"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

November 15, 2017 by  
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Fusion powers the sun, and if we could harness it here on Earth, we could obtain unlimited clean energy . Scientists have been working on that aim for years, and now researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory , Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and Texas A&M University just made a huge leap forwards. Helium , a byproduct of the process, typically bubbles and weakens the materials comprising a fusion reactor . But inside of nanocomposite solids, instead of the metal of regular fusion reactors, helium doesn’t form into destructive bubbles – it actually tunnels vein-like channels to potentially escape. Fusion energy isn’t easy to generate in part because of the difficulty in finding materials able to withstand the grueling conditions inside a fusion reactor’s core. These researchers may have found an answer by exploring how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids – and the results surprised them. Because while helium doesn’t endanger the environment , according to Texas A&M University, it does damage fusion reactor materials. Inside a solid material, helium bubbles out, akin to carbon dioxide in carbonated water. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 Michael Demkowicz, Texas A&M associate professor, said, “Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid. As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.” But inside nanocomposite solids – which Texas A&M describes as “materials made of stacks of thick metal layers” – helium didn’t bubble. Instead, it actually made channels similar to human veins. Demkowicz said, “We were blown away by what we saw. As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.” And the researchers think the helium could then flow out of the material “without causing any further damage,” according to Texas A&M. The surprising discovery could have more applications than in just fusion reactors. Demkowicz said, “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids…What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal .” The journal Science Advances published the research this month. Via Texas A&M University and Futurism Images via Wikimedia Commons and Texas A&M University

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"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

Scientists discover new Earth-like planet only 11 light years away

November 15, 2017 by  
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Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet only 11 light years away that may support life. Named after the star around which it orbits, Ross 128b was identified by a team of researchers at the European Southern Observatory as having a projected mass of 1.35 times that of Earth and may have surface temperatures suitable for sustaining life as we know it . Although scientists are withholding their judgement as to whether the planet is habitable, they are nonetheless encouraged by positive signs they have observed thus far. Although Ross 128b is currently 11 light years away, it is moving in Earth’s direction. Within 79,000 years, a blip on the cosmic timeline, Ross 128b will become Earth’s closest Earth-like neighbor, dethroning the current titleholder, Proxima Centauri b. Ross 128b was discovered after European scientists made 157 observations of Ross 128 while working at the HARPS spectrograph in Chile . Through these observations of the star , HARPS was able to confirm Ross 128b’s orbit of 9.9 days, meaning that it is 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Related: Scientists say ice may fizz and bubble like champagne when floating in outer space Ross 128b could boast surface temperatures as low as -76 degrees F or as high as 69 degrees F. “It is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet,” wrote the study’s authors . Its proximity to a small star is encouraging for scientists who seek more Earth-like planets, as it is easier to detect these planets near M dwarf stars like Ross 128. “They’re literally all over the place,” said Emily Rice, research associate in astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, in an interview with Gizmodo . “It’s so much parameter space that we haven’t explored, like the size of these stars and the size of these planets . You don’t just want one. You want a bunch of them to figure out the general properties of these things.” Via Gizmodo Images via  ESO/M. Kornmesser (1)

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Groundbreaking quark fusion generates 10 time as much energy as nuclear fusion

November 8, 2017 by  
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Physicists at Tel Aviv University and University of Chicago have discovered that quark fusion, involving the tiny particles known as quarks of which protons and neutrons are made, is an even more potentially energy-packed reaction than much-touted nuclear fusion . Although the scientists were originally concerned about quark fusion’s potential destructive power and had considered keeping the discovery secret, they came to learn that the process, still theoretical, would most likely be safe for civilian use. The newly identified kind of reaction, which could yield up to ten times as much energy as nuclear fusion, could be the answer to endless clean energy someday. A fusion reaction, whether nuclear or quark, occurs when two or more atomic nuclei are close enough to each other to form at least one different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. In fusing, the involved reactants and products release an enormous amount of energy, which could theoretically be harvested as nearly-infinite clean energy , the holy grail of renewable technology. A quark reaction, which could yield up to ten times as much energy as nuclear fusion, involves the fusion of bottom quarks, subsequently resulting in a larger subatomic particle, a spare particle known as a nucleon, and an enormous output of energy.  It’s reaction is so potent that it is potentially more powerful than the reaction at the center of an exploding hydrogen bomb. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 “I must admit that when I first realized that such a reaction was possible, I was scared,” said Marek Karliner, quark fusion co-researcher at Tel Aviv University, “but, luckily, it is a one-trick pony.” Nuclear explosions in hydrogen bombs gain their destructive power from chain reactions. Quark fusion, it seems, could not possibly be dangerous because bottom quarks disappear only a picosecond (1/1,000,000,000,000 of a second) after they form. There simply is not enough time for these subatomic particles to form a chain reaction. “If I thought for a microsecond that this had any military applications , I would not have published it,” Karliner said, according to Live Science. Although quark fusion remains in the theoretical stage, the researchers state that it could be achieved at the Large Haldron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider located in France . Via Live Science / Engadget Images via CERN , lead image via Deposit Photos

