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  • richardmitnick 11:04 am on June 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, , ,   

    From Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics: “Wendelstein 7-X achieves world record” 

    MPIPP bloc

    From Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics

    June 25, 2018
    Isabella Milch

    Wendelstgein 7-X stellarator, built in Greifswald, Germany

    Stellarator record for fusion product / First confirmation for optimisation

    In the past experimentation round Wendelstein 7-X achieved higher temperatures and densities of the plasma, longer pulses and the stellarator world record for the fusion product. Moreover, first confirmation for the optimisation concept on which Wendelstein 7-X is based, was obtained. Wendelstein 7-X at Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, the world’s largest fusion device of the stellarator type, is investigating the suitability of this concept for application in power plants.

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    View inside the plasma vessel with graphite tile cladding. Photo: IPP, Jan Michael Hosan

    Unlike in the first experimentation phase 2015/16, the plasma vessel of Wendelstein 7-X has been fitted with interior cladding since September last year (see PI 8/2017). The vessel walls are now covered with graphite tiles, thus allowing higher temperatures and longer plasma discharges. With the so-called divertor it is also possible to control the purity and density of the plasma: The divertor tiles follow the twisted contour of the plasma edge in the form of ten broad strips along the wall of the plasma vessel. In this way, they protect particularly the wall areas onto which the particles escaping from the edge of the plasma ring are made to impinge. Along with impurities, the impinging particles are here neutralised and pumped off.

    “First experience with the new wall elements are highly positive”, states Professor Dr. Thomas Sunn Pedersen. While by the end of the first campaign pulse lengths of six seconds were being attained, plasmas lasting up to 26 seconds are now being produced. A heating energy of up to 75 megajoules could be fed into the plasma, this being 18 times as much as in the first operation phase without divertor. The heating power could also be increased, this being a prerequisite to high plasma density.

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    Wendelstein 7-X attained the Stellarator world record for the fusion product. This product of the ion temperature, plasma density and energy confinement time specifies how close one is getting to the reactor values needed to ignite a plasma. Graphic: IPP

    In this way a record value for the fusion product was attained. This product of the ion temperature, plasma density and energy confinement time specifies how close one is getting to the reactor values needed to ignite a plasma. At an ion temperature of about 40 million degrees and a density of 0.8 x 1020 particles per cubic metre Wendelstein 7-X has attained a fusion product affording a good 6 x 1026 degrees x second per cubic metre, the world’s stellarator record. “This is an excellent value for a device of this size, achieved, moreover, under realistic conditions, i.e. at a high temperature of the plasma ions”, says Professor Sunn Pedersen. The energy confinement time attained, this being a measure of the quality of the thermal insulation of the magnetically confined plasma, indicates with an imposing 200 milliseconds that the numerical optimisation on which Wendelstein 7-X is based might work: “This makes us optimistic for our further work.”

    The fact that optimisation is taking effect not only in respect of the thermal insulation is testified to by the now completed evaluation of experimental data from the first experimentation phase from December 2015 to March 2016, which has just been reported in Nature Physics (see below). This shows that also the bootstrap current behaves as expected. This electric current is induced by pressure differences in the plasma and could distort the tailored magnetic field. Particles from the plasma edge would then no longer impinge on the right area of the divertor. The bootstrap current in stellarators should therefore be kept as low as possible. Analysis has now confirmed that this has actually been accomplished in the optimised field geometry. “Thus, already during the first experimentation phase important aspects of the optimisation could be verified”, states first author Dr. Andreas Dinklage. “More exact and systematic evaluation will ensue in further experiments at much higher heating power and higher plasma pressure.”

    Since the end of 2017 Wendelstein 7-X has undergone further extensions: These include new measuring equipment and heating systems. Plasma experiments are to be resumed in July. Major extension is planned as of autumn 2018: The present graphite tiles of the divertor are to be replaced by carbon-reinforced carbon components that are additionally water-cooled. They are to make discharges lasting up to 30 minutes possible, during which it can be checked whether Wendelstein 7-X permanently meets its optimisation objectives as well.

    Background

    The objective of fusion research is to develop a power plant favourable to the climate and environment. Like the sun, it is to derive energy from fusion of atomic nuclei. Because the fusion fire needs temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees to ignite, the fuel, viz. a low-density hydrogen plasma, ought not to come into contact with cold vessel walls. Confined by magnetic fields, it is suspended inside a vacuum chamber with almost no contact.

    The magnetic cage of Wendelstein 7-X is produced by a ring of 50 superconducting magnet coils about 3.5 metres high. Their special shapes are the result of elaborate optimisation calculations. Although Wendelstein 7-X will not produce energy, it hopes to prove that stellarators are suitable for application in power plants.

    Its aim is to achieve for the first time in a stellarator the quality of confinement afforded by competing devices of the tokamak type. In particular, the device is to demonstrate the essential advantage of stellarators, viz. their capability to operate in continuous mode.

    Science paper:
    Magnetic configuration effects on the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator. Nature Physics

    See the full article here .


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    MPIPP campus

    The Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik, IPP) is a physics institute for the investigation of plasma physics, with the aim of working towards fusion power. The institute also works on surface physics, also with focus on problems of fusion power.

    The IPP is an institute of the Max Planck Society, part of the European Atomic Energy Community, and an associated member of the Helmholtz Association.

    The IPP has two sites: Garching near Munich (founded 1960) and Greifswald (founded 1994), both in Germany.

    It owns several large devices, namely

    the experimental tokamak ASDEX Upgrade (in operation since 1991)
    the experimental stellarator Wendelstein 7-AS (in operation until 2002)
    the experimental stellarator Wendelstein 7-X (awaiting licensing)
    a tandem accelerator

    It also cooperates with the ITER and JET projects.

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  • richardmitnick 10:44 am on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, Revolutionizing geothermal energy research,   

    From Sanford Underground Research Facility: “Revolutionizing geothermal energy research” 

    SURF logo
    Sanford Underground levels

    From Sanford Underground Research Facility

    June 11, 2018
    Constance Walter

    The SIMFIP tool is changing the way researchers measure and design hydro fractures.

