money to a teenager to dabble in nuclear science?
It takes quite a few specialty parts to build a reactor. Edwards had to order a vacuum chamber, vacuum pump, tungsten wire, an aluminum rod, and valves, among other supplies. One of the biggest challenges was tracking down and sealing leaks in the vacuum chamber. He also had to attend a radiation safety course before putting the reactor into operation.
Archive for the ‘Alt Energy’ Category
Posted by Xeno on March 8, 2014
Posted by Xeno on March 7, 2014
Mysterious lightning flashes that appear to precede earthquakes could be sparked by movements in the ground below, US scientists say. Unidentified glowing objects were spotted moments before major quakes in China and Italy recently.
These flickers could be triggered by shifting soil layers which generate huge electrical charge, say scientists. Using a tub of plain kitchen flour, they discovered an entirely new physical phenomenon.
They announced their findings at the American Physical Society meeting in Denver.
“Our first suspicion was this has got to be a mistake. There must be something stupid we are doing,” said Professor Troy Shinbrot, of Rutgers University, New Jersey.
“We took a tupperware container filled with flour, tipped it back and forth until cracks appeared, and it produced 200 volts of charge.
“There isn’t a mechanism I know that can explain this. It seems to be new physics. ” Repeat experiments with other granular materials produced the same voltage phenomenon. If it occurs along geological faultlines, sliding and cracking of soil grains could be generating millions of volts of electrostatic charge.
This in turn could seed lightning in the air above – creating a natural “early-warning system” for impending earthquakes.
Stories of “earthquake lights” have been recorded for 300 years, but were typically dismissed by scientists as hearsay, or fodder for UFO enthusiasts. However in recent decades – and with the advent of YouTube – sightings of “clear-sky lightning” have been captured, analysed, and confirmed by scientists.
Videos of luminous orbs seen during the Fukushima and L’Aquila earthquakes were widely shared online.
“We want to know – why does this lightning appear sometimes but not others?” said Prof Shinbrot. “Not every major earthquake is preceded by lightning. And not all clear-sky lightning is followed by earthquakes.”
To understand the link, scientists in Turkey have erected towers that measure voltage fields in the air over earthquake-prone regions.
“They’ve found there do seem to be precursors for some large earthquakes – magnitude 5 or higher. But the voltage signal is not always the same. Sometimes it’s high and sometimes it’s low. “Clearly there is a lot yet to be understood.”
His first aim is to understand the flour experiment – what is this new, unknown mechanism which generates voltage in the powder cracks?
“This is not what you typically think of as static – it’s not like rubber shoes against a nylon carpet. This is two layers of exactly the same material rubbing against each other – and generating voltage. “How is this happening? Your guess is as good as mine. “I think the reason that no-one has reported this before is that no-one has thought to look.”
Now that’s flour power, baby!
Posted by Xeno on February 8, 2014
… Can enormous heat deep in the Earth be harnessed to provide energy for us on the surface? A promising report from a geothermal borehole project that accidentally struck magma—the same fiery, molten rock that spews from volcanoes—suggests it could.
The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project, IDDP, has been drilling shafts up to 5km deep in an attempt to harness the heat in the volcanic bedrock far below the surface of Iceland. But in 2009 a borehole at Krafla, Northeast Iceland, reached only 2,100m deep before unexpectedly striking a pocket of magma. The molten rock was intruding into the Earth’s upper crust from below at searing temperatures of 900 to 1000 degrees Celsius.
This borehole, IDDP-1, was the first in a series of wells drilled by the IDDP in Iceland looking for usable geothermal resources. A special report in this month’s Geothermics journal details the engineering feats and scientific results that came from the attempt to harness the incredible geothermal heat. (The only previous case like this was in Hawaii in 2007, but that well was sealed in concrete.)
Wilfred Elders, professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, co-authored three of the research papers inGeothermics with Icelandic colleagues. “Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence, and this is only the second known instance anywhere in the world,” Elders said. The IDDP and Iceland’s National Power Company, which operates theKrafla geothermal power plant nearby, decided to make a substantial investment to investigate the hole further.
This meant cementing a steel casing into the well, one with a perforated section at the bottom closest to the magma. Heat was allowed to slowly build in the borehole, and eventually superheated steam flowed up through the well for the next two years. Elders said that the success of the drilling was “amazing, to say the least,” adding, “This could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal projects in the future.”
The hole funnelled superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures of over 450 degrees Celsius—a world record. In comparison, geothermal resources in the UKrarely reach higher than around 60 to 80 degrees Celsius. The magma-heated steam was capable of generating 36MW of electrical power. While relatively modest compared to a typical 660MW coal-fired power station, this is more than half of the Krafla plant’s current 60MW output.
Most importantly, it demonstrated that it could be done. “Essentially, IDDP-1 is the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system, the first to supply heat directly from molten magma,” Elders said. The borehole was being set up to deliver steam directly into the Krafla power plant when a valve failed, which required the borehole to be stoppered. Elders added that, although the borehole had to be plugged, the aim is to repair it or drill another well nearby. …
Under the earth’s crust, the next layer down is not molten magma. This is a common misconception. The mantle is a very slowly flowing solid, silicate rocky shell about 1,800 miles thick.
Environments of magma formation and compositions are commonly correlated. Environments include subduction zones, continental rift zones, mid-ocean ridges and hot spots. Despite being found in such widespread locales, the bulk of the Earth’s crust and mantle is not molten. Rather, most of the Earth takes the form of a rheid, a form of solid that can move or deform under pressure. Magma, as liquid, preferentially forms in high temperature, low pressure environments within several kilometers of the Earth’s surface.
If we found a location where magma was flowing the right way, could we pump the water from Fukushima down into the magma and have only clean steam come back up?
Posted by Xeno on October 30, 2013
Soon, the lit-up skyline will be much whiter because all 250,000 street lights are being switched to LEDs in the biggest retrofit project in the nation.
The switch-over is part of PlaNYC, the city’s climate change mitigation plan. PlaNYC requires the city to cut emissions from government operations 30% by 2017.
Started in 2009 as a pilot, the retrofit is now rolling out across NYC with a completion date of 2017. LEDs already light key corridors, such as FDR Drive – the highway along its east side – and paths that wind through Central Park. They even adorn the city’s bridges.
The $76.5 million project is expected to save $6 million a year in energy costs and $8 million a year on maintenance costs (LEDs last for up to 20 years).
The Empire State Building“s lights are also LEDs:
It is the first project to receive funding from the city’s ACE Program (Accelerated Conservation and Efficiency Initiative). The $100 million competitive program launched this fall to expedite government projects that cutgreenhouse gas emissions. It funds programs that can be quickly implemented on efficiency and clean heating. It awarded $10 million toward the lighting retrofit.
“Using LEDs for street lighting is more than just a bright idea, it’s a necessity for sustainable cities to operate more efficiently while also delivering clearer, better quality light for New Yorkers,” says Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan.
Posted by Xeno on October 9, 2013
Researchers at a California lab have got one step closer in achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
If successfully harnessed, fusion – the process which powers the sun – could become an unlimited, and crucially, cheap source of energy.
In order to become a viable, sustainable form of energy, power plants driven with fusion would need to produce more energy than they consume, which has yet to happen.
A group of scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), based at Livermore in California, last month brought self-sustaining fusion closer to becoming reality.
The facility, which served as a backdrop to the movie Star Trek: Into Darkness, uses 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser to heat and compress a pellet containing Hydrogen fuel until nuclear fusion occurs.
The BBC reports that during a fusion experiment in late September, the team found the amount of energy released via the fusion reaction for the first time exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel. This is the first time that this had been achieved in a purpose-built scientific facility.
Scientists have tried to create this kind of controlled nuclear fusion for the past 50 years, however none were successful.
The NIF’s goal is to create a situation where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply, a process known as ‘ignition’.
Currently, ‘inefficiencies’ in the fusion-producing system mean that some of the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel.
Fusion is markedly different from current methods of obtaining nuclear power, which operate through spitting atoms. This process is known as fission, whereas fusion involves squashing atoms together.
Posted by Xeno on September 26, 2013
A research team in Europe has achieved a world record-setting solar conversion efficiency of 44.7 percent, and assuming that higher efficiency translates into lower costs, it’s yet another indicator that we’re only at the beginning of a long, steep decline in the cost of solar power.
Solar (and wind, for that matter) is already competitive with or cheaper than coal in US markets, and with solar cell efficiency edging this close to the 50 percent efficiency mark, we’re expecting to see those trend lines grow farther and faster in the near future.
44.7% Solar Conversion Efficiency Record
With our usual caveat that there are a number of different solar technologies out there and different ways of measuring conversion efficiency, let’s look at the new record-setting claim. …
The research partnership consists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, top cutting edge semiconductor manufacturer Soitec, the French R&D organization CEA-Leti, and the Helmholtz Center Berlin.
The basic technology is a multi-junction solar cell, meaning a cell made up of layers of different semiconductor materials in order to capture the widest possible range of the solar spectrum. Multi-junction cells are typically used in concentrator solar systems.
The group of materials used in this particular cell is the III-V group, which refers to their position on the Periodic Table.
The new record is a significant notch up from the team’s previous achievement of 43.6 percent, set just a few months ago. It looks like Soitec made a key contribution in the form of a new bonding process. Fraunhofer ISE Department Head Frank Dimroth explains:
This four-junction solar cell contains our collected expertise in this area over many years. Besides improved materials and optimization of the structure, a new procedure called wafer bonding plays a central role. With this technology, we are able to connect two semiconductor crystals, which otherwise cannot be grown on top of each other with high crystal quality.
The Fraunhofer team better not relax on their laurels, though. They leapfrogged over Sharp, which announced a triple junction cell with 44.4 percent efficiency in the summer, but that doesn’t leave them much breathing room.
Let’s also note for the record that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been working with the company Amonix to develop a standard for measuring real-world conversion efficiency over a period of time for installed concentrator solar cell systems. Under those calculations, Amonix staked its flag on the world record for CPV systems earlier this year at 35.9 percent.