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Groundbreaking quark fusion generates 10 time as much energy as nuclear fusion

Google enters nuclear fusion clean-energy race

July 26, 2017 by  
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Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of sustainable energy — a potentially unlimited source of pollution-free energy that can power the world. No greenhouse gas emissions. Only helium and a neutron are produced. Now Google has jumped into the race to commercialize nuclear fusion technology, teaming up with California-based fusion company Tri Alpha Energy to develop a new computer algorithim that optimises plasma — an ionized gas that conducts electricity. “Google is always interested in solving complex engineering problems, and few are more complex than fusion,” wrote Ted Baltz, senior staff software engineer, Google Accelerated Science Team, on Google’s research blog . “Physicists have been trying since the 1950s to control the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, which is the same process that powers the Sun. The key to harnessing this power is to confine hydrogen plasmas for long enough to get more energy out from fusion reactions than was put in. This point is called ‘breakeven.’ If it works, it would represent a technological breakthrough, and could provide an abundant source of zero-carbon energy.” Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 The research was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports . The Optometrist Algorithm achieved a 50 percent reduction in the energy loss rate and an increase in ion temperature and total plasma energy. Other private and public entities are racing to become the first to bring nuclear fusion to scale. Experimental testing includes the Iter project in France, the Wendelstein 7-X (W7X) stellarator in Germany and the Tokamak ST40 reactor in the UK. General Fusion , a Canadian company, is also working to develop nuclear fusion technology. + Tri Alpha Energy + Achievement of Sustained Net Plasma Heating in a Fusion Experiment with the Optometrist Algorithm Via The Guardian Images via Tri Alpha Energy , Google Research Blog

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These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030

May 16, 2017 by  
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Scientists have long sought to replicate with fusion reactors the sun’s ability to produce energy through nuclear fusion . But it’s taking too long for Tokamak Energy , a UK-based company that wants to speed up the progress with mini reactors. Their small Spherical Tokamaks makes it possible to accelerate tests, which is difficult in other laboratories because of the specific conditions required; they hope to provide commercially-available fusion energy as soon as 2030. Nuclear fusion is difficult to replicate on Earth because it requires extremely high temperatures and pressures. Scientists have broken records on the path to fusion energy for all, but there’s still a long way to go; a recent record hit only 70 seconds of high-performance plasma operation , and that was still an exciting milestone. But Tokamak Energy thinks they could accelerate us closer to fusion energy with their mini tokamaks. Related: Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working Spherical Tokamaks can “achieve a much higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field than conventional tokamaks,” according to the company, which they say means their smaller reactors are more efficient. The tokamaks’ small size also offers an advantage in contrast to other fusion reactors being developed around the world, which have cost billions of dollars. At the end of April this year, Tokamak Energy switched on their third reactor in five years. They hope the ST40 will hit 100 million degrees Kelvin – seven times hotter than the Sun’s center and required for controlled fusion – next year. The company is working to be the first to offer commercially viable fusion, in just a little over 10 years. When his company turned on the ST40, Tokamak Energy CEO David Kingham said, “We will still need significant investment, many academic and industrial collaborations, dedicated and creative engineers and scientists , and an excellent supply chain. Our approach continues to be to break the journey down into a series of engineering challenges, raising additional investment on reaching each new milestone. We are already halfway to the goal of fusion energy, with hard work we will deliver fusion power at commercial scale by 2030.” Via the BBC and Tokamak Energy ( 1 , 2 ) Images via screenshot

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Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working

December 8, 2016 by  
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A little over a year ago, Germany turned on the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor and faced sharp speculation over whether the machine could function as intended. Now, tests conducted by US and German researchers confirm that the experimental Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarator is indeed producing magnetic fields that make controlled nuclear reactions possible, and with a high degree of accuracy and incredibly low error rate. With these test results, new confidence and hope are spreading through the renewable energy industry, as nuclear fusion could be the key to ending fossil fuel dependence worldwide. W7-X is the first of its kind to be put into regular operation. Its processes mimic those that occur on the sun, which is a natural nuclear fusion reactor (or “stellarator”). A team of researchers from the US and Germany worked together to test the stellarator after it went online in order to learn whether it is capable of producing the sort of magnetic fields necessary to trap scorching balls of plasma long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. And it is. Related: Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X stellarator passes new test, bringing us closer to nuclear fusion energy The research team found that W7-X is generating magnetic fields just the way its design intended: strong, twisted, and 3D. “To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology,” the researchers wrote in a report. Combined with an error rate less than one in 100,000, the tests conclude the W7-X stellarator has made history. It could become the first power plant on Earth to use little more than saltwater to create a safe, clean, long-lasting source of energy for generations to come. The research results were recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Via Science Alert Images via Wikipedia and NASA