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    Deep underground on the 4850 Level at Sanford Lab, engineer Paul Cook explains how the SIMFIP tool will be used to measure openings in hard rock. Matthew Kapust

    On May 22, researchers with the SIGMA-V experiment worked in near silence in the West Drift on the 4850 Level. The locomotives sat quietly on the tracks, jack-leg drills rested against drift walls and operations ceased for several minutes at a time as the team began pumping pressurized water into the injection well, one of eight boreholes drilled for this experiment.

    “We requested quiet because we use sensitive seismic monitoring equipment,” said Tim Kneafsey, earth scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “The signals we measure are very small and we don’t want vibrations from other sources overwhelming those signals.”

    Kneafsey is the principal investigator for the Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) Collab Project, a collaboration comprised of eight national laboratories and six universities who are working to improve geothermal technologies. The test featured the SIMFIP (Step-Rate Injection Method for Fracture In-Situ Properties), a tool that revolutionizes the way scientists can study geothermal energy, a process that pulls heat from the earth as it extracts steam or hot water, which is then converted to electricity.

    Developed at LBNL, the SIMFIP allows precise measurements of displacements in the rock and, most importantly, the aperture, or opening, of a hydro fracture.

    The extreme quiet paid off, Kneafsey said.

    “Our goal was to create a fracture from a specific zone in our injection well that would connect to our production well—about 10 meters away. And we were successful in doing that,” Kneafsy said.

    “People were excited when the connection between the boreholes was made and measured. But it took a while for the team to realize how far we had come and how much research, logistics, planning and collaboration went into that moment. It was gratifying to say the least, and there was certainly a sense of accomplishment.” —Hunter Knox

    The experiment

    Before the introduction of the SIMFIP, separate tools were used to create and measure hydro fractures. They work like this: “Straddle packers”—pipes with two deflated balloons on either end—are placed inside boreholes. Once inside, the balloons are inflated and water injected down the pipes to create an airtight section. They continue to pump water until the rock fractures, then remove the packers and insert the measuring tool. In the time it takes to do all that, much of the pertinent data is lost, leaving traces, but little else.

    “Even if you did get the aperture, when you released the pressure, the hydro fracture was already closing,” said Yves Guglielmi, a geologist at LBNL who designed the tool. “You don’t have the ‘true’ aperture and you also don’t know how the aperture might vary during the test.”

    With the introduction of the SIMFIP, a small device that sits between the two packers, they can the aperture in real-time.

    “This is really a new way to do the work,” Guglielmi said. “It will help us understand the whole process of initiating and growing hydro fractures in hard rock, which is kind of new. This is fundamental science. If we understand how hydro fractures will behave in this kind of rock, we can begin to make intelligent, complex fractures that can capture more heat from the earth.”

    The device is “bristling with sensors and other instrumentation that give us a close-up view of what happens when the rock is stimulated—all in real-time,” said Paul Cook, LBNL engineer.

    The SIMFIP measures fracture openings in hard rock in the EGS Collab test site. The team had drilled eight slightly downward-sloping boreholes in the rib (side) of the West Drift: The injection hole, used for stimulating the rock, and production well, which produces the fluid, run parallel to each other through the rock. Six other boreholes contain equipment to monitor microseismic activity (rock displacement); electrical resistivity tomography (subsurface imaging); temperature; and strain (how rocks move when stimulated).

    Nestled between the straddle packers in the injection hole, the SIMFIP measured the rock opening as the team looked on.

    The SIMFIP difference

    The SIGMA-V team hoped to see signals as small as a few microns of displacements in the rock. As they watched data accumulate in real time over a two-day period, the excitement in the West Drift was palpable.

    “People were excited when the connection between the boreholes was made and measured,” said Hunter Knox, the field coordinator with Sandia National Laboratory, “But it took a while for the team to realize how far we had come and how much research, logistics, planning and collaboration went into that moment. It was gratifying to say the least, and there was certainly a sense of accomplishment.”

    Measurements from the SIMFIP could remove barriers that stand in the way of commercializing geothermal systems, which have the potential to provide enough energy to power 100 million American homes.

    “We know fracturing rock can be done. But can it be effective for geothermal purposes? We need good, well-monitored field tests of fracturing, particularly in crystalline rock, to better understand that,” Kneafsey said.

    With the first test under its belt, the EGS Collab just moved a step closer to that goal.

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    No image credit or caption

    See the full article here .


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    About us.
    The Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, advances our understanding of the universe by providing laboratory space deep underground, where sensitive physics experiments can be shielded from cosmic radiation. Researchers at the Sanford Lab explore some of the most challenging questions facing 21st century physics, such as the origin of matter, the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos. The facility also hosts experiments in other disciplines—including geology, biology and engineering.

    The Sanford Lab is located at the former Homestake gold mine, which was a physics landmark long before being converted into a dedicated science facility. Nuclear chemist Ray Davis earned a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2002 for a solar neutrino experiment he installed 4,850 feet underground in the mine.

    Homestake closed in 2003, but the company donated the property to South Dakota in 2006 for use as an underground laboratory. That same year, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to the project. The South Dakota Legislature also created the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority to operate the lab. The state Legislature has committed more than $40 million in state funds to the project, and South Dakota also obtained a $10 million Community Development Block Grant to help rehabilitate the facility.

    In 2007, after the National Science Foundation named Homestake as the preferred site for a proposed national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) began reopening the former gold mine.

    In December 2010, the National Science Board decided not to fund further design of DUSEL. However, in 2011 the Department of Energy, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agreed to support ongoing science operations at Sanford Lab, while investigating how to use the underground research facility for other longer-term experiments. The SDSTA, which owns Sanford Lab, continues to operate the facility under that agreement with Berkeley Lab.

