Nuclear Energy from General Fusion

(source: General Fusion http://generalfusion.com/what-are-the-benefits-of-fusion-energy/)

Power generation globally continues to be dominated by the non-renewable combination of coal, gas, and oil (~68% according the IEA 2014); particularly in developing countries with vast populations. It comes as no surprise then that this is an area where the planet must make drastic change if it is to curb fossil fuel emissions output. Presently, fossil fuels remain fundamentally limited and polluting while renewable sources come with several limitations in addition to being inconsistent. As the global scientific community searches to make such change they must look no further than the efficient, renewable, safe, and cost-effective possibility of nuclear fusion technology.

For those who may not be quite familiar with nuclear fusion energy production, the technology involves superheating the nuclei of two heavy forms (isotopes) of hydrogen – namely deuterium (D) and tritium (T) to >100 million degrees Celsius, thereby speeding the atoms up which causes them to collide and fuse. Upon colliding they produce helium and a neutron which contain a substantial amount of energy. Energy created from the helium and neutron can be used to create electricity. The infographic below summarizes the science nicely:

In the coming decades, the name General Fusion may become synonymous with energy production in the same vein that Apple has become with the smartphone. The Canadian based company has set its lofty sights on being the world’s first ‘commercially viable nuclear-fusion-energy power plant’ (World Economic Forum 2017). With the prospect of nuclear fusion energy becoming a strong reality in the near future, the ability to produce vast amounts of energy without using radioactive components and instead using light and stable reactants and products should be one more governments and companies are considering. General Fusion is receiving considerable investment capital while simultaneously making significant promising research progress but that is not to discount the fact that nuclear fusion still has a way to go.

Below is a quick look at the work the’re doing:

Advertisements

Impossible Foods: The Meat-Free “Meat”

(source: Impossible Foods https://www.impossiblefoods.com/burger/)

As a vegetarian (and ex-carnivore) that constantly longs for the wholesome feeling that eating meat provides I often look for products that come close to the real deal. With the number of vegetarians on the rise in North America it isn’t shocking that supermarkets are beginning to stock numerous products from the ‘artificial meat’ industry. A quick glance around your local Safeway or Save On Foods will reveal several of these such products, ranging from tofurkey (vegetarian turkey) to veggie dogs and even veggie chili. While vegetarian burger patties are available from an array of different companies, most of them range from tastelessness to rubbery mediocrity. Well, endure them no more! Impossible Foods – a company based out of Redwood City, CA – seeks to “give people the taste and nutritional benefits of eating meat without the negative health and environmental impacts of livestock products”. The company has come up with the ultimate meat-free burger (called the Impossible Burger) to rival the taste and texture of any real beef burger while maintaining that it “looks, cooks, smells, sizzles and tastes like conventional ground beef but is made entirely from plants”. However, one might have to wait a bit before being able to readily pick this up at their nearest supermarket. The burger did debut at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in July of 2016 in New York City and has had limited releases at restaurant around the US but is still awaiting its mass produced roll-out.

For the planet this could not have come at a better time. One Impossible Burger saves as much water as a 10-minute shower and as many greenhouse gas emissions as an 18-mile car ride, according to the company. Meanwhile, according to greeneatz.com (a website specializing in food carbon footprints), one kilogram of beef produces 27 kg equivalent of CO2; this includes all the emissions produced on the farm, in the factory, on the road, in the shop and in your home. So if there was any reason to consider a greener diet there could not be a better product to consider beginning with.

CCS through CarbonCure

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the fairly recently developed process of pulling carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air for recycling or storage. Since the Paris climate talks, the planet has been set on moving towards specific emissions targets and CCS has been seen as a major way of transitioning to a low-emissions future.

What is CCS?

Carbon capture and storage is the process by which waste CO2 is captured from large point sources (these may be large fossil fuel or biomass energy facilities, industries with major CO2 emissions, natural gas processing plants, synthetic fuel plants and fossil fuel-based hydrogen production plants), transporting it to a storage site, and then depositing it to an underground geological formation. However, much of the pumping of such CO2 into the ground is done to stimulate further oil harvesting and production, which kind of defeats the purpose of sequestering it. That’s where CarbonCure comes in.

