ITER experimental fusion reactor is switched on
fusion was already demonstrated on a small scale. The problem has
been finding ways of scaling it up to commercial levels in an efficient,
economical, and environmentally benign way.
ITER – previously known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
– aims to be the first project to achieve this. Built in southern France
at a cost of €20 billion, it has taken over a decade to construct
and is among the largest scientific projects ever undertaken, second
only to the International Space Station. This joint research experiment
is funded by the US, EU, Japan, Russia, China, India and South Korea.
net fusion power on a large scale, the reactor must simulate the conditions
at the Sun's core. For this, it uses a magnetic confinement device
called a tokamak. This doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber generates a powerful
magnetic field that prevents heat from touching the reactor's walls.
Tiny quantities of fuel are injected into and trapped within the chamber.
Here they are heated to 100 million degrees, forming a plasma. At such
high temperatures, the light atomic nuclei of hydrogen become fused
together, creating heavier forms of hydrogen such as deuterium and tritium.
This releases neutrons and a huge amount of energy.
its operational activation in 2022,* it
is hoped that ITER will eventually produce over 500 megawatts of
power, in bursts of 400 seconds or more. This compares with 16 MW for
the Joint European Torus (JET) in 1997, the previous world record peak
fusion power, which lasted only a few seconds.
require many more years before its reactor has been sufficiently
perfected. To generate the sort of continuous levels of power required
for commercial operation, it will need a way of holding the plasma in
place at the critical densities and temperatures. This will need refinements
in the design of the chamber, such as better superconducting magnets
and advances in vacuum systems.
it could ultimately lead to a revolution in energy. If this project
were to succeed, humanity would gain a virtually unlimited supply of
clean, green electricity.*
Solar grid parity has been reached in almost 10% of the US
Grid parity is defined as the point at which renewable energy is equal to, or cheaper than, utility grid electricity – without government subsidies. In the case of solar, although a number of factors are involved, countries with more sunshine tend to achieve this landmark sooner.* In the US, regions such as California and Hawaii were among the first states to reach grid parity.
From 2010 onwards there was explosive growth of installed solar capacity both in the US* and around the world. Dramatic falls in cost, faster production through automation, new materials and efficiency improvements, concerns over global warming, new financing models and the increasingly competitive market with China and other countries, all helped in boosting the deployment of solar.
The bankruptcy of Solyndra (awarded hundreds of millions of dollars through a federal loan guarantee program) received much coverage in the US media. However, this was less a failure of the industry and more due to the success of competition in driving down prices. Solyndra's panels were made from copper indium gallium selenide – nonsilicon technology. Although this was expensive, it was competitive in 2008 when silicon prices were high. When the cost of silicon fell, so did the price of silicon panels, making Solyndra's technology obsolete.*
The growth trend for solar would continue throughout the 2010s and into the following decade, with prices plummeting still further.* Traditional utility companies were beginning to face enormous competition from inexpensive rooftop solar power, even in northern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.*
By 2022, almost 10% of the US has reached solar grid parity.* This is helping to mitigate some of the economic damage caused by rising oil prices. By 2030, a nationwide "smart grid" has been established across the country, able to intelligently manage and distribute solar energy to precisely where it is most required.* By the 2040s, even solar from space is commercially feasible* and by mid-century, solar dominates the global energy supply.*
phases out nuclear energy
Fukushima disaster in Japan, a number of countries began to reconsider
their use of nuclear power. Germany was among the nations to abandon
this form of energy altogether. Its government had originally planned
to keep plants running until 2036, but this schedule was brought forward.
Seven plants which had been temporarily shut down for testing in 2011,
and an eighth taken offline for technical problems, would remain closed
permanently. The remaining nine plants would be shut down by 2022.
this phasing out, nuclear power in Germany had produced a quarter
of the country's electricity and the industry employed some 30,000 people.
