Solar-Powered Desalination Device Wins MIT $100K Competition

The winner of this year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is commercializing a new water desalination technology. MIT News reports: Nona Desalination says it has developed a device capable of producing enough drinking water for 10 people at half the cost and with 1/10th the power of other water desalination devices. The device is roughly the size and weight of a case of bottled water and is powered by a small solar panel. The traditional approach for water desalination relies on a power-intensive process called reverse osmosis. In contrast, Nona uses a technology developed in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics that removes salt and bacteria from seawater using an electrical current.

“Because we can do all this at super low pressure, we don’t need the high-pressure pump [used in reverse osmosis], so we don’t need a lot of electricity,” says Crawford, who co-founded the company with MIT Research Scientist Junghyo Yoon. “Our device runs on less power than a cell phone charger.” The company has already developed a small prototype that produces clean drinking water. With its winnings, Nona will build more prototypes to give to early customers. The company plans to sell its first units to sailors before moving into the emergency preparedness space in the U.S., which it estimates to be a $5 billion industry. From there, it hopes to scale globally to help with disaster relief. The technology could also possibly be used for hydrogen production, oil and gas separation, and more.

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Nuclear Energy: the Case Against

“We do not need to plunge headlong into a nuclear future,” argues Serhii Plokhy, author of the book Atoms and Ashes: From Bikini Atoll to Fukushima.
He notes Belgium’s adding a 10-year extension to the life of two of its nuclear reactors, France’s program to build 14 new reactors, and Boris Johnson’s pledge to create supply 25% of the UKs power needs with nuclear energy by 2050.
On the surface, the switch to nuclear makes sense. It would not only enable European countries to meet their ambitious net zero targets, since it produces no CO2. It would also make them less vulnerable to Russian threats, and allow them to stop financing the Russian war machine….

What the Russian takeover of [Ukraine] nuclear facilities exposed is a hazard inherent in all nuclear power. In order for this method of producing electricity to be safe, everything else in society has to be functioning perfectly. Warfare, economic collapse, climate change itself — all of these increasingly real risks make nuclear sites potentially perilous places. Even without them, the dangers of atomic fission remain, and we must ask ourselves: are they really worth the cost…?

Technological developments, growing international cooperation and rising safety standards did indeed do a great deal to ensure that no major nuclear accident occurred for 25 years after Chernobyl. But the Fukushima explosions demonstrated that such improvements have not eradicated the dangers surrounding nuclear power plants…. Can anything be done to make reactors safer? A new generation of smaller modular reactors, designed from scratch to produce energy, not to facilitate warfare, has been proposed by Bill Gates, and embraced, among others, by Macron. The reactors promised by Gates’s TerraPower company are still at the computer-simulation stage and years away from construction. But his claim that in such reactors “accidents would literally be prevented by the laws of physics” must be taken with a pinch of salt, as there are no laws of war protecting either old or new reactors from attack.

There is also serious concern that the rapid expansion in the number of plants, advocated as a way of dealing with climate change, will increase the probability of accidents. While new technology will help to avoid some of the old pitfalls, it will also bring new risks associated with untried reactors and systems. Responsibility for dealing with such risks is currently being passed on to future generations.

This is the second great risk from nuclear power: even if a reactor runs for its lifetime without incident, you still have a lot of dangerous material left at the end of it. Fuel from nuclear power plants will present a threat to human life and the environment for generations to come, with the half-life of some radioactive particles measured in tens of thousands of years…. Nuclear power plants generally have no alternative to storing their high-level radioactive waste on site….If what we bury today in the New Mexico desert — the waste created by our nuclear ambitions — is so repulsive to us, why do we pass it on to others to deal with?

The author’s counter-proposal: expanding the use of renewable energy:
New research should be encouraged, grid infrastructure should be built up, and storage capacity increased. Billions that would otherwise go to new nuclear infrastructure, with all the attendant costs of cleanup that continue for decades and beyond, should be pumped instead into clean energy.

In the meantime, we obviously have an existing nuclear industry, and the solution is not to run away in panic, but to take good care of the facilities that already dot our countryside. We must not abandon the industry to its current state of economic hardship, as that would only mean inviting the next accident sooner rather than later.