    The first two major physics experiments at the Sanford Lab are 4,850 feet underground in an area called the Davis Campus, named for the late Ray Davis. The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment is housed in the same cavern excavated for Ray Davis’s experiment in the 1960s.
    LUX/Dark matter experiment at SURFLUX/Dark matter experiment at SURF

    In October 2013, after an initial run of 80 days, LUX was determined to be the most sensitive detector yet to search for dark matter—a mysterious, yet-to-be-detected substance thought to be the most prevalent matter in the universe. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment, also on the 4850 Level, is searching for a rare phenomenon called “neutrinoless double-beta decay” that could reveal whether subatomic particles called neutrinos can be their own antiparticle. Detection of neutrinoless double-beta decay could help determine why matter prevailed over antimatter. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment is adjacent to the original Davis cavern.

    Another major experiment, the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE)—a collaboration with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and Sanford Lab, is in the preliminary design stages. The project got a major boost last year when Congress approved and the president signed an Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund LBNE operations through FY 2014. Called the “next frontier of particle physics,” LBNE will follow neutrinos as they travel 800 miles through the earth, from FermiLab in Batavia, Ill., to Sanford Lab.

    Fermilab LBNE
    LBNE

     
  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, Eni, ,   

    From MIT: “A new era in fusion research at MIT” 

    MIT News

    MIT Widget

    MIT News

    March 9, 2018
    Francesca McCaffrey | MIT Energy Initiative

    MIT Energy Initiative founding member Eni announces support for key research through MIT Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies.

    1

    A new chapter is beginning for fusion energy research at MIT.

    This week the Italian energy company Eni, a founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), announced it has reached an agreement with MIT to fund fusion research projects run out of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC)’s newly created Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies (LIFT). The expected investment in these research projects will amount to about $2 million over the following years.

    This is part of a broader engagement with fusion research and the Institute as a whole: Eni also announced a commitment of $50 million to a new private company with roots at MIT, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which aims to make affordable, scalable fusion power a reality.

    “This support of LIFT is a continuation of Eni’s commitment to meeting growing global energy demand while tackling the challenge of climate change through its research portfolio at MIT,” says Robert C. Armstrong, MITEI’s director and the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “Fusion is unique in that it is a zero-carbon, dispatchable, baseload technology, with a limitless supply of fuel, no risk of runaway reaction, and no generation of long-term waste. It also produces thermal energy, so it can be used for heat as well as power.”

    Still, there is much more to do along the way to perfecting the design and economics of compact fusion power plants. Eni will fund research projects at LIFT that are a continuation of this research and focus on fusion-specific solutions. “We are thrilled at PSFC to have these projects funded by Eni, who has made a clear commitment to developing fusion energy,” says Dennis Whyte, the director of PSFC and the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering at MIT. “LIFT will focus on cutting-edge technology advancements for fusion, and will significantly engage our MIT students who are so adept at innovation.”

    Tackling fusion’s challenges

    The inside of a fusion device is an extreme environment. The creation of fusion energy requires the smashing together of light elements, such as hydrogen, to form heavier elements such as helium, a process that releases immense amounts of energy. The temperature at which this process takes place is too hot for solid materials, necessitating the use of magnets to hold the hot plasma in place.

    One of the projects PSFC and Eni intend to carry out will study the effects of high magnetic fields on molten salt fluid dynamics. One of the key elements of the fusion pilot plant currently being studied at LIFT is the liquid immersion blanket, essentially a flowing pool of molten salt that completely surrounds the fusion energy core. The purpose of this blanket is threefold: to convert the kinetic energy of fusion neutrons to heat for eventual electricity production; to produce tritium — a main component of the fusion fuel; and to prevent the neutrons from reaching other parts of the machine and causing material damage.

    It’s critical for researchers to be able to predict how the molten salt in such an immersion blanket would move when subjected to high magnetic fields such as those found within a fusion plant. As such, the researchers and their respective teams plan to study the effects of these magnetohydrodynamic forces on the salt’s fluid dynamics.

    A history of innovation

    During the 23 years MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak fusion experiment was in operation, it repeatedly advanced records for plasma pressure in a magnetic confinement device. Its compact, high-magnetic-field fusion design confined superheated plasma in a small donut-shaped chamber.

    “The key to this success was the innovations pursued more than 20 years ago at PSFC in developing copper magnets that could access fields well in excess of other fusion experiments. The coupling between innovative technology development and advancing fusion science is in the DNA of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center,” says PSFC Deputy Director Martin Greenwald.

    In its final run in 2016, Alcator C-Mod set a new world record for plasma pressure, the key ingredient to producing net energy from fusion. Since then, PSFC researchers have used data from these decades of C-Mod experiments to continue to advance fusion research. Just last year, they used C-Mod data to create a new method of heating fusion plasmas in tokamaks which could result in the heating of ions to energies an order of magnitude greater than previously reached.

    A commitment to low-carbon energy

    MITEI’s mission is to advance low-carbon and no-carbon emissions solutions to efficiently meet growing global energy needs. Critical to this mission are collaborations between academia, industry, and government — connections MITEI helps to develop in its role as MIT’s hub for multidisciplinary energy research, education, and outreach.

    Eni is an inaugural, founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative, and it was through their engagement with MITEI that they became aware of the fusion technology commercialization being pursued by CFS and its immense potential for revolutionizing the energy system. It was through these discussions, as well, that Eni investors learned of the high-potential fusion research projects taking place through LIFT at MIT, spurring them to support the future of fusion at the Institute itself.

    Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi said, “Today is a very important day for us. Thanks to this agreement, Eni takes a significant step forward toward the development of alternative energy sources with an ever lower environmental impact. Fusion is the true energy source of the future, as it is completely sustainable, does not release emissions or waste, and is potentially inexhaustible. It is a goal that we are determined to reach quickly.” He added, “We are pleased and excited to pursue such a challenging goal with a collaborator like MIT, with unparalleled experience in the field and a long-standing and fruitful alliance with Eni.”

