All posts by John Boyd

With New Tech, Panasonic Aims to Revive Interest in Delivering Broadband Over Power Lines

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/standards/could-nextgeneration-broadband-over-power-lines-revive-interest-in-the-technology

Using radio frequencies to transmit data over existing power lines both inside and outside of homes has long promised to turn legacy cabling into a more attractive asset by delivering two essential services on a single wire. But broadband over power lines (BPL) has never achieved its potential, due in part to initial low speeds and unreliability, and concerns about radio interference and electromagnetic radiation.

One company that has continued to invest in and improve BPL since 2000 is Panasonic, a multinational electronics and appliance manufacturer with headquarters in Osaka, Japan. In March of this year, the IEEE Standards Association approved the IEEE 1901a standard for BPL that covers IoT applications, and which is based on Panasonic’s upgraded HD-PLC technology.

HD-PLC (high-definition power line communications) is backward compatible with IEEE’s 1901 standard for BPL ratified in 2010. The 1901a standard implements new functions based on Panasonic’s Wavelet orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) technology that is also incorporated in the 2010 standard. 

Is the World Ready for Floating Nuclear Power Stations?

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/nuclear/is-the-world-ready-for-floating-nuclear-power-stations

The world’s first floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) docked at Pevek, Chukotka, in Russia’s remote Far East on 14 September. It completed a journey of some 9,000 kilometers from where it was constructed in a St. Petersburg shipyard. First, it was towed to the city of Murmansk, where its nuclear fuel was loaded, and from there took the North Sea Route to the other side of Russia’s Arctic coast

The FNPP will replace an aging land-based nuclear plant and a brown coal-fired plant, reducing some 50,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year, according to Rosatom, the project’s creator and Russia’s state nuclear corporation. The reactor is slated to begin operations this December.

The co-generation plant, named the Akademik Lomonosov, consists of a non-motorized barge, two pressurized-water KLT-40S reactors similar to those powering Russian nuclear icebreakers, and two steam turbine plants.

The FNPP can generate up to 70 megawatts (MW) of electricity and 50 gigacalories of heat an hour. That is sufficient to power the electric grids of the resource-rich region—where some 50,000 people live and work—and also deliver steam heat to the supply lines of Pevek city. The plant will manage this second feat by using steam extracted from the turbines to heat its intermediate circuit water system, which circulates between the reactor units and the coastal facilities, from 70 to 130 degrees C.

Construction of the floating reactor began in 2007 and had to overcome a messy financial situation including the threat of bankruptcy in 2011. The venture is based on the small modular reactor (SMR) design: a type of nuclear fission reactor that is smaller than conventional reactors. Such reactors can be built from start to finish at a plant and then shipped—fully-assembled, tested, and ready to operate—to remote sites where normal construction would be difficult to manage.

Andrey Zolotkov, head of the Murmansk, Russia office of Bellona Foundation, an environmental organization based in Oslo, Norway, acknowledges the practicability of the SMR design. But he is one of many who questions its necessity in this particular case. 

“The same plant could be built on the ground there (in Chukotka) without resorting to creating a floating structure,” says Zolotkov. “After all, the [nuclear power plant] presently in use was built on land there and has been operating for decades.” 

The floating design has raised both environmental and safety concerns, given that the plant will operate in the pristine Arctic and must endure its harsh winters and choppy seas. Greenpeace has dubbed it a “floating Chernobyl,” and “a nuclear Titanic.”

Rosatom rejects such criticism, saying the plant meets safety standards put forth by Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The company notes the same kind of reactors have been used in icebreakers and submarines for decades. And, Rosatom states on its website, the “FNPP will be moored and secured to a special pier,” and operate without the need for “motor or propeller functions.”

Coastal structures, dams, and breakwaters have also been built to protect the vessel against tsunamis and icebergs.

The plant employs a number of active and passive safety systems, including an electrically-driven automated system and a passive system that uses gravity to insert control rods into the reactor core to ensure the reactor remains at subcritical levels in emergencies. The reactors also use low enriched uranium in a concentration below 20 percent of Uranium-235. This makes the fuel unsuitable for producing nuclear weapons.

Given such safety measures, Rosatom says on its site that a peer-reviewed probabilistic safety assessment modeling of possible damage to the FNPP finds the chances of a serious accident happening at the FNPP “are less than one hundred thousandth of a percent.”

Zolotkov, who worked in various capacities—including radiation safety officer—for 35 years in Russia’s civilian nuclear fleet, also notes that there have been no serious incidents on such ships since 1975. “In the event of an accident in the FNPP, the consequences, I believe, would be localized within its structure, so the release of radioactive substances will be minimal,” he says. 

The plant’s nuclear fuel has to be replaced every three years. The unloaded fuel is held in onboard storage pools, and later in dry containers also kept on board. Every 10 to 12 years during its 40-year life cycle (possibly extendable to 50 years), the FNPP will be towed to a special facility for maintenance.

After decommissioning, the plant will be towed to a deconstruction and recycling facility. Rosatom says on its site, “No spent nuclear fuel or radioactive waste is planned to be left in the Arctic—spent fuel will be taken to the special storage facilities in mainland Russia.” 

Rosatom has not disclosed the cost of the venture, calling it a pilot project. It is currently working on a next-generation version that will use two RITM-200M reactors, each rated at 50 MW. Improvement targets include a more compact design, longer periods between refueling, flexible load-following capabilities, and multipurpose uses that include water desalination and district heating. 

Provided Rosatom receives sufficient orders, it says it aims to compete in price with plants based on fossil fuels and renewable energy.

