Unlike other arrangements, if we dont get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we cant arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.
Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes. Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: Its a political issue, not a legal issue.
The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee.
There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place, said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.
She said movement of the industrys best intellectual talent was made easier by the UKs membership of Euratom.
The government said it was working on alternative arrangements to Euratom. Describing the notification of withdrawal as a regrettable necessity when article 50 is triggered, energy minister Jesse Norman said that the UK saw clear routes outside of Euratom to address issues such as the trade of nuclear materials.
We take this extremely seriously and are devoting serious resources [to looking at new arrangements], he told the Lords science and technology committee on Tuesday.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said there was a lot to be done to put in place transitional measures replacing Euratom.
What were collectively warning about is the potential for there to be a very hard two-year period during which there are lots of other things the government has to deal with, that could leave it in a position where some of these things arent in place, he said. Greatrex said one possible option was an associate membership of Euratom.
Over the weekend, the GMB union called on ministers to reconsider their foolhardy rush to leave the treaty, claiming it could endanger the UKs entire nuclear future.
But the Office for Nuclear Regulation argued there could even be be some positives to leaving Euratom, such as a reduction in bureaucracy. If we relinquish Euratom there would be reduced burden from not having to comply with directives, said David Senior, an ONR executive.
The battery might be the least sexy piece of technology ever invented. The lack of glamour is especially conspicuous on the lower floors of MITs materials science department, where one lab devoted to building and testing the next world-changing energy storage device could easily be mistaken for a storage closet.
At the back of the cramped room, Donald Sadoway, a silver-haired electrochemist in a trim black-striped suit and expensive-looking shoes, rummages through a plastic tub of parts like a kid in search of a particular Lego. He sets a pair of objects on the table, each about the size and shape of a can of soup with all the inherent drama of a paperweight.
No wonder its so hard to get anyone excited about batteries. But these paperweightser, battery cellscould be the technology that revolutionizes our energy system.
Because batteries arent just boring. Frankly, they kinda suck. At best, the batteries that power our daily lives are merely invisibleeasily drained reservoirs of power packed into smartphones and computers and cars. At worst, they are expensive, heavy, combustible, complicated to dispose of properly, and prone to dying in the cold or oozing corrosive fluid. Even as the devices they power become slimmer and smarter, batteries are still waiting for their next upgrade. Computer processors famously double their capacity every two years; batteries may scrounge only a few percentage points of improvement in the same amount of time.
Nevertheless, the future will be battery-powered. It has to be. From electric cars to industrial-scale solar farms, batteries are the key to a cleaner, more efficient energy systemand the sooner we get there, the sooner we can stop contributing to potentially catastrophic climate change.
But the batteries weve gotmostly lithium-ionarent good enough. Theres been some progress: The cost of storing energy has fallen by half over the last five years, and big companies are increasingly making marquee investments in the technology, like Teslas gigafactory. But in terms of wholesale economic transformation, lithium-ion batteries remain too expensive. They are powerful in our devices, but when you scale them up they are liable to overheat and even, occasionally, explode.
Perhaps the biggest problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they wear out. Think of your phone battery after its spent a few years draining to 1 percent then charging back up to 100. That kind of deep discharge and recharge takes a physical toll and damages a batterys performance over time.
So were overdue for a brand new battery, and researchers around the world are racing to give us one, with competing approaches and technologies vying for top spot. Some of their ideas are like nothing weve ever plugged into the gridstill not sexy, exactly, but definitely surprising. Liquid batteries. Batteries of molten metal that run as hot as a car engine. Batteries whose secret ingredient is saltwater.
Its all part of a brand new space raceif less flashy than, you know, outer space.
Just Add Batteries
There are a few things you want in a good battery, but two are essential: It needs to be reliable, and it needs to be cheap.
The biggest problem is still cost, says Eric Rohlfing, deputy director of technology for ARPA-E, a division of the Department of Energy that identifies and funds cutting-edge research and development. A 2012 study in Nature found that the average American would only be willing to pay about $13 more each month to ensure that the entire U.S. electrical supply ran on renewables. So batteries cant add much to electrical bills.
