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Report: Now’s the time to invest in an American fusion pilot plant

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A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recommended that if the United States wants to capitalize on its contributions to multi-national projects like ITER and ride the wave of private green energy investment, now is the time for an “urgent” major investment push to build a pilot fusion energy plant to be operational between 2035-2040 – regardless of exactly which fusion technology it will use.

The report was commissioned by the US Department of Energy, and sought input from leading fusion researchers, component manufacturers, power plant operators, fusion developers, regulators and government to address questions around the critical goals and innovations needed to get such a facility up and running.

“A fusion plant producing net electricity should lead to a commercially viable fusion power plant by providing the information needed by utilities to design, build, license and operate future plants,” reads the report. “A pilot plant is not meant to demonstrate the economic viability of the commercial plant, but is meant to test the technologies employed and demonstrate high-grade heat extraction to produce electricity, availability for an extended period, and fuel cycle and tritium self-sufficiency; explore techniques to reduce construction and operations cost; demonstrate safe and reliable operations; and provide training to potential operators of future commercial plants.”

The report lays out some key technical and innovation challenges that will need to be met along the way, with 2028 set as the target date for a viable design, as well as milestones laid out that certain technologies will have to meet before they can become part of the pilot plant design. If it’s to be a deuterium-tritium reactor, for example, the report expects it to “simultaneously demonstrate temperatures of at least 100 million degrees C, and … a D-T equivalent plasma energy gain > 1.” Alternative fuels would need to meet similar guidelines, yet to be laid out.

The key activities required for the development and construction of a US fusion pilot plant
The key activities required for the development and construction of a US fusion pilot plant

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Nearly every component of a potential plant, says the report, will require significant materials development to cope with the extreme environments expected inside fusion reactors – they need to withstand extraordinary punishment non-stop for decades at a time in a commercial environment.

The high-temperature superconducting magnets these toroidal systems will use to keep their ultra-hot plasmas condensed, for example, need to be investigated to study how well they hold up to neutron degradation, fatigue and corrosion, among other things. Thus, the report recommends immediate investment in research programs and testing facilities targeted at materials and advanced manufacturing technologies that may form part of the pilot plant.

The plasma heating and current drive actuators used in existing toroidal fusion systems are giving researchers “increased confidence in their capabilities to effectively drive and control fusion systems,” says the report, but “significant progress is needed” to repurpose them from research systems into a pilot plant application, with cost-effective operation, reliability and durability the key areas of improvement needed.

One “fundamental feasibility issue” for a deuterium-tritium reactor like the ITER project, when put into commercial use, will be its ability to “breed” its own tritium fuel in the “blanket” around the plasma, and the entire system’s ability to manage that tritium effectively through the “complex and interacting system” of a fusion power plant. So the report suggests support for research projects around the breeding blanket, and other initiatives that might help reduce the amount of tritium a plant will need to keep in its inventory.

All these initiatives and others around fusion confinement, power extraction and closing the fusion fuel cycle, should be developed in parallel, says the report, with a combination of public funding initiatives, private investments and private-public partnerships considered to work out the best option for each critical area.

The ultimate goal for the Department of Energy is to position the USA as a leader in fusion development, particularly around the commercialization of the technology. It has not escaped the report’s attention that the UK is working toward its own STEP commercial fusion pilot plant by 2040, or that the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) is hoping to produce a gigawatt of power, twice as much as the ITER installation, and that the two are competing to be the first fusion reactor in the world to supply electricity to a power grid.

Another dark horse candidate comes out of Australia, and it doesn’t use the toroidal tokamak design at all; HB11 is moving quickly to ramp up development of a completely different hydrogen-boron fusion technology that doesn’t require hundred million-degree temperatures at all. Instead, it uses recent Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs in “chirped pulse amplification” technology to create lasers with power outputs as high as 10 petawatts (10,000,000,000,000 kilowatts).

