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Blog » Energy & the Environment

 
     
 

28th January 2016

Doomsday Clock stays at three minutes to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board has announced that their closely monitored "Doomsday Clock" will remain at three minutes to midnight.

 

doomsday clock three minutes to midnight

 

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, representing a countdown to possible global catastrophe (e.g. nuclear war or climate change). It has been maintained since 1947 by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.

The position of the Clock hands in the past has ranged from two minutes to midnight in 1953 (after the U.S. began testing hydrogen bombs, which was followed by Soviet tests shortly after), to 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 (when the Cold War ended and deep cuts were made to nuclear arsenals).

Last year, the Clock hands were moved from five to three minutes to midnight, with the Bulletin stating: "Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernisations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth."

This week, it was announced that the Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight, since recent progress in the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord "constitute only small bright spots in a darker world situation full of potential for catastrophe."

 

doomsday clock three minutes to midnight

 

The statement accompanying the Doomsday Clock decision opens with the following words: "Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world's attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries."

While recognising the important progress of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, the Bulletin cautions that these positive steps have been offset in large part by foreboding developments: "Even as the Iran agreement was hammered out, tensions between the United States and Russia rose to levels reminiscent of the worst periods of the Cold War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria continued, accompanied by dangerous bluster and brinkmanship, with Turkey, a NATO member, shooting down a Russian warplane involved in Syria, the director of a state-run Russian news agency making statements about turning the United States to radioactive ash, and NATO and Russia repositioning military assets and conducting significant exercises with them. Washington and Moscow continue to adhere to most existing nuclear arms control agreements, but the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons countries are engaged in programs to modernise their nuclear arsenals, suggesting that they plan to keep and maintain the readiness of their nuclear weapons for decades, at least — despite their pledges, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to pursue nuclear disarmament."

On the climate front, the Bulletin statement points out: "Promising though it may be, the Paris climate agreement came toward the end of Earth's warmest year on record, with the increase in global temperature over pre-industrial levels surpassing one degree Celsius."

 

doomsday clock three minutes to midnight

 

Other more positive climate developments cited in the statement include the Papal encyclical related to climate change, the movement among investors toward divestment of fossil fuels, new advances in sustainable energy systems, more climate-friendly governments in Canada and Australia. However, the statement cautions that even these developments must be seen "against the steady backtracking of the United Kingdom's present government on climate policies and the continued intransigence of the Republican Party in the U.S., which stands alone in the world in failing to acknowledge even that human-caused climate change is a problem."

The Bulletin also reflects concerns about "the nuclear power vacuum" around the globe: "The international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation challenges that large-scale nuclear expansion poses ... Because of such problems, in the United States and in other countries, nuclear power's attractiveness as an alternative to fossil fuels has decreased, despite the clear need for carbon-emissions-free energy in the age of climate change."

 

doomsday clock three minutes to midnight

 

Rachel Bronson, executive director of the Bulletin, comments: "Last year, the Bulletin's Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: 'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act — immediately."

Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors: "Developments have been mixed since we moved the clock forward a year ago. In spite of some positive news, the major challenges the Bulletin laid out for governments then have not been addressed, even as the overall global challenges we need to face become more urgent. The clock reflects our estimate that the world is as close to the brink as it was in 1983 when US-Russian tensions were at their iciest in decades."

Sharon Squassoni, Bulletin Science and Security Board member, and a director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, said: "North Korea's recent nuclear test illustrates the very real danger of life in a proliferated world. Nuclear proliferation isn't a potential threat — we still have few controls over the kinds of capabilities that Iran succeeded in acquiring. In addition, regional tensions and conflict increase the risk of theft or use of these weapons."

Sivan Kartha, Bulletin Science and Security Board member, senior scientist and climate change expert, states: "The voluntary pledges made in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to the task of averting drastic climate change. These incremental steps must somehow evolve into the fundamental change in world energy systems needed if climate change is to ultimately be arrested."

So, what steps need to be taken?

The Bulletin statement accompanying the Doomsday Clock announcement identifies the following as the most urgently needed:

• Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernisation programs.
• Re-energise the disarmament process, with a focus on results.
• Engage North Korea to reduce nuclear risks.
• Follow up on the Paris accord with actions to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fulfil the global agreement to keep warming below 2°C.
• Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem.
• Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies.

 

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18th January 2016

Next ice age delayed by 100,000 years

Man-made carbon emissions have delayed the next ice age by as much as 100,000 years, according to researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

 

next ice age future timeline
Artist's impression of the northern hemisphere during the last Ice Age. By Ittiz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Humanity has become a geological force that is able to suppress the beginning of the next ice age, according to a new study published in Nature. Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found the relation of insolation (solar radiation hitting the Earth's surface) and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are the key criterion to explain the last eight glacial cycles in Earth's history. At the same time, their results show that even moderate human interference with the planet's natural carbon balance might postpone the next glacial inception by 100,000 years.

Even without man-made climate change, the current geological cycle (known as the Holocene) suggests that the earliest the next ice age could be expected to arrive is 50,000 years from now. However, the addition of man-made CO2 from human activity since the Industrial Revolution is already sufficient to postpone the next ice age by a further 50,000 years, while future anthropogenic emissions in the coming decades may increase that by yet another 50,000 years.

"The bottom line is that we're basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented," says lead author Andrey Ganopolski. "It's mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it."

For the first time, says Ganopolski, scientists can explain the onset of the past eight ice ages by quantifying several key factors that preceded the formation of each glacial cycle: "Our results indicate a unique functional relationship between the summer insolation and atmospheric CO2 for the beginning of a large-scale ice-sheet growth which does not only explain the past, but also enables us to anticipate future periods when glacial inception might occur again."

Using an elaborate Earth system model – simulating atmosphere, ocean, ice sheets and global carbon cycle at the same time – the scientists analysed the effects of further human-made CO2-emissions on the ice volume in the Northern Hemisphere.

"Due to the extremely long life-time of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere, past and future emissions have a significant impact on the timing of the next glacial inception," says co-author Ricarda Winkelmann. "Our analysis shows that even small additional carbon emissions will most likely affect the evolution of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets over tens of thousands of years, and moderate future anthropogenic CO2-emissions of 1000 to 1500 Gigatons of Carbon are bound to postpone the next ice age by at least 100,000 years."

The search for what drives each glacial cycle remains one of the most fascinating questions of Earth system analysis, and especially paleoclimatology – the study of climate changes throughout the entire history of our planet. Usually, the beginning of a new ice age is marked by periods of very low solar radiation in summer, like current times. However, at present there is no evidence for a new ice age emerging: "This is the motivation for our study. Unravelling the mystery of the mechanisms driving past glacial cycles also facilitates our ability to predict the next glacial inception," Winkelmann says.

"Like no other force on the planet, ice ages have shaped the global environment and thereby determined the development of human civilisation. For instance, we owe our fertile soil to the last ice age that also carved out today's landscapes, leaving glaciers and rivers behind, forming fjords, moraines and lakes. However, today it is humankind with its emissions from burning fossil fuels that determines the future development of the planet," co-author and PIK-Director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber says. "This illustrates very clearly that we have long entered a new era, and that in the Anthropocene humanity itself has become a geological force. In fact, an epoch could be ushered in which might be dubbed the Deglacial."

 

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31st December 2015

World's first in-office paper recycling system

Epson has announced "PaperLab", the world's first in-office papermaking system that turns waste paper into new sheets.

 

epson paperlab 2015 technology

 

Epson Corporation has developed what it believes to be the world's first compact, in-office papermaking system capable of producing new paper from securely shredded waste paper, without the use of water. Epson plans to put the new "PaperLab" into commercial production in Japan in 2016, with sales in other regions to be decided at a later date. Businesses and government offices that install a PaperLab in a backyard area will be able to produce new paper of various sizes, thicknesses, and types – from office paper and business cards, to paper that is coloured and scented.

Paper is traditionally made from trees, a limited resource in a world of ever-increasing demand. As a leading company in the world of printing, Epson has been deeply involved with paper used for its printer products. With this in mind, the company set out to develop a new technology that would change the paper cycle. With PaperLab, Epson aims to give new value to paper and to improve recycling.

 

 

 


 

 

Office-based recycling process

Ordinarily, paper is recycled in an extensive process that typically involves transporting waste paper from the office to a papermaking (recycling) facility. But with PaperLab it is possible to shorten and localise a new recycling process in the office.

  epson paperlab 2015 technology  

 


 

 

Secure destruction of confidential documents

Until now, enterprises had to hire contractors to handle the disposal of confidential documents, or shredded them themselves. With PaperLab, however, enterprises can quickly and safely dispose of documents onsite, instead of handing them over to a contractor. PaperLab breaks documents down into paper fibres, so information on them is completely destroyed within seconds.

  epson paperlab 2015 technology  

 


 

 

High-speed production of various types of paper

PaperLab produces the first new sheet of paper about three minutes after being loaded with waste paper and having the Start button pressed. It can produce an A4 sheet every 4.3 seconds, which is 14 sheets per minute or 6,720 in an eight-hour work day; equivalent to 13 reams of 500 sheets. Users can produce a variety of types of paper to meet their needs, from A4 and A3 office paper of various thicknesses to business cards, coloured paper and even scented paper.

  epson paperlab 2015 technology  

 


 

 

Environmental performance

PaperLab makes paper without the use of water. Ordinarily, it takes about a cup of water to make a single A4 sheet of paper. Given that water is an increasingly precious global resource, Epson recognised the need for a dry process. In addition, recycling paper onsite in the office shrinks and simplifies the recycling loop. Users can expect to purchase less new paper, while carbon emissions are greatly reduced since there is no need for transportation, with the entire process being done locally onsite. Epson's new "dry" technology consists of three separate systems: fiberising, binding, and forming.

  epson paperlab 2015 technology  

 


 

World consumption of paper has grown 400% since 1970, and is now approximately 400 million tons a year. North America, despite having only 7% of the world's population, uses 20% of all paper. Unsustainable logging by some businesses in the paper industry degrades forests, accelerates climate change and leads to wildlife loss. Such practices also affect people who depend directly on forests. By using PaperLab to convert used paper into new, Epson is hoping that offices of all types will fundamentally change the way they think about paper.

 

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27th December 2015

Lions added to endangered species list

In response to the alarming decline of lion populations in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed two lion subspecies as endangered and threatened. Without action to protect them, African lions could see their populations halved by 2035.

 

lions population future timeline 2035

 

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it will list two lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Panthera leo leo – located in India and western and central Africa – will be listed as endangered, while Panthera leo melanochaita – found in eastern and southern Africa – will be listed as threatened.

In the last 20 years, lion populations have declined by 43% due to a combination of habitat loss, loss of prey base, trophy hunting, poaching for skins and uses in Chinese traditional medicine, and retaliatory killing of lions by a growing human population. The killing of Cecil the lion in July of this year served to further highlight this issue. Coupled with inadequate financial and other resources for countries to effectively manage protected areas, the impact on lions in the wild has been substantial. Having once been present in south-eastern Europe and throughout much of the Middle East and India, the animals have now lost 85% of their historic range, as shown on the map below.

Their numbers could be halved again by 2035, according to a recent study in the journal PNAS: "Many lion populations are either now gone or expected to disappear within the next few decades, to the extent that the intensively managed populations in southern Africa may soon supersede the iconic savannah landscapes in East Africa as the most successful sites for lion conservation," the study said.

 

lions population map future timeline

 

In 2011, the USFWS received a petition to list Panthera leo leo as endangered under the ESA. In 2014, the agency published a 12-month finding and agreed to list the subspecies as threatened with a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA. Based on newly available scientific information on the genetics and taxonomy of lions, the agency assessed the status of the entire lion species and subsequently changed its earlier finding.

The new science resolved that the western and central populations of African lion are more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. These lions are now considered the same subspecies, P. l. leo. There are only about 1,400 of these lions remaining; 900 in Africa and just 523 in India. Considering the size and distribution of the populations, the current trends and the severity of the threats, the agency has found that this subspecies now meets the definition of "endangered" under the ESA.

The other subspecies – Panthera leo melanochaita – likely numbers between 17,000-19,000 and is found across southern and eastern Africa. The agency determined that this subspecies is less vulnerable and is not currently in danger of extinction. However, although lion numbers in southern Africa are increasing overall, they are declining significantly in some regions, due to various ongoing threats. As a result, the agency finds this subspecies meets the definition of a "threatened" species under the ESA.

With an endangered listing, imports of P. l. leo will now be prohibited – except in certain rare cases, such as when it can be found that the import will enhance the survival of the species. To strengthen conservation measures for the threatened subspecies P. l. melanochaita, a new permitting mechanism will regulate the import of all P. l. melanochaita parts and products into the USA. This process will ensure that any imported specimens are legally obtained in range countries as part of a scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild. A third and final rule will enable the agency to support changes that strengthen the governance and accountability of conservation programs in other nations.

Protected areas are vital to the future survival of lions; and the building of corridors or funnelling mechanisms between protected areas is equally critical so that lions can be directed to other suitable habitat, away from potential conflict areas. It takes around $2,000 per square kilometre per year to properly protect these animals in Africa. Scientists from both the USA and the UK have, in recent years, begun collaborating to better understand how lions move across the African landscape and to model ways to conserve genetic diversity and populations across the continent.

“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, then it’s up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action.”

 

 

 

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21st December 2015

Global coal demand stalls after more than a decade of relentless growth

The latest annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows the coal market under intense pressure, reflecting Chinese economic restructuring and global environmental policies.

 

coal demand future timeline

 

Following more than a decade of aggressive growth, global coal demand has stalled, the IEA has concluded in its annual coal market report. The report sharply lowers its five-year global coal demand growth forecast in reflection of economic restructuring in China, which represents around half of global coal consumption. Greater policy support for renewable energy and energy efficiency – the foundation of the COP21 agreement in Paris – is also expected to dent coal demand.

The IEA's Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2015 has slashed its five-year estimate of global coal demand growth by more than 500 million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce) in recognition of the tremendous pressures facing coal markets. This revision comes as official preliminary data indicate that a decline in Chinese coal demand occurred in 2014 and is set to accelerate in 2015. A decline in coal consumption in China for two consecutive years would be the first since 1982.

"The coal industry is facing huge pressures, and the main reason is China – but it is not the only reason," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said as he launched the report in Singapore at an event organised by the Energy Market Authority. "The economic transformation in China and environmental policies worldwide – including the recent climate agreement in Paris – will likely continue to constrain global coal demand."

 

  coal demand future timeline
Strong growth in coal use in India & Southeast Asia offset declines in the EU & the US, but does not match the rise seen over last decade in China.

 

Coal demand in China is sputtering as the Chinese economy gradually shifts to one based more on services, and less on energy-intensive industries. New Chinese hydro, nuclear, wind and solar are also significantly curtailing coal power generation, driven not only by energy security and climate concerns but also by efforts to reduce local pollution.

Given the strong rebalancing of China's economy, the report also presents an alternate scenario in which Chinese coal demand has already peaked. In this so-called "peak coal scenario", infrastructure and energy-intensive industries represent a lower share of Chinese GDP than in the report's base case, while services and high-tech manufacturing gain momentum. In the peak case, Chinese coal demand in 2020 is 9.8% percent below the level in 2013 and more than 300 Mtce below the base-case forecast of nearly 2950 Mtce in 2020. Meanwhile, global coal demand in the peak case drops to around 5500 Mtce in 2020 – falling 0.1% per year on average, compared with growth of 0.8% per year in the report's main forecast.

The report sees coal demand outside China modestly increasing through 2020 as the structural decline in Europe and the United States is more than offset by growth in India and Southeast Asia. The Indian government's push for universal energy access and an expansion of manufacturing will drive electricity growth. In addition to India's ambitious renewable targets (175 GW of renewables by 2022, of which 100 GW are solar PV), coal will provide a significant share of additional power requirements – as much as 60% through 2020. Indeed, preliminary data show India overtaking China as the world's largest coal importer this year.

The region with the highest growth rate in coal use in the outlook period is in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines among others plan to underpin their power generation with new coal power plants. Unfortunately, around half of the new coal-fired generation capacity under development in the region still uses inefficient subcritical technologies.

Slowing economic growth and energy consumption in China as well as the restriction of coal use in its coastal regions will impact seaborne trade, especially Indonesian exports. In the IEA report's forecast, Australia takes a growing share of seaborne coal trade.

 

  coal exports future timeline
The four largest exporters represent more than 80% of seaborne coal trade; India overtakes China to become the world's largest importer.

 

Prices continue to remain at low levels. In December 2015, prices of imported coal in Europe fell below USD 50/tonne – levels not seen in a decade. Persistent oversupply and shrinking imports in China and elsewhere suggest prices will remain under pressure through 2020.

With the recent COP21 agreement in Paris calling for the global increase in temperatures to be limited to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, the IEA reiterated that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will be essential for enabling future use of coal without large CO2 emissions.

"Governments and industry must increase their focus on this technology if they are serious about long-term climate goals," said Fatih Birol. "CCS is not just a coal technology. It is not a technology just for power generation. It is an emissions reduction technology that will need to be widely deployed to achieve our low-carbon future."

 

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12th December 2015

Ford will invest $4.5 billion in electric vehicles by 2020

US car giant Ford has announced it will invest an additional $4.5 billion in electric vehicle technology by 2020, as well as changing how the company develops vehicle experiences for customers.

 

ford focus electric 2016 electric car technology
Ford Focus Electric, 2016 model.

 

Ford is adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020 – by which time, more than 40 per cent of the company’s global nameplates will come in electrified versions. This represents Ford’s largest-ever electrified vehicle investment in a five-year period.

On the way next year is a new Focus Electric, which features all-new DC fast-charge capability, delivering an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes and a projected 160-kilometre (100‑mile) range – an estimated two hours faster than today’s model.

The zero emissions Focus Electric is manufactured in an eco-conscious facility. Its production home, the Michigan Assembly Plant, has one of the largest solar energy generator systems in the state. The new version of the Focus Electric, which starts production in late 2016, will provide features including:

  • SmartGauge with EcoGuide LCD Instrument Cluster, which offers a multitude of customisable displays that can help the driver see real-time electric vehicle power usage to help maximise efficiency. At the end of each trip, a screen provides the distance driven, miles gained through regenerative braking, energy consumed and comparative gasoline information achieved by driving electric.

  • Brake Coach (pictured below), another smart feature that coaches the driver on how to use smooth braking, to maximise the energy captured through the Regenerative Braking System. The more energy a driver captures through braking, the more energy is returned to the battery.

  • “MyFord” mobile app, allowing owners to control and maintain contact with the car remotely, get instant vehicle status information, monitor the car's state of charge and current range, get alerts when the vehicle has finished charging, precondition the car (to be heated or cooled to a desired temperature, by a selected time), locate the vehicle with GPS, remotely start the vehicle, and remotely lock and unlock the car doors.

  • SYNC 3, an enhanced voice recognition communications and entertainment system.

  • Fun-to-drive character, with agile steering and handling engineered into the vehicle to give drivers a more connected feel to the road.

  • Eco-conscious materials, such as soy, bio-foam seat cushions and recycled fabrics.

 

ford focus electric 2016 electric car technology

 

Ford’s shift towards electrified vehicle technology is in response to the increasing global demand for cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Electric car ownership is expected to surpass one million this year, with continued rapid growth predicted in the years ahead. Ford is also expanding its research and development programme in Europe and Asia, creating a “hub and spoke” system allowing its global team to further accelerate battery technology and take advantage of market specific opportunities. Ford is also reimagining how to set itself apart in the marketplace by focusing on the customer experience and not just the vehicle itself. The company is changing its product development process to support that shift.

“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle, but who best organises that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Product Development and chief technical officer. “By observing consumers, we can better understand which features and strengths users truly use and value and create even better experiences for them going forward.”

In addition to traditional market research, Ford is investing in social science-based research globally, observing how consumers interact with vehicles and gaining new insights into the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic nuances that affect product design.

“This new way of working brings together marketing, research, engineering and design in a new way to create meaningful user experiences, rather than individually developing technologies and features that need to be integrated into a final product,” Nair said. “We are using new insights from anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists and designers, along with traditional business techniques, to reimagine our product development process, create new experiences and make life better for millions of people.”

 

ford focus electric 2016 electric car technology

 

The global expansion of Ford’s electric vehicle research and development programme allows the company’s Electrified Powertrain Engineering teams to share common technologies and test batteries virtually, in real time, to develop new technology faster while reducing the need for costly prototypes.

Ford is expanding in Europe and China to accelerate battery technology development for new markets. By using an innovative hardware and software systems called HIL, or “Hardware in a Loop”, the global team can test battery technology and control system hardware in a virtual environment to simulate how batteries and control modules would behave in different – often punishing – environments in any part of the world.

“Batteries are the life force of any electric vehicle – and we have been committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years,” said Kevin Layden, director of Ford Electrification Programs.

 

 

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11th December 2015

Fusion reactor begins testing in Germany

The first helium plasma test has been successfully conducted at the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device in northeastern Germany. Tests with hydrogen plasma will begin in 2016.

 

wendelstein 7-x fusion device ignition 2015 future timeline

 

The first helium plasma was produced yesterday in the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, northeastern Germany. Following more than a year of technical preparations and tests, experimental operation has now commenced according to plan. Wendelstein 7-X, the world's largest stellarator-type fusion device, will investigate the suitability of this type of device for a commercial power station.

After nine years of construction work and over a million assembly hours, the Wendelstein 7-X was completed in April 2014. Operational preparations have been underway ever since. Each technical system was tested in turn, the vacuum in the vessels, the cooling system, the superconducting coils and the magnetic field they produce, the control system, as well as the heating devices and measuring instruments.

On 10th December 2015, the day had arrived: the operating team in the control room started up the magnetic field and initiated the computer-operated experiment control system. This fed around one milligram of helium gas into the evacuated plasma vessel, switched on the microwave heating for a short pulse of 1.3 megawatts – and the first plasma was observed by the installed cameras and measuring devices. The exact moment of ignition was captured in this video.

“We’re starting with a plasma produced from the noble gas helium,” explains project leader, Professor Thomas Klinger: “We’re not changing over to the actual investigation object, a hydrogen plasma, until next year. This is because it’s easier to achieve the plasma state with helium. In addition, we can clean the surface of the plasma vessel with helium plasmas.”

The first plasma in the machine had a duration of one tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million ºC. “We’re very satisfied”, concludes Dr. Hans-Stephan Bosch, whose division is responsible for the operation. “Everything went according to plan.” The next task will be to extend the duration of the plasma discharges and to investigate the best method of producing and heating helium plasmas using microwaves. After a break for New Year, the confinement studies will continue in January, which will prepare the way for producing the first plasma from hydrogen.

 

wendelstein 7-x fusion device ignition 2015 future timeline
The Wendelstein 7-X fusion device. Photo: IPP, Thorsten Bräuer

 

The Wendelstein 7-X is the largest fusion device created using the "stellarator" concept, which refers to the possibility of harnessing the power source of the Sun, a stellar object. It is planned to operate with up to 30 minutes of continuous plasma discharge, demonstrating an essential feature of a future power plant: continuous operation. By contrast, tokamaks such as ITER can only operate in pulses without auxiliary equipment.

The Wendelstein 7-X is based on a five field-period Helias configuration. It is mainly a toroid – consisting of 50 non-planar and 20 planar superconducting magnetic coils, 3.5 m high – which induce a magnetic field that prevents the plasma from colliding with the reactor walls. The 50 non-planar coils are used for adjusting the magnetic field. It aims for a plasma temperature of 60 to 130 million K.

Stellarators were popular in the 1950s and 60s, but the much better results from tokamak designs led to them falling from favour in the 1970s. Wendelstein 7-X, however, aims to put the quality of the plasma equilibrium and confinement on a par with that of a tokamak for the very first time, potentially offering a new pathway to reliable fusion power.

 

  wendelstein 7-x fusion device ignition 2015 future timeline
Scheme of coil system (blue) and plasma (yellow) of the Wendelstein 7-X. A magnetic field line is highlighted in green on the plasma surface shown in yellow. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics [CC BY 3.0]

 

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7th December 2015

Global human freshwater footprint has been underestimated

Dams and irrigation raise the global human freshwater footprint almost 20 percent higher than previously thought, according to new research by Stockholm University.

 

irrigation dams future timeline

 

A new study by Stockholm University – published in the peer-reviewed journal Science – shows how dams and irrigation considerably raise the global human consumption of freshwater, by increasing evapotranspiration. This effect increases the loss of freshwater to the atmosphere, thereby reducing the water available for humans, societies and ecosystems on land.

"Small things that we do on the surface of the Earth can have large global effects. Previously, the global effects of local human activities such as dams had been underestimated. This study shows that, so far, the effects are even greater than those from atmospheric climate change," says Fernando Jaramillo, postdoc at the Department of Physical Geography at Stockholm University.

The researchers compiled and analysed over a century of data – from 1901 to 2008 – for climate, hydrology and water use in one hundred large hydrological basins spread over the world. Their results raise the previous estimate of the global human freshwater footprint by almost 20 percent. The increase in total freshwater loss from the landscape to the atmosphere is calculated to be 4,370 km3 per year. This is equivalent to two-thirds of the annual flow of the Amazon River, the world's largest river by discharge.

"The human-caused increase in this loss is like a huge river of freshwater from the landscape to the atmosphere. We have changed so much of the freshwater system without knowing it," says Gia Destouni, Professor at Stockholm University. "Our study shows that we have already passed a proposed planetary boundary for freshwater consumption. This is serious, regardless of whether we have crossed a real boundary or if the boundary has been underestimated."

As the global population continues to increase, the situation will worsen. By 2030, the world will need at least 30 percent more water than it did in 2012, according to United Nations High Level Panel on Global Sustainability estimates.

 

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26th November 2015

No substantive evidence for 'pause' in global warming

A review of scientific literature by Bristol University finds no substantive evidence of a "pause" or "hiatus" in global warming.

 

global warming future timeline

 

There is no substantive evidence for a 'pause' or 'hiatus' in global warming and the use of those terms is therefore inaccurate, new research from the University of Bristol has found.

The researchers, led by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology and the Cabot Institute, examined 40 peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 2009 and 2014 that specifically addressed the presumed 'hiatus' and found no consistent or agreed definition of such a 'hiatus', when it began and how long it lasted.

The researchers then compared the distribution of decadal warming trends during the 'hiatus' – as defined by the same scientific articles – against other trends of equivalent length in the entire record of modern global warming. The analysis showed that all definitions of the 'hiatus' in the literature were found to be unexceptional in the context of other trends.

The researchers also found that, if sample size is small, the 'hiatus' will always appear to be present. For example, anyone making a claim for a 'hiatus' of 12 years or below (a claim made by a third of the articles studied) will find one, not because something new and different is happening, but because small sample sizes provide insufficient statistical power for the detection of trends.

"Our study raises the question: why has so much research been framed around the concept of a 'hiatus' when it does not exist?" said Lewandowsky. "The notion of a 'pause' or 'hiatus' demonstrably originated outside the scientific community, and it likely found entry into the scientific discourse because of the constant challenge by contrarian voices that are known to affect scientific communication and conduct."

Discussing climate change using the terms 'pause' or 'hiatus' creates hazards for the public and the scientific community, the study concludes.

Professor Lewandowsky added: "Scientists may argue that when they use the terms 'pause' or 'hiatus' they know – and their colleagues understand – that they do not mean to imply global warming has stopped.

"But while scientists might tacitly understand that global warming continues notwithstanding the alleged 'hiatus', or they may intend the 'pause' to refer to differences between observed temperatures and expectations from theory or models, the public is not privy to that tacit understanding.

"Therefore, scientists should avoid the use of 'pause' or hiatus' when referring to fluctuations of global mean surface temperature around the longer-term warming trend. There is no evidence for a pause in global warming."

 

global warming future timeline

 

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