World’s Biggest Solar Company Joins the Hydrogen Game

China’s Longi Green Energy Technology, the world’s biggest solar company, is entering the hydrogen market, industry publication Solarzoom reported.

Xi’an Longi Hydrogen Technology Co. was registered March 31 in China, according to Solarzoom. Longi’s billionaire founder and president Li Zhenguo is serving as the company’s chairman, and the shareholders are Xi’an Longi Green Energy Venture Capital Management Co. and Shanghai Zhuqueying Private Equity Investment Fund Partnership.

Longi didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment. The firm, which manufactures wafers, cells and panels, is the world’s largest solar company by market capitalization, at about $52 billion as of Friday’s close. Shares rose as much as 4.9% on Tuesday morning in Asia. Energy companies are increasingly turning to hydrogen as a possible carbon-free fuel that could be produced by electrolysis of water powered by renewable energy, and then stored and transported and used in everything from cars to electrical generators to steel mills. Most industrially used hydrogen is currently made using fossil fuels, a cheaper form of production than electrolysis but one that leaves a carbon footprint. Figuring out how to scale up and reduce costs of cleaner hydrogen output is one of the best chances the world has at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change while maintaining the trappings of modern life.

In an interview last year, Li said a combination of solar and storage would be the cheapest form of energy in most nations globally by the end of the decade. He also said his company plans for the long term. “We don’t only look at today, but also three, five years later or even eight or 10 years later,” he said. “After finding the direction, we don’t begrudge money on research and development.

Could Deep Sea Mining Fuel The Electric Vehicle Boom?

The world is hungry for resources to power the green transition. As we increasingly look to solar, wind, geothermal and move towards decarbonization, consumption of minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, which underpin them, is set to grow markedly. One study by the World Bank estimates that to meet this demand, cobalt production will need to grow by 450% from 2018 to 2050, in pursuit of keeping global average temperature rises below 2°C. The mining of any material can give rise to complex environmental and social impacts. Cobalt, however, has attracted particular attention in recent years over concerns of unsafe working conditions and labour rights abuses associated with its production.

New battery technologies are under development with reduced or zero cobalt content, but it is not yet determined how fast and by how much these technologies and circular economy innovations can decrease overall cobalt demand. Deep-sea mining has the potential to supply cobalt and other metals free from association with such social  strife, and can reduce the raw material cost and carbon footprint of much-needed green technologies.

On the other hand, concerned scientists have highlighted our limited knowledge of the deep-sea and its ecosystems. The potential impact of mining on deep-sea biodiversitydeep-sea habitats and fisheries are still being studied, and some experts have questioned the idea that environmental impacts of mining in the deep-sea can be mitigated in the same way as those on land.

Commercial Nuclear Fusion Is Closer Than Ever

Nuclear fusion has been seen as the unattainable holy grail of clean energy for decades, but just in the last year it’s been seeming more and more within reach. As catastrophic climate change looms just over the horizon, the scientific community has galvanized to find more and better solutions to decarbonizing the global economy and replacing fossil fuels with a commercially viable, renewable, and green alternative. While much of the time and capital investment has flowed to more realistic options like solar and wind, some researchers have been dedicating their time and energy to capturing the energy of the sun here on earth–a silver bullet solution to global warming.

Conventional nuclear energy has also been hailed as a good, greenhouse gas emissions-free alternative to fossil fuels, but it has some major drawbacks, from the rare but catastrophic instance of nuclear meltdown to the industrial byproduct of nuclear waste. Nuclear fission, which is what nuclear energy plants currently use to create massive amounts of energy by splitting atoms, creates radioactive waste that remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years, if not longer.

The beauty of nuclear fusion is that, not only does it produce energy without creating radioactive waste since it can be achieved using only hydrogen or lithium, it’s also several times more powerful than fission. If we were ever able to harness it in a commercially viable way, it would mean the end of the oil-based economy as we know it. That’s why any news about nuclear fusion is major news. And in the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of new reports emerging about commercial nuclear fusion getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Last summer, reps from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an intergovernmental project headquartered in the south of France, reported that they are a mere six and a half years away from achieving first plasma inside their tokamak–in other words: nuclear fusion by just 2025. Then, just a month later in August, 2019, Oak Ridge National Laboratory reported their own nuclear fusion breakthrough, which uses novel implementation of AI and supercomputing to successfully scale up nuclear fusion experiments and manage plasma.

Then, in October, the Los Alamos National Laboratory‘s Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX) unveiled a totally new approach to nuclear fusion, using the very science-fiction combination of plasma guns, magnets, and lasers. According to the American Physical Society, “the PLX machine combines aspects of both magnetic confinement fusion schemes (e.g. tokamaks) and inertial confinement machines like the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The hybrid approach, although less technologically mature than pure magnetic or inertial confinement concepts, may offer a cheaper and less complex fusion reactor development path.” That project is projected to be up and running by the end of this year.

And now, just this week, there are new and exciting claims about yet another novel fusion technology to vie for the best path toward commercial nuclear fusion. Startup HB11, which has its impetus at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW), has pioneered a technology that uses lasers to encourage nuclear fusion between hydrogen and boron without the use of radioactive materials to facilitate the reaction. They’re so confident about the technology that they have already applied for and received patents in the United States, Japan, and China.

The secret,” reports Popular Mechanics, “is a cutting-edge laser and, well, an element of luck.” According to managing director Warren McKenzie, as quoted by New Atlas,You could say we’re using the hydrogen as a dart, and hoping to hit a boron, and if we hit one, we can start a fusion reaction.” While this may sound a little wishy-washy, McKenzie says that the approach is actually more precise than using extreme heat to facilitate fusion because the laser is directed, whereas heat-based reactors waste huge amounts of energy heating up the entire reactor and waiting for a collision to take place.

This means that this new technology–which is now four decades in the making–could make machines like the tokamak obsolete. UNSW emeritus professor Heinrich Hora’s design “seeks to not just compete with but replace entirely the extremely high-temperature current technologies to achieve fusion. These include fussy and volatile designs like the tokamak or stellarator, which can take months to get up to functionality and still spin out of working order in a matter of microseconds.”

Last but not least, two months ago, Newsweek reported that China is about to start operation on its “artificial sun“—a nuclear fusion device that produces energy by replicating the reactions that take place at the center of the sun. If successful, the device could edge scientists closer to achieving the ultimate goal of nuclear fusion: near limitless, cheap clean energy.


Spy Drone Stays Airborne For One Entire Year

A solar-powered spy drone that can fly for a year without maintenance or fuel could one day carry out missions for the military. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) uses the sun to power its engines during the day as well as recharge its batteries for overnight operation. Known as Phasa-35, the aircraft could one day be used for surveillance and provide vital communications to remote areas at altitudes of up to 70,000ft (21,000m). Work is already underway to prepare the first drone for flight tests in 2019, according to British defence giant BAE Systems, which is developing the aircraft.

Engineers from BAE and Farnborough-based firm Prismatic announced they would collaborate on the development of the UAV.

 ‘Phasa-35 has the ability to revolutionise the way we think about Beyond Line of Sight communications. ‘It’s great to have the support of a world leading technology company like BAE Systems. said Paul Brooks, founder and managing director of Prismatic.

 So-called ‘High Altitude Low Energy‘ (HALE) aircraft offer a cheaper alternative to conventional satellite technology, according to BAEPhasa-35 (Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft) uses long-life battery technology and ultra-lightweight solar cells to potentially maintain flight for up to 12 months. According to Prismatic, the UAV has a range of potential applications, including defence, security, surveillance and even environmental science imagery.