The shortfall would be made up by renewables, a temporary increase in coal use* and the cutting of electricity usage by 10 percent through more efficient
machinery and buildings.*
nuclear plants in 2011, showing the zones of radiation in a potential
worst-case scenario, as happened with Fukushima. According to this map,
large areas of north and south Germany would be made uninhabitable if
all plants were to meltdown.
hosts the FIFA World Cup
a tiny Persian Gulf nation of just 1.7 million people. It has the second
highest GDP per capita in the world, owing to its massive natural gas
deposits. It becomes the first country in the Middle East to host the
in Qatar can reach 50°C. However, each stadium employs state-of-the-art
cooling technology, capable of reducing temperatures by over 20 degrees
celsius. The upper tiers can be disassembled after the tournament and
donated to countries with less developed sports infrastructure.
the stadia includes a 420,000 sq ft media facade, covering almost the
whole exterior. This futuristic screen displays news, adverts, tournament
information and live matches to viewers outside.*
China's first space station is complete
China's efforts to develop low Earth orbit (LEO) space station capabilities began with a space laboratory phase, consisting of three "Tiangong" space modules launched in 2011, 2013 and 2015, respectively. These were small and experimental modules intended to demonstrate the rendezvous and docking capabilities needed for a much larger space station complex. They were designed for short stays with crews of three.
The larger, modular space station begins to take shape in 2020, using the previous separate components which are arranged as a Core Cabin Module (CCM), Laboratory Cabin Module I (LCM-1) and Module II (LCM-2), a "Shenzhou" crewed vessel and a cargo craft for transporting supplies and lab facilities.
The multiphase construction program is completed by 2022. The complex weighs approximately 60,000 kilograms (130,000 lb) and will support three astronauts for long-term habitation. It has a design lifetime of ten years.*
Credit: Chinese Society of Astronautics
European Extremely Large Telescope is operational
revolutionary new telescope is built in Cerro Armazones, Chile, by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental research organisation supported by fifteen countries. It has the aim of observing the
universe in greater detail than even the Hubble Space Telescope.
of 39 metres (129 ft) will be powerful enough to study the atmospheres
of extrasolar planets. It will also perform "stellar archaeology"
– measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies, as well
as probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
Originally planned for 2018,* the observatory is delayed until 2022 due to financial problems.* The mirror is also reduced in size slightly, having previously been 42m.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope begins full operations
Joining the European Extremely Large Telescope this year is another observatory, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), beginning full operations for a ten-year study.* This wide-field "survey" reflecting telescope is located on the 2,715 m (8,907 ft) Cerro Pachón, a mountain in northern Chile.
The LSST design is unique among large telescopes in having a very wide field of view: 3.5 degrees in diameter or 9.6 square degrees. For comparison, both the Sun and Moon, as seen from the Earth, are 0.5 degrees across or 0.2 square degrees. Combined with its large aperture, this provides it with a spectacularly large collecting power of 319 m²degree². In other words, vast amounts of data can be obtained simultaneously over huge areas of sky.
The observatory has a 3.2 gigapixel camera, taking 200,000 pictures (1.28 petabytes uncompressed) per year, far more than can be reviewed by humans. Managing and effectively data mining this enormous output is among the most technically difficult parts of the project, requiring 100 teraflops of computing power and 15 petabytes of storage. The main scientific goals of the LSST include:
Measuring weak gravitational lensing in the deep sky to detect signatures of dark energy and dark matter;
Mapping small objects in the Solar System, particularly near-Earth asteroids and Kuiper belt objects;
Detecting transient optical events such as novae and supernovae;
Mapping the Milky Way.
Data from the telescope (up to 30 terabytes per night) is made available by Google as an up-to-date interactive night-sky map.
A combination of rapid population growth, lack of fresh water, social tension and weak government has led to significant regional instability in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.* Worsening climate change is producing longer droughts and more severe flooding, with tensions erupting in shared water basins.
Upstream countries are now using their greater resources for economic and political leverage over their downstream neighbours. At the same time, reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants are being targeted by terrorists and rogue states. Public fear of these attacks is forcing governments to take costly measures to protect their infrastructure.
Some particular flashpoints include the Nile in Egypt, Sudan and nations further south; the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq and the greater Middle East; the Mekong in China and Southeast Asia; the Jordan River that separates Israel and the Palestinian territories from Jordan; the Indus and the Brahmaputra in India** and South Asia, as well as the Amu Darya in Central Asia.