These lasers are used to massively accelerate hydrogen directly into boron with enough energy to overcome the repulsive forces between protons and achieve fusion. Early testing is showing outstanding results, a billion times better than expected, and the system produces electricity directly. HB11 believes its lack of ultra-high temperatures and high-strength plasma condensers will make its development roadmap vastly quicker and cheaper than the style considered in this report, and it’s certainly a technology worth following.

But the takeaway here seems to be that significant pre-commercial fusion pilot reactors are very much on the table by 2040. Well, how about that, just 20 years away.

The full report is available at the National Academies Press.

Source: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

Source: https://newatlas.com/energy/fusion-report-2021/

NEWATLAS

Street-based radar system designed to save pedestrian lives

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Many cars are now equipped with pedestrian-detecting radar systems, but those systems can still be blocked by obstacles such as buildings or other vehicles. A new setup is intended to get around that problem, by taking the radar to the streets.

The system is currently being developed as part of the HORIS project, by three separate branches of Germany’s Fraunhofer research group. It incorporates infrastructure-connected MIMO radar sensors, which could be installed at pedestrian-heavy locations such as bus stops, school zones or crosswalks.

Continuously scanning the area 100 times per second, each sensor unit is capable of first identifying an object as being a person, and then ascertaining the speed and direction in which they’re walking or running … if they’re moving at all, that is. Should the system determine that the person is heading toward the road at too fast of a speed – so that they’re about to step out in front of oncoming traffic – it emits a warning signal.

Such a wireless signal would be picked up by the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) system in cars close by, causing an audio/visual alarm to sound/appear in any vehicles that might be about to hit the pedestrian. The system could perhaps even automatically activate those cars’ brakes.

One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system
One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system

A. Shoykhetbrod/Fraunhofer FHR

Additionally, even if no one were about to step onto the road, the system could still warn drivers to slow down if they were approaching an area where numerous people were milling about on the sidewalk. And because no cameras are involved, there shouldn’t be any privacy concerns.

Although the technology is still in development, it is already being demonstrated at a bus stop on the campus of the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt university. There, a setup incorporating two radar sensors is able to monitor up to eight people at once, determining if any of them are moving toward the road.

Source: Fraunhofer

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/street-radar-pedestrian-warning/

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Tree-fungus supplement could reduce fertilizer use in tomato crops

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Although Ceriporia lacerata fungus causes tree wood to rot, it also has a good side. According to a new study, adding the fungus to agricultural soil allows tomatoes to be grown using much less fertilizer.

Partially because they have such a long growth period, tomato plants require more nutrients than many other crops. As a result, farmers typically apply large quantities of chemical fertilizer to their fields.

Not only is this time-consuming and expensive, but it also reduces populations of beneficial microbes in the soil, plus it causes pollution as excess fertilizer runs out of the soil and into waterways. Additionally, even though chemical fertilizers may indeed boost tomato yields, they often reduce fruit quality.

Led by Jianguo Huang, scientists at China’s Southwest University instead looked to a specific strain of the Ceriporia fungus which is harmless to tomatoes.

Ordinarily, when growing on trees and when present in the soil, it emits enzymes such as proteases and phosphatases to obtain nutrients from the immediate environment. In the course of doing so, it frees up nutrients – including those previously delivered in fertilizer – which would otherwise have remained “locked up” within naturally occurring compounds in the soil. Those nutrients can then be taken up by plants.

In field tests, it was found that when the HG2011 strain of Ceriporia lacerata was added to both fertilized and unfertilized soil, it improved the nutrient uptake and thus the yield of tomato plants growing in that soil. Importantly, the fungus also enhanced the nutritional value and flavor of the fruit by increasing its sugar-to-acid ratio along with its soluble sugar and vitamin C content.

It is now hoped that compost incorporating the fungus could be used in an inexpensive supplement, which would reduce the need for traditional fertilizers.