    These fusion projects are the latest in a line of MIT-Eni collaborations on low- and no-carbon energy projects. One of the earliest of these was the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center, established in 2010 at MIT. Through its mission to develop competitive solar technologies, the center’s research has yielded the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced, effectively able to turn any surface, from fabric to paper, into a functioning solar cell. The researchers at the center have also developed new, luminescent materials that could allow windows to efficiently collect solar power.

    Other fruits of MIT-Eni collaborations include research into carbon capture systems to be installed in cars, wearable technologies to improve workplace safety, energy storage, and the conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel.

    See the full article here .

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    The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-first century. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on March 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, Gasification, , Turning landfill into energy   

    From Horizon: “Turning landfill into energy” 

    1

    Horizon

    07 March 2018
    Jon Cartwright

    1
    Advanced gasification methods can turn any waste except metal and rubble into fuel for electricity. Credit – Pixabay/ Prylarer

    Landfill is both ugly and polluting. But a new breed of technology promises to make it a thing of the past, transforming a huge portion of landfill material into clean gas.

    It’s thanks to a process called gasification, which involves turning carbon-based materials into gas by heating them to a high temperature but without burning them. The gas can be stored until it is needed for the generation of electricity.

    According to its developers, advanced gasification can be fed by plastic, biomass, textiles – just about anything except metal and rubble. Out of the other end comes syngas – a clean, easily combustible gas made up of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

    The basics of the technology are old. Back in the 19th century, gasification plants existed in many of Europe’s major cities, turning coal into coal gas for heating and lighting.

    Gasification waned after the discovery of natural gas reserves early last century. Then in the past 20 years or so, it had a small renaissance, as gasification plants sprung up to process waste wood.

    In a new, advanced implementation, however, a much broader range of materials can be processed, and the output gas is much cleaner. ‘Gasification is clearly gaining a lot of traction, but we’ve taken it further,’ said Jean-Eric Petit of French company CHO Power, based in Bordeaux.

    Gasification

    Gasification involves heating without combustion. At temperatures greater than 700°C, a lot of hydrocarbon-based materials break down into a gas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen – syngas – which can be used as a fuel.

    For materials such as wood, this is relatively straightforward. Try it with other hydrocarbon materials, and especially hard-to-recycle industrial waste, however, and the reaction tends to generate pollutants, such as tar.

    But tar itself is just a more complex hydrocarbon. That is why Petit and his colleagues have developed a higher temperature process, at some 1200°C, in which even tar is broken down.

    The result is syngas, which, unline other thermal processes, does not create dangerous pollutants. In fact, it is high-quality enough to be fed directly into high-efficiency gas engines, generating electricity with twice the efficiency of the steam turbines used with conventional gasification, says Petit.

    CHO Power has already built an advanced gasification plant in Morcenx, France, which converts 55,000 tonnes of wood, biomass and industrial waste a year into 11 megawatts of electricity.

    In December the EU announced that the company will receive a €30 million loan from the European Investment Bank to construct another plant in the Thouarsais area of France.

    The company is not the first to attempt advanced gasification on a commercial scale. But, said Petit: ‘We think we’re the first to crack it.’

    CHO Power’s gasification plants still need to have waste delivered to them. Hysytech, a company in Torino, Italy, however, plans to bring gasification to industry’s door.

    The idea is to build a small gasification plant, processing at least 100 kilos per hour of waste, next to any industrial plant that deals with hydrocarbon materials – a textiles or plastics manufacturer, for instance.

    Then, any waste the industrial plant generates can be turned straight into syngas for electricity generation on site, avoiding the emissions associated with transporting waste to a distant gasification plant.

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    The gas produced by CHO Power’s gasification process is refined at 1,200°C in their turboplasma facility (left) so that it can be used in a gas engine (right) to generate electricity. Credit – CHO Power

    Small-scale

    The problem is that, historically, gasification on this scale has cost too much to be in an industry’s interests. But Hysytech believes it has made small-scale gasification cost effective, by developing a novel reactor known as a fluidised bed.

    When waste materials are fed into this reactor, a fluid is passed through them to create an even temperature and to allow the gas to leave easily. If the materials need a lot of time to turn to gas, they remain in the reactor until they are gasified, but the fluid can be sped up if the materials turn to gas quickly.

    The result, for smaller plants at least, is a more efficient and cost-effective process. ‘Our system is designed and built to operate year-round with a good efficiency, easy operation and little maintenance,’ said Andrés Saldivia, Hysytech’s head of business development.

    Hysytech has built a pilot plant that has about one-tenth the envisaged output, processing 10 kilos of waste an hour into syngas. Currently, its engineers are constructing a full-sized demo plant that will include an additional power-to-gas system, to link the gasification to surplus energy from wind turbines and solar panels so the energy is not wasted.

    With this additional system, the surplus energy is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Using a carbon source, this hydrogen is then converted into methane, which can be used like everyday natural gas.

    ‘Our goal is to have it ready for the market (by) 2019,’ said Saldivia.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:03 am on March 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chronobiology, , Energy, Light polution of the Earth, Most of the growth came from developing nations,   

    From popsci: “Light pollution is getting worse” 

    popsci-bloc

    Popular Science

    November 27, 2017 [Just now in social media.]
    Rachel Feltman

    1
    Do not go gently into that goodnight, night! Depositphotos.

    Goodbye darkness, my old friend.

    According to a study published last week in Science Advances, the world is getting brighter. And not in a ‘my future’s so bright I gotta wear shades’ kinda way. The future’s so bright that we should probably all be wearing eyeshades to bed, and turning some lights off while we’re at it.

    “We’re losing more and more of the night on a planetary scale,” Kip Hodges, a member of Science Advances‘ editorial board, said during a teleconference on the paper. “Earth’s night is getting brighter.”

    The data comes from satellite observations made each October from 2012 through 2016. Researchers scanned these sky-by-night shots to see how much artificial light shone through the darkness around the world, and how the brightness changed over time.

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    India in 2012. NASA/NOAA.

    They report an increase in artificially-lit areas of about 2.2 percent per year. The total radiance growth—the extent to which the brightness of those lights increased—was about the same.

