August 14, 2022


Born to play

Gravity Batteries, Green Hydrogen, and a Thorium Reactor for China

2021 was a major 12 months for electrical power-relevant information, what with the ongoing hunt for new varieties of electrical power storage and cleaner if not carbon-totally free electrical energy and situations and study that spotlighted the weak back links in our power grid. As the pandemic ongoing to grind on, it was truly comforting to know that clever folks in the electrical power sector were functioning challenging to retain the lights on, progress the technology, and make improvements to people’s lives. IEEE Spectrum did its finest to include those people developments, and these were the stories that our viewers favored finest.

Gravity Electrical power Storage Will Exhibit Its Likely in 2021

Why was this Spectrum’s most well-liked electrical power story of the 12 months? Perfectly, let us feel. As power grids just about everywhere progressively count on intermittent renewable electrical power, batteries and other varieties of electrical power storage that can even out the bumps in offer and desire are using on a important job. No battery is great, nevertheless, so engineers retain pushing for new and improved strategies to shop those people electrons. The gravity batteries explained in this story raise big weights in the air or up mine shafts to shop excess electrical energy, releasing the weights afterwards on to get well the saved electrical power. One of the organizations showcased in the story, Gravitricity, finished its 250-kilowatt gravity-battery demonstrator in Edinburgh very last April and is now functioning on a whole-scale deployment at a mine in the Czech Republic.

Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Lastly Usually takes Off in North America and Europe

Battery makers close to the world are cranking out lithium-ion batteries of a variety of flavors as quick as they can. While lithium isn’t accurately in limited offer, extracting it from the floor exacts a big environmental value. Hence the the latest growth in battery recycling—and readers’ desire in this story on how the industry is increasing further than China and South Korea and into the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Last May perhaps, one of the story’s showcased startups, Canada’s Li-Cycle, announced it would start recycling the production scrap from Ultium Cell’s US $two.three billion EV battery plant—that’s GM’s and LG Chem’s new mega-gigafactory in Lordstown, Ohio.

Here’s How We Could Brighten Clouds to Cool the Earth

Geoengineering—altering the world to mitigate the worst consequences of local weather change—is an strategy that has taken on new currency of late. As global temperatures increase, greenhouse gases accumulate, and all indications issue to Truly Undesirable Items occurring in the coming decades, Spectrum viewers are evidently looking for a way out of our existing local weather predicament. This report, by scientists at the Palo Alto Exploration Centre (PARC) and the University of Washington, is one feasible respond to. The standard strategy is to include particles of sea salt to the atmosphere to brighten clouds and amazing the world. We’ll continue to have to do the challenging function of chopping carbon emissions, but geoengineering could be a way to obtain us some time.

Solar-to-Hydrogen Tech Sees “Remarkable” Efficiency Leap

Another major development in the electrical power sector is the return of the hydrogen economy. This time close to, while, the emphasis is on “green hydrogen”—that is, hydrogen generated using cleanse electrical power this kind of as photo voltaic or wind power. Most of the world’s hydrogen comes from deeply polluting solutions. And most inexperienced hydrogen creation continue to relies on electrolyzers, which by themselves take in plenty of electrical energy. This story appears to be like at promising study out of Japan’s Shinshu University on light-absorbing products to break up drinking water into hydrogen and oxygen directly—cutting the electrolyzer out of the equation. As the story notes, it will just take really a bit additional R&D till this approach is “ready for key-time hydrogen creation.”

China Says It is Closing in on Thorium Nuclear Reactor

Also obtaining a 2nd glance: nuclear power! While some the latest initiatives simply call for radical new reactor designs, this report highlights an previous solution with a modern day spin. Molten salt nuclear reactors fueled by thorium were first investigated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the fifties. A new molten salt reactor reportedly staying created by China follows the Oak Ridge design but also incorporates the similar kind of higher-temperature salt pumps utilised in concentrated photo voltaic-power crops.

What the Texas-Freeze Fiasco Tells Us About the Long run of the Grid

In this obvious-eyed consideration of very last winter’s deadly deep freeze in Texas, Robert Hebner, director of the Centre for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, describes the converging factors and troubled background that contributed to the catastrophic blackout. “It would seem really obvious that what happened in Texas was very likely preventable with commonly obtainable and longstanding engineering methods,” Hebner concludes. “But a collective, and very likely implicit, judgment was designed that the possibility to be mitigated was so smaller that mitigation would not be really worth the value. And character ‘messed’ with that judgment.”

One Atmospheric Nuclear Explosion Could Consider Out the Electric power Grid

Another well-liked story in the “things that are lousy for the power grid” class was this piece by countrywide security writer Natasha Bajema. She appeared at a the latest research out of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Colorado on the very likely consequences of detonating a quite a few-kiloton nuclear weapon in the atmosphere and building a higher-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP). (To be fair, International Policy, in a identical 2020 evaluation, rated the EMP challenge as quite much outsized and “the very last matter you want to fret about in a nuclear explosion.”) The conductivity of the Earth, the Geological Survey scientists discovered, plays an critical job in the consequence, with reduced-conductivity locations most at possibility of suffering a “grid-crippling power surge,” as the electric powered subject travels out by way of higher-voltage power lines. Here’s hoping that doesn’t come about in 2022, or any other 12 months.

Off-Grid Solar’s Killer App

Spectrum contributing editor Peter Fairley traveled to Kenya to report on a growth in agriculture driven by off-grid photo voltaic power and efficient photo voltaic-powered irrigation pumps. The pumps tap into wide merchants of groundwater that lie not far too far underground and include much of sub-Saharan Africa. Solar-irrigation technology, blended with microlending payment strategies, allows smaller farmers improve crop yields, lengthen expanding seasons, and neutralize the consequences of drought. It is a earn-earn-earn for a element of the world that could definitely use a victory proper now.

How Much Electrical power Does It Consider to Increase a Tomato?

Finally but hardly ever leastly, Spectrum columnist and deep thinker Vaclav Smil contemplated the electrical power footprint of the tomato. Area tomatoes, unsurprisingly, are the least electrical power-intense to develop, while increasing hydroponic tomatoes developed in greenhouses can take in sixty periods as much electrical power. Food items for imagined as we shut out 2021.

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