National Ignition Facility One Step Closer to Fusion Power

by Niti Nagar

Nuclear fusion seems to answer many concerns that we face with finding new sources of energy. Energy from fusion harnesses the powers of the Sun and provides an unlimited and cheap source of energy, while being pollution-free. Capturing the powers of the heavens has been fantasized in the past as mere science fiction, however this fiction may become a reality. Although development is still in its infant stages, a new breakthrough by lead author Omar Hurricane, from the National Ignition Facility at the federally-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, published an article in Nature that announced researchers saw a net gain in energy following a fusion reaction. The reported results show almost 2 times more energy coming out of the reaction than what went into it. What does it take to run a reaction of this sort? One hundred and ninety-two of the world’s most powerful lasers aimed at a 1 centimeter gold cylinder called a hohlarum. It is a small capsule that contains an extremely cold mixture of hydrogen isotopes. As the laser heats the capsule, the hydrogen is heated and subsequently compressed to 1/35 of its original size. Co-author Debbie Callahan described it as “compressing a basketball down to the size of a pea.” If the compression is high and uniform enough, nuclear fusion will take place and in the nanoseconds that follows the capsule implosion, neutron energy is released. Continue reading

Self-Biased Solar-Microbial Device for Sustainable Hydrogen Generation

by Allison Kerley (Photo above of Hanyu Wang, first author of this paper at the University of California, Santa Cruz.)

Most hydrogen generating devices require an external addition of a 0.2 to 1.0 V electric potential in order to sustain the hydrogen generation. Wang et al. (2013) explored the feasibility of a self-powering photoelectrochemical-microbial fuel cell (PEC-MFC) hybrid device to generate hydrogen. The PEC-MFC was a combination of a photoelectrochemical fuel cell and a microbial fuel cell. The Hydrogen production of the device was tested when powered by a ferricyanide solution inoculated with a pure strain of Shewanellla oneidensis MR-1 and when powered by microorganisms found naturally occurring in the municipal wastewater. In both scenarios, given replenishments of fuel, the device produced enough voltage to be self-sustaining. However, when the device was powered by wastewater it produced both a lower current and a smaller hydrogen production than when powered by ferricyanide solution. Continue reading