Fusion breakthrough and further research could solve climate crisis

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 15, 2022

On Dec. 5, a National Ignition Facility team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to produce more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to operate it. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Dec. 13 that the breakthrough by the LLNL will pave the way for the future of clean energy in a way that emulates the sun by generating energy to support life on Earth. 

“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous. Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s chief adviser for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

During the test on Dec. 5, the nuclear reaction activated in a small target area released about 50 percent more energy than it took to drive the reaction with the laser. Scientists warn that although this breakthrough is exciting, this technology has a long way to go to stop the climate crisis. The experiment generated 3.15 megajoules of energy from 2.05 megajoules of input from the laser. But, the laser drew 300 megajoules from the grid just to operate. 

This milestone alone doesn’t stop the climate crisis, but the urgency to cut fossil fuel emissions will push researchers and scientists to continue this work. A long-term goal for the future is to create a system that can fire constantly and power the laser with energy to spare. Scientists hope in future decades to build a power plant with the research completed and with future analyses to be conducted.

Gigantic wind turbine to multiply wind energy returns

The Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor 50 (SUMR50) will tower over wind turbines that are commonly used today. (SUMR)

Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2017

Wind energy generation is expected to increase by 404 gigawatts by 2050, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and gigantic wind turbines may play an important role.

Researchers from six universities are designing the world’s largest wind turbine, which is expected to stand at 500 meters tall. Today, the average wind turbine is about 70 meters tall and generates one to five megawatts of energy. The team predicts their design will generate up to 50 megawatts of energy.

Shooting enormous turbines further up into the atmosphere allows them to capture the stronger and more steady wind flow present at higher altitudes. The giant structures will also feature blades that are 200 meters long, compared to today’s turbine blades which are typically about 50 meters in length. In an interview with Scientific American, Christopher Niezrecki, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Wind Energy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, explained that if the blades double in length, they can produce up to four times as much energy.

The turbines will have two blades rather than three to reduce the weight and cost of the structures. They’ll likely be placed far off in the ocean, where they’ll be less of a disturbance to people. Researchers plan to design the turbines to withstand strong winds from hurricanes and other extreme weather events. In part, the structures will take a cue from palm trees, which frequently endure intense storms. Eric Loth is the project lead. He said,”Palm trees are really tall but very lightweight structurally, and if the wind blows hard, the trunk can bend. We’re trying to use the same concept—to design our wind turbines to have some flexibility, to bend and adapt to the flow.”

Within the year, the researchers will test a much smaller version of the design in the mountains of Colorado. They expect to produce a full-sized prototype in the next three years.

The project website reads, “Bringing our project to full fruition will be a major step toward maximizing U.S. offshore wind power.”

ISU researchers discover new magnetic allow for wind turbines, cars

Iowa State University researcher Arjun Pathak melts material for a new magnetic alloy he helped to create. (The Ames Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | April 30, 2015

Researchers at Iowa State University have created a new magnetic alloy which is expected to replace “traditional rare-earth permanent magnets” for products such as automobiles and wind turbines.

The researchers published their findings in a report titled “Cerium: An Unlikely Replacement of Dysprosium in High Performance Nd–Fe–B Permanent Magnets” in the journal Advanced Materials. The new magnetic allow will serve as a more affordable and abundant alternative to dysprosium which is “one of the scarcest and costliest rare earth elements.” Though dysprosium does not exist in nature as a free element, “[it] is found in various minerals, such as xenotime.”

The new alloy consists of “iron, neodymium and boron co-doped with cerium and cobalt” and costs up to 40 percent less than the current alloy that requires dysprosium. The researchers found that the new alloy’s intrinsic coercivity (the ability of a magnetic material to resist demagnetization) is able to function at temperatures of 150° C or higher, a marked improvement over dysprosium.

“This is quite exciting result; we found that this material works better than anything out there at temperatures above 150° C,” researcher Karl A. Gschneidner said in a press release. “It’s an important consideration for high-temperature applications.”

This research was part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E REACT program (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy–Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies).

Energy Dept to fund research on longer wind turbine blades

(U.S. Department of Energy)

Nick Fetty | March 24, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced $1.8 million in funding available for research to develop larger wind turbine blades.

The funding is designated for the manufacturing, transportation, and assembly of wind turbine blades longer than 60 meters. The announcement coincides with current research the Energy Department is funding to develop taller wind turbines which includes a study at Iowa State University.

A report by the Energy Department released earlier this month shows that the current amount of electricity generated from wind turbines could double by 2020. The report, entitled Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Energy in the United State, built upon the findings in the Energy Department’s 2008 study, 20% Wind by 2030. The more recent report highlights the economic and infrastructural impact of wind energy, outlining scenarios with “potential economic, environmental, and social benefits” if the U.S. increased its proportion of wind-generated electricity from 10 percent in 2020 to 35 percent in 2050. Currently the U.S. generates about 4.5 percent of electricity from wind.

Based on its projections, the report concludes that over the next three and a half decades increased emphasis on wind energy will save $400 billion in global climate change damages, provide 600,000 jobs, and reduce water consumption by 260 billion gallons.

The development of taller wind turbines could be particularly beneficial for the southeastern region of the U.S. which lags behind the rest of the country in wind energy. The taller wind turbines can also be utilized for offshore operations, particularly along the gulf coast and eastern seaboard.

Solar power use in Iowa expected to grow

Nick Fetty | August 18, 2014

Solar farm in Spain. (Wikipedia)
Solar farm in Spain. (Wikipedia)

Solar energy use in the Iowa is expected to rise in coming years and much of it can be attributed to decreased installation and equipment costs.

The cost to produce energy using solar panels has deceased from 21.4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2010 to 11.2 cents per kWh in 2013. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes this decreases to 6 cents per kWh by 2020 which is when solar energy is expected to become the world’s most inexpensive form of energy.

The Iowa Department of Revenue has awarded $ 1,280,243 in Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credits in 2014. This is nearly double the 2012 figure of $ 650,914. A report by the Iowa Environmental Council ranks Iowa 16th nationally for potential of solar energy production and estimates that 20 percent of the state’s annual electricity needs could be met using rooftop solar grids.

Critics of solar power say the source’s reliability can be intermittent depending on sunlight availability and in California an increase in the number of solar plants has been detrimental for bird species in the state.

Iowa’s largest solar farm – expected to produce enough energy to power 120 homes – opened in Johnson County last month.


Iowa named as leader in wind energy

Photo by K Ali; Flickr
Photo by K Ali; Flickr

According to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Energy, Iowa is among the nation’s leaders in wind energy. Over twenty percent of Iowa’s in-state electricity generation can be attributed to wind power, the highest percentage in the country — and the DOE says that number could grow to twenty-five. Continue reading

Video: UI engineering student tries to become America’s Next Eco-Star

UI student Elliott Beenk hopes to become America’s Next Eco-Star. Students around the nation are submitting videos about why they should be America’s Next Eco-Star. SmartPower and the U.S. Department of Energy sponsor the contest, and the winner will receive a paid trip this summer to the Sustainable Futures Academy in Germany, and a fellowship with SmartPower.

Beenk is an Environmental Engineering graduate student. He hopes to eventually work with music festivals to help them become more sustainable.

Read the Press-Citizen’s article about Beenk and the contest here.