How mayonnaise is helping to solve one of nuclear fusion’s biggest problems

10 May 2019481 Views

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This week in future tech, scientists pushed mayonnaise to its physical limits in the name of nuclear fusion research.

The future of nuclear fusion research could be reliant on how mayonnaise reacts under extreme pressure. In a paper published to Physical Review E, researchers from Lehigh University in the US described wanting to better understand a phenomenon referred to as Rayleigh-Taylor instability.

Attempts to recreate the environment needed for fusion reactions require researchers to heat up gas frozen in pea-sized pellets to extreme temperatures. However, these pellets often explode before reaching fusion conditions because of the Rayleigh-Taylor instability that occurs when different materials of different densities tear each other apart.

Drawing a comparison, Prof Arindam Banerjee, who led the study, said: “As the balloon compresses, the air inside pushes against the material confining it, trying to move out.

“At some point, the balloon will burst under pressure. The same thing happens in a fusion capsule. The mixing of the gas and molten metal causes an explosion.”

So, in order to test what is happening here, the team put mayonnaise into a plexiglass container and subjected it to the same conditions, simply because its properties are similar to the molten metal.

The team’s findings will now contribute an important part of the solution towards achieving nuclear fusion.

Jeff Bezos reveals Blue Origin’s first moon lander

The race to the moon is certainly on, and the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, has revealed his plan to get there.

At a press event, the Blue Origin founder showed off the Blue Moon lander, designed to carry approximately 3.6 metric tonnes, as well as another version capable of carrying 6.5 metric tonnes that could also take astronauts to the surface.

Bezos said that the lander has been in the works for the past three years and, interestingly, his main motivation appears to be the limitations of energy on Earth and seeking out more in the solar system.

“A very fundamental long-range problem is that we will run out of energy on Earth,” he said at the event. “This is just arithmetic. It will happen.”

The lander will be powered by the company’s latest engine, the BE-7. Capable of blasting out more than 4,500kg of thrust, the engine is expected to have its first hotfire test this summer and will be offered to other space companies to buy.

Germany tests its first electric motorway with overhead cables

A 5km stretch of motorway between the cities of Darmstadt and Frankfurt has become Germany’s first ‘e-highway’, where trucks could connect to a continuous electrical flow through cables overhead, similar to trams in cities.

Earlier this week, a hybrid electric-diesel truck became the first vehicle to merge on to the e-highway in normal heavy traffic. This – along with four other test trucks – was fitted with batteries and sensors that automatically extend and connect to the overhead cables to power it on the stretch of motorway.

According to DW.com, the 670V direct-current cables are supposed to shut down automatically if severed accidentally, and during winter an anti-icing system is designed to keep them operable.

If the tests show this system to be feasible, it could eventually extend to Germany’s 13,000km of motorway.

Methane-consuming bacteria could be the future of fuel

For years, how methanotrophic bacteria has been able to remove methane from the environment and turn it into fuel has remained a mystery. But now, a research team from Northwestern University has found that the enzyme responsible for the methane-methanol conversion catalyses this reaction at a site that contains just one copper ion.

This discovery could lead to the design of human-made catalysts that could convert harmful methane into a readily usable methanol with little effort.

Publishing its findings in Science, the team showed that this method is vastly more efficient than current industrial methane-to-methanol conversion, which requires immense pressure and extreme temperatures. Rather, this new method can be done at room temperature and for almost zero cost.

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Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com