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China’s Ambitious Plan to Build the World’s Biggest Supergrid

A massive expansion leads to the first ultrahigh-voltage AC-DC power grid

11 min read
Photo: State Grid Corp. of China
Big Picture: This Beijing dispatch center controls most of China’s ultrahigh-voltage lines and monitors renewable energy use.
Photo: State Grid Corp. of China

Wind rips across an isolated utility station in northwestern China’s desolate Gansu Corridor. More than 2,000 years ago, Silk Road traders from Central Asia and Europe crossed this arid, narrow plain, threading between forbidding mountains to the south and the Gobi Desert to the north, bearing precious cargo bound for Imperial Beijing. Today the corridor carries a distinctly modern commodity: gigawatts of electricity destined for the megacities of eastern China. One waypoint on that journey is this ultrahigh-voltage (UHV) converter station outside the city of Jiuquan, in Gansu province.

Electricity from the region’s wind turbines, solar farms, and coal-fired power plants arrives at the station as alternating current. Two dozen 500-metric-ton transformers feed the AC into a cavernous hall, where AC-DC converter circuits hang from the 28-meter-high ceiling, emitting a penetrating, incessant buzz. Within each circuit, solid-state switches known as thyristors chew up the AC and spit it out as DC flowing at 800 kilovolts.

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New Filter Doubles Nuclear Fuel Extractable from Seawater

It pulls uranium out at record rates—but real-world tests are still to come

3 min read
illustration of a blue stream of water traveling diagonally to the lower left, intersecting with a white filter membrane substance with yellow and red atomic stick models floating around in the upper half of the image
Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences/Nature Sustainability

The International Atomic Energy Agency expects nuclear power to grow significantly in the coming decades, by up to 82 percent by the year 2050. That would create an increase in demand for uranium that reserves on land may not be able to meet.

But the world’s oceans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, contain at least 500 times more uranium than in all known terrestrial reserves. That equates to more than 4.5 billion metric tons of the element in seawater, albeit present at an extremely dilute concentration of 3.3 parts per billion, and scientists have been trying to find efficient ways to extract it.

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Video Friday: Guitar Bot

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Closeup of a robotic arm strumming an acoustic guitar

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2022: 23–27 May 2022, Philadelphia
ERF 2022: 28–30 June 2022, Rotterdam, Germany
CLAWAR 2022: 12–14 September 2022, Açores, Portugal

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

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Electric utility infrastructure habitually falls prey to overgrown Right-of-Way, high winds, and harsh weather. Impactful events causing outages are increasing in frequency, and need to be endured without major disruptions in electric service. This webinar will discuss the application of covered aerial conductor to "harden" the electric utility grid so that unpredictable events don't result in unsustainable outages.

Speaker:

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