Fusion energy is perhaps the longest of long shots. To build a fusion reactor is essentially to create an artificial star. Scientists have been studying the physics of fusion for a century and working to harness the process for decades. Yet almost every time researchers make an advance, the goal posts seem to recede even farther in the distance.

Still, the enormous potential of fusion makes it hard to ignore. It’s a technology that could safely provide an immense and steady torrent of electricity, harnessing abundant fuel made from seawater to ignite the same reaction that powers the sun. It would produce no greenhouse gases and minimal waste compared to conventional energy sources.

With global average temperatures rising and energy demands growing, the quest for fusion is timelier than ever: It could help solve both these problems at the same time. But despite its promise, fusion is often treated as a scientific curiosity rather than a must-try moonshot — an actual, world-changing solution to a massive problem.

The latest episode of Unexplainable, Vox’s podcast about unsolved mysteries in science, asks scientists about their decades-long pursuit of a star in a bottle. They talk about their recent progress and why fusion energy remains such a challenge. And they make the case for not only continuing fusion research, but aggressively expanding and investing in it — even if it won’t light up the power grid anytime soon.

With some of the most powerful machines ever built, scientists are trying to refine delicate, subatomic mechanics to achieve a pivotal milestone: getting more energy out of a fusion reaction than they put in. Researchers say they are closer than ever.

THE QUEST TO MAKE A STAR

Fusion is way more powerful than any other energy source we have

Nuclear fission is what happens when big atoms like uranium and plutonium split apart and release energy. These reactions powered the very first atomic bombs, and today they power conventional nuclear reactors.

Fusion is even more potent. It’s what happens when the nuclei of small atoms stick together, fusing to create a new element and releasing energy. The most common form is two hydrogen atoms fusing to create helium.

The reason that fusion generates so much energy is that the new element weighs a smidgen less than the sum of its parts. That tiny bit of lost matter is converted into energy according to Albert Einstein’s famous formula, E = mc2. “E” stands for energy and “m” stands for mass.

The last part of the formula is “c,” a constant that measures the speed of light — 300,000 kilometers per second, which is then squared. So there’s an enormous multiplier for matter that’s converted into energy, making fusion an extraordinarily powerful reaction.

These basics are well understood, and researchers are confident that it’s possible to harness it in a useful way, but so far, it’s been elusive.

“It’s a weird thing, because we absolutely know that the fundamental theory works. We’ve seen it demonstrated,” said Carolyn Kuranz, a plasma physicist at the University of Michigan. “But trying to do it in a lab has provided us a lot of challenges.”

For a demonstration, one only has to look up at the sun during the day (but not directly, because you’ll hurt your eyes). Even from 93 million miles away, our nearest star generates enough energy to heat up the Earth through the vacuum of space.

But the sun has an advantage that we don’t have here on Earth: It is very, very big. One of the difficulties with fusion is that atomic nuclei — the positively charged cores of atoms — normally repel each other. To overcome that repulsion and spark fusion, you have to get the atoms moving really fast in a confined space, which makes collisions more likely.

A star like the sun, which is about 333,000 times the mass of Earth, generates gravity that accelerates atoms toward its center — heating them up, confining them, and igniting fusion. The fusion reactions then provide the energy to speed up other atomic nuclei and trigger even more fusion reactions.

What makes fusion energy so tricky

Imitating the sun on Earth is a tall order. Humans have been able to trigger fusion, but in ways that are uncontrolled, like in thermonuclear weapons (sometimes called hydrogen bombs). Fusion has also been demonstrated in laboratories, but under conditions that consume far more energy than the reaction produces. The reaction generally requires creating a high-energy state of matter known as plasma, which has quirks and behaviors that scientists are still trying to understand.

To make fusion useful, scientists need to trigger it in a controlled way that yields far more energy than they put in. That energy can then be used to boil water, spin a turbine, or generate electricity. Teams around the world are studying different ways to accomplish this, but the approaches tend to fall into two broad categories.

One involves using magnets to contain the plasma. This is the approach used by ITER, the world’s largest fusion project, currently under construction in southern France.

The other category involves confining the fusion fuel and compressing it in a tiny space with the aid of lasers. This is the approach used by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Replicating a star requires doing this research at massive scales, so fusion experiments often involve the most powerful scientific instruments ever built. ITER’s central solenoid, for example, can generate a magnetic force strong enough to hoist an aircraft carrier 6 feet out of the water.

Building hardware to withstand these extreme conditions is its own scientific and engineering challenge. Managing such massive experiments has also been a struggle. ITER started with an initial cost estimate of 6.6 billion euros, which has since more than tripled. It began construction in 2007 and its first experiments are set to begin in 2025.