    Unsurprisingly, most of the growth came from developing nations. It makes sense that countries beginning to thrive in industry would require additional outdoor lighting as cities start to spring up. In fact, light pollution increase can be tied pretty reliably to a growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    According to previous research, the study notes, humans tend to use about as much artificial light as .07 percent of their country’s GDP will pay for. As GDP surged in countries within South America, Africa, and Asia, so did their use of artificial lighting.

    But while developed nations such as the U.S. appeared more stable in satellite images (sometimes even becoming slightly dimmer) there’s still reason to worry. The satellite used in the study can’t actually pick up all visible wavelengths of light. It can see the red, orange, and yellow light of older bulbs, but the blue light of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) doesn’t show up in the picture.

    LEDs are wildly more efficient than older sources of light, and last for much longer, so many cities and individuals have made the switch in recent years to cut costs and help the environment. The researchers worry that their results indicate a “rebound effect,” where the increased use of efficient LEDs is being offset by more widespread light pollution in general, often from older, less efficient bulbs. Photos taken from the International Space Station, which pick up all visible wavelengths, show cities shifting from yellow to blue in hue.

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    ISS Flies Over the Mediterranean. ESA flight engineer Tim Peake captured this image of Earth while flying over the Mediterranean Sea on January 25, 2016.
    ESA/NASA.

    Meanwhile, urban sprawl is pushing those bright borders out farther and farther.

    It might not be as immediately deadly as air pollution, but light pollution can harm many forms of life. For humans, the burgeoning field of chronobiology—the study of how our sleep and wake cycles affect our health—suggests that artificial light, especially of the blue variety, can trigger wakefulness when our bodies should be preparing for a good night’s sleep. Excessive exposure to nighttime light is now linked to everything from cancer to obesity.

    “Inside light is just terrible for you,” Susan Golden, director of the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Circadian Biology, told PopSci several months ago. “It is making us all sick.”

    To make matters worse, the increasing encroachment of artificial light on the outside world is hurting other organisms, too. Humans are fighting our entire evolutionary history by turning on lights and staring at screens after sunset, but at least most of us can choose to draw the blackout curtains and ban phones from the bedroom. The animals that live in and around our cities don’t have the same luxury, and it’s impossible to know just how badly light pollution might affect them.

    But while light pollution might be more insidious than smog, it’s also much easier to fix.

    “Usually when we think of how humanity messes with environment, it’s a costly thing to fix or reverse,” Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter told the BBC. “For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:12 am on October 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A sharp rise in the content of sediments, , , Energy, , Hydroelectric power plants, LMH-EPFL's Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines, Of all the electricity produced in Switzerland 56% comes from hydropower, One of the aims of Switzerland’s 2050 Energy Strategy is to increase hydroelectric production, SCCER-SoE-Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research - Supply of Electricity   

    From EPFL: “Hydroelectric power plants have to be adapted for climate change” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    19.10.17
    Clara Marc

    1
    © 2017 LMH – Grande Dixence dam. This hydroelectric power complex generates some 2 billion kWh of power per year
    Of all the electricity produced in Switzerland, 56% comes from hydropower. The life span of hydroelectric plants, which are massive and expensive to build and maintain, is measured in decades, yet the rivers and streams they depend on and the surrounding environment are ever-changing. These changes affect the machinery and thus the amount of electricity that can be revised. EPFL’s Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines (LMH) is working on an issue that will be very important in the coming years: the impact of sediment erosion on turbines, which are the main component of this machinery. The laboratory’s work could help prolong these plants’ ability to produce electricity for Switzerland’s more than eight million residents.

    One of the aims of Switzerland’s 2050 Energy Strategy is to increase hydroelectric production. The Swiss government therefore also needs to predict the environment in which these power plants will operate so that the underlying technology can keep pace with changing needs and future conditions. “In Switzerland, the glaciers and snow are melting more and more quickly. This affects the quality of the water, with a sharp rise in the content of sediments,” says François Avellan, who heads the LMH and is one of the study’s authors. “The sediments are very aggressive and erode the turbines.” This undermines the plants’ efficiency, leaves cavities in the equipment and leads to an increase in vibrations – and in the frequency and cost of repairs. To top things off, the turbines’ useful life is reduced. Under the umbrella of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE) and with the support of the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), EPFL has teamed up with General Electric Renewable Energy in an effort to better understand and predict the process of sediment erosion. The aim is to lengthen the hydropower plants’ life span through improved turbines and more effective operating strategies.

    Tiny particles with an outsized impact

    One of the challenges facing researchers in the field of hydropower is that they cannot run experiments directly on power plants because of the impact and cost of a plant’s outage. They must therefore limit their investigations to simulations and reduced-scale physical model tests. In response to this challenge, the LMH has come up with a novel multiscale computer model that predicts sediment erosion in turbines with much greater accuracy than other approaches. The results have been published in the scientific journal Wear. “Sediment erosion, like many other problems in nature, is a multiscale phenomenon. It means that behavior observed at the macroscopic level is the result of a series of interactions at the microscopic level,” says Sebastián Leguizamón, an EPFL doctoral student and lead author of the study. “The sediments are extremely small and move very fast, and their impact lasts less than a microsecond. On the other hand, the erosion process we see is gradual, taking place over the course of many operating hours and affecting all the turbine.”

    A multiscale solution

    The researchers therefore opted for a multiscale solution and modeled the two processes involved in erosion separately. At the microscopic level, they focused on the extremely brief impact of the minuscule sediments that strike the turbines, taking into account parameters such as the angle, speed, size, shape – and even composition – of the slurry. At the macroscopic level, they looked at how the sediments are transported by water flow, as this affects the flux, distribution and density of sediments reaching the walls of the turbine flow passages. The results were then combined in order to develop erosion predictions. “It’s not possible to study the entire process of erosion as a whole. The sediments are so small and the period of time over which the process takes place so long that replicating the process would take hundreds of years of calculations and require a computer that doesn’t exist yet,” says Leguizamón. “But the problem becomes manageable when you decouple the different phases.”