Recent advances in desalination have made it easier to filter seawater.* However, these methods are patented and guarded by Western corporations. Just as food demands were taken advantage of in previous decades,*** the emerging water crisis is now being used as a means of exploitation and blackmail. Some developing nations are even being sued for attempting to develop cheaper versions for themselves.
Global reserves of antimony are running out
Antimony is a rare metalloid, used mainly as alloying material for lead and tin in products such as lead acid batteries, solders and bullets. It also functions in microelectronic products and in credit cards, as an additive for fireproofing, and in some pharmaceuticals. It is found naturally in the form of the sulfide mineral stibnite and was primarily produced in China, South Africa, Bolivia, Russia and Tajikistan.
Exploited by man for millennia, global reserves are finally beginning to run out during the early 2020s.* Since it now holds the bulk of the dwindling supply, China has been subject to controversies over trade. In an effort to control environmental issues and resolve safety problems, many of the country's mines and smelters were shut down in the previous decade. The local Government in Lengshuijiang, Hunan Province – accounting for 60% of world reserves – shuttered nearly all of its mines and smelters, sending the price of antimony soaring.
This pattern will play out again for other minerals in the decades to come. From this point on, business and industry are forced to rely on recycling of older products and/or shift to replacement materials.
For antimony chemicals in paint, pigments and enamels, the substitutes can include compounds of chromium, tin, titanium, zinc and zirconium. Combinations of cadmium, calcium, copper, selenium, strontium, sulfur and tin can be used as substitutes for hardening lead. Selected organic compounds and hydrated aluminum oxide are widely accepted substitutes as flame retardants. However, many of these other substances will themselves face shortages in the years to come.*
clothes are growing rapidly in use
Fabrics that incorporate nanotech are becoming widespread. This includes truly waterproof garments, which are now a popular choice for consumers. These are made from polyester fibres
coated with millions of silicone filaments, structured in such
a way that water simply falls off, leaving no dampness whatsoever.* Nanotech
is also being used by the military, police, firefighters and other specialist personnel to improve the resilience and flexibility of suits, protective gear and other equipment. Some uniforms can repel chemical and biological agents using nanotech.*
Credit: University of Zurich/Wiley Vch
nanowires are appearing in high-end products
piezoelectric effect, in which crystalline materials under mechanical
stress produce an electric current, is now being utilised at the nanoscale
level to power a variety of devices.*
– such as those created by wind, sound waves, friction, and even the
turbulence of blood flow – can be captured and harnassed by a nanowire
mesh. The bending of this mesh in response to these subtle forces can
generate over 200 millivolts.
of self-powering technology is so sensitive, it can even be embedded
in clothing. For instance, the subtle movements of a belt, shirt or
trouser pocket can produce enough power to charge the batteries of a
medical devices benefit particularly well from this. Hearing aids, for
example, no longer require batteries since they can be powered by sound
waves hitting them. Meanwhile, bone-loss monitors and other sensors
can be activated by stresses to the body – then beam an alert signal
to a computer.
nanowires have a range of other applications. They can be used in engineering,
for example, to detect microscopic fractures in an aeroplane or spacecraft.
They can also be used in identity verification: a grid of piezoelectric
wires underneath a signature pad (or other touchscreen device) can be
used to record the pattern of pressure applied, which is then checked
against a database.
is fully curable
advances in stem cell research have provided a method of regenerating
sensory cells within the inner ear. Humans are born with 30,000 cochlear
and vestibular hair cells per ear. Unlike many animal species, they
are unable to regenerate these when they are damaged. However, experiments
with mice showed that it was possible to induce stem cells – as well
as reprogrammed fibroblasts – into creating enough replacement hair
cells to fully restore hearing. This process was then replicated in
patient's own skin as a source of stem cells means that the replacements
are a perfect genetic match for their body, avoiding issues of immune
rejection. This form of therapy also enables a variety of other ailments
to be treated, such as balance disorders and tinnitus.