An upside to the intricacy of fusion reactions is that it is almost impossible to cause a runaway reaction or meltdown of the sort that have devastated fission power plants like Chernobyl. If a fusion reactor is disrupted, the reaction rapidly fizzles out. In addition, the main “waste” product of hydrogen fusion is helium, an inert gas. The process can induce some reactor materials to become radioactive, but the radioactivity is much lower, and the quantity of hazardous waste is far smaller, compared to conventional nuclear power plants. So nuclear fusion energy could become one of the safest sources of electricity.

For policymakers, investing in an expensive research project that may not yield fruit for decades, if at all, is a tough sell. Scientific progress doesn’t always keep up with political timelines: A politician who greenlights a fusion project might not even live to see it become a viable energy source — so they certainly won’t be able to brag about their success by the time the next election rolls around.

In the United States, funding for fusion research has been erratic over the years and far below the levels government analysts say is needed to make the technology a reality. The US Department of Energy currently spends about $500 million on fusion per year, compared to almost $1 billion on fossil fuel energy and $2.7 billion on renewables. Investment in fusion seems even tinier next to other major programs like NASA ($23 billion) or the military ($700 billion).

So from its basic physics to government budgets, fusion energy has a lot working against it.

Fusion energy should be treated as a solution, not just an experiment

Working in fusion’s favor, however, are scientists and engineers who think it’s not just possible, but inevitable.

“I’m a true believer. I do think we can solve this problem,” said Troy Carter, a plasma physicist at the University of California Los Angeles. “It will take time, but the real issue is getting the resources brought to bear on these issues.”

Investors are also getting in the game, placing billion-dollar bets on private startup companies developing their own fusion strategies.

The journey toward fusion has yielded benefits for other fields, particularly in plasma physics, which is used extensively in manufacturing semiconductors for electronics. “Plasma processing is one of the things that make your iPhones possible,” said Kathryn McCarthy, a fusion researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

And despite the hurdles, there have been some real advances. Researchers at NIF reported last summer that they achieved their best results yet — 1.3 megajoules of output from 1.9 megajoules of input — putting them closer than ever to energy-positive fusion. “We’re on the threshold of ignition,” said Tammy Ma, a plasma physicist at NIF.

To break out of its rut, fusion will need to be more than a science experiment. Just as space exploration is more than astronomy, fusion is much more than physics. It should be a leading tool in the fight against the world’s most urgent problems, from climate change to lifting people out of poverty.

Increasing energy access is closely linked to improving health, economic growth, and social stability. Yet close to a billion people still don’t have electricity and many more only have intermittent power, so there is an urgent humanitarian need for more energy.

At the same time, the window for limiting climate change is slamming shut, and electricity and heat production remain the dominant sources of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. To meet one of the goals of the Paris climate agreement — limiting warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius this century — the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half or more by 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Many of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters are also aiming to zero out their contributions to climate change by the middle of the century. Making such drastic cuts in emissions means phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible and rapidly deploying much cleaner sources of energy.

The technologies of today may not be up to the task of resolving the tension between the need for more energy and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A problem like climate change is an argument for placing bets on all kinds of far-reaching energy solutions, but fusion may be the technology with the highest upside. And on longer time scales, closer to the 2040s and 2050s, it could be a real solution.

With more investment from governments and the private sector, scientists could speed up their pace of progress and experiment with even more approaches to fusion. In the US, where much of the research is conducted at national laboratories, this would mean convincing your representatives in Congress to get excited about fusion and ultimately to spend more money. Lawmakers can also encourage private companies to get into the game by, for example, pricing carbon dioxide emissions to create incentives for clean energy research.

The key, according to Carter, is to ensure support for fusion remains steady. “Given the level of importance here and the amount of money invested in energy, the current investment in fusion is a drop in the bucket,” Carter said. “You could imagine ramping it up orders of magnitude to get the job done.”

He added that funding for fusion doesn’t have to cannibalize resources from other clean energy technologies, like wind, solar, and nuclear power. “We need to invest across the board,” Carter said.

For now, the big fusion experiments at NIF and ITER will continue inching forward. At NIF, scientists will continue refining their process and steadily work their way up toward energy-positive fusion. ITER is scheduled to begin operation in 2025 and start hydrogen fusion experiments in 2035.

Artificial star power might not illuminate the world for decades, but the foundations have to be laid now through research, development, and deployment. It may very well become humanity’s crowning achievement, more than a century in the making.

