Future Tech: Glitter Solar Cells, Home Batteries, and Thorium Reactors

We have some pretty cool green technology on the way. Panasonic has announced a new battery that could potentially power a home for one week on a single charge.

As the writer here says, solar and other forms of renewable energy for the home alone aren’t enough to offer us all a constant supply of electricity. That is why surplus energy needs to be stored. Enter the home battery.

Expect the Japanese to own them before us.

Next up, we have glitter-size solar cells. Made from crystalline silicon, these solar cells use “100 times less material to generate the same amount of electricity as standard solar cells“.

Their size also means there won’t be any cumbersome redesigns or fittings of solar panels for your home, as they could be integrated into the material itself. In fact, there is no reason not to sew them onto your clothes!

Currently rated at 14.9% in efficiency, well within the standard range of 13 to 20%.

Finally, here is an in depth article for the layman on Thorium as a new power source for nuclear reactors. All current commercial nuclear reactors use Uranium as a source of fuel, which produces Plutonium along with other byproducts that can last up to thousands of years.

Uranium is currently the actinide of choice for the industry, used (sometimes with a little plutonium) in 100 percent of the world’s commercial reactors. But it’s a problematic fuel. In most reactors, sustaining a chain reaction requires extremely rare uranium-235, which must be purified, or enriched, from far more common U-238. The reactors also leave behind plutonium-239, itself radioactive (and useful to technologically sophisticated organizations bent on making bombs). And conventional uranium-fueled reactors require lots of engineering, including neutron-absorbing control rods to damp the reaction and gargantuan pressurized vessels to move water through the reactor core. If something goes kerflooey, the surrounding countryside gets blanketed with radioactivity (think Chernobyl). Even if things go well, toxic waste is left over.

Thorium can be a better source of nuclear energy. It is plentiful, produces little waste, and what little waste it produces breaks down in hundreds of years instead of thousands. Also, Thorium cannot be incorporated into nuclear weapons.

Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.

That’s all for now. Hopefully, these technologies will get the push they deserve.


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