For utilities, that means providing grid-level energy storage that would cost them less than $100 per kilowatt hour. Since it was established by President Obama in 2009, ARPA-E has put $85 million toward developing new batteries that can meet that goal.
People called us crazy, says Rohlfing. That number was absurdly low for an industry that hadnt yet seen the near side of $700 per kilowatt hours when they started, according to one study of electric vehicle batteries published in Nature. Now, though still unattained, $100 per kWh is the standard target across the industry, Rohlfing says. Get below that, it seems, and you can not only competeyou can win.
And heres what a better battery stands to win: a cleaner, more reliable power system, which doesnt rely on fossil fuels and is more robust to boot.
Every time you flip a light switch, you tap into a gigantic invisible web, the electrical grid. Somewhere, at the other end of the high-voltage transmission lines carrying power to your house, theres a power plant (likely burning coal or, increasingly, natural gas) churning out electricity to replace the electrons that you and everyone else are draining at that moment.
The amount of power in our grid at any one time is carefully maintainedtoo much or too little and things start to break. Grid operators make careful observations and predictions to determine how much electricity power plants should produce, minute by minute, hour by hour. But sometimes theyre wrong, and a plant has to power up in a hurry to make up the difference.
Lucky for us, its a big, interconnected system, so we rarely notice changes in the quality or quantity of electricity. Imagine the difference between stepping into a bucket of water versus stepping into the ocean. In a small system, any change in the balance between supply and demand is obvious the bucket overflows. But because the grid is so bigocean-likefluctuations are usually imperceptible. Only when something goes very wrong do we notice, because the lights go out.
Renewable energy is less obedient than a coal- or gas-fired power plantyou cant just fire up a solar farm if demand spikes suddenly. Solar power peaks during the day, varies as clouds move across the sun, and disappears at night, while wind power is even less predictable. Too much of that kind of intermittency on the grid could make it more difficult to balance supply and demand, which could lead to more blackouts.
Storing energy is a safety valve. If you could dump extra energy somewhere, then draw from it when supply gets low again, you can power a whole lot more stuff with renewable energy, even when the sun isnt shining and the wind isnt blowing. Whats more, the grid itself becomes more stable and efficient, as batteries would allow communities and regions to manage their own power supply. Our aging and overtaxed power infrastructure would go a lot further. Instead of installing new transmission lines in places where existing lines are near capacity, you could draw power during off-peak times and stash it in batteries until you need it.
Just like that, the bucket can behave a lot more like the ocean. That would meanat least in theorymore distributed power generation and storage, more renewables, and less reliance on giant fossil-fueled power plants.
So thats why this battery thing is kind of A Big Deal.
A battery will do for the electricity supply chain what refrigeration did to our food supply chain, Sadoway says from his office in MIT, a good deal more spacious than the battery lab.
Those canisters he showed me were early prototypes of cells for a liquid metal battery he started researching a decade ago.
I started working on batteries just because I was crazy about cars, Sadoway tells me. (His desktop background is a vintage sports car he sold a few years ago. He keeps the picture around the way one would memorialize a family pet.) In 2005, he took a test drive in an early Ford electric vehicle and fell in love. I realized the only reason we dont have electric cars is because we dont have batteries.
So Sadoway started thinking. He had some experience with the process of refining aluminum, and he wondered if that could be a model for a new, unorthodox kind of battery. Aluminum smelting is a dirt-cheap, energy-intensive process by which purified metal is boiled out of ore. But if that one-way process could be doubled up and looped back on itself, maybe the huge amount of energy fed into the molten metal could be stored there.
In some ways, thats insanethe molten battery would have to run around of 880 degrees F, only slightly cooler than the combustion chamber of a car engine. But its also a bizarrely simple concept, at least to an electrochemist. It turns out assembling a cell of a liquid metal battery cell is as easy as dropping a plug of metal, made up of two alloys of different densities, into a vessel and pouring some salt on top. When the cell is powered up, the two metals melt and divide into two layers automatically, like salad oil floating on vinegar. The molten salt forms a layer between them, conducting electrons back and forth.
But even with a promising start, developing a new battery is a glacially slow process, Sadoway says. Early funding from ARPA-E and the French oil giant Total helped him get the idea off the ground, but sustaining research for the years needed to build any brand new technology is expensive. Venture capitalists are shy about drawn-out engineering projects when there are so many software startups promising fast profits.
