alternate energy (10)

ARDP...

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The design concept of BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor. BWX Technologies

Topics: Applied Physics, Alternate Energy, Climate Change, Nuclear Power

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the US uses a mixture of 60.8% fossil fuel sources to generate 2,504 billion kilowatt hours of energy. Our nuclear expenditure is a paltry 18.9%. The totality of renewable sources (wind, hydropower, solar, biomass, and geothermal) is a little higher: 20.1%. This is the crux of the "Green New Deal."

Though I long for the cleaner, neater version of nuclear power in fusion, it's kind of hard to mimic the pressures and magnetic fields necessary to spark essentially a mini sun on the planet. I think the resistance to nuclear fission is cultural: from the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad-Gita at the first successful testing, a classic "what have we done" trope. Popular fiction emphasizes doomsday scenarios and radioactive zombies. Honorable mention: Space 1999, which like zombies I doubt could ever happen, but it kept my attention in my youth. There are also genuine concerns about Chernobyl (still in Ukraine), Three-Mile Island, and Fukushima Daichi that come to the public's mind.

The reason the percentages on fossil fuels are so high is that they release extreme amounts of energy to superheat water for turbines to turn magnets superfast in copper coils. That is how most of the electricity we consume is made.

France currently generates 70% of its energy from nuclear power plants, with plans to reduce this to 50% as they mix in renewables. This is proportional to the percentage the US already has in renewables. My only caveat is an obsolescence plan for solar panels (they have to be implanted with caustic impurities to MAKE them conductive, and after twenty years, could end up in a landfill near humans). Battery-operated vehicles are fine, but Lithium has to be mined, it requires a lot of water, typically the indigenous peoples near the mines don't make a profit, and their land and resources are spoiled.

If we truly are going to transition from fossil fuels to "cleaner energy," I think we should realize that power plant designs have improved greatly since the aforementioned disasters.

As an engineer, I always tried to follow this edict from my father: "Experience isn't the best teacher: other people's experiences are the best teacher." In short, learn from others' mistakes, and try to not repeat them. It works in other nontechnical areas of life as well.

I (fingers crossed) assume nuclear power plant design engineers follow something similar to improve on future designs for safety, and as we've been exposed to with the war in Ukraine, global energy security.

I'm proposing an "everything on the table strategy," not Pollyanna. By the way, our "carbon footprint" appears to be a boondoggle by the industries that caused our current malaise.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program commonly referred to as ARDP, is designed to help our domestic nuclear industry demonstrate its advanced reactor designs on accelerated timelines. This will ultimately help us build a competitive portfolio of new U.S. reactors that offer significant improvements over today’s technology.

The advanced reactors selected for risk-reduction awards are an excellent representation of the diverse designs currently under development in the United States. They range from advanced light-water-cooled small modular reactors to new designs that use molten salts and high-temperature gases to flexibly operate at even higher temperatures and lower pressures.

All of them have the potential to compete globally once deployed. They will offer consumers more access to a reliable, clean power source that can be depended on in the near future to flexibly generate electricity, drive industrial processes, and even provide potable drinking water to communities in water-scarce locations.

5 Advanced Reactor Designs to Watch in 2030, Alice Caponiti, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Reactor Fleet and Advanced Reactor Deployment, Office of Nuclear Energy

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Perovskite and Maxima...

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The effective mass of the electrons can be derived from the curvature around the maxima of the ARPES measurement data (image, detail). (Courtesy: HZB)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Battery, Chemistry, Civilization, Climate Change

A longstanding explanation for why perovskite materials make such good solar cells has been cast into doubt thanks to new measurements. Previously, physicists ascribed the favorable optoelectronic properties of lead halide perovskites to the behavior of quasiparticles called polarons within the material’s crystal lattice. Now, however, detailed experiments at Germany’s BESSY II synchrotron revealed that no large polarons are present. The work sheds fresh light on how perovskites can be optimized for real-world applications, including light-emitting diodes, semiconductor lasers, and radiation detectors as well as solar cells.