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MIT’s fusion reactor sets new world record

October 14, 2016 by  
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MIT ‘s nuclear fusion reactor Alcator C-Mod set a new world record on its last day of functioning at their Plasma Science and Fusion Center . Due to lack of government funding, the experimental reactor closed the end of September, right after scientists broke the plasma pressure record. MIT set the previous record over a decade ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0SzyJr73uE Fusion energy powers the sun, but it’s not so easy to replicate on Earth. In order for scientists to successfully generate fusion energy, plasma must reach a certain temperature, be confined for a certain amount of time, and reach a certain particle density. Density and temperature create pressure, which according to MIT is two-thirds of what scientists require to successfully create fusion energy, so pressure records are a big deal. Related: Princeton experimental fusion reactor breaks after $94 million upgrade The last record, set in 2005, sat at 1.77 atmospheres. The new record of 2.05 atmospheres means MIT improved pressure by around 15 percent. When Alcator C-Mod set the world record, the temperature inside the reactor was more than 35 million degrees Celsius, which is roughly twice as hot as the sun’s center. Other fusion experiments have attained such high temperatures, but at much lower pressures. The plasma in the reactor generated a staggering 300 trillion fusion reactions every second. The area required for this feat was tiny; according to MIT, it was just 1 cubic meter, or about the size of a coat closet. Alcator C-Mod operated for 23 years until Congress decided to stop funding it in 2012. They ultimately decided to fund Alcator C-Mod for three more years, a time period that ended September 30, 2106. Scientists praised MIT’s accomplishments. Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory former deputy director Dale Meade said in a statement, “The record plasma pressure validates the high-magnetic-field approach as an attractive path to practical fusion energy.” If you have questions about nuclear fusion energy or the reactor, MIT scientists, faculty, and students will participate in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on October 20 at 1PM EDT. Via MIT News Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Lockheed Martin Announces a Major Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion

October 16, 2014 by  
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It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, with secret laboratories and futuristic technologies , but this movie is real. Lockheed Martin’s stealthy Skunk Works division recently revealed that is has created a compact nuclear fusion reactor that could completely alter the way we power our world. Speaking to Aviation Week , researchers explained that they have been quietly working on a device that could produce cleaner, safer and more powerful energy than ever before. Read the rest of Lockheed Martin Announces a Major Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: clean nuclear power , clean power , CNF , Compact Nuclear Fusion , lockheed martin , Lockheed Marting fusion , new atomic age , nuclear fusion breakthrough , nuclear fusion reactor , Skunk Works , Skunk Works fusion

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New Fusion Reactor Concept Could Generate Unlimited Clean Energy Cheaper Than Coal

October 10, 2014 by  
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Fusion energy is often associated with Hollywood fantasy – think Tony Stark’s miniature Arc Reactor in “Iron Man.” But could a virtually unlimited source of zero-emission power actually become a reality? University of Washington engineers have designed a fusion reactor concept that could be cheaper than a coal-fired power plant with a similar electrical output. According to the results of their analysis, which will be presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, a fusion power plant producing one gigawatt of energy would cost $2.7 billion compared to $2.8 billion for a coal plant. Read the rest of New Fusion Reactor Concept Could Generate Unlimited Clean Energy Cheaper Than Coal Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: coal , coal fired power plant , dynomak , fossil fuels , fusion reactor concept , nuclear fusion , radioactive-free , university of washington , zero emission

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Livermore Scientists Announce Critical Milestone for Nuclear Fusion Power

October 8, 2013 by  
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Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore , California just made a major breakthrough for nuclear fusion by focusing 192 beams from the worlds most powerful laser on a tiny pellet of hydrogen and actually generating more energy than was absorbed by the fuel. If unlocked, nuclear fusion could supply the entire planet with a virtually unlimited source of clean energy. Scientists have been working towards nuclear fusion for many years. It’s the same process that powers the sun, and if it were replicated on Earth it could massively reduce the planet’s dependency on carbon-based fuels . Unfortunately, it has long been relegated to the realm of science fiction and comic books – but that could change with the National Ignition Facility in Livermore ‘s new findings. Until now, experiments have always used more power than they created – but in the facility’s latest trial the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel. This is the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world. The result was achieved by using 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel until nuclear fusion reactions took place. The amount of energy released marks a huge milestone in the quest to achieve fusion power. However what scientists really want to achieve is ignition, which occurs when the nuclear fusion reaction generates as much energy as the laser’s supply. Currently, there are inefficiencies in the fusion system which mean that not all the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel, but give it a few years and scientists could make another massive leap towards a fossil fuel-free future. + Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Via BBC News Images via Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility        

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Livermore Scientists Announce Critical Milestone for Nuclear Fusion Power

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