Nature: MIT launches multimillion-dollar collaboration to develop fusion energy

With corporate participation, researchers seek to build a pilot fusion-energy plant within 15 years.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge will work with a private firm to develop technology for producing energy from nuclear fusion within the next 15 years. If successful, the multimillion-dollar effort could help to unlock a virtually limitless source of pollution-free energy.

The approach — which has attracted US$50 million thus far — is based on high-temperature superconductors that have become commercially available in the past few years, the team announced on 8 March. The new generation of superconductors will allow the researchers from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) in Cambridge to strengthen the magnetic field that contains the hot-plasma fuel used in conventional tokamak reactors. That could pave the way for reactors that are smaller, cheaper and easier to build than those based on previous designs, including the troubled international ITER project under development in southern France. Read more

Nature: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics

How tabletop experiments could find evidence of new particles, offering a glimpse beyond the standard model.

It’s possible that no one knows the electron as well as physicist Gerald Gabrielse. He once held one in a trap for ten months to measure the size of its internal magnet. When it disappeared, he searched for two days before accepting that it was gone. “You get kind of fond of your particles after a while,” he says.

And Gabrielse has had ample time to become fond of the electron. For more than 30 years, he has been putting sophisticated electromagnetic traps and lasers to work to reveal the particle’s secrets, hoping to find the first hints of what’s beyond the standard model of particle physics — the field’s long-standing, but incomplete, foundational theory. Yet for many of those years, it seemed as if he was working in the shadow of high-energy facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 27-kilometre-circumference, US$5-billion particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. “There was a time in my career when there weren’t very many people doing this kind of thing, and I wondered if it was the right choice,” he says. Read more

Science: Air pollution’s hidden impacts

Nearly every country in the world regulates air pollution. But how much pollution control is enough? Answering that question requires considerable information about the costs as well as the benefits of regulation. Historically, efforts to measure benefits have focused on averting major health insults, such as respiratory or cardiovascular events that result in hospitalizations or death, which typically only afflict the most vulnerable segments of the population. These health episodes are clearly consequential—e.g., the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 avert an estimated 160,000 deaths and 86,000 hospitalizations annually—but may only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, compared to the number of cases of respiratory impairment and other health insults that affect many healthy people every day but do not require hospitalizations or even formal health care encounters. The ubiquity of these less lethal impacts, revealed by emerging economic research on labor productivity and human capital accumulation, suggests that even modest impacts at the individual level can add up to considerable, society-wide impacts across the globe.

Read full article (pay wall).

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Nikkei: China eyes offshore reactors as next step in nuclear goals

New power source could have serious implications for South China Sea disputes

BEIJING — Chinese state-owned companies are taking major steps toward building floating nuclear reactors, with the first slated to come online as early as 2019, amid a national push to meet growing energy demands at offshore oil fields and remote islands.

But any attempt to set these facilities up in disputed waters in the South China Sea will likely be met by international condemnation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes to boost his country’s capacity to produce nuclear power.

China National Nuclear Corp. is currently one stride ahead of the pack, launching a 1 billion yuan ($154 million) joint venture with other state-owned companies like China State Shipbuilding and Shanghai Electric Group. The new company formed will handle all aspects of power generation from constructing plants to selling electricity. It is currently developing a facility with the capacity to generate 100,000kW, roughly 10% of a standard nuclear power plant.

Local media quoted a CNNC official as saying that the goal is to complete the first floating plant this year and to bring it online in 2019. But sources in the industry say many technical challenges remain, and the facility may not start operating until the 2020s.

China General Nuclear Power, another key player, aims to start building its first offshore nuclear plant this year and to bring it online in 2023. Plants designed for use in offshore oil fields will have a capacity of 50,000kW, and those for islets a capacity of 200,000kW, according to the company.

China Shipbuilding Industry, on the other hand, is focusing on smaller facilities ranging from 25,000kW to 100,000kW in capacity, and is looking to begin operating plants around 2020.

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The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the international development agenda. Yet, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health addresses the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low-income and middle-income countries. The Commission will inform key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about available cost-effective pollution control solutions and strategies. Read more

Vox: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought

Most energy subsidies go not to renewables but to producing more of the dirty stuff.

The coal industry and its allies in the Trump administration have recently devoted considerable energy to arguing that subsidies to renewable energy have distorted energy markets and helped drive coal out of business. “Certain regulations and subsidies,” says Rick Perry, “are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix.” You can guess which regulations and subsidies he’s talking about.