 

Source: Vox

 

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST UK FUSION DEVELOPMENT PARTNER

ABU DHABI, UAE, Jan. 18, 2022:  Sungrow, the global leading inverter solution supplier for renewables, officially launches the brand-new central inverter — “1+X” Modular Inverter at World Future Energy Summit, a high-profile international event for global sustainability and transition to clean energy. “1+X” Modular Inverter is the most innovative central inverter solution which Sungrow is promoting worldwide and it is expected to lead the next generation central inverter designation for large-scale utility solar plants.

As the World Future Energy Summit is in full swing at Abu Dhabi, global innovators, experts, entrepreneurs and investors meet, exchange, network and trade there. As a significant participant for the Solar& Clean Energy Expo, Sungrow showcases its industry-leading solutions for residential, commercial & industrial, and utility solar and ESS application, demonstrates technological breakthroughs and innovations, and thereby, incubates business chances with potential investors. On this grand stage for global cleantech, “1+X” Modular Inverter is definitely one of the game-changing stars that shape the future energy.

The cutting-edge technologies of this product center one key word — “Modularization”. “1+X” inverter solution boasts modularization at the inverter level, the system level and the component level. Three-level modularization makes power plant design more flexible and post O&M more convenient in the future.

Firstly, “1+X” modular inverter features 1.1MW single unit as the minimum, but the block capacity can be expanded to a max. 8.8 MW by combining 8 units just like building blocks. Customers can choose from 1.1MW to 8.8 MW to meet their best demands. Secondly, the system modularization makes PV module configuration more flexible to extend. The inverter supports maximum 2 times DC/AC ratio. 1+X modular inverter has 42% more MPPT than the traditional central inverters, and it realizes the string-level management by new wireless DC combiner. Increased MPPT and more refined management lead to higher electricity generation. The DC/ESS interface built in this solution also supports connecting to energy storage system, enabling customers to enjoy the storage function for future energy usage. Thirdly, the component modularization realizes the plug and play function, reducing the maintenance from 6h to 2h. Moreover, since each inverter also works in individual unit, it can be directly replaced by onsite backup inverter if failure occurred. Hence, the three-level modularization, once again, sets this gigantic product apart from others.

Sungrow’s “1+X” Modular Inverter has soon received great popularity since its debut in Chinese domestic market in March, 2021. By far, Sungrow achieved more than 500MW order of this product and they are supplying various solar plants around China. After its release to international market, “1+X” Modular Inverter will start its clean-power journey across the world and meet the future energy demands with its outstanding flexibility, convenience, and simplicity.

 

www.sungrowpower.com

Wates Residential, part of leading privately-owned construction, property services and development company Wates Group, is launching a new campaign to find innovative, sustainable technologies and materials that will help it build Net Zero homes and achieve its environmental targets.

 

Aiming to generate Net Zero carbon operationally and to halve energy consumption by 2025, Wates has also pledged to achieve zero waste and to make a positive contribution to nature on all its projects. As a result, it is looking for suitable materials, products and processes for the development, design, construction and sale of low to high-rise residential developments.

 

These could include resource efficient materials for the built environment with low embodied carbon content or those derived from natural resources. The company is also looking for suppliers that can help implement Modern Methods of Construction, as well as products that deliver significant biodiversity net gains, optimise building efficiency, help with the design and construction of zero carbon homes and save water.

 

Businesses keen to register their interest are being encouraged to visit www.wates.co.uk/win-portal and complete an application form. Suppliers will be screened by Wates’ technical advisory panel of experts and successful suppliers will be piloted on Wates sites. Successful applicants will also be registered on the Wates Innovation Network (WIN) portal, a new online hub for suppliers of environmental technologies and services. Launched in March 2021 to boost the industry’s transition to Net Zero, the first-of-its-kind and free to use network is designed to help businesses make connections and market their services across the construction industry.

 

Dr Zainab Dangana, Head of Sustainable Technology for Wates Group, says: “Our search for Innovation Partners and the concept behind the WIN portal is to boost the industry’s move to zero carbon and support emerging green technologies. This campaign is a continuation of our search for new suppliers with a particular focus on the design and construction of low to high-rise residential developments. There must be many businesses out there who would like to work with Wates, and we are keen to find them too.”

 

Shami Kaler, Technical Director for Wates Residential, comments: “Wates Residential is one of the UK’s leading developers, working with local authorities and registered providers across the South of England, London and Wales. We already use multiple technologies on site to improve environmental operations, build with Modern Methods of Construction and to Passivhaus standards, but we want to find new ways to build more sustainable homes to help us and our partners achieve our environmental ambitions.” 