    Adapting to the future

    With conclusive results in hand, the LMH has now moved on to the next phase, which consists in characterizing the materials used in the turbines. Following this step, the researchers will be able to apply the new model to existing hydroelectric facilities. The stakes are global when it comes to retrofitting turbines in response to climate change, as hydropower accounts for 17% of the world’s electricity production. Turbines offer little leeway and have to operate in a wide range of environments – including monsoon regions and anything from tropical to alpine climates. If turbines are to last, changes will have to be made to both their underlying design and how they are operated. “While I was evaluating a hydro plant in the Himalayas, my contacts there told me that if a turbine made it through more than one monsoon season, that was a success!” says Avellan.

    This study is part of CTI project No. 17568.1 PFEN-IW GPUSpheros. It was conducted in conjunction with General Electric Renewable Energy under the umbrella of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE).

    A multiscale model for sediment impact erosion simulation using the finite volume particle method, Sebastián Leguizamón, Ebrahim Jahanbakhsh, Audrey Maertens, Siamak Alimirzazadeh and François Avellan. Science Direct.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:41 pm on October 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, , Using University of Michigan buildings as batteries   

    From University of Michigan: “Using University of Michigan buildings as batteries” 

    U Michigan bloc

    University of Michigan

    September 21, 2017 [hiding your light under a bushel?]
    Dan Newman

    How a building’s thermal energy can help the power grid accommodate more renewable energy sources.

    1
    Connor Flynn, an energy engineer with the Energy Management team, helps Aditya Keskar, a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering, retrieve data from a campus building’s HVAC system.
    No image credit.

    Michigan researchers and staff are testing how to use the immense thermal energy of large buildings as theoretical battery packs. The goal is to help the nation’s grid better accommodate renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

    For power grids, supply must closely track demand to ensure smooth delivery of electric power. Incorporating renewable energy sources into the grid introduces a large degree of unpredictability to the system. For example, peak solar generation occurs during the day, while peak electricity demand occurs in the evening. Because of this, California, the leading solar producer in the U.S., has had to pay other states to take excess electricity off of its grid, and at other times simply wasted potential electricity by disconnecting solar panels.

    As renewable sources become more prevalent, so does the unpredictability and mismatched supply and demand, creating a growing problem in how to keep better control of both.

    To address this, and help demand for electricity react to the variability of supply from renewable energy sources, an MCubed project is testing how buildings store energy.

    The team consisted originally of project leader Johanna Mathieu, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Ian Hiskens, Vennema Professor of Engineering and professor of EECS, and Jeremiah Johnson, formerly an assistant professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and now an associate professor at North Carolina State University. Additionally, Dr. Sina Afshari, former postdoctoral researcher, helped set up the project on campus.

    “The goal is to utilize a building as a big battery: dump energy in and pull energy out in a way that the occupants don’t know is going on and the building managers aren’t incurring any extra costs. That’s the holy grail,” Hiskens said. “You wouldn’t have to buy chemical batteries and dispose of them a few years later.”

    Commercial buildings, like those around campus, use massive Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems to keep occupants comfortable. Large buildings require a vast amount of energy to heat and cool, and their HVAC systems consume around 20% of the electricity generated in the United States.

    However, the large building size also means any short-term changes in a thermostat will not be felt. This means a building can cut or increase power to its HVAC for a short time to help a power grid match supply and demand, while the building’s temperature remains unchanged.

    2
    Aditya Keskar downloads data from another campus building’s HVAC system.

    Aditya Keskar, who is pursuing his masters in electrical engineering and computer science, has been working with staff to test these short-term changes in HVAC power consumption in three campus buildings.

    “We’ve had immense support from the Plant Operations team and building managers. They’ve helped us gather baseline data over months, and implement the tests,” Keskar said. “With their help, we were able to make short-term adjustments to their HVAC system with no change in the actual temperature, and no complaints from building occupants.”

    If there is a surplus of supply on the grid due to heavy wind production, for example, a building automation system (BAS), which controls an HVAC system, could automatically lower its thermostat settings in the summer and increase its energy use for fifteen minutes, and then raise the thermostat to balance the extra energy consumed. This action would soak up some of the excess electricity and help to maintain equilibrium on the grid.

    If darker skies reduce the usual solar production, a BAS could raise its thermostat setting in the summer and decrease its energy use immediately, then lower the thermostat to balance the extra energy consumed.

    See the full article here .

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    U MIchigan Campus

    The University of Michigan (U-M, UM, UMich, or U of M), frequently referred to simply as Michigan, is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. Originally, founded in 1817 in Detroit as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, 20 years before the Michigan Territory officially became a state, the University of Michigan is the state’s oldest university. The university moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 34 million gross square feet (781 acres or 3.16 km²), and has two satellite campuses located in Flint and Dearborn. The University was one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities.

    Considered one of the foremost research universities in the United States,[7] the university has very high research activity and its comprehensive graduate program offers doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as well as professional degrees in business, medicine, law, pharmacy, nursing, social work and dentistry. Michigan’s body of living alumni (as of 2012) comprises more than 500,000. Besides academic life, Michigan’s athletic teams compete in Division I of the NCAA and are collectively known as the Wolverines. They are members of the Big Ten Conference.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on September 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Borrowing from nature to tap the power of the sun, , Energy,   

    From EU Horizon: “Borrowing from nature to tap the power of the sun” 

    1

    Horizon

    29 September 2017
    Julianna Photopoulos

    1
    By using knowledge of plant photosynthesis we could soon develop new forms of renewable energy through artificial leaves. Image credit – Dr Vincent Artero

    An artificial leaf that can harvest energy from the sun faster than a natural one could lead to a new generation of renewable energy and medical technologies.

    Over hundreds of millions of years, evolution has refined a process that allows plants to use the sun’s energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into the sugary fuel they need to grow.

    The elegant series of biochemical reactions involved in this process are some of the fundamental building blocks of life on this planet.

    But now scientists have beaten nature at its own game by creating a semi-artificial leaf that incorporates some of the components honed by evolution to produce a device that is up to six times more efficient.

