A Startup Claims to Have Found a Solution to Stabilize Nuclear Fusion

Guiding Instability

Solar energy is revolutionizing how we power houses, cities, and even cars. The energy we get from the Sun, however, is just a tiny fraction of what actually powers the solar system’s star. Enter nuclear fusion, which for the longest time now, has been rather difficult to stabilize. A nuclear fusion startup based in New Jersey called LPP Fusion thinks we might have been going about this process the wrong way, and they suggest a different approach.

To harness nuclear fusion energy, one needs to stabilize the reaction, which in itself is already difficult to produce. Fusion relies on hot plasma, which requires huge amounts of pressure and very high temperatures. On method scientists have devised is called “magnetic confinement” — where hot plasma is contained using magnetic fields.

The DPF. Image credit: LPP Fusion

Still, the method isn’t without great difficulties. “Guide the plasma’s instability; don’t fight it,” LPP Fusion president and CEO Eric Lerner told the Digital Journal. To do this, their scientists are developing a Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) device.

The Quest for Clean Energy

Encased in a ring of cathodes, the DPF’s hollow central anodes use electromagnetic acceleration and compression to produce short-lived plasma that’s hot and dense enough to produce nuclear fusion. Simply put, the DPF produces a reaction that’s enough to generate a tiny dense plasma ball called plasmoids, which sustain nuclear fusion using self-generated electron beams. The concept works in theory, and LPP Fusion scientists have submitted their research to the journal Physics of Plasmas for peer review.

LPP Fusion’s method is one amid a number of research endeavors focused on stabilizing this “holy grail” of renewable energy. Among these, a team from MIT is working on adding an extra ion to the usual two-ion plasma mix, while nuclear fusion company Tri-Alpha Energy has recruited Google’s Optometrist algorithm to figure out a solution.

Compared to its fission cousin, nuclear fusion is a cleaner and truly renewable source of almost unlimited energy. For reference, a single fission event generates around 200 MeV of energy, or about 3.2 x (10^-11) watt-seconds, and nuclear fusion can produce four times that. Understandably, scientists have long since pursued nuclear fusion. Today, as renewable energy becomes the norm, scientists are even more keen on controlling nuclear fusion, which some suggest could replace fossil fuels by 2030.

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Scientists Detect New Gravitational Waves from a Black Hole Collision

New Gravitational Waves

Scientists announced this week that they have once again recorded gravitational waves, ripples in space-time, from a pair of black holes colliding 1.8 billion light years away. They recorded the event on August 14, the fourth time in the past two years that astronomers have detected and recorded such ripples from collisions of black holes. The scientists made the announcement in a Physical Review Letters paper, as well as at a G7 meeting of science ministers in Turin, Italy.

Image Credit: 12019/Pixabay
Image Credit: 12019/Pixabay

The August collision involved a black hole with a mass of about 31 times that of the Sun, and another with 25 solar masses. Once the two crashed, they created a black hole with a mass of 53 solar masses. In line with earlier gravitational wave detections, the remaining three solar masses transformed into the gravitational waves the scientists detected. The August observations were the result of Virgo’s August 1 debut, a new gravitational wave detector in Italy built by the European Gravitational Observatory.

New Tools

Earlier detections of gravitational waves were made by LIGO, a pair of L-shaped antennas in Louisiana and Washington. Since LIGO first detected the waves in February 2016 — confirming Albert Einstein’s prediction and verifying the nature of black holes — the scientists working with LIGO have been searching for more insights into the universe. Although the newer Virgo antenna is only one-fourth as sensitive as the LIGO antennas, the network can now triangulate the sources of gravitational waves, allowing optical telescopes to search for any accompanying visible effects sparking in the night sky.

The astronomers will continue working to improve their instruments until fall of 2018 when their next observation run will begin. LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesman David Shoemaker told the New York Times: “This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together. With the next observing run planned for Fall 2018, we can expect such detections weekly or even more often.”