 

Several WIN technologies have already been implemented across the Group to help Wates meet its Net Zero ambitions. An example of this is Propelair, which is an Innovation Partner that supplies water saving toilets. These have been installed at the Leatherhead headquarters to reduce water use by 87%, this has helped save carbon and provided cost savings at the same time too.

A fully integrated professional services and project management company with offices around the world, has been awarded three new contracts by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to continue work on Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), a flagship program to design and build a commercial-scale fusion energy plant. Under the contracts, SNC-Lavalin will provide specialist engineering services and strategic advice to UKAEA, drawing on its global nuclear and fusion energy expertise and long-standing involvement with the STEP program.

SNC-Lavalin has been appointed Commercial Pathways Partner, to help pave the commercial route to realising fusion energy through a combination of engineering and techno-economic studies. A second contract for the STEP Integrated Plant Solution will see SNC-Lavalin develop the mechanical handling and maintenance strategy for this first-of-a-kind plant. The firm has also been appointed onto a new STEP Tritium Framework, drawing on SNC-Lavalin’s specialist tritium knowledge, acquired largely by the development of CANDU® technology, and supported by its international academic partners.

“Fusion energy has the potential to produce a stable, reliable and low-carbon power source that could be critical in a decarbonised energy future. Our involvement will bring together the best of UK and international expertise to solve the challenges associated with fusion energy,” said Ian L. Edwards, President and CEO, SNC-Lavalin. “Developing engineering solutions and pathways to commercialise emerging, low carbon technology is an important part of our commitment to Engineering Net Zero.”

“These contracts extend the scope of our involvement with the STEP program and we are delighted to strengthen our relationship with the UK Atomic Energy Authority as we progress this ambitious project,” said Chris Ball, Managing Director, Nuclear & Power EMEA, SNC-Lavalin.

STEP is attempting to be the world’s first commercial fusion power station, with an aim to produce a concept design by 2024, leading to a prototype plant in the UK, targeting completion by 2040. In early 2021, SNC-Lavalin was awarded the STEP Cost Modelling and Siting and Development contracts. The Group already supports UKAEA across its major programs through its position as an Engineering Design Services (EDS) framework supplier, as well as delivering the design of its H3AT Tritium recycling loop.

SNC-Lavalin brings extensive international nuclear expertise across the technology’s cycle, from international fusion science through its role as architect engineer for ITER within the Engage consortium to the design and delivery of large-scale new nuclear build and Small Modular Reactors, as well as widespread knowledge across asset operations, decommissioning and waste management.

About SNC-Lavalin

Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a fully integrated professional services and project management company with offices around the world dedicated to engineering a better future for our planet and its people. We create sustainable solutions that connect people, technology and data to design, deliver and operate the most complex projects. We deploy global capabilities locally to our clients and deliver unique end-to-end services across the whole life cycle of an asset including consulting, advisory & environmental services, intelligent networks & cybersecurity, design & engineering, procurement, project & construction management, operations & maintenance, decommissioning and capital. – and delivered to clients in key strategic sectors such as Engineering Services, Nuclear, Operations & Maintenance and Capital. News and information are available at snclavalin.com or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About UKAEA

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK Government. UKAEA oversees the UK’s fusion programme, headed by the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment. It also hosts the world’s largest fusion research facility, JET (Joint European Torus), which it operates for scientists from around Europe.

Fusion research aims to copy the process which powers the sun for a new large-scale source of low carbon energy here on earth. When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. To do this, fuel is heated to extreme temperatures, ten times hotter than the centre of the sun, forming a plasma in which fusion reactions take place. A commercial power station will use the energy produced by fusion reactions to generate electricity.

Fusion has huge potential as a low carbon energy source. It is environmentally responsible and safe, using fuel that is abundant and sustainable.  More information: https://www.gov.uk/ukaea. Social Media: @UKAEAofficial

 

 A European-style house structure recently completed by FBR’s Hadrian X robot

 

FBR’s Hadrian X robot completes structure using Wienerberger’s Porotherm clay blocks

Australian technology firm FBR has announced it’s Hadrian X robot has completed work on a housing structure, using Porotherm clay blocks from Austrian materials producer Wienerberger.

The structure, which was built in a European housing style, with 5m-high gable ends, was constructed using Wienerberger’s largest blocks, each equivalent to 12 standard house bricks.

The robot used the largest double-leaf blocks for the external walls of the structure and single-leaf blocks for the internal walls, as well as working with Wienerberger’s own adhesive products.