    ‘When the natural components of photosynthesis are incorporated in artificial devices, these devices outperform the electron transfer ability found in the natural environment,’ said Dr Nicolas Plumeré, a chemist at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.

    He and his colleagues, as part of the EU-funded PHOTOTECH project, used a protein found in real leaves that is responsible for transporting electrons during photosynthesis to create their semi-artificial leaf.

    ‘Under light, a protein found in natural leaves or algae can produce about 50 high-energy electrons every second,’ explained Dr Plumeré. ‘When this same protein is incorporated into artificial leaves, up to 300 high-energy electrons are produced every second.’

    Dr Plumeré hopes this approach could eventually deliver new, simple and cheap solar-cell technologies — also known as photovoltaic cells — based on photosynthesis, although he warns the technology is still years away from finding commercial applications.

    ‘Large-scale green photovoltaics could simply be painted on a wall to collect solar energy directly at their point of use,’ he said. The technology could also be used to power tiny medical devices, such as sensors implanted in contact lenses to monitor biomarkers in tears.

    As the protein needed for the devices can be obtained from algae, it can be produced at a low cost compared to the rare earth metals needed for current solar panel cells.

    ‘These photosynthetic materials can be grown on wastewater and the chemical elements necessary for their assembly are infinitely available,’ said Dr Plumeré. ‘As such, they open a great promise for future devices for sustainable energy harvesting, which themselves can be fabricated in a sustainable manner.’

    Producing devices that can generate renewable energy in an environmentally friendly way can play a key role in helping to replace the planet’s dependance on polluting fossil fuels. But the intermittent nature of such renewable energy sources makes this task difficult. How, for example, can the lights be kept on when solar cells do not produce electricity at night?

    Splitting water

    The answer lies in storing the energy produced by such renewable sources, although to date, modern batteries and other storage options offer only a limited ability to do this. But scientists believe photosynthesis may also provide a solution here too.

    ‘The most effective way to store renewable energy is to produce a fuel such as hydrogen,’ said Dr Vincent Artero, a chemist at the Grenoble Alpes University and CEA-Grenoble, France. ‘As solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy, why not develop a process that directly captures sunlight and transforms it into fuel?’

    Dr Artero and his team have copied the metabolism of some algae that use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Funded by the EU’s European Research Council, the PhotocatH2ode project is aimed at incorporating bio-inspired dyes and catalysts into a photo-electrochemical cell, producing a kind of artificial leaf that can generate hydrogen from sunlight and water.

    ‘Our approach uses molecular components, such as dyes, to absorb sunlight and catalysts to achieve hydrogen production, immobilised on transparent electrodes.’ said Dr Artero. ‘This work opens new horizons for the development of novel hydrogen production technologies.’

    Mimicking nature

    But understanding how algae, plants and bacteria can convert light energy on a molecular level could lead to even more efficient artificial light-harvesting systems. A team working on the EU-funded ENLIGHT project is developing new theoretical and computational models to unravel how these complex yet unique systems work.

    ‘In these organisms, light-harvesting is the first, fundamental step of photosynthesis,’ said Professor Benedetta Mennucci, a chemist at the University of Pisa in Italy, who is leading ENLIGHT. ‘The developed models can now be applied to different types of organisms to understand if nature has optimised some specific features — common to all systems — that can be mimicked in artificial ones.’

    This work could prove crucial in driving an emerging area of research: solar-driven chemistry. This aims to mimic nature by using solar energy directly for the production of fuels, chemicals and materials.

    ‘We could replace all our current methods for producing fuels and commodity chemicals with new ones that use water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide as the starting materials, along with light or renewable electricity as the energetic input,’ said Dr Artero. ‘This would be a revolution for Europe.’

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on September 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, High-tech mirror-like optical surface, Stanford professor tests a cooling system that works without electricity,   

    From Stanford: “Stanford professor tests a cooling system that works without electricity” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    September 4, 2017
    Taylor Kubota

    Stanford scientists cooled water without electricity by sending excess heat where it won’t be noticed – space. The specialized optical surfaces they developed are a major step toward applying this technology to air conditioning and refrigeration.

    1
    A fluid-cooling panel designed by Shanhui Fan, professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, and former research associates Aaswath Raman and Eli Goldstein being tested on the roof of the Packard Electrical Engineering Building. This is an updated version of the panels used in the research published in Nature Energy. (Image credit: Aaswath Raman)

    It looks like a regular roof, but the top of the Packard Electrical Engineering Building at Stanford University has been the setting of many milestones in the development of an innovative cooling technology that could someday be part of our everyday lives. Since 2013, Shanhui Fan, professor of electrical engineering, and his students and research associates have employed this roof as a testbed for a high-tech mirror-like optical surface that could be the future of lower-energy air conditioning and refrigeration.

    Research published in 2014 [Nature] first showed the cooling capabilities of the optical surface on its own. Now, Fan and former research associates Aaswath Raman and Eli Goldstein, have shown that a system involving these surfaces can cool flowing water to a temperature below that of the surrounding air. The entire cooling process is done without electricity.

    “This research builds on our previous work with radiative sky cooling but takes it to the next level. It provides for the first time a high-fidelity technology demonstration of how you can use radiative sky cooling to passively cool a fluid and, in doing so, connect it with cooling systems to save electricity,” said Raman, who is co-lead author of the paper detailing this research, published in Nature Energy Sept. 4.

    Together, Fan, Goldstein and Raman have founded the company SkyCool Systems, which is working on further testing and commercializing this technology.

    Sending our heat to space

    Radiative sky cooling is a natural process that everyone and everything does, resulting from the moments of molecules releasing heat. You can witness it for yourself in the heat that comes off a road as it cools after sunset. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable on a cloudless night because, without clouds, the heat we and everything around us radiates can more easily make it through Earth’s atmosphere, all the way to the vast, cold reaches of space.

