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Three Alternative Fusion Projects That Are Making Progress

Physicists pin their hopes on new magnets and fast lasers

4 min read
Three Alternative Fusion Projects That Are Making Progress
Clean Lines: The pure tungsten electrodes inside LPP’s dense-plasma-focus device resist the vaporization that would add unwanted atoms to the fusion reactions.
Photo: Focus Fusion

The past few months have proved that hope for nuclear fusion as the ultimate clean and nonpolluting energy source springs eternal. One reactor plan projects a tantalizing gigawatt-year net energy out of its still-on-the-drawing-board idea. Another scheme uses the same reaction as the first but seeks smaller-scale reactors. A third uses the familiar “heavy hydrogen” reactions of decades past—deuterium and ­tritium hydrogen isotopes combining to create helium, neutrons, and energy—but relies on possibly transformative design changes enabled by using the latest superconducting magnets.

To be clear, unexpected errors or oversights could still ground one or all of these efforts. But when so much of the research world is depending on the overdue and overbudget US $20 billion ITER project, each of these efforts counteracts the monoculture mind-set in fusion research that has been the subject of some industry questioning and criticism.

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This Dutch City Is Road-Testing Vehicle-to-Grid Tech

Utrecht leads the world in using EVs for grid storage

10 min read
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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