A paper on the research was published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/science/tree-fungus-less-fertilizer-tomatoes/

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Spongey filter releases purified lake water when set in the sun

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Ironically, many of the places that most require water purification have the least-developed infrastructure. That’s where a new filtration device comes in, as it’s activated by the sun – and it’s said to perform better than other solar-powered purification systems.

One of the most common ways of using the sun to purify water involves setting up what’s known as a solar still. Although there are several different types of solar still, they’re all based around the concept of collecting pure condensed water vapor that evaporates out of tainted liquid water as it’s heated by the sun.

While such setups are effective, they can sometimes take a long time to produce a decent amount of drinkable water. Seeking a faster-acting alternative, scientists at Princeton University have developed an inexpensive flat sponge-like device that draws in water from a lake or pond, then releases purified water when subsequently set in the sunlight.

At the heart of the filter is a polymer gel with a mesh-like microstructure. That gel is surrounded by a layer of a dark-colored material called polydopamine, which is in turn covered with a clear layer of an algae-derived substance known as alginate.

When the device is left to float in relatively cool water, the gel’s mesh remains loose and open. Water flows in through pores in the two outer layers, drawn to hydrophilic (water-attracting) molecules within the gel. The alginate’s pores are small enough, however, that they don’t allow pollutants or pathogens to pass through.

When the filter is subsequently removed from the water and placed in the sunlight, the dark polydopamine boosts its solar gain, causing it to heat up. As it does so, hydrophobic (water-repelling) molecules in the gel are drawn toward one another. This causes the gel to contract, essentially wringing the purified water out of the spongey material. That water is collected in a container placed below the filter.

In a test of the device, it was initially placed in the 25 ºC (77 ºF) water of the Princeton campus’ Lake Carnegie for an hour. It was then taken out and set in the sunlight for another hour, over the course of which it heated to 33 ºC (91 ºF) and released the water that it had soaked up. That water proved to be free of toxins and pathogens, including potentially harmful microbes that are found in the lake.

A paper on the study, which is being led by Prof. Rodney Priestly and postdoctoral research fellow Xiaohui Xu, was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Princeton University via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/water-purification-filter-sun/

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The newest Casio G-Shock smartwatch is the first to run Wear OS

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Google’s Wear OS platform could certainly use some more actual smartwatches to run on, and Casio has obliged with the GSW-H1000 – the first G-Shock smartwatch from the brand to come with Wear OS on board.

The watch has all the ruggedness you would expect from a Casio G-Shock timepiece: it’s shock-resistant and water-resistant down to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).

It’ll handle more extreme pursuits like snowboarding and surfing as well as the usual running, cycling and indoor activity tracking. The titanium carbide finish on the back of the smartwatch is designed to resist scratches and damage, but the wearable is also designed to be comfortable, with a soft urethane strap intended to be both flexible and durable.

This is a smartwatch packed with sensors, too. Of course it can track your location via GPS, and how many steps you’re taking per day, but it also packs in a heart rate sensor, a compass, and an altitude and air pressure sensor. A total of 15 activities and 24 indoor workout options are covered in total.

There’s a neat trick with the display, as well – it’s a dual-layer affair that can switch between monochrome and color, so you can save battery life when you need to. Depending on how you use the screens and the sensors, battery life can reportedly be anywhere between one-and-a-half days and a month.

The display also features a customizable three-tier layout, so you can pick which bits of information you want to see at a glance – from heart rate to lap times. That’s on top of all the customizations Wear OS gives you, too.

The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more
The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more

Casio

This being a device running Google software, Google Assistant integration is baked right in, and you can use it to see notifications and to control media on your connected smartphone (both Android and iOS are supported by Wear OS, though the integration with Android and its apps is much tighter).

The Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000 is scheduled to go on sale in mid-May with a retail price of around US$700 – your color options are black with gray highlights, black with blue highlights, and black with red highlights and a red strap. While there are some decent Wear OS smartwatches out there, another one is very welcome.

Product page: Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000

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Source: https://newatlas.com/smartwatches/casio-g-shock-smartwatch-wear-os/

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