CarbonCure technology

What if we could use such captured CO2 for a better purpose, like manufacturing cement for construction? At present the cement industry accounts for approximately 5% of global CO2 emissions due to the highly energy intensive manufacturing process as well as direct emissions from heating limestone. Any reduction in emissions from the construction industry, however small, will have a significant effect on overall emissions worldwide.

CarbonCure captures CO2 from the emissions of local industrial polluters by gas suppliers across the country. The purified and liquified CO2 is delivered to CarbonCure’s concrete producing partner’s plants and their technology injects the recycled CO2 into wet concrete while it’s being mixed. After it has been injected and mixed, the CO2 is converted into a solid mixture and is permanently captured in the concrete. Therefore, CarbonCure’s customers are able to supply clients with high grade concrete products while simultaneously decreasing CO2 emissions and thus helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.

(source: CarbonCure-Chemistry-Infographic via http://carboncure.com/technology/)

Hywind Scotland: Floating Wind Farm

(source: Statoil)

What it is?

The Scottish government in conjunction with oil and gas giant Statoil shall build the world’s largest floating wind energy farm in Scottish seas. The Hywind Scotland project will comprise of five 6MW floating turbines interconnected with cables and anchored to the ocean floor in order to generate enough energy to power approximately 20,000 homes. The project differs from that of conventional offshore wind farms in that it utilizes a three-point mooring spread and anchoring system from which power is sent from the pilot farm to the shore station at Peterhead in Scotland. 

How it will help?

Wind energy, and floating wind farms in particular, still being in the nascent stage represent a “new, significant, and increasingly competitive renewable energy source” according to Statoil’s executive vice-president for new energy solutions Irene Rummelhoff. Statoil aims to develop the pilot park project in order to demonstrate a commercially viable, utility-scale floating wind solution that will hopefully increase the global market potential. The project stakeholders and orchestrators believe that the development of floating offshore wind could be a potential gamechanger for the industry. Some noteworthy ramifications in particular are as follows:

  •  Carbon Trust research shows that floating wind projects could potentially reduce energy generating costs for offshore developments to below $129MWh, with larger concepts such as Hywind producing even lower costs of $109-122MWh. Currently the global average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for offshore projects is $145MWh. 
  • Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) reported that floating offshore wind could be a credible, cost-effective form of low-carbon energy for the UK by the mid-2020’s.

The future

As momentum builds around floating wind farm energy the major two obstacles to navigate in the coming years will be government policy that can incorporate such energy and reducing the cost of producing electricity relative to other forms on the market. Other countries such as Norway, Japan, the US, and the UK have also begun similar projects but they are still at early development stages. The further development of these projects in deeper water will rely heavily on massive investments as well as leveraging existing infrastructure and supply-chain capabilities from the offshore oil and gas industry. It will therefore take another 5-10 years before projects like these can be truly commercially viable and implementable. 

The FCV and Honda’s FCX Clarity

Combustion from fuel is one of the largest anthropogenic sources of CO2 emissions in the world today. At present fossil fuel emissions account for the most impact towards climate change and the repercussions we face as a result. It should come as no surprise then that the vehicles we drive in droves on the streets every day are in fact one of the biggest contributors. The transportation sector accounts for roughly 23% of total energy-related CO2 emissions (IPCC AR5, 2014) and our gasoline-powered vehicles comprise a large fraction of that. So what can we do to reduce our carbon car-print? Well, driving less is the obvious answer, but additionally – getting rid of our cars, joining the car sharing economy, using public transport, or bicycling, are other great alternatives. However, for those that still intend to use cars or simply can’t afford to avail of these alternatives, driving electric cars or the more recent hydrogen fuel cell cars are change-worthy solutions as well. Japanese car manufacturers see this as the future of road transportation and Honda’s FCX Clarity rolled out in 2016 as a major player in this segment.

FCV and the Honda FCX Clarity

Hydrogen fuel vehicles are electric automobiles that use a fuel cell instead of a battery. The fuel cell vehicle generates electricity using oxygen from the air in combination with compressed hydrogen fuel, only giving off water vapour and heat as emissions. Their zero-emission capability has made them a highly attractive alternative to basic electric vehicles due to their short refuel times and greater drive distances.