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Biden Administration Begins $3 Billion Plan for Electric Car Batteries

The Biden administration plans to begin a $3.1 billion effort on Monday to spur the domestic production of advanced batteries, which are essential to its plan to speed the adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy. The New York Times reports: President Biden has prodded automakers to churn out electric vehicles and utilities to switch to solar, wind and other clean energy, saying the transitions are critical to eliminating the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet. In the wake of surging energy prices caused largely by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, administration officials also have described the transition to clean energy as a way to insulate consumers from the fluctuation of global oil markets and achieve true energy independence. Jennifer Granholm, the energy secretary, last week called renewable energy “the greatest peace plan this world will ever know.” Yet currently, lithium, cobalt and other minerals needed for electric car batteries and energy storage are processed primarily in Asia. China alone controls nearly 80 percent of the world’s processing and refining of those critical minerals.

Ms. Granholm plans to announce the funding plan on Monday during a visit to Detroit, a senior administration official said. The $3.1 billion in grants, along with a separate $60 million program for battery recycling, is an effort to “reduce our reliance on competing nations like China that have an advantage over the global supply chain,” according to a Department of Energy statement. The funding is aimed at companies that can create new, retrofitted or expanded processing facilities as well as battery recycling programs, officials with the Department of Energy said. The grants will be funded through the $1 trillion infrastructure law, which includes more than $7 billion to improve the domestic battery supply chain.

Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science at Argonne National Laboratory, told the panel that the United States “can become a dominant force in energy storage technology” and has a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seize the moment.” Between electric vehicles and grid storage, the market for lithium-ion batteries in the United States is expected to increase by a factor of 20 to 30 in the next decade but a secure domestic supply chain is needed, Dr. Srinivasan said. The Biden administration wants half of all new vehicles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030. The president also has issued procurement guidelines to transform the 600,000-vehicle federal fleet, so that all new cars and trucks purchased by the federal government by 2035 are zero-emission.

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Gavin Newsom Reconsiders Closure of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

gordm writes: Following appeals from scientists, a Stanford and MIT study showing Diablo Canyon could save California $21 Billion, demand curtailment and a projected power supply shortfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom is now considering keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open. Diablo Canyon generated 6% of California’s total electricity in 2021 and 12% of California’s carbon-free electricity.
Elon Musk has tweeted in support of keeping Diablo Canyon open, and in support of keeping European nuclear power plants running. According to the L.A. Times, Newsom said the state would seek out a share of $6 billion in federal funds meant to rescue nuclear reactors facing closure. The money comes from the Biden administration’s recently announced effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing. “The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, or you miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Newsom said. “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”

A spokesperson for the governor clarified that Newsom still wants to see the facility shut down long term. “It’s been six years since PG&E agreed to close the plant near San Luis Obispo, rather than invest in expensive environmental and earthquake-safety upgrades,” the report notes. “But Newsom’s willingness to consider a short-term reprieve reflects a shift in the politics of nuclear power after decades of public opposition fueled by high-profile disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as well as the Cold War.”

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Half of Tesla’s New Cars Produced Use Cobalt-Free LFP Batteries

Tesla confirmed that nearly half of all its vehicles produced last quarter are already using cobalt-free iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. Electrek reports: Over the last few years, CEO Elon Musk has said multiple times that Tesla plans to shift more electric cars to LFP batteries in order to overcome nickel and cobalt supply concerns. Iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which don’t use nickel or cobalt, are traditionally cheaper and safer, but they offer less energy density, which means less efficient and shorter range for electric vehicles. However, they have improved enough recently that it now makes sense to use cobalt-free batteries in lower-end and shorter-range vehicles. It also frees up the production of battery cells with other, more energy-dense chemistries to produce more longer-range vehicles.

Tesla already moved its Standard Range Model 3 and Model Y produced in China to LFP cells. Last year, Tesla also announced it is “shifting to Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry globally” for “standard range vehicles.” It confirmed that the automaker planned to switch the Model 3 Standard Range, also known as Model 3 Rear-Wheel-Drive, being produced in the Fremont factory to LFP cells, too.

