December 29th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
There are two kinds of nuclear power — fission and fusion. Fission is the one we are most familiar with. It involves spitting atoms — isotopes of uranium being the most common — in a process that releases large amounts of heat. That heat is then used to turn water into steam which is then used to drive fairly conventional turbines to generate electricity.
Fusion is the obverse of fission. Instead of splitting atoms, it forces them together under under extreme heat and pressure. In theory, the result is more heat than is needed to keep the process going and that excess heat can be used to turn water into steam which is then used to drive fairly conventional turbines to generate electricity.
Lots of people think humanity will find a way to “science our way out” of the global heating conundrum, even though lots of other people have been busy trashing science and scientists lately, calling them charlatans, liars, and worse so often that the word science has become an epithet. “You geedunkin foofraw. You’re nothing but a low down scientist looking to steal money from hard working taxpayers to line your own pockets!” is how conservative media usually puts it.
Despite the slur on science propounded by the bloviating jacknapes surrounding the current alleged leader of the free world, a group of those self same scientists — escapees from the insane asylum on the banks of the Charles River known to the world by the code name Massachusetts Institute of Technology — say they have studied all the available literature on fusion energy and have found a way to create a fusion reactor that is compact and more or less affordable. That is, it will cost less than a fleet of aircraft carriers. Their work has been published recently in the Journal of Plasma Physics.
They have formed a company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems to build the first fission reactor based on their new research. It will be called SPARC (who says scientists have no sense of humor?) and the company claims it will be completed and providing electricity to the grid by the end of this decade.
The thing about fusion is, the process doesn’t work until isotopes of hydrogen are heated to hundreds of millions of degrees, according to The Guardian. As you can imagine, something that hot can’t be contained in a normal vessel made of stainless steel, concrete, or even kryptonite. In fact, the only way to contain it is inside a tokamak, a device with an ultra-powerful magnetic field. That’s the part that has stymied nuclear physicists until now. The people at SPARC claim to have invented new magnet technology that will allow them to build a compact tokamak that is relatively affordable.
We are all familiar with fusion reactors, as it turns out. That bright light in the sky that we call the sun is in fact a really big fusion reactor. It has been doing its thing for billions of years and hopefully will continue to do so for a while longer, assuming humans don’t find a way to destroy it the way they have destroyed almost everything here on Earth. Fusion power is it, the Holy Grail, the sine qua non of energy. In theory, it is capable of producing emissions- free electricity forever, at least to the limited extent homo sapiens can understand that term.
Bob Mumgaard, CEO of “These are concrete public predictions that when we build SPARC, the machine will produce net energy and even high gain fusion from the plasma. That is a necessary condition to build a fusion power plant for which the world has been waiting decades. The combination of established plasma physics, new innovative magnets, and reduced scale opens new possibilities for commercial fusion energy in time to make a difference for climate change. This is a major milestone for the company and for the global clean tech effort as we work to get commercial fusion energy on the grid as fast as possible.”
The company says, “CFS and MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center are also now constructing the advanced magnets that will allow CFS to build significantly smaller and lower cost fusion power plants. This collaboration is on track to demonstrate a successful 20 Tesla, large-bore magnet in 2021. This magnet test, the first of its kind in the world, opens a widely identified transformational opportunity for commercial fusion energy. These magnets will then be used in SPARC, which is on track to begin construction in 2021 and demonstrate net energy gain from fusion for the first time in history by 2025. SPARC will pave the way for the first commercially viable fusion power plant called ARC.”
At a time when wind and solar power are growing by leaps and bounds, why do we need fusion power? According to Bob Mumgaard, the goal is not to use fusion to replace solar and wind, but to supplement them. “There are things that will be hard to do with only renewables, industrial scale things, like powering large cities or manufacturing,” he tells The Guardian. “This is where fusion can come in.”
Martin Greenwald, one of the senior scientists on the SPARC project, adds that a key motivation for the ambitious timeline is meeting energy requirements in a warming world. “Fusion seems like one of the possible solutions to get ourselves out of our impending climate disaster. What we’ve really done is combine an existing science with new material to open up vast new possibilities,” he says.
Of particular note is that the climate plan put forth by incoming president Joe Biden includes investments in advanced nuclear technology. Commonwealth Fusion Systems has attracted investment from a diverse group of backers, including the Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates, and Equinor, Norway’state owned energy company. In a statement to the press reported by Recharge News, it says, “Equinor is a broad energy company and we will continue to invest in promising and potentially game changing zero carbon energy technologies. We are investing in fusion and CFS because we believe in the technology and the company.”