The pilot project was originally planned to take place in Europe, travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic shifted plans to a specially-constructed outdoor test slab at FBR’s facility in Australia.

Both FBR and Wienerberger are now in talks to undertake a Europe-based test, when circumstances allow, with a view to establishing the process within Europe’s low-rise housing market, which is currently running at around 700,000 properties a year.

The Hadrian X robot uses dynamic stabilisation technology (DST), a system that counteracts external environmental conditions, to keep the end effector in position for highly accurate block-laying.

 

FBR’s managing director & CEO, Mike Pivac, said, “We are very pleased to be progressing our relationship with Wienerberger, the largest producer of clay blocks in the world.

“Both parties are committed to advancing robotic construction together and improving the efficiency, sustainability and digitalisation of the construction industry.”

 

 

 

Source: Construction Technology

A development of 160 new homes in Milton Keynes which is to be built using faster modern methods of construction has been given the green light.

Bellway will deliver a mix of modular and timber frame houses at Tattenhoe Park as part of a pilot project being led by Homes England.

The developer has been selected to deliver the fourth phase of homes at Tattenhoe Park, a landmark extension to the town, and its plans have since approved by Milton Keynes Council in October.

Bellway’s development will be located in the south-western part of the wider site, close to Priory Rise School. Construction work is due to get underway in April 2022 with the first homes set to be completed by August 2022.

Phase four at Tattenhoe Park will provide 112 properties for private ownership and 48 affordable homes for rent or shared ownership, as well as public open space and new pedestrian and cycle links.

There will be a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments, one and two-bedroom maisonettes, and two to four-bedroom houses.

The 40 modular homes will be built off site in a factory, while the other 120 properties will be constructed using timber frames and panels in place of traditional breeze blocks. Adopting these methods will enable the homes to be delivered at a faster pace than those built using more traditional techniques.

Paul Smits, Managing Director of Bellway Northern Home Counties, said: “This is a hugely significant development not only for Bellway and Milton Keynes, but also for housebuilding in this country. Phase four at Tattenhoe Park is the first Bellway development to include modular homes. It will deliver much-needed new housing for the town, and it is one of a select group of developments chosen by Homes England for its pilot scheme.

“The modern methods of construction we are using at Tattenhoe Park have the potential to transform the way new homes are delivered in this country. We are pleased to be working with Homes England on this exciting project to help accelerate the supply of new homes in high-demand areas.

“The off-site manufacturing process eradicates weather-related delays, which means we can speed up construction while maintaining the high quality that Bellway achieves as a five-star housebuilder.

“We look forward to starting work on the site and to releasing the first homes onto the market in Spring 2022.”

Outline planning permission is already in place for up to 1,310 homes at Tattenhoe Park, a new neighbourhood which is being created on the southern edge of Milton Keynes.

The market for offsite housing is estimated to have increased by 6% at manufacturers sales prices, although this is lower than the 2019 estimate of 12%. This is due to the impact of the pandemic throughout 2020 which caused a decline of around 11% due to the huge disruptive nature from distribution issues and site closures at the peak of restrictions.

Many areas will be responsible for the demand in offsite housing construction. There is still an ongoing shortage of homes, especially across England. We must also look towards the continued decline in numbers of key skilled trades and professionals. On the plus side there has been an increase in the capacity for offsite housing manufacturing as well as the number of systems with quality assurance.

The availability of quality assurance and warranties for offsite housing systems is key to growth especially considering the broad lack of which has up to this point been a barrier. There has been an increase recently in the number of firms and propriety offsite housing systems which are obtaining BOPAS certification and/or NHBC or other provider warranties.

A key area to look at will be where offsite methods are particularly well suited, for example large scale build to rent and affordable housing developments. Both of which see an urgency to accelerate the build times and increase the rate of completions. Offsite construction will make a significant contribution.

Alex Blagden, Senior Market Research Analyst at AMA Research and editor of the Offsite Housing Report comments “Offsite construction is key to accelerating the development of affordable homes, both social housing and build for sale properties. Many factors are driving up both demand and supply, among the most important being the urgent need to increasing affordable housing supply; a chronic shortage of skilled ‘wet’ trades; an increase in offsite housing manufacturing capacity and an increase in the number of firms and proprietary off-site housing systems obtaining BOPAS (Build off-site Property Assurance Scheme) certification and or NHBC or other providers warranties.”

Where timber frame has always taken the majority share in the offsite construction market, there will now be growth in demand and the use of volumetric and closed panel systems. Particularly as there are now several large factories that have recently started operation. These factories are capable of producing 2,000+ units per year.