Without Abundant, Reliable, Affordable High Quality Power, Humans Have No Future
Today’s article looks at some technologies that can make power systems more reliable, affordable, and more prolific creators of high quality power. To create an abundant and expansive human future, people must create technologies that go far beyond the limited and unreliable energies from wind, water, and sun. We will look at two such technologies: particle beam injectors and solid ion conductors.
Particle Beam Injectors to be Used for Both Fusion and Fission Reactors
Particle Beams in Conventional Fusion Reactors
Energy and momentum in DIII-D’s magnetically contained plasma is delivered by large neutral-particle beams systems, and GA’s recent demonstration of precise control of injected power and torque is a first. Scientists are now able to pre-program these inputs over the duration of plasma discharges (called “shots”). GA led the development effort in collaboration with scientists from the University of California-Irvine and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
The use of controlled particle beams into conventional magnetically confined plasma chambres is a technology that is being refined at research centres around the world. The research described above is an example of continual refinement of a pre-existing technology in the pursuit of abundant, controlled fusion power.
Particle Beams in Non-Conventional Fusion Reactors
TAE [Tri-Alpha Energy] uses a linear field-reversed configuration (FRC) in combination with an intense neutral beam injection to create a well-confined plasma. It relies on the build-up of a fast ion population within the FRC to sustain the very energetic plasma. The fusion energy comes in the form of energetic photons which can be converted to generate power. FRCs have been investigated since the 1960s but were unable to achieve long-lasting and stable plasmas. In August 2015, the company demonstrated sustained plasma performance for up to 11 milliseconds in its C-2U national lab-scale machine. Their next step is to scale up their experiments and install stronger beams to heat the plasma and demonstrate the performance at higher temperatures. TAE is currently constructing a new machine, called C-2W, and expects to demonstrate this next milestone within the next three years. __ Tri-Alpha in Eurofusion
Particle Beams in Fission Reactors
So-called subcritical fission reactors utilise neutron beams to transmute “fertile” isotopes such as Thorium 233 into “fissile” isotopes such as Uranium 233. Such a reactor would be easily controlled simply by controlling the neutron beam.
A thorium reactor would work by having Th-232 capture a neutron to become Th-233 which decays to uranium-233, which fissions. (The process of converting fertile isotopes such as Th-232 to fissile ones is known as ‘breeding’.)
An alternative [to a fast neutron breeder reactor] is provided by the use of accelerator-driven systems [ADS]. The concept of using an ADS based on the thorium-U-233 fuel cycle was first proposed by Professor Carlo Rubbia, but at a national level, India is the country with most to gain, due to its very large thorium resources. India is actively researching ADSs as an alternative to its main fission program focused on thorium.
… What was claimed to be the world’s first ADS experiment was begun in March 2009 at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute (KURRI), utilizing the Kyoto University Critical Assembly (KUCA). The research project was commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) six years earlier. The experiment irradiates a high-energy proton beam (100 MeV) from the accelerator on to a heavy metal target set within the critical assembly, after which the neutrons produced by spallation are bombarded into a subcritical fuel core.
Next: Grid Scale Batteries Using Solid Ion Conductors
The second intriguing future energy technology we will look at is solid ion conductors. This technology will eliminate the risk of spontaneous explosions of lithium ion batteries, as well as empowering grid-scale “flow batteries” for load leveling of the power grid, and large-scale power backup for critical infrastructure facilities, for grid backup to allow time for islanding to micro-grids in emergencies, and for full temporary backup for micro-grids at all scales.
Last month, for example, ARPA-E announced US $37 million in funding for research into a new class of solids in which some ions are mobile and thus can store and conduct energy.
The announcement follows up on the 2011 discovery of ion-conducting solids. In fact, the Japanese team that discovered the material noted in the paper documenting the discovery that it could act as a solid, non-volatile, and non-explosive battery electrolyte.
… A second application for the new materials, Albertus says, involves solving a longstanding problem in flow batteries, probably the gold-standard grid battery technology today. Flow batteries, like the current-generation of vanadium and iron-based batteries ARPA-E has helped develop, use a liquid electrolyte on the cathode side and a liquid electrolyte on the anode side. Both solutions can be scaled up by simply adding more tanks of electrolyte. This cheap and easy expandability is one of the main selling points for energy storage banks that need enough flexibility to power an entire neighborhood or office park during nights or cloudy or windless days.
One of the essential ingredients for any flow battery, says Albertus, is the membrane that separates the electrolyte on the cathode side from that on the anode side. It should selectively let ions pass, but shouldn’t facilitate any reactions that might degrade the battery materials, change electrolyte’s pH, or reduce the battery’s performance. For most materials, though, this is too tall an order.
“The chemistries of today’s flow batteries are limited by the selectivity of the membrane,” Albertus says. “When the active materials pass through the membrane, they can react in a reversible or irreversible manner. Current membranes are not very selective, limiting the active materials to chemistries with the same element on both sides of the membrane such as the all-vanadium flow battery. Even a tiny amount of crossover—say, 0.01 percent per cycle—over the course of 5000 cycles leads to unacceptably high degradation. If the membrane had higher selectivity, a new paradigm allowing the use of a far wider range of active materials would be enabled, especially those that are less expensive, such as iron and chromium.” __ IEEE.org
Advanced Fission/Fusion Reactors Produce Power; Solid Ion Conductors Facilitate Sophisticated Ways of Storing, Distributing, and Utilising Electrical Power
An advanced human culture that is committed to and capable of moving to an abundant and expansive future, will need to master a wide range of new, empowering technologies.
Of all the critical infrastructures that modern human societies are built upon, reliable-affordable-high quality energy is the foundation of the foundation.
Wise and forward-thinking humans understand the need to move to scalable and transportable energy technologies that can be used in a wide range of settings — from the bottom of the oceans to nuclear powered generation spaceships, capable of moving human civilisation beyond our solar system.
Wind, water, and sun have served our species well over tens of thousands of years. But they are too limited and unreliable to power humans into the abundant and expansive future that long-term survival will demand.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? __ R. Browning
For humans to have a future, they must expand their reach and their grasp both, in an eternal cycle of evolving.