In any capital-intensive industry, industry will stand in the way of innovation, Sadoway says. Existing battery companies have too much invested in the status quo to be much help, he says. Lithium-ion came from outside the established battery industry of its time, he points out; the next battery will have to do the same.
The molten metal battery has long since moved out of the basement lab. In 2010, Sadoway started the battery company Ambri with several of his former students, then moved HQ into a manufacturing facility 30 miles west of Cambridge to the town of Marlborough. Now, Ambri employs about 40 people and is busy building prototype battery packs out of hundreds of the molten metal cells.
Sadoway says Ambri is less than a year away from deploying its first commercial models. All signs have been hopeful so far, he says. At the manufacturing facility, some test cells have been up and running for almost four years without showing any signs of wear and tear. Getting the assembled battery packs, each consisting of 432 individual cells, to work was trickier. But after ironing out some pesky issues with the heat seals, the battery packs can reach a self-sustaining operating temperature, hot enough to charge and discharge without any extra energy input. Now Ambri is in the middle of raising another round of funding, enough to reach market-ready production mode.
On my way out the door, I say that, for all the difficulty and delay, it seems like this battery could really be close. I hope so, Sadoway says, looking almost wistful. Maybe this is it. Id like to see that.
A Crowded Field
The molten metal battery isnt the only moonshot battery. Its not even the obvious front-runner. Other technologies are pushing ahead, quietly and without fanfare, from iron flow batteries to zinc- and lithium-air varieties.
Like Sadoways project, many of these untested technologies are funded initially by grants from ARPA-E. These are very early stage, high-risk technologies, says Rohlfing, the agencys deputy director. We take a lot of shots on goal.
One especially promising contender in the better battery battle is the Pittsburgh-based company Aquion, whose founder, Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Whitacre, set out in 2008 to design the cheapest, most reliable battery you could make.
The result is something colloquially called a saltwater battery. It looks, more or less, like a Rubbermaid bin full of seawater. All of the materials in the Aquion batteries are abundant and easily obtained elements, from salt to stainless steel to cotton. Whats more, none of those materials carry the risks of a lithium-ion battery.
Our chemistry is very simple, says Matt Maroon, Aquions director of product management. Theres nothing in our battery that is flammable, toxic, or caustic.
Its also stupidly easy to assemble. Our main piece of manufacturing assembly equipment comes out of the food packaging industry, Maroon says. Its a simple pick-and-place robot that youd find at Nabisco, putting crackers inside of blister packs.
Aquion batteries have been on the market for nearly three years, installed in both homes and utility-scale facilities. Overall, Aquion has 35 megawatt hours of storage deployed around the world in 250 different installations. One in Hawaii has been up and running for two years; last year, the battery-plus-solar system powered several buildings for six months without ever falling back on a diesel generator.
We need to get more of these things out into the field, says Rohlfing. Right now, if Im a utility or a grid operator and I want to buy storage, I want to buy something that comes with a 20-year warranty. The technologies were talking about arent at that stage yet.
But theyre getting close. Another ARPA-E-funded project, Energy Storage Systems, or ESS, announced last November that it would install one of its iron-flow batteries as part of an Army Corps of Engineers microgrid experiment on a military base in Missouri. ESS has also installed batteries to help power an off-grid organic winery in Napa Valleyfor that matter, so has Aquion. As more and more of these one-off experiments prove successfuland more of these new kinds of batteries prove their worththe possibility of a battery-powered energy system comes a little closer.
But will batteries ever be, well, cool? Thats a harder question. Aquions Matt Maroon has been working in the field since 2002, soon after he left college. At conferences, Maroon was often the youngest person in the room by 30 years. He was sure he wouldnt be a battery guy for his whole career.
Fifteen years later, hes still a battery guybut hes no longer the youngest person in the room. More students are starting to get involved with batteries, and people are starting to take notice. Its still not as a cool as working at Apple, he says. But I think people recognize its importance and that kind of makes it cool.
Or I hope so, he laughs. Ive got a 9-year-old daughter. So Id like to work on something that she thinks is cool someday. Thats my ultimate goal.