This is nothing new, of course. It is in keeping with a long conservative tradition of challenging the economic wisdom and effectiveness of energy subsidies.

At least, uh, some energy subsidies.

Energy analysts have made the point again and again that fossil fuels, not renewable energy, most benefit from supportive public policy. Yet this fact, so inconvenient to the conservative worldview, never seems to sink in to the energy debate in a serious way. The supports offered to fossil fuels are so old and familiar, they fade into the background. It is support offered to challengers — typically temporary, fragmentary, and politically uncertain support — that is forever in the spotlight.

So let’s change that. Let’s talk about “certain regulations and subsidies” — namely, the ones propping up US fossil fuels.

Three recent analyses can help. The first does the yeoman’s work of tallying up federal and state energy subsidies. The second shows the effect those subsidies have on oil and gas production. And the third shows how thoroughly the US coal industry is propped up by regulatory policy. Together, they paint a clear picture: The profits of US fossil fuels are built on a foundation of government assistance.

All right then. First: What gets subsidized, and how much?

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Nikkei: Japan weighs exports of safer, next-gen nuclear reactors

Order from Poland, worth as much as $9bn, may be there for the taking

TOKYO — Japan’s government is mulling plans to export next-generation nuclear reactors that promise a greater degree of safety, with Poland lined up as the probable first destination.

The move, which would involve high temperature gas reactors, or HTGRs, is part of the government’s infrastructure export strategy. Poland, which is turning to nuclear power as a cleaner energy option, is looking at acquiring about 20 such reactors — equipment worth more than 1 trillion yen ($9 billion).

Tokyo will inform Poland of its intentions by the end of this month at the earliest — though it may face competition from China for the order.

The reactors in question use helium gas as a coolant, unlike conventional reactors that use water. This removes the risk of chemical reactions and vaporization — and thus the risk of hydrogen or steam explosions.

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India is rolling out trains with solar-powered coaches

“India’s massive diesel-guzzling railway network is getting serious about its experiments with solar.

On July 14, Indian Railways rolled out its first train with rooftop solar panels that power the lights, fans, and information display systems inside passenger coaches. Although the train will still be pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive, a set of 16 solar panels atop each coach will replace the diesel generators that typically power these appliances. The railways estimate that a train with six solar-powered coaches could save around 21,000 litres of diesel every year, worth around Rs12 lakh.

In 2014, Indian Railways consumed 2.6 billion litres of diesel, accounting for around 70% to the network’s total fuel bill of Rs28,592 crore.

The first of these trains will be pressed into service on the suburban railway network of New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, before two dozen more coaches are fitted with similar rooftop solar systems. Retrofitting each coach with these system, including an inverter to optimise power generation and battery for storing surplus power, costs around Rs9 lakh.”

To read the rest of the article go to: https://qz.com/1030696/india-is-rolling-out-trains-with-solar-powered-coaches-thatll-save-thousands-of-litres-of-diesel/

Fisticuffs Over the Route to a Clean-Energy Future

“Could the entire American economy run on renewable energy alone?

This may seem like an irrelevant question, given that both the White House and Congress are controlled by a party that rejects the scientific consensus about human-driven climate change. But the proposition that it could, long a dream of an environmental movement as wary of nuclear energy as it is of fossil fuels, has been gaining ground among policy makers committed to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources.

They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels.

And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts.”

Read more at: https://nyti.ms/2tK2lT4

Building the next generation of lithium-ion batteries

Recently the Anthropocene Institute asked Cypress River Advisors to discuss the future of battery technology and venture capital investment.  In 2016, lithium-ion received the bulk of the industry’s applied research dollars – focused on driving incremental improvements. Venture capital, on the other hand, invested over a half billion dollars into exploring solutions which addressed lithium-ion’s challenges through new chemistries or new technology paths to solve our global energy storage problem.  Through these conversations with various investors, we noted an inconsistent understanding of battery technologies and the challenges that the industry faces.  

To help get the public and investors on the same page, Cypress River Advisors sat down with William Chueh, a leading material science and engineering researcher at Stanford University and his team of Ph.D.  He and his team are at the forefront of materials research into battery technology, tackling the question: “How to build a better battery?”  

While there are many different kinds of energy storage systems, the rise of mobile devices has made lithium-ion the incumbent technology for consumer electronics, electric vehicles and even the grid.  It serves as one of the major benchmarks for which all other battery technologies are compared to today. We hope that this article and its related videos will give industry observers an overall sense of the challenges for the market ahead.  – Jason Wang, Partner, Cypress River Advisors.

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