(Source: Vehicle image courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc)

Honda has already commenced the engineering R&D and manufacturing of the FCV with its Honda FCX Clarity which was rolled out last year. Japan leads the way in Hydrogen fuel cell technology (as with most things automobile related) and the government has pledged to help support hydrogen car innovation and infrastructure in the coming decades; the Japanese government under Shinzo Abe has been the most bullish and envisions hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as part of a larger ‘hydrogen society’ with widespread hydrogen fuel stations and even fuel cell-powered buildings. The Global Market for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles report even argues that by 2050 FCVs will be the “fastest growing segment of the auto market”.

While hydrogen fuel cell vehicles still have a way to go before becoming anything close to the status quo, their importance to the environment and our future could not be underestimated. FCV’s still need to overcome the challenges of infrastructure before they can compete with mainstream automobiles, but the potential benefits of the technology are paramount.

 

Nanotechnology Solar Cells

How solar energy presently fares

The amount of atmospheric CO2 present has not looked like it is beginning to taper off and instead continues its upward spike past the 400ppm mark since 2013 (NASA). The startling change in CO2 due to fossil fuel consumption has seen a marked increase since relatively stable levels of the past couple hundred thousand years. However, scientists believe that if business-per-usual conditions are maintained atmospheric CO2 could eventually hit 1500ppm, at which point the global average temperature could be anywhere between 18-23 degrees celsius – a big difference from the current 12-14 degrees celsius we experience. This occurrence would return the world to similar conditions where human livability becomes strenuous at best. Therefore, there is a real need to increase our use of non-fossil fuel consuming energy production sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and nuclear energy. For this post we will talk of solar energy and the reformation of the solar cell.

In order to stabilize atmospheric CO2 by 2050 we will require 15TW of usable energy from renewable energy sources. Presently, solar energy has the greatest potential of all long-term supply-side sources due to its size and relative acceptability. While other sources such as those mentioned above are renewable, their abilities are limited to regional or local scales rather than global; nuclear energy is the only other source that can meet the world’s massive energy demands. Considering that the power with which the Sun’s rays strike the earth’s surface is 175W/m²  and approximately 10-20% of this incident solar energy could be converted to usable electricity, we would require roughly 2% of the available land in the US alone to provide electricity to the country. That is an area roughly slightly smaller than Washington state and 30 times the US’ available roof space. However, while some may be discouraged by the number of solar panels and area required to curb CO2 emissions, any kind of instalment whether that be roof panels or solar farms will be beneficial in producing electricity.

(source: Kyoto University/Noda Lab)

Nanotechnological efficiency

Researchers from Kyoto University in partnership with those at Osaka Gas may have found a solution to increasing the efficiency of solar panels with a nano-sized semiconductor device. Their semiconductor which consists of rods that are only 500nm in height allows for increased efficiency by narrowing the wavelength bandwidth of light to concentrate the energy.

Currently, the popularly-used Photo Voltaic (PV) solar cells are only able to convert 20% of visible light to electricity and are therefore fairly inefficient in that regard. As higher temperatures emit light at shorter wavelengths solar panels have been built that contain cells to capture light from higher heat temperatures, making them designed to target short wavelengths. The intrinsic silicon semiconductor they were able to design features “etched silicon plates to have a large number of identical and equidistantly-spaced rods, the height, radii, and spacing of which was optimized for the target bandwidth”(Kyoto University). Using this nanoscale semiconductor the conversion rate of solar cells is raised to a minimum 40%.

Implications for solar energy

The value of this technology to solar cells, solar panels, and the overall use of them globally could be overemphasized. Lab head Susumu Noda highlighted the fact that there were two perceivable benefits:

  1. Energy efficiency: Heat can be converted to electricity much more efficiently than before, and;
  2. Design: Smaller and more robust transducers means that the technology can be applied to a range of applications.

If we can apply this technology to present roofs or solar farms it would drastically increase the harnessable energy by several times, thereby decreasing the amount of area required to house these devices and also giving an added incentive to people to construct them. With further research into the manufacturing it is even conceivable that an economic model will allow for widescale use. 