Will fusion power save us from ourselves? Maybe. It seems far fetched but than again so did airplanes, the microwave oven, and cell phones at one time. According to legend, on New Year’s Eve, 1899, the head of the US Patent Office said to a colleague, “Everything that can be invented has now been invented.” Perhaps we would be wise to keep an open mind on this fusion energy stuff.
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Microplastics could be eliminated from wastewater at source – E&T Magazine
A team of researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Quebec, Canada, have developed an electrolytic process for treating wastewater, degrading microplastics at the source.
Microplastics are fragments of plastic less than 5mm long, often contained in toiletries or shedding from polyester clothing. They are present in virtually every corner of the Earth, and pose a particularly serious threat to marine ecosystems. High concentrations of microplastics can be carried into the environment in wastewater.
There are no established degradation methods to handle microplastics during wastewater treatment; although some techniques exist, these involve physical separation as a means of filtering the pollutant. These techniques do not degrade microplastics, which requires additional work to manage the separated fragments. So far, research into degradation of microplastics has been very limited.
The INRS researchers, led by water treatment expert Professor Patrick Drogui, decided to try degrading plastic particles through electrolytic oxidation – a process that does not require the addition of chemicals.
“Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals to attack microplastics,” Drogui said. “This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem.”
Drogui and his colleagues experimented with different anode materials and other parameters such as current intensity, anode surface, electrolyte type, electrolyte concentration and reaction time. They found that the electrolytic oxidation could degrade more than 58 ± 21 per cent of microplastics in one hour. The microplastics appeared to degrade directly into gas rather than breaking into smaller particles.
Lab-based tests on water artificially contaminated with fragments of polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency as high as 89 per cent.
“This work demonstrated that [electrolytic oxidation] is a promising process for degradation of microplastics in water without production of any waste or by-products,” the researchers wrote in their Environmental Pollution report.
Drogui envisions this technology being used to treat microplastic-rich wastewater emerging from sources such as commercial laundries.
“When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade,” he explained. “Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e. at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher, thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation.”
Next, the researchers will move on to experimenting with degrading microplastics on water outside the artificial laboratory environment. Real commercial laundry water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and limit degradation. If the technology is effective under these circumstances, the researchers plan to conduct a study to determine the cost of scaling up this treatment to implement in laundries.
Last week, researchers from the University of Barcelona published a study suggesting that encouraging a greater proliferation of seagrass meadows in the shallows of oceans could help trap, extract and carry marine plastic debris to shore.
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Eliminating microplastics in wastewater directly at the source – EurekAlert
A research team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has developed a process for the electrolytic treatment of wastewater that degrades microplastics at the source. The results of this research have been published in the Environmental Pollution journal.
Wastewater can carry high concentrations of microplastics into the environment. These small particles of less than 5 mm can come from our clothes, usually as microfibers. Professor Patrick Drogui, who led the study, points out there are currently no established degradation methods to handle this contaminant during wastewater treatment. Some techniques already exist, but they often involve physical separation as a means of filtering pollutants. These technologies do not degrade them, which requires additional work to manage the separated particles.
Therefore, the research team decided to degrade the particles by electrolytic oxidation, a process not requiring the addition of chemicals. “Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals (* OH) to attack microplastics. This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem,” explains the researcher. The electrodes used in this process are more expensive than iron or steel electrodes, which degrade over time, but can be reused for several years.
An effective treatment
Professor Drogui envisions the use of this technology at the exit of commercial laundries, a potential source of microplastics release into the environment. “When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade. Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e., at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher (per litre of water), thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation,” explains the specialist in electrotechnology and water treatment.
Laboratory tests conducted on water artificially contaminated with polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency of 89%. The team plans to move on to experiments on real water. “Real water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and reduce the performance of the oxidation process,” says Professor Drogui, scientific director of the Laboratory of Environmental Electrotechnologies and Oxidative Processes (LEEPO).
If the technology demonstrates its effectiveness on real commercial laundry water, the research group intends to conduct a study to determine the cost of treatment and the adaptation of the technology to treat larger quantities of wastewater. Within a few years, the technology could be implemented in laundry facilities.
About the study
The article “Treatment of microplastics in water by anodic oxidation: A case study for polystyrene”, by Marthe Kiendrebeogo, Mahmoodreza Karimiestahbanati, Ali Khosravanipour Mostafazadeh, Patrick Drogui and Rajeshwar Dayal Tyagi, was published in the Environmental Pollution journal. The team received financial support from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT), the CREATE-TEDGIEER program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Francophonie Scholarship Program (CFSP).
INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Quebec and in Canada. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,400 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.
Service des communications de l’INRS
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Why can some people 'hear' the voices of the dead? Scientists have an answer – Yahoo Canada Sports
The waiting is over in the wild rose province. Curling Alberta has made its decision on what teams will represent the province at this year’s Scotties and Brier in the Calgary bubble. Laura Walker, last year’s provincial champion, has accepted the invitation to play at this year’s Scotties. “We were excited to get the call. We wanted to wear the blue and gold and we take so much pride in representing our province,” Walker told CBC Sports. “We know there are many deserving teams in Alberta and we don’t take this honour lightly.” Walker made her Scotties debut in Moose Jaw, Sask., last year and finished with a 3-4 record. On the men’s side, Brendan Bottcher will once again be going to the Brier. Bottcher is last year’s provincial champion. He has played in the last three Brier championship games, losing twice to Brad Gushue, and two years ago to fellow Albertan Kevin Koe. It’s Bottcher’s fifth appearance at the Brier. The decision was made Sunday afternoon by the Curling Alberta board members. Massive repercussions This was a much anticipated decision as it will have massive repercussions on what other teams will attend the national championships. Curling Canada has announced a one-time expanded field for the Scotties and Brier, citing these extraordinary times in the midst of a pandemic as the reason for increasing the field to 18 teams. Normally, there are 16 teams competing at the event. However, Curling Canada has said there will be no wild-card game as it’s unfair to have teams travel all that way and make plans to only play one game. The governing body for the sport wants the best teams in the country at the event. So the first two spots will be determined by the CRTS rankings — the two teams that would normally compete in the wild-card game. The third and final team will be determined through a number of criteria. Kevin Koe, who brought in John Morris to join the team in place of Colton Flasch during the off-season, is ranked sixth. He’ll be at the event. “While we don’t agree with the decision made we are excited to have the opportunity to compete in the Calgary bubble,” Koe told CBC Sports. “Regardless of the uniform we are wearing we are a very motivated team and excited to compete for another Canadian championship and represent all our sponsors and fans.” Mike McEwen’s Manitoba rink is ranked fifth and is also a lock for the event. The last spot would then most likely go to Glenn Howard out of Ontario, as his team is currently ranked ninth. WATCH | Heroux, Jones break down Calgary culring bubble: Women’s side more complicated The women’s side is a tad more complicated. With Walker being named as Alberta representative, that means Tracy Fleury’s Manitoba rink is locked in for one of the spots with her No. 2 ranking. The next team without a Scotties spot is Chelea Carey. Her team disbanded during the off-season — Carey is a free agent. Then it’s Kelsey Rocque’s Alberta rink at No. 5. The issue for Rocque is that she changed two of four players during the off-season — and Curling Canada rules explicitly state three of four members need to return to be eligible. That eliminates the Rocque rink from the two CRTS spots — however, the team might be considered for the third spot. There is a potential situation brewing that could include last year’s world junior champion Mackenzie Zacharias. Her Manitoba rink is ranked 11th. This all comes in the wake of a number of jurisdictions cancelling their playdowns. To date, eight jurisdictions across Canada have now cancelled their playdowns — they include: B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The final spots are expected to be filled over the next couple of weeks. Women Canada — Kerri Einarson. B.C. — Corryn Brown. Alberta — Laura Walker Saskatchewan — Sherry Anderson. Manitoba — Jennifer Jones. Ontario — Rachel Homan. Northern Ontario — Krysta Burns. Quebec — Laurie St-Georges. Nova Scotia — Jill Brothers. Nunavut — Lori Eddy. Men Canada — Brad Gushue. B.C. — Steve Laycock. Alberta — Brendan Bottcher Saskatchewan — Matt Dunstone. Manitoba — Jason Gunnlaugson. Ontario — John Epping. Northern Ontario — Brad Jacobs. Quebec — Michael Fournier. Yukon — Dustin Mikkelsen. Nunavut — Peter Mackey. There are six major curling events planned for the Calgary curling bubble starting with the Scotties on Feb. 19. That will then lead into the men’s national championship beginning of March. 5. Following these two events, the mixed doubles championship will take place all leading to the men’s world curling championship, set to begin in early April. The final two events held inside the bubble include two Grand Slam of Curling bonspiels.
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