Lead halide perovskites belong to a family of crystalline materials with an ABXstructure, where A is cesium, methylammonium (MA), or formamidinium (FA); B is lead or tin; and X is chlorine, bromine, or iodine. They are promising candidates for thin-film solar cells and other optoelectronic devices because their tuneable bandgaps enable them to absorb light over a broad range of wavelengths in the solar spectrum. Charge carriers (electrons and holes) also diffuse through them over long distances. These excellent properties give perovskite solar cells a power conversion efficiency of more than 18%, placing them on a par with established solar-cell materials such as silicon, gallium arsenide, and cadmium telluride.

Researchers are still unsure, however, exactly why charge carriers travel so well in perovskites, especially since perovskites contain far more defects than established solar-cell materials. One hypothesis is that polarons – composite particles made up of an electron surrounded by a cloud of ionic phonons, or lattice vibrations – act as screens, preventing charge carriers from interacting with the defects.

Charge-transport mystery deepens in promising solar-cell materials, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Racing Green...

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Fast physics Formula E has created huge advances in electric vehicles off the racing circuit as well as on, but they still have drawbacks. (Courtesy: Luis Licona/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Battery, Biofuels, Climate Change, Global Warming

Cars – and in particular racecars – might seem the villains in a world grappling with climate change. Racing Green: How Motorsport Science Can Change the World hopes to convince you of exactly the opposite, with science journalist Kit Chapman showing how motorsports not only pioneers new, planet-friendlier machines and materials, but saves lives on and off the track too.

The first part of Chapman’s argument tracks the historical development of cars and competition. His stories show how, from its start, racing has served as a research lab and proving ground for new technologies. The first organized motor races were competitions to encourage innovation, akin to today’s X-Prizes. In 1894 Le Petit Journal offered a purse for the first car to make it from Paris to Rouen, while later races emphasized pure speed or, like the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, endurance. Chapman provides a whirlwind tour through the development of the internal combustion engine-powered car and its damning limitations, including the copious greenhouse-gas emissions and the inability to ever achieve more than 50% thermal efficiency.

He then introduces us to new racing series like Formula E and Extreme E, which have changed electric cars “from an eccentric folly to the undisputed future of the automotive industry”. Chapman highlights the advantages of electric vehicles without glossing over their drawbacks: recycling challenges, the potential for difficult-to-extinguish fires resulting from thermal runaway, and ethical/sustainability issues surrounding the materials used. Throughout this section, he links motorsport advances with “real-life” applications. For example, the same flywheels that enabled Audi’s hybrid racecars to take all three podium spots at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012 made London buses more energy efficient. Some connections are a little more tenuous than others, but they are uniformly fascinating.

Racing to save the planet, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, author of The Physics of NASCAR and runs the blog buildingspeed.org, Physics World

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Quantum Charging...

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GIF Source: Sci-Tech Daily

Topics: Alternate Energy, Battery, Green Tech, Nanotechnology, Quantum Mechanics

Note: I'm in the semifinals of the 3-Minute Thesis competition, so I decided to focus on my presentation. Wish me luck. This does, however, relate to our need as a species to get off fossil fuels as soon as possible, so things like Ukraine, Crimea, and the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi are not facilitated by our need for energy and our tolerance for tyrants.

Whether it’s photovoltaics or fusion, sooner or later, human civilization must turn to renewable energies. This is deemed inevitable considering the ever-growing energy demands of humanity and the finite nature of fossil fuels. As such, much research has been pursued in order to develop alternative sources of energy, most of which utilize electricity as the main energy carrier. The extensive R&D in renewables has been accompanied by gradual societal changes as the world adopted new products and devices running on renewables. The most striking change as of recently is the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. While they were hardly seen on the roads even 10 years ago, now millions of electric cars are being sold annually. The electric car market is one of the most rapidly growing sectors, and it helped propel Elon Musk to become the wealthiest man in the world.

Unlike traditional cars which derive energy from the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, electric vehicles rely on batteries as the storage medium for their energy. For a long time, batteries had far lower energy density than those offered by hydrocarbons, which resulted in very low ranges of early electric vehicles. However, gradual improvement in battery technologies eventually allowed the drive ranges of electric cars to be within acceptable levels in comparison to gasoline-burning cars. It is no understatement that the improvement in battery storage technology was one of the main technical bottlenecks which had to be solved in order to kickstart the current electric vehicle revolution.