Now with the release of Tesla’s Q1 2022 financial results, Tesla confirmed that nearly half of all vehicles produced are now using LFP batteries: “Diversification of battery chemistries is critical for long-term capacity growth, to better optimize our products for their various use cases and expand our supplier base. This is why nearly half of Tesla vehicles produced in Q1 were equipped with a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, containing no nickel or cobalt. Currently, LFP batteries are used in most of our standard range vehicle products, as well as commercial energy storage applications. As a result of our energy efficient motors, a Model 3 with an LFP battery pack can still achieve a 267-mile EPA range.” This would mean that roughly half of Tesla’s volume comes from Model 3 Rear-Wheel-Drive, the cheapest Tesla vehicle, and the Model Y Standard Range, which is only offered in China.

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Is Clean Energy Buried at the Bottom of Abandoned Oil Wells?

“The U.S. is spending millions to explore a surprising source of untapped power,” reports Recode, describing a new pilot program from America’s Department of Energy”

Geothermal energy works on a simple premise: The Earth’s core is hot, and by drilling even just a few miles underground, we can tap into that practically unlimited heat source to generate energy for our homes and businesses without creating nearly as many of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning fossil fuels. However, drilling doesn’t come cheap — it accounts for half the cost of most geothermal energy projects — and requires specialized labor to map the subsurface, drill into the ground, and install the infrastructure needed to bring energy to the surface.

But the US, in the wake of an oil and gas boom, just so happens to have millions of oil and gas wells sitting abandoned across the country. And oil and gas wells, it turns out, happen to share many of the same characteristics as geothermal wells — namely that they are deep holes in the ground, with pipes that can bring fluids up to the surface. So, the DOE asks, why not repurpose them?

That’s exactly what the agency’s pilot program, called Wells of Opportunity: ReAmplify, aims to do, awarding a total of $8.4 million to four projects across the country that will each try to tap into some of those old wells to extract geothermal energy rather than gas or oil. If they work, they could be the key to not only reducing the country’s use of planet-damaging fossil fuels, but also helping answer the question of how to transition many of the more than 125,000 people who work in oil and gas extraction across the country into clean-energy jobs….

[T]he next year or so will be spent on planning and assessing the feasibility of turning oil wells into geothermal resources, after which energy generation will slowly ramp up. The biggest question is just how scalable these ideas are: One megawatt is, after all, a pittance compared to the country’s energy needs.

“Some European countries already rely on direct use of geothermal energy on a large scale,” the article points out.

Volcanically-active Iceland, for example, “uses its vast reserves of geothermal energy to heat 90 percent of its homes.”

Thanks to Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot for submitting the story

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Rolls-Royce Expects UK Approval For Small Nuclear Reactors By Mid-2024

Rolls-Royce is to start building parts for its small modular nuclear reactors in anticipation of receiving regulatory approval from the British government by 2024, one of its directors has said. The Guardian reports: Paul Stein, the chairman of Rolls-Royce SMR, a subsidiary of the FTSE 100 engineering company, said he hoped to be providing power to the UK’s national grid by 2029. Speaking to Reuters in an interview conducted virtually, Stein said the regulatory “process has been kicked off, and will likely be complete in the middle of 2024. We are trying to work with the UK government, and others to get going now placing orders, so we can get power on grid by 2029.”

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are seen by their proponents as a way to build nuclear power plants in factories, a method that could be cheaper and quicker than traditional designs. The technology, based on the reactors used in nuclear submarines, is seen by Rolls-Royce as a potential earner far beyond any previous business such as jet engines or diesel motors. The government under Boris Johnson put nuclear power at the centre of its energy strategy announced earlier this month, in response to climate concerns and a desire to ditch Russian gas. SMRs are expected to play an important role in an expansion of nuclear to supply a quarter of the UK’s energy needs. Lower costs would be crucial in justifying the nuclear push, given that onshore wind is seen as much cheaper and quicker to install.

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US President Invokes Emergency Authority Prioritizing Pursuit of EV Battery Minerals

U.S. president Joe Biden “will invoke the Defense Production Act to encourage domestic production of minerals required to make batteries for electric vehicles and long-term energy storage,” reports CNBC.

“It will also help the U.S. minimize dependence on foreign supply chains.”
The president’s order could help companies receive government funding for feasibility studies on projects that extract materials, including lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese, for EV production.

