Government to invest £220m in nuclear fusion plant concept

October 3rd, 2019 no comment

Andrea Leadsom, business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, made the announcement during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire – the UK’s world-leading fusion research laboratory.

Fusion research aims to copy the process which powers the Sun – the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy – for a new large-scale source of clean energy on Earth. Researchers around the globe are now developing fusion reactors that can turn this into a commercial technology to help satisfy the world’s increasing demand for energy.


STEP Powerplant illustration

Illustration of Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion power plant

Image credit: UK Atomic Energy Authority

According to Leadsom, STEP will be an innovative plan for a commercially viable fusion power station, offering the realistic prospect of constructing a powerplant by 2040. Also, UKAEA and industry partners, along with academics, aim to pool their expertise to complete the design by 2024.

“This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future,” said Leadsom. “Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the UK.”

The programme, expected to create 300 jobs directly, builds on UKAEA’s expertise in developing so-called ‘spherical tokamaks’, which are compact and efficient fusion devices that are expected to offer an economical route to commercial fusion power. The new MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment is due to start operations at Culham early in 2020, playing a key role in the STEP design.


Fusion test in MAST experiment

Fusion test in MAST experiment

Image credit: UK Atomic Energy Authority

As well as the creation of new jobs, Leadsom added that the spin-outs from the design work are expected to be on a large-scale, both in terms of synergies with other fusion power plant design activities (such as Europe’s ‘DEMO’ prototype power station) and other high-tech industries.

“This long-term investment will build on the UK’s scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new high-tech jobs and exports,” he said. 

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority added: “The UK has a proud heritage of pioneering developments in fusion research.

“This announcement demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to translating that research and development (R&D) leadership into a working fusion reactor. We are excited to work with our partners to take the next step towards a fusion-powered future.”

View from India: Industry 4.0 – connected, automated, electrified

July 25th, 2018 no comment

Industries both big and small are on the cusp of a transformation. Increased connectivity and flexible production are some of the desired results emerging from key technologies that help connect, automate and electrify systems and processes.

Key technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are giving a value-add to many processes across industries, which perhaps did not exist till these technologies were integrated into the system.

“The trend is accelerating and in order to broaden our portfolio of product lifecycle management (PLM) software for designing IoT applications, we have acquired Carriots in 2017. Through this Spanish company, we have fine-tuned our focus on IoT and analytics, and AI and machine learning (ML). It has also given us a gateway to digital twins,” said Pavan Kumar, vice president South Asia and managing director, India, Altair, speaking at the India Altair Technology Conference, 2018 India ATCx Simulation-Driven Innovation.

In an effort to create a skilled workforce to meet the upcoming technological demands, the company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with KLE Technological University (KLE Tech) to set up an Altair Design Innovation center (ADIC) at the KLE University Hubballi campus in Karnataka. The effort is to develop and facilitate competency on commercial finite element method (FEM) software from Altair called HyperWorks.

While a lot is expected from this campus, another tech trend to watch out for is 3D printing. We have already seen its application in healthcare and now it is all set to become integral to mainstream engineering products. Understandably, 3D printing tools are becoming lighter and cheaper. “An interesting development is that 3D printing is moving into the non-traditional world. A case in point is the printing of affordable houses for communities that live in poverty,” explained Pavan Kumar.

It’s pertinent to integrate new technologies into digital businesses because the demand for digitised operations has opened out a world of opportunities. “Digital transformation is the fourth industrial revolution and it will be worth $490 billion by 2022, IoT will share 20 per cent of the digital transformation,” highlighted Rajeev Kumar B R, Head of Engineering, Robert Bosch.

In the digital world, almost all operations are devoid of paper work. In the absence of paper work, connected products are on the rise in the digital world. By 2020, the digital world carries the promise of connecting seven billion people and 50 billion devices.

Broadly speaking, connectivity means systems and components are connected to address different product requirements. “A multidisciplinary approach is essential for connectivity between systems and components. Due to this, product development is undergoing a change, as prototypes are being created using simulation, before the actual product is developed and deployed,” said Rajeev Kumar.

Simulation is essential for ensuring better performance and precision. Once the product is simulated and ready for deployment, it’s also time to create a digital twin of the same. Simply put, digital twins are the digital replicas of the physical twins. The concept is yet to fully pick up, but early proponents of digital twins know that it offers a solution to escalating production costs, which is a perpetual problem faced by all industries. It also optimises maintenance, reduces downtime and offers security, be it in the case of connecting devices or other industries like manufacturing or transportation. More significantly, IoT is one of the drivers.

“Digital twins are an advantage as they don’t require expensive equipment for execution. Digital twins incorporate AI, ML and software analytics, all of which are coupled to the simulation model that updates and changes as per the requirement. A digital representation provides both elements and dynamics of how IoT devices operate and lives through its lifecycle,” reasoned Sreeram Mohan, director (embedded development), Altair.

Agreeably, we need to create the infrastructure and tools required for digital twins. We are yet to tap into its potential explore all possibilities fully. However in the case of automation, it’s a known fact that co-bots have begun to work in production units to automate products.

What seems unusual is that the concept will even find its way into individual kitchens. In a rather unconventional manner a robot may assist the cooking process. In times to come, it will be known as smart cooking. Already Amazon’s Alexa has come to be accepted in this way.

Japan’s first electric car battery recycling plant to sell old batteries at half price

March 27th, 2018 no comment

The project will be led by 4R Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo Corporation, and will give the costly batteries new life after they pass their peak performance.

With the rapidly rising number of electric cars on the road, the availability of used lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase significantly in the near future as buyers of the first generation of electric cars look to replace their vehicles.

The recycling and refabrication of such batteries is expected to have a substantial impact on the battery industry, affecting demand for new battery materials, and on the environment and society as a whole.

Global automakers are looking for ways to make cheaper EVs and prolong the life of their batteries, which can account for up to one-fifth of each vehicle’s cost and are made from increasingly costly materials, including cobalt and nickel.

A recent study found that worldwide supplies for lithium and cobalt – key elements for producing batteries – could become critical by 2050.

The new factory will begin selling rebuilt replacement lithium-ion batteries for the first-generation Nissan Leaf.

The batteries will be produced at the new factory in the town of Namie by reassembling high-performing modules removed from batteries whose overall energy capacity has fallen below 80 per cent.

They will be sold in Japan for 300,000 yen (£2,015), roughly half the price of brand-new replacement batteries for the world’s first and best-selling mass-marketed, all-battery EV.

“By reusing spent EV batteries, we wanted to raise the (residual) value of EVs and make them more accessible,” said 4R chief executive Eiji Makino, 4R.

The new plant has opened around 5km north of the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and it is hoped it will be an economic boon to Namie, which has struggled in the wake of the disaster.

The flat, rectangular battery packs that line the bottom of each Leaf chassis are trucked into the plant, where each module is assessed.

Sumitomo has come up with a way to analyse all 48 modules contained in each battery pack in four hours, a huge time saving over the 16 days Nissan engineers previously used for similar measurements.

Modules with capacities above 80 per cent are assigned for use in replacement Leaf batteries; lesser modules are reassembled and sold as batteries for fork lifts, golf carts and lower-energy applications such as streetlamps.

The plant can process 2,250 battery packs a year and initially plans to refabricate “a few hundred” units annually, Makino said, adding that 4R would see whether the process could also be used for batteries from the latest Leaf model, which uses a different battery chemistry.

Makino said it would be difficult for 4R to completely break down and recycle EV batteries on its own, but may consider partnering with another company to retrieve reusable materials, a process that industry experts say is key to sustainable EV battery production.