The project is part of Elon Musks plan to help transform the power grid
From the road, the close to 400 white industrial boxes packed into 1.5 acres of barren land in Ontario, California, a little more than 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles, look like standard electrical equipment. Theyre surrounded by a metal fence, stand on concrete pads and sit under long electrical lines.
But take a closer look and youll notice the bright red coloring and gray logo of electric car company Tesla on the sides. And inside the boxes are thousands of battery cells the same ones that are used in Teslas electric cars made by the company in its massive $5bn Tesla Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada.
This spot, located at the Mira Loma substation of Southern California Edison, hosts the biggest battery farm Tesla has built for a power company. Southern California Edison will use the battery farm, which has been operating since December and is one of the biggest in the world, to store energy and meet spikes in demand like on hot summer afternoons when buildings start to crank up the air conditioning.
Teslas project has a capacity of 20 megawatts and is designed to discharge 80-megawatt hours of electricity in four-hour periods. It contains enough batteries to run about 1,000 Tesla cars, and the equivalent energy to supply power to 15,000 homes for four hours. The company declined to disclose the projects cost.
The project marks an important point in Teslas strategy to expand beyond the electric car business. Developing battery packs is a core expertise for the company, which is designing packs for homes, businesses and utilities. It markets them partly as a way to store solar electricity for use after sundown, a pitch that works well for states with a booming solar energy market such as California.
Battery systems built for power companies can serve more than one purpose. A utility can avoid blackouts by charging them up when its natural gas power plants, or solar and wind farms, produce more electricity than needed, and draw from them when the power plants arent able to keep up with demand.
Edison and other California utilities hired Tesla and a few other battery farm builders after an important natural gas reservoir near Los Angeles, called Aliso Canyon, closed following a huge leak and massive environmental disaster in late 2015. The leak forced thousands of people in nearby neighborhoods to evacuate. It also left utilities worried about how theyd meet the peak electricity demands of coming summers if they werent able to dip into the natural gas storage whenever they need fuel to produce power. They couldnt always get natural gas shipment from other suppliers quick enough to meet a sharp rise in electricity consumption.
The national railway company, NS, said that its renewables target had been met a year earlier than planned
All Dutch trains have become 100% powered by electricity generated by wind energy, the national railway company NS has said .
Since 1 January, 100% of our trains are running on wind energy, said NS spokesman, Ton Boon.
Dutch electricity company Eneco won a tender offered by NS two years ago and the two companies signed a 10-year deal setting January 2018 as the date by which all NS trains should run on wind energy.
So we in fact reached our goal a year earlier than planned, said Boon, adding that an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands had helped NS achieve its aim.
Eneco and NS said on a joint website that around 600,000 passengers daily are the first in the world to travel thanks to wind energy. NS operates about 5,500 train trips a day.
One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles, the companies said. They hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.
Carbonclean is turning planet-heating emissions into profit by converting CO2 into baking powder and could lock up 60,000 tonnes of CO2 a year
A breakthrough in the race to make useful products out of planet-heating CO2 emissions has been made in southern India.
A plant at the industrial port of Tuticorin is capturing CO2 from its own coal-powered boiler and using it to make soda ash aka baking powder.
Crucially, the technology is running without subsidy, which is a major advance for carbon capture technology as for decades it has languished under high costs and lukewarm government support.
The firm behind the Tuticorin process says its chemicals will lock up 60,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and the technology is attracting interest from around the world.
Debate over carbon capture has mostly focused until now on carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which emissions are forced into underground rocks at great cost and no economic benefit. The Tuticorin plant is said to be the first industrial scale example of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU).
There is already a global market for CO2 as a chemical raw material. It comes mainly from industries such as brewing where it is cheap and easy to capture.
Until now it has been too expensive without subsidy to strip out CO2 from the relatively low concentrations in which it appears in flue gas. The Indian plant has overcome the problem by using a new CO2-stripping chemical.
It is just slightly more efficient than the current CCS chemical amine, but its inventors, Carbonclean, say it also needs less energy, is less corrosive, and requires much smaller equipment meaning the build cost is much lower than for conventional carbon capture.
The new kit has been installed at Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals. The firm is now using the CO2 from its own boiler to make soda ash a base chemical with a wide range of uses including glass manufacture, sweeteners, detergents and paper products.