The Defense Production Act, established by President Harry Truman during the Cold War, allows the president to use emergency authority to prioritize the development of specific materials for national production…. The administration also said it’s reviewing further uses of the law to “secure safer, cleaner, and more resilient energy for America.”

The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, representing about one-third of emissions every year. The transition away from gas vehicles to EVs is considered critical to combating human-caused climate change….

The administration in February unveiled a plan to allocate $5 billion to states to fund EV chargers over five years as part of the bipartisan infrastructure package.

The White House said in a statement the move would reduce America’s reliance on China and other countries “for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future.”

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Turmoil at Metals Exchange Trading Nickel Used in Lithium-Ion Batteries and EVs

Early last month on the London Metals Exchange, a Chinese metals producer named Tsingshan Holding Group “wagered a massive bet that the price of nickel would fall,” reports CNN Business. At the peak Tsingshan’s position “was equivalent to about an eighth of all of the outstanding contracts in the market.”

But between Friday, March 4 and Tuesday March 8, the metal soared in value from about $29,000 to $100,000 per ton. “If prices had stood at $100,000 the company would have owed the London Metals Exchange $15 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.”
The spike generated margin calls higher than the London Metals Exchange [the LME] had ever seen — and if paid, they would force multiple defaults that would ripple through the exchange and destabilize the global market. Exchange executives scrambled to respond, ultimately throwing a lifeline to the brokers representing Tsingshan and other producers. In an unprecedented move, they halted trading and retroactively canceled all 9,000 trades that occurred on Tuesday, worth about $4 billion in total. The market would remain dark for a week, unleashing a tidal wave of chaos and a mob of angry investors onto the exchange. In its wake, threats of lawsuits abound and trust has eroded. [The day it re-opened, CNN also reported the exchange “had to suspend the electronic trading of nickel shortly after it resumed due to a technical problem.”]

Now, the 145 year-old British giant is teetering on a nickel. Over the past century-and-a-half the LME, known for its ring of red couches and barking brokers, has successfully trudged its way through world wars, meltdowns and defaults. But nickel, the metal used in stainless steel and the lithium-ion battery cells in most electric vehicles, might be what finally brings the world’s largest market for base metals contracts to its knees.”The world’s pricing mechanism for nickel is failing,” said Daniel Ghali, the director of commodities strategy at TD Securities. “The question is, will it continue to fail?” Others weren’t as diplomatic. “The LME is now very likely going to die a slow self-inflicted death through the loss of confidence in it and its products,” tweeted Mark Thompson, executive vice-chairman at Tungsten West, a mining development company….

Until 2012, the LME was owned by its members, the same people who traded on the exchange — but then it was sold to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) for $2.2 billion….

The LME’s lack of transparency allows two or three big names to throw around vast sums of money and “hijack” a relatively illiquid market, said Adrian Gardner, principal analyst of nickel markets at Wood Mackenzie…. Sitting on the other side of the short were hedge funds, who had bet that nickel supply would decrease because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Russia provides about 20% of all top-grade nickel). When the LME decided to retroactively cancel those $4 billion in gains on March 8, it was hedge funds who lost giant sums of money. Global investment management firm AQR, which has $124 billion in assets under management, was among those that lost money when trades were canceled. “The winners were commodity producers and their banks, and the losers are the various clients that AQR and other large asset managers represent: firefighters, municipal workers, and university endowments,” said Jordan Brooks, principal at AQR Capital Management. AQR is considering legal action against the exchange. Investors, said Brooks, “acted in good faith and provided liquidity, but the LME just decided to shift their trading gains to commodities producers and their banks….”

Volume in trading has yet to recover, raising questions about the LME’s ability to accurately benchmark the price of the metal. Fewer than 210 contracts were traded in the first hour after the market opened on Tuesday. That’s down about 60% from the 90-day average before the trading halt. Other metals on the LME, like copper and aluminum, have also seen a decrease in trade volume….

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange doesn’t currently trade nickel, but perhaps it soon will. “[The LME] did something that was egregious and a betrayal of trust,” said Brooks. “I’d be shocked if the strategic plans of other exchanges haven’t changed in the past three weeks.”

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