In this episode we take a look at newer generations of fission reactors, those that are currently being developed or researched. Our guest is Jacopo Buongiorno of MIT. We discuss some of the high-level goals of these new reactors, such as increased safety and efficiency, and then look at a few of the interesting new designs and how they realize these goals. We also briefly cover some of the policy arguments around keeping fission in the mix for combatting climate change.
Socio-technical systems are systems where (groups of) humans interact with (non-trivial) technical systems; an example is the power grid. The people, the technical system and the combination might easily lead to complex behavior that is hard to predict and control over the long term. However, as illustrated by, for example, the need to transition our energy infrastructure to a more sustainable structure, it is necessary for society to “control” such systems. Igor Nikolic is a professor at the TU Delft where he uses agent-based modeling approach to try to understand, and thus help control and evolve such systems. We discuss the systems, the challenges as well as the modeling approaches.
In our never-ending quest to understand fusion and its potential use in energy production, I visited the Wendelstein 7-X fusion experiment in Greifswald run by the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik. We started out with a visit to the experiment hall, while experimentalist Matthias Hirsch gave us an overview over the machine. Next we discussed theory and modeling with Ralf Kleiber. Finally, I returned to Matthias Hirsch, and we chatted about more experimental aspects of Wendelstein. It is probably best to listen to our previous fusion episodes (22, 157 and 304) before listening to this one.
Justin and Jason wrote a nice book on fusion called The Future of Fusion Energy, and this episode is based on this book. We start out by revisiting the breakthroughs that drove progress in fusion over the decades, including understanding stars, the tokamak, superconducting magnets, supercomputers and a number of specific aspects of plasma physics. We then look at the current state of fusion research as well as where it might go.
With power generation in the grid becoming more diverse and decentralized, energy storage is becoming more and more important. Eduard Heindl‘s gravity storage is an approach to storing electrical energy as potential energy by lifting huge masses cut out of the ground. While this sounds crazy, there are lots of reasons why this makes sense. In the episode we discuss then need, the general approach, the construction process and some of the engineering challenges. We also look at the innovation process, the path from the idea to something that is ready to be built.