The Rain Maker: Water Desalination

(Source: Courtesy of Billions in Change)

What can be more paramount than addressing the global need for water? Something so basic in nature and fundamental to almost every aspect of human existence and yet continues to see ever-increasing shortages around the world. These shortages being either due to physical water scarcity or economic water scarcity; effects of which are causing (or will cause):

  • Inadequate access to safe drinking water for roughly 880 million people
  • Inadequate access to sanitation for 2.5 billion people, which often leads to water pollution
  • Excessive use of groundwater leading to diminished agricultural yields
  • Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
  • Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in conflict (or even warfare).

It is therefore of some promise when a person such as Manoj Bhargava – through his investment fund Stage 2 Innovations – comes along with the Rain Maker; a ‘desalination unit roughly the size of a flatbed truck that relies on a conventional power source to distill seawater into freshwater’. A much-needed device that could prove to be the solution for the livelihoods of millions of people that live in coastal areas, and, with its ability to be coupled with other such devices or used as a ‘stand alone’ device, even be used inland. Such a device could be the answer to solving one of the world’s most important resource scarcity dilemmas and turn the 97.5% of currently undrinkable sea water into potable water.

What makes the Rain Maker so special is its uniqueness and simplicity. The device heats sea water until it becomes water vapor and then sends it through a series of compartments thereby distilling it into clean water. It doesn’t require any extravagant parts either – no consumable parts, no screens, filters, or parts that require frequent replacement. Rain Makers can create up to 1000 gallons of drinking water out of sea water every hour and to almost every level of purity. Bhargava hopes that although current desalination machines produce water too salty for agricultural use, the Rain Maker will be able to turn salt water into pharmaceutical grade water. Moreover, their simplistic design and assembly makes them easy to mass produce.

The man who made billions off the ubiquitous 5-Hour Energy drink supplements has now pledged to donate 90% of his wealth to innovations and causes such as water desalination in an attempt to make meaningful change at a time when climate change looks to burden us with increasing problems at every turn. His endeavors are so great that a documentary was even made in 2015 about his steps towards change.

 

Plastic-Eating Wax Worms

(Source: Federica Bertocchini/Paolo Bombelli/Chris Howe)

State of global garbage

Research from former World Bank urban development specialists Dan Hoornweg and his colleagues Perinaz Bhada-Tata and Chris Kennedy have found that without transformational changes in how we use and reuse materials, the amount of garbage we throw away will continue to increase and will not peak this century. While developing countries still produce the majority of global garbage it is developing countries that are also increasing their production; they also found that the sooner Sub-Saharan Africa’s waste increase peaks, the sooner we will be able to determine when the world’s trash problem will decline.

The World Bank notes with grave concern that if business continues as usual solid waste generation will increase 70% by 2025 and by 2100 will reach 11 million tonnes per day globally. Moreover, the cost of dealing with such vast amounts of trash produced are increasing, putting enormous pressure on both governments and the environment. Therefore, any innovative means in dealing with garbage will likely reduce these pressures and move us towards a scenario that involves a brighter and greener future. It is a highly noteworthy find then that a particular kind of worm has been found that eats plastic – a major component of non-biodegradable garbage.

The wax worm

Spanish National Research Council scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini was fortunate to discover that worms in the wild that normally feed on wax also have a voracious appetite for devouring plastic. Bertocchini realised the discovery when she released a worm infestation from one of her beehives into a plastic bag in her garbage; the worms were able to escape by eating their way out of the plastic bag.

The Galleria mellonella, or wax worm as it is known, can eat upto 92 milligrams of plastic within 12 hours when atleast 100 of them are present. Until now, the only use of such worms was as premium fish bait, but their new found ability could present itself as a solution to one of our major global problems. The worms are able to break down polyethylene with the same enzymes they use to break down wax in the wild. The ramification of this great find is that scientists believe they could extract the gene responsible for the enzyme and put it into E.coli bacteria or marine phytoplankton in order to break down plastics in the wild. Additionally, large numbers of these worms could be bred and then set on plastic waste in order to help reduce it. However, this latter use depends on further research to figure out whether the worms were in fact eating plastic as food or just as a means of escape.