Closing the Circuit

Engineers working in the teeming cities and lonely deserts of North Africa are creating the last links in a power grid that will ring the Mediterranean Sea

13 min read
Fatima Mansouri
Power to the People: From her desk in Casablanca, Fatima Mansouri oversees network projects for Office National de l’Electricité, Morocco’s electric-power utility, which is already connected to europe through undersea cables.
Photo: Ana Nance

With bandannas protecting their faces from the blistering sun and blowing sand, day laborers smooth the ground over freshly buried cables at Libya’s newest electrical substation. Until a few years ago, this same patch of ochre earth in the sparsely populated Bir Osta Milad district, located on the outskirts of Tripoli, was the site of a Scud missile plant. Today, thanks to Libya’s oil revenues and its recent rapprochement with the West, the rocket parts are gone, replaced by gas-insulated switchgear, transformers, and state-of-the-art controls. This and more than a dozen other 400-kilovolt substations located throughout Libya will bolster that country’s beleaguered power grid. But these improvements are also part of a much larger drama. That’s because they will form a key bridge for an electrical superhighway that could soon bind the fractious nations on the south side of the Mediterranean Sea.

The coming electrical unification of North Africa will advance a grand scheme known as the Mediterranean Electricity Ring, which has been the stuff of speeches and studies for decades. Engineers have recently made much progress on the ground, and perhaps as soon as mid-2009 they will cinch together all the power systems from Morocco to Syria with those of Europe. The same momentum could see the entire MedRing finally completed by the end of the present decade, connecting more than half a billion people in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

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2022—The Year the Hydrogen Economy Launched?

The Inflation Reduction Act and the war in Ukraine pump billions into clean hydrogen R&D

5 min read
A man in a blue lab coat looks at equipment in a lab

A technician at Plug Power in Concord, Mass., secures a connector before a test of a hydrogen electrolyzer on 5 July 2022.

Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Among the technological visions that seem perpetually futuristic (think commercial nuclear fusion and maglev trains), the hydrogen economy has always been tantalizing. Hydrogen produced from renewable energy or nuclear power, with minimal greenhouse-gas emissions, could be piped or transported pretty much anywhere, using mostly existing infrastructure. It could power trucks, cars, planes, and ships and generate electricity, either in fuel cells or combustion turbines. In short, it could do anything fossil fuels do now, but with substantially reduced climate impact.

Now, after decades of false starts and overly optimistic projections, several factors are giving an unprecedented lift to clean hydrogen. In the United States, sweeping legislation capped a series of moves by the country’s Department of Energy (DOE) over the past year to drive down the cost of low-carbon hydrogen and stimulate demand for the fuel. And in Europe, a looming fossil-fuel crisis has sent officials scrambling to find alternatives to the 155 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas that EU countries imported in 2021.

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How Big Robotic Dreams Mesh With Viral Videos

Boston Dynamics’s founder thinks creatively with $400 million AI Institute

12 min read
Marc Raibert, an older white man with a bald head and a short white beard and glasses, gestures as he speaks on a stage. He is wearing formal pants and a flower-print short sleeve shirt.

Marc Raibert, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, speaks at a Hyundai Motor Group news conference during CES 2022 in Las Vegas.

Steve Marcus/Reuters/Alamy

Last week, Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics announced an initial investment of over US $400 million to launch the new Boston Dynamics AI Institute. The Institute was conceptualized (and will be led) by Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, with the goal of “solving the most important and difficult challenges facing the creation of advanced robots.” That sounds hugely promising, but of course we had questions—namely, what are those challenges, how is this new institute going to solve them, and what are these to-be-created advanced robots actually going to do? And fortunately, IEEE Spectrum was able to speak with Marc Raibert himself to get a better understanding of what the Institute will be all about.

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A Multiphysics Approach to Designing Fuel Cells for Electric Vehicles

White paper on fuel cell modeling and simulation

1 min read
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Comsol

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) often reach higher energy density and exhibit greater efficiency than battery EVs; however, they also have high manufacturing costs, limited service life, and relatively low power density.

Modeling and simulation can improve fuel cell design and optimize EV performance. Learn more in this white paper.