New Quantum Technology To Make Charging Electric Cars As Fast as Pumping Gas, Institute for Basic Science, Sci-Tech Daily

Reference: “Quantum Charging Advantage Cannot Be Extensive Without Global Operations” 21 March 2022, Physical Review Letters.

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M.A.D...

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Image Source: Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, John A. Dutton, e-Education Institute

Topics: Alternate Energy, Battery, Biofuels, Climate Change, Environment, Politics

Want another reason to loathe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Just look at how it may completely doom the Paris climate accords — and our planet.

According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the problem of climate change — which he admitted was “not solved” during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow at the end of 2021 — “is getting worse” as Russia invades Ukraine.

As if things weren’t bad enough, Guterres insisted that the conflict is making climate change much worse, given how it’s disrupted fossil fuel supply chains in Europe.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” Guterres said in a speech to The Economist‘s Sustainability Summit, his first climate change-focused addressed since COP26, continuing: “This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”

UN: Ukrainian War Fossil Fuel ‘Madness’ Might Destroy The Planet, Noor Al-Sibai, Futurism

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" John Kerry, C-SPAN, as spokesman for Veterans Against the Vietnam War, now the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Paraphrased, "how rich are you as the last richest man on a dead planet?"

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Lithium and Caveats...

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Image Source: Visual Capitalist

Topics: Alternate Energy, Battery, Biofuels, Chemistry, Climate Change, Environment

California and the Biden administration are pushing incentives to make the United States a global leader in a market that’s beginning to boom: the production of lithium, the lightweight metal needed for the batteries of electric vehicles, and for the storage of renewable energy from power plants.

At the moment nearly all the lithium used in the United States must be imported from China and other nations. But that trend could shift within two years if an efficient method is found to remove lithium from power plant waste in California.

Since the 1970s, California has built power plants that make electricity from geothermal energy—steam from saltwater heated by magma from the molten core of the Earth. It now accounts for 6 percent of California’s power, but it is more expensive to produce than other forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.

But that calculus could change if the wastewater from the process—a whitish, soup-like brine that contains a mixture of dissolved minerals and metals including lithium—can be separated so the lithium could be extracted.

According to a study by the Department of Energy, the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley—one of two large geothermal energy production sites in the state—could produce as much as 600,000 tons of lithium annually.

U.S. Looks to Extract Lithium for Batteries from Geothermal Waste, John Fialka, Scientific American

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Exciton Surfing...

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Surfing excitons: Cambridge’s Alexander Sneyd with the transient-absorption microscopy set-up. (Courtesy: Alexander Sneyd)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Solar Power

Organic solar cells (OSCs) are fascinating devices where layers of organic molecules or polymers carry out light absorption and subsequent transport of energy – the tasks that make a solar cell work. Until now, the efficiency of OSCs has been thought to be constrained by the speed at which energy carriers called excitons to move between localized sites in the organic material layer of the device. Now, an international team of scientists led by Akshay Rao at the UK’s University of Cambridge has shown that this is not the case. What is more, they have discovered a new quantum mechanical transport mechanism called transient delocalization, which allows OSCs to reach much higher efficiencies.

When light is absorbed by a solar cell, it creates electron-hole pairs called excitons and the motion of these excitons plays a crucial role in the operation of the device. An example of an organic material layer where light absorption and transport of excitons takes place is in a film of well-ordered poly(3-hexylthiophene) nanofibers. To study exciton transport, the team shone laser pulses at such a nanofiber film and observed its response.

Exciton wave functions were thought to be localized due to strong couplings with lattice vibrations (phonons) and electron-hole interactions. This means the excitons would move slowly from one localized site to the next. However, the team observed that the excitons were diffusing at speeds 1000 times greater than what had been shown for similar samples in previous research. These speeds correspond to a ground-breaking diffusion length of about 300 nm for such crystalline films. This means energy can be transported much faster and more efficiently than previously thought.

Exciton ‘surfing’ could boost the efficiency of organic solar cells, Rikke Plougmann, Physics World

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Thorium...