Posted by Xeno on August 22, 2013
Germany just broke its monthly solar power generation record once again. In July, the grey-skied country logged 5.1 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from solar power, slightly better than the 5 TWh of electricity generated by wind turbines it produced in January.
As Inhabitat points out, “The accomplishment proves once again that a lack of sunshine is no obstacle to scaling up solar energy — and if the Teutons can produce record amounts of solar power under grey skies, then the potential for countries with sunnier weather and more land mass (like the United States) is limitless.”
This recent milestone is one of many for the country that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world in its rapid embrace of solar energy. As a point of comparison, Clean Technica notes,
In terms of total solar power capacity per capita, Germany crushes every other country. At the end of 2012, it had approximately 400 MW of solar power capacity per million people, considerably more than #2 Italy at 267 MW per million people, #3 Belgium at 254 MW per million people, and #4 Czech Republic at 204 MW per million, and #5 Greece at 143 MW per million people. The US came it at #20 with about 25 MW per million people.
As Germany strives for a lofty goal of receiving 80 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050, government subsidies are playing a big role in the rapid growth of renewable energy. Germany’s simple feed-in tariff policy, which pays renewable energy producers (e.g. solar energy producers) a set amount for the electricity they produce under long-term contracts, has driven the solar power boom. As installations continue to outpace government targets, Germany announced it will begin scaling backits feed-in tariff beginning this month.
Germany’s long-term policies to incentivize renewable energy have had a significant impact on reducing the “soft” costs associated with solar installation, such as permitting, inspection, interconnection, financing, customer acquisition. In fact, residential PV systems installed last year in Italy, Australia, and Germany are nearly 40 percent lower than in the U.S.
Soft costs represent approximately half of the total installed cost of residential solar systems here in the U.S., according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), but there are multiple options for reducing these and making solar power more accessible without the use of German-style long-term federal incentives.
America’s own German-style solar boom may be just around the corner. Residential solar installations in 2012 reached 488 megawatts — a 62 percent increase over 2011 installations. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently toldGreentech Media that solar is growing so quickly, “it could double every two years.” He continued that other renewable sources will supplement solar, “but at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.”…
Posted by Xeno on August 20, 2013
A fungus and E. coli bacteria have joined forces to turn tough, waste plant material into isobutanol, a biofuel that matches gasoline’s properties better than ethanol.
Solar power users considering legal action against WA government after it announces cut to feed-in tariffs
Posted by Xeno on August 9, 2013
Solar power users considering legal action against WA government after it announces cut to feed-in tariffsBy Pamela Medlen
Posted August 09, 2013 17:03:42
Thousands of solar power users in Western Australia are reeling from the State Government’s announcement that it will slash feed-in tariffs.
Some say they won’t be able to pay back the loans they took out to install solar photovoltaic (pv) panels on their homes.
In 2010, the government said it would return 40 cents per kilowatt hour of energy to homes generating solar power that they fed back into the electricity grid for the next 10 years.
In May 2011, they cut that amount to 30 cents for new people signing up to the scheme and then stopped the feed-in tariff altogether last year as the price of solar panels dropped dramatically.
By then, 75,000 West Australians had signed onto the scheme.
Under the changes announced in Thursday’s state budget, those who signed up initially will see their payments drop from 40 cents to 30 cents in October and then to 20 cents next year.
“Our view is that the feed-in tariff is another example of a government program which is non-affordable in the current environment,” Mr Buswell told a press conference.
The Synergy notice sent to solar customers in May 2011 reads: “As an existing residential net feed-in tariff customer, Synergy is pleased to advise that your subsidy rate of 40c/kWh will not change and you will continue to receive 40c/kWh for the net export of electricity for the full term of your 10 year contract.”
Posted by Xeno on August 7, 2013
Natural photosynthesis – the remarkable ability of plants to transform sunlight into useful energy – powers virtually all life on Earth. But that’s not enough for some people.
Caltech chemistry professor Nate Lewis and his colleagues aim to show Mother Nature how it really should be done. Their goal is to produce fuel as energy-dense as gasoline and as friendly to the environment as a daffodil.
“Plants are the wrong color to be optimum energy-conversion machines,” Lewis said. “They should be black likesolar cells, not green.” He also points out that plants max out their energy conversion at only 10 percent of the light intensity available on a bright, sunny day. The remaining 90 percent of the solar energy they receive goes unused.
Nature presumably has good reasons for wasting so much sunlight. After all, a plant only has to harness enough energy to run its own metabolism, not to satisfy the needs of an energy-hungry civilization. But the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), of which Lewis is scientific director, has more ambitious goals. According to Lewis, artificial photosynthesis will compare to what plants do in much the same way that artificial flight compares to what birds do. We take our inspiration from nature and then strive to surpass it.
JCAP, a U.S. Department of Energy “Energy Innovation Hub,” is America’s largest research program dedicated to turning sunshine into fuel. The artificial photosynthesis system it is developing promises to produce energy-packedliquid fuel at 10 times the efficiency of plants, using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide as ingredients…