July 25, 2014

BRICS countries are building about 75% of the worlds new nuclear reactors and are forming a new BRICS energy association

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced plans to establish a BRICS "energy association" that will include a fuel reserve bank and an energy policy institute. BRICS is a grouping of major emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Fifty of the 66 nuclear reactors currently under construction are in BRICS states.

Russia signed a number of nuclear power cooperation agreements that coincided with Putin's visit to South America. On 12 July, Rosatom director general Sergey Kiriyenko and Argentina's minister of planning, investments and services, Julio Vido, signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy. Rosatom plans to participate in the tender in the third quarter for construction of the third unit at the Atucha nuclear power plant.

On 15 July, Rusatom Overseas chief executive Dzhomart Aliyev and Camargo Correa President Dalton Santos Avancini signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazilian Camargo Correa on building an additional spent fuel storage facility and a nuclear power station in Brazil.

The document envisages an expansion of bilateral cooperation in nuclear power, in particular, the construction of engineering and technical facilities at the Brazilian operational Angra nuclear power plant and partnership in the construction of new nuclear power units in Brazil.

On 16 July, Putin held talks with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on broadening their partnership in the energy and defence sectors. Modi has reportedly invited the Russian leader to visit the construction site of Kudankulam 2 during their annual summit in New Delhi, in December. The two countries signed a general framework agreement in April on units 3 and 4.

The key development of the BRICS summit was the launch the long-awaited New Development Bank and a Currency Reserve Pool. With combined resources of $200 billion, they are aimed at fostering greater financial and development cooperation among the five emerging markets.

July 24, 2014

Carnival of Space 363

The Carnival of Space 363 is up at Chandra X-ray Space telescope blog

io9 Space - The current generation of telescopes have found hundreds of exoplanets. The next generation will find thousands. Depending on the tools we develop, we might be within decades of finding life on alien worlds.

A new pair of telescopes are launching soon: the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2017, and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. Kepler has found us hundreds of worlds; TESS is designed to track thousands of stars for that brief dimming that indicates the presence of a planet.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be all about transit spectroscopy: picking the most likely worlds, and looking for signs of life. Light from the distant star will filter though its atmosphere, and if Webb is as good in practice as it is on paper, that tiny bit of altered light will be enough for us to analyze and characterize the atmosphere of alien worlds.

Wheat disease Powdery Mildew was stopped with gene editing

Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

Nature Biotechnology - Simultaneous editing of three homoeoalleles in hexaploid bread wheat confers heritable resistance to powdery mildew

Lasers make fiber optic tubes out of thin air and can be used for communication, sensing and weapon applications

Milchberg and his lab report using an “air waveguide” to enhance light signals collected from distant sources. These air waveguides could have many applications, including long-range laser communications, detecting pollution in the atmosphere, making high-resolution topographic maps and laser weapons.

Because light loses intensity with distance, the range over which such tasks can be done is limited. Even lasers, which produce highly directed beams, lose focus due to their natural spreading, or worse, due to interactions with gases in the air. Fiber-optic cables can trap light beams and guide them like a pipe, preventing loss of intensity or focus.

Milchberg’s air waveguides consist of a “wall” of low-density air surrounding a core of higher density air. The wall has a lower refractive index than the core—just like an optical fiber. In the Optica paper, Milchberg, physics graduate students Eric Rosenthal and Nihal Jhajj, and associate research scientist Jared Wahlstrand, broke down the air with a laser to create a spark. An air waveguide conducted light from the spark to a detector about a meter away. The researchers collected a strong enough signal to analyze the chemical composition of the air that produced the spark.

The signal was 1.5 times stronger than a signal obtained without the waveguide. That may not seem like much, but over distances that are 100 times longer, where an unguided signal would be severely weakened, the signal enhancement could be much greater.

Illustration of an air waveguide. The filaments leave 'holes' in the air (red rods) that reflect light. Light (arrows) passing between these holes stays focused and intense. Credit: Howard Milchberg

Optica - Collection of remote optical signals by air waveguides

July 23, 2014

Elon Musk says 500 mile range electric car will soon be possible

Elon Musk explains why the Tesla Model S has twice the range of the Nissan Leaf and why Tesla will soon have electric cars with 500 mile range

Tesla Electric cars have the highest energy density battery in the world, twice that of the Nissan Leaf. But their range is more than twice that of the Leaf so we come into other factors: what’s the drag co-efficient of the car, how much does it weigh, what’s the efficiency of the motor and gearbox, what’s the rolling resistance? All those factors affect the range.

Recently Telsa Model S was assessed against a whole bunch of other cars for drag efficiency, in a drag queen contest! Our car came out best with a drag co-efficient of 0.24.

Elon says it will be possible to have a 500-mile range car. In fact we could do it quite soon, but it would increase the price. Over time you could expect to have that kind of range.

Carbon Nanotubes May Protect Electrodes for commercial version of Focus Fusion and machining has delayed the Tungsten electrode to September, 2014

While LPPFusion’s research team expects to eliminate the major sources of electrode erosion, enough to get rid of significant impurities in the plasma, some erosion will still exist. It won’t be enough to bother us during the current experimental phase, but once they are engineering a generator that fires 200 times second, remaining erosion will limit the lifetime of the electrodes. But there may be a way to protect the electrodes better—with a coating of carbon nanotubes.

Neil Farbstein of Vulvox Nanobiotechnology Corporation suggested to LPPFusion joint development of a coating of CNT to protect the future beryllium electrodes in the Focus Fusion generator. While more research is needed, the extraordinary qualities of CNTs may help to reduce two sources of erosion. The first is sputtering. In this process, high energy ions from the plasma hit against atoms in the electrode, knocking them out of the material one by one. Beryllium is only slowly eroded by sputtering, but CNTs may be still better. Due to their structure, with sheets of atoms surrounding tiny voids, CNTs can allow high energy ions to slow down gradually, dissipating their energy without knocking off so many atoms.

Second, between shots, a layer of boron may form on the electrodes after the molecules of the decaborane feed gas break apart. If the boron condenses fast enough to form a continuous layer, the current from the next shot will have to vaporize it off. (Boron does not conduct electricity at all well.) Since the vaporization temperature of boron is much higher than that of beryllium, some of the beryllium electrode will also vaporize, causing erosion.

Genetically Modified mosquito swarms will be used on a commercial scale to hopefully prevent 50 million incidents of dengue fever per year

Genetically modified mosquitoes will be raised on a commercial scale for the first time, in a bid to stem outbreaks of dengue fever in Brazil. But it is unclear how well it will work.

Next week biotech company Oxitec of Abingdon, UK, will open a factory in Campinas, Brazil, to raise millions of modified mosquitoes. Once released, they will mate with wild females, whose offspring then die before adulthood. That should cut the number of dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. In April, Brazil's National Technical Commission for Biosecurity (CTNBio) approved their commercial use.

The mosquitoes could be an important step forward in controlling dengue, which affects more than 50 million people every year, with a 30-fold increase in the last 50 years. There is no vaccine or preventive drug, so all anyone can do is to spray insecticide on a large scale in a bid to kill dengue-carrying mosquitoes.