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.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
16 Month Tesla Model 3 SR+ Review
New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico
A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.
The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.
The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.
“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.
Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.
The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.
The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.
Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.
(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)