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U-Safe Can Cover a Range of Three Miles

U-Safe is a lifesaving buoy that can drive itself around in the water by remote control, it can generate enough power to carry a person to safety , its made by Noras Performance, and its approved by the Portuguese Life Saving Institute.

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Elon Musk Jokingly Takes Credit for Daimler’s $10 Billion EV Investment

Elon Musk stirred up some friendly competition via Twitter when he responded to a USA Today article discussing Daimler’s bet on electric vehicle (EV) technology. Musk said that the “$ 1 billion bet” the company was putting into taking on Tesla was not enough for “a giant” like Daimler and that it was “off by a zero.”

Daimler didn’t take issue with Musk’s criticism. In fact, they pointed out that the headline of the piece was missing the point, and that they’re investing that extra zero, more than $ 10 billion, into the next generation EV, plus another billion into batteries:

When a Twitter user pointed out that Musk wasn’t really the force behind Daimler’s $ 10 billion investment, and that the investment preceded the criticism, Musk responded by joking that he actually had caused the investment:

This could technically be just a joke, or, as TechCrunch points out, a reference to Tesla’s pioneering work with EVs — the reader can interpret it to their liking.

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Geoengineering May Be Our Only Hope for Surviving Climate Change

Engineering the Planet

While every small effort to combat the pressing problem of climate change helps, the situation may progress to the point that humanity has no choice but to take bold action in the form of geoengineering.

Could climate change transform Earth into Venus? [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

This branch of engineering focuses on large-scale technological interventions designed to physically manipulate our environment and planet in ways that will hopefully, at the very least, slow the advancement of climate change.

With experts predicting that the Earth will be at least 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by the end of the century, these measures might be the key to saving life on our planet. To put that in perspective, the global average temperature during the Ice Age was only about 6.6 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than it is today.

As our climate changes and temperatures increase, every aspect of life on our planet will change along with it, so it is important that we figure out how to keep life on Earth, well, alive, even if it means taking risks.

Changing Climates

In a recent interview, astrobiologist, planetary scientist, and senior scientist of the Planetary Science Institute David Grinspoon shared his thoughts on geoengineering and the future of planet Earth with Futurism.

Part of Grinspoon’s work focuses on looking at how the climates of planets like Mars and Venus have changed in the past in the hopes of using that knowledge to predict how Earth’s climate might change. “That gives me a little bit of a different kind of perspective on our climate evolution,” says Grinspoon. “It also leads into the possibility that we may want to manipulate the climate on this planet in the future to prevent it from going in a direction that is dangerous for everybody.”

By studying planets other than Earth, Grinspoon has garnered a better idea of not only how naturally changing climates might affect life, but how the specific changes we’re seeing on Earth might affect us and other creatures.

“Left to their own devices, planetary climates do change in ways that would be dangerous to our civilization,” says Grinspoon. “We will eventually have to learn how to handle that and assume this role of sort of caretaker.”

Image Credit: geralt / pixabay
Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

The climate will continue to change with or without our intervention, and most of us would probably like it to remain a habitable location. While Grinspoon is quick to note that geoengineering should be seen as a last resort — “We could make a cure worse than the disease” — he is confident that changes to our individual habits could go a long way toward combating the changing climate.

“I see the twenty-first century as a pivotal time. A lot of problems are coming to a head now, but there’s also a lot of potential for solving those problems,” Grinspoon asserts. “I do think there’s momentum for a widespread acceptance that we need to move beyond the fossil fuel economy, and I think 30 years from now, that transition is going to be really accelerated.”

Ultimately, geoengineering and our efforts toward sustainability are two sides of the same coin. If necessary, the former could allow us to make major changes to ensure Earth remains habitable, while the latter are comparatively easier, less risky ways for us to evolve along with our planet. It is important that we consider both as we move forward. As Grinspoon notes, “We cannot stop being planet changers. We just have to figure out how to do a better job — how to be smart planet changers.”

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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