The company, however, may face challenges other than marketing and operating its novel design. “These FNPPs will eventually carry spent nuclear fuel and are not yet recognized by international maritime law,” says Zolotkov. “So Rosatom may face problems obtaining permits and insurance when it comes to towing them along certain sea routes.”

A Novel Thermal Battery Promises Green Power Around the Clock

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/a-novel-thermal-battery-promises-clean-sustainable-power-day-or-night

Japanese scientists have developed a thermal battery that converts heat into electricity when buried in a geothermal zone

You can fry an egg on the ground in Las Vegas in August, but try that in Iceland or Alaska and you’ll just end up with the stuff on your face—unless you know how to tap into the Earth’s vast reservoirs of geothermal energy. 

Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a new kind of battery that can reliably generate electric power from heat in environments with temperatures ranging from 60 degrees C to 100 degrees C—which is low enough to mimic geothermal heat.

In an earlier experiment, the researchers developed sensitized thermal cells (STCs) that employed dye-sensitized solar cells to convert light into electric power. In their latest advance, team leader Sachiko Matsushita, an associate professor at Tokyo Tech, explained that they replaced the dye with a semiconductor to enable the cells to operate using heat instead of light.

Open-Source Tool Lets Anyone Experiment With Cryptocurrency Blockchains

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/computing/networks/a-new-blockchain-simulator-simplifies-testing-of-improvements-and-security-in-realworld-cryptocurrency-networks

SimBlock, a new blockchain simulator, lets users play around with the parameters of Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Dogecoin

Blockchain technology records information to a ledger shared between thousands of nodes. In the technology’s purest form, those nodes are not controlled by any central authority, and information cannot be changed once written to the ledger. Because of the security and autonomy this technology offers (in theory at least), blockchains now underpin many popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin

But as Kazuyuki Shudo, an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, points out, “It has been nearly impossible to test improvements on real-world blockchain networks, because that would mean having to update the software of all the thousands of nodes on a network.”

In researching blockchains, Shudo and his colleagues searched for a simulator that would help them experiment with and improve the technology. But existing simulators were too hard to use and lacked the features the team wanted. Moreover, these simulators had apparently been created for specific research and were abandoned soon after that work was completed, because many of the tools the group found were no longer being updated. 

AI, Drones Survey Great Barrier Reef in Last Ditch Effort to Avoid Catastrophe

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/energy/environment/how-to-keep-a-close-eye-on-australias-great-barrier-reef

An Australian research team is using tech to monitor global climate change’s assault on the world’s largest living organism

The stats are daunting. The Great Barrier Reef is 2,300 kilometers long, comprises 2,900 individual coral reefs, and covers an area greater than 344,000 square kilometers, making it the world’s largest living organism and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

A team of researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, is monitoring the reef, located off the coast of northeastern Australia, for signs of degradation such as the bleaching caused by a variety of environmental pressures including industrial activity and global warming. 

The team, led by Felipe Gonzalez, an associate professor at QUT, is collaborating with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), an organization that has been monitoring the health of the reef for many years. AIMS employs aircraft, in-water surveys, and NASA satellite imagery to collect data on a particular reef’s condition. But these methods have drawbacks, including the relatively low resolution of satellite images and high cost of operating fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

So Gonzalez is using an off-the-shelf drone modified to carry both a high-resolution digital camera and a hyperspectral camera. The monitoring is conducted from a boat patrolling the waters 15 to 70 km from the coast. The drone flies 60 meters above the reef, and the hyperspectral camera captures reef data up to three meters below the water’s surface. This has greatly expanded the area of coverage and is helping to verify AIMS’s findings.

The digital camera is used to build up a conventional 3D model of an individual reef under study, explains Gonzalez. But this conventional camera is capable of capturing light only from three spectral channels: the red, green, and blue covering the 380-to-740-nanometer portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The hyperspectral camera, by contrast, collects the reflected light of 270 spectral bands.

“Hyperspectral imaging greatly improves our ability to monitor the reef’s condition based on its spectral properties,” says Gonzalez. “That’s because each component making up a reef’s environment—water, sand, algae, etc.—has its own spectral signature, as do bleached and unbleached coral.”

But this expansion in reef coverage and richness of gathered data presented the team with a new challenge. Whereas AIMS divers can gather information on 40 distinct points on a reef in an underwater session, just one hyperspectral image presents more than 4,000 data points. Consequently, a single drone flight can amass a thousand gigabytes of raw data that has to be processed and analyzed. 

In processing the data initially, the team used a PC, custom software tools, and QUT’s high-performance computer, a process that took weeks and drew heavily on the machine’s run time.

So the team applied for and received a Microsoft AI for Earth grant, which makes software tools, cloud computing services, and AI deep learning resources available to researchers working on global environmental challenges. 

“Now we can use Microsoft’s AI tools in the cloud to supplement our own tools and quickly label the different spectral signatures,” says Gonzalez. “So, where processing previous drone sweeps used to take three or four weeks, depending on the data, it now takes two or three days.”

This speedup in data processing is critical. If it took a year or more before the team were able to tell AIMS that a certain part of the reef is degrading rapidly, it might be too late to save it. 

“And by being informed early, the government can then take quicker action to protect an endangered area of the reef,” Gonzalez adds.

He notes that the use of hyperspectral imaging is now a growing area of remote sensing in a variety of fields, including agriculture, mineral surveying, mapping, and location of water resources.

For example, he and colleagues at QUT are also using the technology to monitor forests, wheat crops, and vineyards that can be affected by pathogens, fungi, or aphids.

Meanwhile, over the next two months, Gonzalez will continue processing the spectral data collected from the reef so far; and then in September, he will start a second round of drone flights. 

“We aim to return to the four reefs AIMS has already studied to monitor any changes,” he says, “then extend the monitoring to new reefs.”