    “If you have something that is very cold – like space – and you can dissipate heat into it, then you can do cooling without any electricity or work. The heat just flows,” explained Fan, who is senior author of the paper. “For this reason, the amount of heat flow off the Earth that goes to the universe is enormous.”

    Although our own bodies release heat through radiative cooling to both the sky and our surroundings, we all know that on a hot, sunny day, radiative sky cooling isn’t going to live up to its name. This is because the sunlight will warm you more than radiative sky cooling will cool you. To overcome this problem, the team’s surface uses a multilayer optical film that reflects about 97 percent of the sunlight while simultaneously being able to emit the surface’s thermal energy through the atmosphere. Without heat from sunlight, the radiative sky cooling effect can enable cooling below the air temperature even on a sunny day.

    “With this technology, we’re no longer limited by what the air temperature is, we’re limited by something much colder: the sky and space,” said Goldstein, co-lead author of the paper.

    The experiments published in 2014 were performed using small wafers of a multilayer optical surface, about 8 inches in diameter, and only showed how the surface itself cooled. Naturally, the next step was to scale up the technology and see how it works as part of a larger cooling system.

    Putting radiative sky cooling to work

    For their latest paper, the researchers created a system where panels covered in the specialized optical surfaces sat atop pipes of running water and tested it on the roof of the Packard Building in September 2015. These panels were slightly more than 2 feet in length on each side and the researchers ran as many as four at a time. With the water moving at a relatively fast rate, they found the panels were able to consistently reduce the temperature of the water 3 to 5 degrees Celsius below ambient air temperature over a period of three days.

    2
    This photo from 2014 shows the reflectivity of the mirror-like optical surface Fan, Raman and Goldstein have been researching, which allows for daytime radiative sky cooling by sending thermal energy into the sky while also blocking sunlight. The people in this photo (left to right) are Linxiano Zhu, PhD ‘16, co-author of the [Nature], Fan and Raman. (Image credit: Norbert von der Groeben)

    The researchers also applied data from this experiment to a simulation where their panels covered the roof of a two-story commercial office building in Las Vegas – a hot, dry location where their panels would work best – and contributed to its cooling system. They calculated how much electricity they could save if, in place of a conventional air-cooled chiller, they used vapor-compression system with a condenser cooled by their panels. They found that, in the summer months, the panel-cooled system would save 14.3 megawatt-hours of electricity, a 21 percent reduction in the electricity used to cool the building. Over the entire period, the daily electricity savings fluctuated from 18 percent to 50 percent.

    Right now, SkyCool Systems is measuring the energy saved when panels are integrated with traditional air conditioning and refrigeration systems at a test facility, and Fan, Goldstein and Raman are optimistic that this technology will find broad applicability in the years to come. The researchers are focused on making their panels integrate easily with standard air conditioning and refrigeration systems and they are particularly excited at the prospect of applying their technology to the serious task of cooling data centers.

    Fan has also carried out research on various other aspects of radiative cooling technology. He and Raman have applied the concept of radiative sky cooling to the creation of an efficiency-boosting coating for solar cells. With Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Fan developed a cooling fabric.

    “It’s very intriguing to think about the universe as such an immense resource for cooling and all the many interesting, creative ideas that one could come up with to take advantage of this,” he said.

    Fan is also director of the Edward L. Ginzton Laboratory, a professor, by courtesy, of applied physics and an affiliate of the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy.

    This work was funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) of the Department of Energy.

    See the full article here .

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    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on August 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, , , World's Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia   

    From Science Alert: “World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    16 AUG 2017
    DAVID NIELD

    1
    Crescent Dunes near Las Vegas, the blueprint for the new plant. Credit: Solar Reserve.

    The onward march of renewables continues: an Australian state government has greenlit the biggest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world, a 150-megawatt structure set to be built in Port Augusta in South Australia.

    As well as providing around 650 construction jobs for local workers, the plant will provide all the electricity needs for the state government, with some to spare – and it should help to make solar energy even more affordable in the future.

    Work on the AU$650 million (US$510 million) plant is getting underway next year and is slated to be completed in 2020, adding to Australia’s growing list of impressive renewable energy projects that already cover solar and tidal.

    “The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines,” says sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia.

    “This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.”

    Solar photovoltaic plants convert sunlight directly into electricity, so they need batteries to store excess power for when the Sun isn’t shining; solar thermal plants, meanwhile, use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight into a heating system.

    A variety of heating systems are in use, but In this case, molten salt will be heated up – a more economical storage option than batteries – which is then used to boil water, spin a steam turbine, and generate electricity when required.

    The developers of the Port Augusta plant say it can continue to generate power at full load for up to 8 hours after the Sun’s gone down.

    The Crescent Dunes plant in Nevada will act as the blueprint for the one in Port Augusta, as it was built by the same contractor, Solar Reserve. That site has a 110-megawatt capacity.

    Renewable energy sources now account for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated in South Australia, and as solar becomes a more stable and reliable provider of energy, that in turn pushes prices lower.

    Importantly, the cost of the new plant is well below the estimated cost of a new coal-fired power station, giving the government another reason to back renewables. The cost-per-megawatt of the new plant works out about the same as wind power and solar photovoltaic plants.

    But engineering researcher Fellow Matthew Stocks, from the Australian National University, says we still have “lots to learn” about how solar thermal technologies can fit into an electric grid system.

    “One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat,” says Stocks. “If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro.”

    Authorities say 50 full-time workers will be required to operate the plant, using similar skills to those needed to run a coal or gas station. That will encourage workers laid off after the region’s coal-fired power station was closed down last year.

    Solar thermal has been backed to the tune of AU$110m ($86m) of equity provided by the federal government.

    And as renewables become more and more important to our power grids, expect to see this huge solar thermal plant eventually get eclipsed by a bigger one.

    “This is first large scale application of solar thermal generation in Australia which has been operating successfully in Europe, USA and Africa,” says Saman.

    “While this technology is perhaps a decade behind solar PV generation, many future world energy forecasts include a considerable proportion of this technology in tomorrow’s energy mix.”

    See the full article here .

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