‘Ultra-intense’ lasers could usher in new nuclear fusion method

10 Jan 2020

Image: © Stefan Kuhn/Stock.adobe.com

This week in future tech, Japanese researchers have tested a new method for nuclear fusion using ultra-intense laser light.

A team of researchers at Osaka University has investigated a new method for generating nuclear fusion power that, if successful, could one day harness the power of the sun on Earth and produce near-limitless, cheap, clean energy.

Publishing their findings to Nature Communications, the researchers said this new method uses ‘ultra-intense’ laser light as a ‘fast ignition’ method to heat the fuel long enough to generate electrical power.

Future Human

One of the most common attempts to create electricity from nuclear fusion is the inertial confinement method, which uses extremely high-energy laser pulses to heat and compress a fuel pellet before it gets the chance to be blown apart. This requires extremely precise control of the laser’s energy, which is quite challenging.

However, this latest method makes inertial confinement more consistent using a second laser shot. In ‘super-penetration’ fast ignition, the directly irradiated second laser produces fast-moving electrons in dense plasma that heat the core during compression to trigger fusion.

“By utilising the relativistic behaviour of the high-intensity laser, the energy can be reliably delivered to fuel in the imploded plasma aiming the ignition,” said the study’s first author, Tao Gong.

Ireland’s first electric bus takes to the road

A Volvo electric bus will now start taking passengers on an 8km round trip between Dublin Airport and the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel and Holiday Inn Express hotel every 30 minutes from 4am to 11.30pm daily, seven days a week.

ESB, through its Smart Energy Services business, is providing the charging infrastructure at the hotel grounds. The new shuttle bus replaces an older diesel bus, and it is estimated that it will cover an average annual mileage of 88,000km.

“Over the past number of years, we have taken a number of significant measures to reduce the hotels’ carbon footprint,” said Garret O’Neill, general manager for the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport and Holiday Inn Express Dublin Airport.

“While the purchase of the new Volvo 7900e electric bus is a significant financial investment for the hotel we believe it will deliver long-term benefits for both the customer and the local environment.”

Hydrogen fuel cell market breaks 1GW global capacity in 2019

2019 saw the global hydrogen fuel sector add more than 1GW of new capacity for the first time, according to the Fuel Cell Industry Review 2019. The report, published by E4tech, showed that approximately 1.1GW was shipped worldwide, marking a 40pc increase on 2018.

The driving force behind this market last year was fuel cell vehicles led by Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai. Between them, these two companies account for two-thirds of 2019’s shipped fuel cell capacity. When taking into account the growing bus, truck and van markets, vehicles account for more than 900MW of the 1.1GW total.

“If the 2010s can be seen as the breakout decade for the battery, the 2020s will see the ascendancy of the fuel cell,” said E4tech’s director for fuel cells and hydrogen, David Hart. “Just in time, too. Climate change targets are looking more urgent and challenging than ever, and we need a full range of technologies to meet them.”

Fuel cell vehicles deployed in Asia in 2019, including trucks and buses in China, constitute 50pc of the total shipped fuel cell capacity worldwide.

“To succeed, the fuel cell industry will need to see the supply chain mature quickly enough to deliver on expectations, and to allay any remaining safety concerns,” Hart added.

Here launches 3D road models for semi-autonomous cars

At CES 2020, Here Technologies – a location data and mapping company owned by a consortium of German auto firms – launched Here Lanes to increase driver awareness and road safety through advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). It aims to be a digital representation of the global road network to help a vehicle position itself in a lane while providing drivers with lane-level visual guidance.

The system feeds ADAS with newly updated data including the rules of the road, vehicle height restrictions, lane count and centre line, as well as direction of travel and the slope and curvature of intersections.

“ADAS provides immediate opportunities to increase road safety on a global level,” said Sheila Nedelcu, head of automated driving at Here.

“At the same time, ADAS is the bridge to fully automated driving from a technical and consumer adoption standpoint.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic