2023’s Top Stories About Energy


Energy storage and nuclear fusion—two dependable crowd pleasers when the gang you’re speaking about is readers of IEEE Spectrum—are properly represented amongst our most generally learn vitality tales of 2023. But atop the record are a few surprises. Number one? Heat pumps. Number two? An actual corker, and the reply to the query, what generates electrical energy however isn’t a dynamo or a gasoline cell?

Here are the ten hottest AI articles that Spectrum revealed in 2023, ranked by the period of time individuals spent studying them.

1. Heat Pumps—The Well-Tempered Future of A/Cs

A modern looking window air conditioner that looks like a large grey square. It has only a top flat section in the window, the rest is in the house and below the window.A window-mounted air-conditioning system consists of an electrical warmth pump for heating.Gradient Comfort

A world rising hotter will inevitably want extra air con, to maintain individuals not simply comfy however alive within the hottest areas. And but extra air con exacerbates the very downside—local weather change—that’s driving the necessity for extra air con. What to do? Two phrases: warmth pumps.

2. This New Breed of Generator Can Run on Almost Any Fuel

two people standing in front of a generator core.Technicians assembled a linear generator at Mainspring Energy’s Menlo Park, Calif., facility.Creative Shot

One of essentially the most fascinating vitality startups that you just’ve by no means heard of (until you’re a diligent reader of Spectrum) is Mainspring Energy. The Menlo Park, Calif., firm, which was based in 2010 by three Stanford grads, is producing a machine that generates 230 to 430 kilowatts utilizing virtually any type of gasoline, together with ammonia, hydrogen, biogas, or pure fuel. Mainspring calls its machine a linear generator, as a result of it converts linear movement into electrical energy. Fuel and air compressed within the middle of a linear meeting react and push outward, in the direction of the alternative ends of the meeting, driving magnets on both aspect of the chamber by conducting copper coils, producing electrical energy. The machines are already producing electrical energy at scores of installations, and the corporate’s backers embrace among the greatest names in tech investing, together with Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla.

3. Welcome to Fusion City, USA

Two people stand at a larger then human device with copper coil rings in a row, and seafoam green pieces of equipment sticking out from it in a pattern of rows from six spots along the ring.At Helion Energy, staff construct a piece of the corporate’s Polaris fusion reactor.Helion Energy

Fusion startups Zap Energy and Helion Energy have massive ambitions and comparatively modest amenities in Everett, Washington, higher often called the positioning the place Boeing employs 30,000 individuals in one of many world’s largest manufacturing amenities. Zap and Helion are a part of a renaissance in fusion-energy R&D aimed toward attaining sensible fusion energy utilizing far more modest amenities than the huge International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being inbuilt southern France, at a value estimated to be north of US $22 billion by the point it’s accomplished.

4. NASA Battery Tech to Deliver for the Grid

photo of orange metal cylinder bearing the logo "Enervenue" in white EnerVenue’s nickel-hydrogen battery cells are 1.8 meters lengthy, weigh 62 kilograms, and retailer 3 kilowatt-hours.EnerVenue

If you don’t discharge after which recharge all of them the way in which, lithium-ion batteries can final for hundreds of charge-discharge cycles. Now think about a battery that may final by tens of hundreds of charge-discharge cycles. Such a battery already exists—it’s known as nickel-hydrogen, and it’s been utilized in house since 1977. This previous September, startup EnerVenue launched a brand new era of its nickel-hydrogen battery and completed establishing a 93,000-square-meter manufacturing facility across the identical time. The firm is one in every of a rising group focusing on grid-scale purposes, notably for photo voltaic installations.

5. Lithium Battery Ripe for Disruption, Inventor Says

Two workers in safety gear remove the top panel of a car battery pack.A automobile battery pack is opened, revealing the modules, at a Volkswagen pilot recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany.
John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

M. Stanley Wittingham, together with the late John Goodenough, are credited as key figures within the invention of the lithium-ion battery within the early Seventies (the 2 of them shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 with Akira Yoshino). Wittingham had a couple of peeves to get off his chest and did so at a symposium this previous April at Stanford. Here’s one of many gripes: It takes 60 to 80 kilowatt hours of electrical energy to provide a 1-kWh lithium-ion battery. For Wittingham’s different complaints, you’ll should learn the article.

6. U.S. Re-Enters the Nuclear Fuel Game

large cylinder objects in the middle of a warehouse settingUranium is enriched in centrifuge cascades, corresponding to this one at a Centrus Energy plant in Piketon, Ohio.
Centrus Energy

To generate energy, old-school light-water nuclear reactors use oxide gasoline, which consists of ceramic pellets of uranium oxide, organized end-to-end to type rods which might be clad in zirconium alloy. The gasoline is enriched to about 4.8 % U-235. But the superior reactors now approaching line use a completely totally different type of gasoline, known as high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). (Enriched to twenty % U-235, it’s nonetheless far under the 90-plus % required for making nuclear weapons.) This previous November, Centrus Energy of Bethesda, Maryland, turned solely the second group able to producing HALEU gasoline, and the primary exterior of Russia. Fun truth: “The energy in just 3 tablespoons of HALEU can supply a lifetime’s worth of power for the average U.S. consumer,” reported Prachi Patel.

7. To Free The Baltic Grid, Old Technology Is New Again

A set of large of cylindrical flywheel machines A synchronous condenser, such because the one at proper right here, could be coupled to a flywheel, at left.
Siemens Energy

Spectrum’s veteran, globe-trotting vitality contributor, Peter Fairley, has been overlaying the electric-grid and -power ramifications of the warfare in Ukraine. This previous November, he targeted on the efforts of three Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—to separate their electrical grids from the Russian-controlled synchronous AC energy zone. The three international locations are deploying synchronous condensers to extend the resilience of their grids and allow them to resist, within the absence of connections to the a lot bigger Russian grid, the sudden and sudden lack of transmission strains or mills. Such a condenser is actually a big synchronous machine that spins freely; nevertheless, a flywheel related to its shaft can retailer kinetic vitality. Its fundamental function, on this case, is to supply further inertia, additionally known as spinning reserve, that will assist stabilize a grid within the occasion of a disaster.

8. Fusion Is Having a Moment

An image of a red hand with a complicated circular deviceFusion has been the facility supply of the longer term for greater than 70 years.Harry Campbell

Fusion is the facility supply of the longer term—and it at all times might be. So goes the quip that you just’re more likely to hear from any grizzled expertise watcher sufficiently old to have lived by a number of hype cycles in regards to the promise of fusion vitality. The grim actuality of fusion is that the world’s largest challenge, the ITER, won’t be examined with deuterium and tritium gasoline till 2035, and couldn’t produce any helpful energy for fairly a couple of years after that. Nevertheless, 2023 noticed a number of fascinating developments in fusion, largely in reference to startup corporations pursuing different approaches to the money-pit gigantism of ITER and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. These startups embrace Zap Energy and Helion Energy (see above, “Welcome to Fusion City, USA”) and likewise Commonwealth Fusion Systems, in Devens, Mass. To produce the stupendous magnetic fields essential to confine a superheated plasma, Commonwealth is utilizing high-temperature superconducting tape, which is able to vastly scale back the dimensions of the magnets wanted to provide the fields (see under).

9. This Fusion Reactor Is Held Together With Tape

A ribbon of coppery material is wound up on a transparent spool on top of a workbench.Commonwealth Fusion Systems is utilizing superconducting tape primarily based on yttrium barium copper oxide.Gretchen Ertl/CFS/MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center

Magnetic-confinement fusion depends on staggeringly sturdy magnetic fields to restrict a superhot plasma, usually inside a torus-shaped vessel known as a tokamak. At the ITER challenge, researchers are constructing superconducting electromagnets utilizing alloys of niobium-tin or niobium-titanium, which should be cooled to about ‑269 °C (about 4 levels Kelvin). The 18 ITER magnets would require 600 tonnes of the superconductor. Commonwealth Fusion Systems thinks there’s a greater manner, and it includes utilizing a extra superior superconductor, yttrium barium copper oxide, or YBCO. It superconducts at temperatures between ‑200 to ‑250 °C (73 to 23 Kelvin). That seemingly small temperature distinction, together with different options of the YBCO, will allow a lot smaller magnets that might be manufactured extra shortly and inexpensively, in response to Commonwealth. The eventual success of fusion would possibly very properly rely upon the effectiveness of those higher-temperature superconductors.

10. The Age of Silicon Is Here…for Batteries

jars with black sand, porous rocks, and black container boxess sitting on black sandNanostructured silicon supplies might ship longer-range, faster-charging batteries.

The typical anode materials for lithium-ion batteries is graphite, coated on copper foil. But researchers have lengthy been tantalized by the potential for utilizing silicon, which, gram for gram, can maintain 10 instances as many lithium ions. And in 2023, after a number of startups managed to resolve issues with silicon anodes—primarily, a bent to increase and fracture—a number of automakers introduced plans to make use of silicon-anode lithium-ion cells in upcoming electric-vehicle batteries. The startups included OneD Battery Sciences in Palo Alto, Calif., Sila Nanotechnologies in Alameda, Calif., and Group14 Technologies in Woodinville, Washington.


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