Solar Chimneys: Viable Energy Solution Or A Lot Of Hot Air?

We think of the power we generate as coming from all these different kinds of sources. Oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind… so varied! And yet they all fundamentally come down to moving a gas through a turbine to actually spin up a generator and make some juice. Even some solar plants worked this way, using the sun’s energy to heat water into steam to spin some blades and keep the lights on.

A solar updraft tower works along these basic principles, too, but in a rather unique configuration. It’s not since the dawn of the Industrial Age that humanity went around building lots of big chimneys, and if this technology makes good sense, we could be due again. Let’s find out how it works and if it’s worth all the bluster, or if it’s just a bunch of hot air.

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The UK’s ST40 Spherical Tokamak Achieves Crucial Plasma Temperatures

As the race towards the first commercially viable nuclear fusion reactor heats up, the UK-based Tokamak Energy has published a paper on its recent achievements with its ST40 spherical tokamak. Most notable is the achieving of plasma temperatures of over 100 million Kelvin, which would put this fusion reactor firmly within the range for deuterium-tritium fusion at a rate that would lead credence to the projection made by Tokamak Energy about building its first commercial fusion plants in the 2030s.

The ST40 is intended to provide the necessary data to construct the ST80-HTS by 2026, which itself would be a testing ground for the first commercial reactor, called the ST-E1, which would be rated at 200 MWe. Although this may seem ambitious, Tokamak Energy didn’t come out of nowhere, but is a spin-of of Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research, which was grounded in 1965, and has been for decades been involved in spherical tokamak research projects like MAST and MAST-Upgrade, with STEP as its own design for a commercial fusion reactor.

The advantage offered by spherical tokamaks compared to regular tokamaks is that they favor a very compact construction style which puts the magnets very close to the plasma, effectively making them more efficient in retaining the plasma, with less power required to maintain stable plasma. Although this makes the use of super-conducting electromagnets not necessary, it does mean that wear and tear on these magnets is significantly higher. What this does mean is that this type of tokamak can be much cheaper than alternative reactor types, even if they do not scale as well.

Whether or not Tokamak Energy will be the first to achieve commercial nuclear fusion remains to be seen. So far Commonwealth Fusion’s SPARC and a whole host of Western and Asian fusion projects are vying for that gold medal.

2022 Hackaday Prize: Get Your Planet-Friendly Power On!

Time flies! This weekend marks the end of the first stage of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and your chance to enter your alternative-energy projects. There are ten $500 prizes up for grabs, and there’s still time to whip up a project page over on to showcase it.

In this round, we’re looking for projects that harvest their own energy — solar, wind, heat, vibration, you name it — or projects that make it easier to collect, store, or use renewable energy. Whether this is microwatts or megawatts, the scale of the project is up to you! As long as it’s using or making it easier to use clean energy, we want to see it.

So far, we’ve seen some great projects, ranging from a optimizes the tilt angle of a home solar installation to a demonstration of using a new type of lithium-ion capacitor to add solar power to smaller projects. We really love [MartMet]’s simple Bluetooth thermometer hack, which adds a supercapacitor and solar cell to an outdoor thermometer, and then uses hacked firmware to log the charge status over a year of use! We’re suckers for good data.

The sun is not the only game in town, though. There are a surprising number of projects based on human energy production in emergency situations, from cranking to shaking. Thermionic converters were new to us, but we love explorations of fringe tech. Other traditional favorites like wind and water may make more sense for larger applications. And don’t forget how you’re going to store all this juice you’ve collected.

In short, we’ve got a bunch of great entries, but we’re still missing yours! There’s no minute like the last minute: if you’ve done some work in clean or renewable energy, set yourself up a project page now. You’ll help make all our projects cleaner, and stand a good chance of taking home some real money to boot!

Once we’ve handled power, the next round is “Reuse, Recycle, Revamp” where any tech that uses recycled parts or facilitates reuse, repair, or recycling is fair game!

X-37B Spaceplane To Test Power Beaming Technology

Since 2010, the United States military has been operating a pair of small reusable spaceplanes that conduct secretive long-duration flights in low Earth orbit. Now officially operating under the auspices of the newly formed Space Force, the X-37Bs allow the military to conduct in-house research on new hardware and technology with limited involvement from outside agencies. The spaceplane still needs to hitch a ride to space on a commercial rocket like the Atlas V or the Falcon 9, but once it’s separated from the booster, the remainder of the X-37B’s mission is a military affair.

An X-37B being prepared for launch.

So naturally, there’s a lot we don’t know about the USSF-7 mission that launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 17th. The duration of the mission and a complete manifest of the experiments aboard are classified, so nobody outside the Department of Defense truly knows what the robotic spacecraft is up to. But from previous missions we know the craft will likely remain in orbit for a minimum of two years, and there’s enough public information to piece together at least some of the investigations it will be conducting.

Certainly one the most interesting among them is an experiment from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that will study converting solar power into a narrow microwave beam; a concept that has long been considered the key to unlocking the nearly unlimited energy potential offered by an orbital solar array. Even on a smaller scale, a safe and reliable way to transmit power over the air would have many possible applications. For example it could be used to keep unmanned aerial vehicles airborne indefinitely, or provide additional power for electric aircraft as they take-off.

Performing an orbital test of this technology is a serious commitment, and shows that all involved parties must have a fairly high confidence level in the hardware. Unfortunately, there isn’t much public information available about the power beaming experiment currently aboard the X-37B. There’s not even an indication of when it will be performed, much less when we should expect to see any kind of report on how it went. But we can make some educated guesses based on the work that the Naval Research Laboratory has already done in this field.

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Hackathon Alert: Clean Tech At TVCoG

At Hackaday, we get notified of a lot of the cool events going on in hackerspaces all around the world. We’d like to keep you informed too, just in case there’s something going on in your neighborhood.

So we’re going to start running a weekly column on Saturdays that groups together all of the upcoming week’s exceptional events and noteworthy gatherings. If your hackerspace has something going on, tell us about your event on or around the preceding Wednesday. We’ll see your space in on Hackaday!
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Make A Wind Turbine From 55 Gallon Drums

vertical axis wind turbine

Although there are several vertical axis wind turbines listed on greenterrafirma’s page, the one built with 55 gallon drums was especially interesting to us.  Although the spouse approval factor of any of these designs is debatable, at $100, the 55 gallon drum design could provide a very good return on investment.  The tools required to make one of these are relatively simple, so this could make this experiment accessible to those without a vast arsenal of equipment.

If large blue barrels aren’t your thing, the post also features several other turbine designs, including one made with wood and aluminium foil, and one constructed out of PVC pipe.  The video after the break does a good job of explaining the “blue barrel” construction process, but if you’d rather just see this [VAWT] in action, fast forward to 5:25.

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