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Topics: Alternate Energy, Climate Change, Nuclear Power, Thorium

The Royal Society of Chemistry: Thorium (named for a certain Marvel character).

If China’s experimental reactor is a success it could lead to commercialization and help the nation meet its climate goals.

Scientists are excited about an experimental nuclear reactor using thorium as fuel, which is about to begin tests in China. Although this radioactive element has been trialed in reactors before, experts say that China is the first to have a shot at commercializing the technology.

The reactor is unusual in that it has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water. It has the potential to produce nuclear energy that is relatively safe and cheap, while also generating a much smaller amount of very long-lived radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive, silvery metal found naturally in rocks, and currently has little industrial use. It is a waste product of the growing rare-earth mining industry in China and is, therefore, an attractive alternative to imported uranium, say researchers.

China prepares to test thorium-fueled nuclear reactor, Smriti Mallapaty, Nature

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Power Density...

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Optimal size: wind farm efficiency drops as installations become bigger. (Courtesy: iStock/ssuaphoto)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Climate Change, Existentialism, Global Warming, Green Tech, Thermodynamics

Optimizing the placement of turbines within a wind farm can significantly increase energy extraction – but only until the installation reaches a certain size, researchers in the US conclude. This is just one finding of a computational study on wind turbines’ effects on the airflow around them, and consequently the ability of nearby turbines – and even nearby wind farms – to extract energy from that airflow.

Wind power could supply more than a third of global energy by 2050, so the researchers hope their analysis will assist in better designs of wind farms.

It is well known that the efficiencies of turbines in a wind farm can be significantly lower than that of a single turbine on its own. While small wind farms can achieve a power density of over 10 W/m2, this can drop to a little as 1 W/m2 in very large installations The first law of thermodynamics dictates that turbines must reduce the energy of the wind that has passed through them. However, turbines also inject turbulence into the flow, which can make it more difficult for downstream turbines to extract energy.

“People were already aware of these issues,” says Enrico Antonini of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California, “but no one had ever defined what controls these numbers.”

Optimal size for wind farms is revealed by computational study, Tim Wogan, Physics World

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The Power of ASM...

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Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Nanotechnology

 

 

 

When Ondrej Krivanek first considered building a device to boost the resolution of electron microscopes, he asked about funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The response was not positive,” he says, laughing. He heard through the grapevine that the administrator who held the purse strings declared that the project would be funded “over his dead body.”     

 

“People just felt it was too complicated, and that nobody would ever make it work,” says Krivanek. But he tried anyway.  After all, he says, “If everyone expects you to fail, you can only exceed expectations.”

 

The correctors that Krivanek, Niklas Dellby, and other colleagues subsequently designed for the scanning transmission electron microscope did exceed expectations. They focus the microscope’s electron beam, which scans back and forth across the sample like a spotlight and make it possible to distinguish individual atoms and to conduct chemical analysis within a sample. For his pioneering efforts, Krivanek shared The Kavli Prize in nanoscience with the German scientists Harald Rose, Maximilian Haider, and Knut Urban, who independently developed correctors for conventional transmission electron microscopes, in which a broad stationary beam illuminates the entire sample at once.

 

Electron microscopes, invented in 1931, long-promised unprecedented clarity, and in theory could resolve objects a hundredth the size of an atom. But in practice, they rarely get close because the electromagnetic lenses they use to focus electrons deflected them in ways that distorted and blurred the resulting images.

 

The aberration correctors designed by both Krivanek’s team and the German scientists deploy a series of electromagnetic fields, applied in multiple planes and different directions, to redirect and focus wayward electrons. “Modern correctors contain more than 100 optical elements and have software that automatically quantifies and fixes 25 different types of aberrations,” says Krivanek, who co-founded a company called Nion to develop and commercialize the technology.

 

That level of fine-tuning allows microscopists to fix their sights on some important pursuits, such as producing smaller and more energy-efficient computers, analyzing biological samples without incinerating them, and being able to detect hydrogen, the lightest element, and a potential clean-burning fuel.

 

The Vast Potential of Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Ondrej Krivanek, Scientific American

 

 

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