The firms managing director, Ramachandran Gopalan, told BBC Radio 4: I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it. He says the plant now has virtually zero emissions to air or water.
Carbonclean believes capturing usable CO2 can deal with perhaps 5-10% of the worlds emissions from coal. Its no panacea, but it would be a valuable contribution because industrial steam-making boilers are hard to run on renewable energy.
The inventors of the new process are two young chemists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. They failed to find Indian finance and were welcomed instead by the UK government, which offered grants and the special entrepreneur status that whisks them through the British border.
The firms headquarters are now based in Londons Paddington district. Its CEO, Aniruddha Sharma, said: So far the ideas for carbon capture have mostly looked at big projects, and the risk is so high they are very expensive to finance. We want to set up small-scale plants that de-risk the technology by making it a completely normal commercial option.
By producing a subsidy-free carbon utilisation project, Carbonclean appears to have something of a global lead. But it is by no means alone. Carbon8 near Bristol is buying in CO2 to make aggregates, and other researchers are working on making plastics and fuels from waste CO2.
At last, it seems, the race to turn CO2 into profit is really on.
Money managers, producers and consumers made the biggest bets on West Texas Intermediate crude prices in nine years, amid signals more volatility is coming.
Global markets were roiled after Donald Trumps election as U.S. president and as OPEC continued negotiations on a deal to cap output. The U.S. dollar climbed to the highest since January. A measure of oil volatility surged last week to a seven-month high, a sign that traders were anticipating bigger price swings.
Wagers on higher and lower prices held by speculators and hedgers reached 1.47 million contracts in the week ended Nov. 15, the most since 2007, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Trading volume of calls giving investors the right to purchase WTI futures surged to a record that day. The CBOE Crude Oil Volatility Index reached the highest since April.
“Theres tension in the market, with both producers and consumers worried about what OPEC does or wont do on Nov. 30,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “They want to be protected from surprising price moves.”
Investors are weighing the chances that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will complete a deal to cap output at its Nov. 30 meeting in Vienna. While Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told Al Arabiya television hes optimistic a deal will be reached, only 7 of 20 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg last week expect the group to set output targets for its members.
OPEC agreed in September to cut their collective output to 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day and has been trying to persuade other suppliers, notably Russia, to join the cuts. OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo said hes confident the group can reduce record oil inventories and bring forward the rebalancing of the market.
“The Saudis are working hard to reach a deal,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy. “You dont fight the Fed in the bond market and when it comes to oil you dont fight the Saudis.”
The September agreement marked the end of OPECs two-year long experiment with pumping at will. Saudi Arabia led the group in the effort to grab market share and curb the development of more expensive reserves such as U.S. shale.
While U.S. production has dropped from last years 44-year high, the decline is slowing. The Energy Information Administration this month raised its output forecast for 2017. Rigs targeting oil in the U.S. rose the most in 16 months last week, according to Baker Hughes Inc.
Producers and merchants increased short positions, or protection against lower WTI prices, to the highest level since March 2011. They added 66,613 bearish contracts over the past two weeks as prices retreated from last months peak at above $50 a barrel.
“The Saudis want higher prices but wont sacrifice just to see a major competitor, U.S. shale, benefit,” said Sarah Emerson, managing director of ESAI Energy Inc., a consulting company in Wakefield, Massachusetts. “The Trump election changes things. In one day the U.S. shale business got better. The government will be more responsive to the industry.”
Money managers net-long position in WTI advanced for the first time since mid-October, climbing by 3,906 futures and options to 163,321. Shorts climbed 14 percent while longs rose 8.1 percent. WTI gained 1.8 percent to $45.81 a barrel in the report week, before settling at $45.69 on Nov. 18.
In fuel markets, net-bullish bets on gasoline decreased 35 percent to 25,796 contracts, as futures slipped 2.5 percent in the report week. Money managers were net-short 393 contracts of ultra low sulfur diesel, from net-long 7,791 the previous week. Futures advanced 0.2 percent.
“I suspect that when the OPEC meeting is over there will have been a lot more smoke than fire,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts. “If they dont come up with a convincing agreement, theyll be forced to revisit the issue before long.”