EIB pumps €250m into nuclear fusion reactor targeting 2050 success

20 Sep 2019

Image: © dani3315/Stock.adobe.com

This week in future tech, the EIB is putting a quarter of a billion euro into an Italian nuclear fusion project with big ambitions.

Following news that the UK is to build a new £22m nuclear fusion research facility, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has announced a new fund that would dwarf this sum. In a statement, the EIB said it will provide €250m of financing for a groundbreaking experimental reactor to be built in Italy.

The nation’s energy research agency, ENEA, will be responsible for the Divertor Tokamak Test reactor and the funding will come as part of a total investment of €500m for the facility, to be based in Frascati near Rome. The project will also receive funding from EuroFusion, the EU’s programme for safe, clean nuclear energy launched back in 2014.

With this new funding, ENEA is aiming for the facility to contribute to the goal of the production of fusion energy by 2050. Around 1,500 new jobs are expected, including 500 scientists and technicians.

“To achieve a climate neutral Europe by 2050, we need to keep investing in new technological solutions,” said the European Commission’s Miguel Arias Cañete, responsible for climate action and energy.

“Fusion is a potential source of safe, non-carbon emitting and virtually limitless energy. If we succeed in making a breakthrough in this technology it could significantly contribute to our efforts to make Europe the first climate neutral major economy. Today’s investment decision is one step towards this objective.”

Abundant compound turns CO2 into carbon neutral fuel

A team of researchers from Stanford University and the Technical University of Denmark has published a study showing how the Earth-abundant catalyst cerium oxide can convert CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO) better than conventional methods.

Stripping oxygen from CO2 to make CO gas is the first step in turning CO2 into nearly any liquid fuel and other products including synthetic gas and plastics. Adding hydrogen to CO can produce fuels such as synthetic diesel and kerosene for air travel.

The team envisions using renewable power to make the CO and for subsequent conversions, which would result in carbon-neutral products.

“We had been working on high-temperature CO2 electrolysis for years, but the collaboration with Stanford was the key to this breakthrough,” said Theis Skafte, lead author of the study.

“We achieved something we couldn’t have separately – both fundamental understanding and practical demonstration of a more robust material.”

Geoengineering not an answer to the climate crisis

University of Oxford physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert has written in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that the various suggestions of ways to tackle the climate crisis through geoengineering don’t actually solve the problem.

One recent project simulated the effects of a massive volcano in our atmosphere to see whether the resulting dust would be enough to lower the temperature on Earth. Such effects could be achieved with the release of airborne particles designed to reflect sunlight back into space.

While this may work in theory, Pierrehumbert said, they are not long-term solutions because “modification can never safely play more than a very minor role in the portfolio of solutions. There is simply no substitute for decarbonisation.”

The only real solution, he said, would be for the rapid elimination of fossil fuels and its resulting pollution, as well as the preservation of the planet’s vital carbon sinks.

“There is simply no good fix if we fail to stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere,” Pierrehumbert said.

IBM 53-qubit quantum computer accessible via the cloud

According to TechCrunch, IBM’s latest quantum computer is set to go online next month, giving the world access to a 53-qubit machine via the cloud. In doing so, it would become the most powerful quantum computer of its kind available to researchers. Google currently possesses a 72-qubit device, but this has not been made available to anyone outside the company.

“Our global momentum has been extraordinary since we put the very first quantum computer on the cloud in 2016, with the goal of moving quantum computing beyond isolated lab experiments that only a handful organisations could do, into the hands of tens of thousands of users,” said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research.

“The single goal of this passionate community is to achieve what we call Quantum Advantage, producing powerful quantum systems that can ultimately solve real problems facing our clients that are not viable using today’s classical methods alone, and by making even more IBM Quantum systems available we believe that goal is achievable.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic