China’s bid for man-made sun

Experimental nuclear fusion reactor is seen at a laboratory in the Southwest Institute of Physics in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.Experimental nuclear fusion reactor is seen at a laboratory in the Southwest Institute of Physics in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Photo: Reuters

David Stanway

May 4, 2011 – 12:54PM

The congenial Professor Duan Xuru doesn’t look like a stereotypical mad scientist as he shows guests into a cluttered laboratory filled with canisters, vacuum pumps and patched-up pipes tied together with spirals of blue wire and rubber tubing.

But Professor Duan, based in the south-west Chinese city of Chengdu, is working on an audacious project described as a “man-made sun”. He hopes it will eventually create almost unlimited supplies of cheap and clean energy.

Professor Duan is no maverick either, but a pioneer in one of the many expeditions that China has launched to map out its nuclear energy options in the future.

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Old-fashioned atom splitting has been in the spotlight after Japan’s biggest earthquake and tsunami left an ageing nuclear reactor complex on the north-east coast on the verge of catastrophic meltdown.

While Germany and Italy have turned their backs on nuclear power, China is pressing ahead with an ambitious plan to raise capacity from 10.8 gigawatts at the end of 2010 to as much as 70 or 80 GW in 2020.

Many of the nuclear research institutes across the country are working on advanced solutions to some of the problems facing traditional reactors, from the recycling and storage of spent fuel to terrorist attacks.

But Professor Duan and his state-funded team of scientists are on a quest for the Holy Grail of nuclear physics: a fusion reactor that can generate power by forcing nuclei together instead of smashing them apart – mimicking the stellar activity that brought heavy elements into existence and made the universe fit for life.

Professor Duan said fusion could be the ultimate way forward: it is far safer than traditional fission, requires barely 600 grams of hydrogen fuel a year for each 10-gigawatt plant, and creates virtually no radioactive waste.

“Due to the problems in Japan, the government hopes nuclear fusion can be realised in the near future,” said Professor Duan, the director of fusion science at the South-western Institute of Physics, founded in 1965 and funded by the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

While fusion has moved some way beyond the purely hypothetical after more than half a century of painstaking research, it still remains some distance away from being feasible. Critically, the energy required to induce a fusion reaction far exceeds the amount of energy produced.

Fusion might be the ultimate goal, but in the near future, all China’s practical efforts will continue to focus on a new model of conventional fission reactors.

While China’s nuclear industry awaits the results of a government review in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, all signs point to China pushing ahead with its long-term strategy.

The National Development and Reform Commission said last week China would continue to support the construction and development of advanced nuclear reactors and related nuclear technologies.

“Suddenly, China has become even more important to the world – as other people ask whether they still want to go ahead, China still seems intent on going ahead at full speed,” said Steve Kidd, deputy secretary general with the World Nuclear Association, a London-based lobby group.

If traditional nuclear power represents the civil application of the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, fusion is an extension of the hydrogen bomb, first tested by the United States in 1952.

Showing Reuters around a sweltering, hermetically-sealed lab designed to bring hydrogen isotopes to an unthinkable 55-million degree boil in a 1.65 metre vacuum chamber, Professor Duan said progress had been slower than first expected at the dawn of the nuclear age.

“It took about nine years to go from the atomic bomb to nuclear power, and we hoped it would take a maximum of 20 years to get from the first H-bomb to a fusion reactor,” he said. “But in reality it was very difficult because there were so many technical and scientific challenges.”

Described by one observer as an attempt to put the sun in a box, nuclear fusion has been derided as the province of cranks and charlatans – the modern equivalent of the perpetual motion machines that plagued US patent offices in the 19th century. Sceptics scoff that the world is now 50 years away from fusion power – and always will be.

Professor Duan shrugged off the criticism. He has spent more than 20 years in the field, including eight years in Germany, and found reasons to be optimistic.

“Actually, the concept of nuclear fusion is very simple,” he said with a wry smile. “The first thing is to generate the plasma. The second thing is to heat the plasma to a few hundred million degrees. And then you need to confine it.”

The devil, of course, is in the details.

Exotic options

As Japan’s stricken Fukushima plant lurched from crisis to crisis in March and April, the safety of nuclear power was called into question – including in China. Five days after the quake and tsunami knocked out the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi complex, China said it was suspending approvals for nuclear power plants pending safety checks of plants in operation or under construction.

China by most calculations is already the world’s biggest energy consumer, and demand for power is set to soar in the next decade. But its dependence on fossil fuels have also turned it into the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas.

Professor Duan’s fusion reactor could be the answer to China’s energy conundrum. It does not require hectares of space or tonnes of scarce fuel or water resources. It produces no carbon dioxide emissions or waste, and is completely safe, even if struck by an earthquake.

A large part of China’s fusion research is now focused on the tokamak, a Russian acronym meaning “toroidal magnetic chamber”.

It is a doughnut-shaped vacuum vessel wrapped in superconducting magnetic coils that confine and control the ultra-high temperature soup of ions and electrons known as plasma.

But tokamaks can only run a few seconds in experiments conducted every five months or so, creating a brief 500-megawatt burst of energy before fizzling out.

Unlike the tokamak, new conventional technologies are on the cusp of being commercialised, including “third-generation” designs imported from US-based Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba, and France’s Areva.

Also on the horizon are fourth and fifth-generation technologies that go by names such as fast-breeder, travelling wave, or high-temperature gas-cooled, as well as small and versatile “modular” reactors with shorter construction times.

“[China] has investments in the more exotic reactor designs and they also have got co-operation on fast reactors with the Russians,” said Mr Kidd of the World Nuclear Association. “They are keeping their options open, and Fukushima will encourage that tendency toward next-generation reactors.”

The allure of the next generation reactors is they can eliminate, or at least defer, the problem of fuel shortages by reprocessing spent uranium into plutonium and other actinides and boost the amount of usable fuel by a factor of 50.

Like fusion, some of these advanced reactors remain a long way from the market, said Adrian Heymer, executive director at the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, DC.

High-temperature gas-cooled reactors are unlikely to be ready until 2030, and fast breeders could have to wait until the 2040s.

“When we say future, we are really looking at the distant future – they not only need a step forward in technology but certainly also a step-up in operator acumen,” Mr Heymer said.

The nuclear debate, Mr Kidd says, needs to focus more on the commercial application of current technologies.

“The nuclear industry’s reaction, whenever there is a problem, is to try to find technical solutions rather than business solutions, which is the way any other industry would deal with it.”

Non-mainstream technology is a diversion, he said, and China needs to focus on the task in hand: getting a new generation of reactors into commercial operation for the first time.

“What the industry has to do now is build a large number of third-generation units around the world, bring costs down and establish a global supply chain that will allow costs to be cut.”

Fission mission

All the discussions about Professor Duan’s “artificial sun” seemed ironic in the April gloom of Chengdu in China’s rainswept Sichuan basin, where industry representatives met to talk about the long-term prospects for nuclear power.

They were originally lined up to celebrate the country’s rapid capacity build-up and the extraordinary leaps expected over the next decade. Now they had to come to terms with the worst crisis to hit the industry in a quarter-century.

For the first time in years, China’s bullish nuclear firms were on the back foot. Tang Hongju, the head of the nuclear division of the Chengdu-based Dongfang Electric, one of China’s biggest nuclear equipment manufacturers, tried gamely to put it in the best light.

“The fact that we could have this conference and invite so many experts after the Fukushima accident shows how much confidence there still is in the Chinese nuclear sector.”

Some worried about profits in the coming year.

“We are actually quite worried about a slowdown in orders,” said a representative with another supplier. “There is still a lot of uncertainty because in the end it all depends on what the government decides. Right now we have no idea what it will be.”

Before March 11, the world was awaiting a bold 2020 capacity target of 85 GW, more than doubling the previous 40 GW figure. The two big plant builders, CNNC and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC), said 100 GW would be possible.

Even before Fukushima, some urged caution. The State Council Research Office published a paper in January saying China needed to rein in the overexuberant nuclear sector and keep the target at around 70 GW.

“There was a lot of hot air about a ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the last few years and the credibility of it was getting lower – Fukushima actually provides an excuse to slow down a bit.”

Beijing has not yet published new targets, but Xue Xinmin, a researcher with the NDRC’s Energy Research Institute, said it was now likely to be scaled back to around 70-80 GW.

He said a slowdown would give China time to improve its regulatory system, train personnel and build manufacturing capacity, thus ensuring the industry’s long-term strength.

Official corruption is another concern. Last November, the CNNC chief was jailed for life for taking bribes and abuse of power, raising questions about the integrity of policy-making at the top of the industry.


Despite the uncertainties, optimism continues to prevail – and some insiders suggested Fukushima could actually cement China’s future dominance of the sector.

“The Japan accident could be good for China,” said one industry official who didn’t want to be identified in order to speak more candidly.

“It will force China to move forward technologically and pay even more attention to safety. But it will also lead to a bigger slowdown in nuclear development in other countries. China can really gain the upper hand.”

China has already committed itself to investing $1.5 trillion in seven strategic industries, including nuclear and high-speed rail.

Its plans to push into high-tech sectors prompted US President Barack Obama to call for a “Sputnik moment” aimed at ensuring that the United States doesn’t fall behind.

Even the lower target of 70 GW is still a huge leap from 10.8 today, and China could very quickly return to “business as usual Kidd said.

While many predicted the safety review after Fukushima would cause project approvals to be suspended for at least a year, now the expectation is for the pipeline to start moving again in August.

Dozens of plants are waiting to be built.

“Obviously, there will be some delays, but I don’t think there are any implications for those projects already under construction – and there are 27 of those, which is enough to be going along with,” said Kidd.

Fukushima nightmare

Parts of China are prone to earthquakes, such as the 8.0-magnitude quake that flattened several towns in Sichuan in 2008, killing 80,000 people.

The quake did no harm to nuclear power plants, sparing China a Fukushima-style nightmare.

But it damaged beyond repair a turbine manufacturing unit belonging to one of China’s biggest nuclear equipment makers, Dongfang Electric, at a loss of 1.6 billion yuan.

Since then, the company has recovered, building and expanding facilities in quake-damaged Deyang and elsewhere.

Despite misgivings among the public, the quake didn’t stop nearby cities – including the megapolis of Chongqing – from pushing ahead with their own reactor plans.

Chinese netizens have expressed concerns about the projects, and after Fukushima some accused local officials of putting prestige and profit ahead of public safety.

“The people of Sichuan should unite and together resist the shameful act of building a nuclear power station in Sichuan,” said one comment on an internet site ( used to discuss local issues in the province.

Existing nuclear projects are clustered on China’s eastern coast, but the government has identified nuclear power as a crucial part of efforts to reduce coal dependence and boost energy supplies in poor and polluted interior regions.

Beijing said shortly before the Japan crisis that China’s first inland plant would begin construction within two years, and Sichuan was among a number of provinces hoping to be in the first pick.

A lot is at stake. Sichuan officials said apart from Dongfang Electric, more than 30 companies in the province were preparing for the projects, which have not been given the final go-ahead by the central government.

Critics of nuclear power suggest all the “inland” nuclear plans should be torn up in light of the Japan crisis, and not just because of the potential earthquake risks.

“China has a huge variety of natural disasters – this is a country vulnerable to extreme weather and the government needs to take into consideration all the worst-case scenarios,” said Li Yan, China campaign manager with Greenpeace.

Nuclear supporters see a massive overreaction to Fukushima.

“The safety requirements for inland nuclear power plants are no different from those on the coast – the key consideration is water supply and environmental capacity,” said Li Xiaoxue, an official in charge of new reactor projects at CGNPC.

Kidd of the World Nuclear Association said plants in earthquake-prone regions could be scaled back, but that was no reason to ban all inland projects.

“Some of the regions have seismic problems and as a consequence of Fukushima there may be less of a rush to go to some of these areas, including Sichuan, but otherwise there’s no particular good reason not to build them,” he said.

Generation gap

Li of CGNPC caused a stir at the Chengdu conference when he said China could halt approvals for new second-generation plants – similar to the Fukushima Daiichi plant – after Japan’s disaster. He also wondered whether China was ready to make the big leap into third-generation technology.

The company later denied Li had made those statements. But even if China does go ahead with some second-generation plants among the many projects pending approval, the Japan crisis is likely to strengthen its prior commitment to third-generation reactors such as the AP1000 and Areva’s EPR.

“China was heading that way anyway,” said Kidd. “They see the AP1000, or derivations of the AP1000, as the way forward. I think they have looked at it and said if they can build it properly, it will be cheaper.”

At Sanmen on the east coast, China is building the world’s first AP1000, a model designed by Westinghouse to withstand the sort of catastrophic strains that struck the Fukushima complex.

China isn’t just building Westinghouse’s new third-generation model, it is also absorbing the technology in a strategy aimed at seizing the global initiative in the industry and building an entire industrial chain with a global reach.

Technology transfers from Westinghouse and others will allow China to create its own reactor brands. CNNC is talking to foreign partners about selling them abroad.

“Many of the technologies have already been basically localised,” said Xue, the NDRC researcher. Reactors now under construction could rely on domestic manufacturers for around 80-85 per cent of their components and equipment, he said.

“We are localising advanced technologies in order to enter the global market – China must become a nuclear exporting country and exporting reactors must be a part of our national strategy.”

China is emulating South Korea, which signed a similar technology transfer agreement in 1987 and is building its own reactors in the United Arab Emirates.

“With the transfer of technology, the Chinese will have the wherewithal to move ahead with similar designs, and by the time they get to unit 10 they are going to be pretty much self-sufficient,” said Heymer of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“It could mean that by 2020-2025 they will be up and running themselves and could be a competitor,” he said.

Breaking even

Back at his lab in Chengdu, Professor Duan remains optimistic about the long-term prospects for fusion, particularly when the pressures of climate change begin to intensify.

Professor Duan heads a team of 200 people, up from just a few dozen in the 1980s when fusion researchers were struggling to convince their paymasters the technology was feasible.

In recent years, Beijing has offer more funds, partly to meet its commitments to a fusion project known as the international thermonuclear experimental reactor, or ITER.

“Now it is much better than before,” Professor Duan said. “One reason is energy security. Another is political: we joined the ITER project.”

China joined the European Union, Russia, Japan and the United States in ITER in 2003. With India and South Korea also on board, the project aims to produce a working fusion reactor by 2019. The countries will share the project’s costs, expected to run to €10 billion.

Fusion is far behind fission in terms of development and far more reliant on international cooperation, at least while the technology is in its infancy. China, which has shown it can leverage its nuclear might to get know-how from Westinghouse and Areva, could be equally hard-headed if fusion looks like is paying off.

While the fusion research community has no secrets now, Professor Duan said, labs like his could start to go their own way if big breakthroughs are made.

A number of labs – including the Joint European Torus (JET) in Abingdon near Oxford in the United Kingdom – have come close to a crucial breakthrough: getting more power out of the reactor than they put in, a ratio known as Q or “breakeven”. ITER is likely to lift Q from less than 1 to more than 10 within 20 years.

The Q ratio is a starker, more scientific version of the sort of cost-benefit analysis that is brought to all forms of energy, including conventional nuclear power.

For the industry’s inveterate opponents, benefits will always be outweighed by costs. But as China scours the planet for the scarce resources needed to meet the energy demand of more than 1.3 billion people, nuclear is seen as fundamental.

During his travels around the nuclear conference circuit, Kidd said he had identified as many as 20 separate excuses why nuclear power shouldn’t be developed, but in the end, the fundamental problem facing the sector is cost.

It is a problem China is in the best position to solve.

“They have a wonderful opportunity to show what they can do and the key thing they can bring to the world is lower costs.”

Whether China can eventually do the same for fusion remains to be seen, and until it is finally commercialized, China and the rest of the world have little choice but to endure all the costs and risks that arise from splitting the atom.

Professor Duan has dedicated his adult life to fusion research, and he still isn’t sure if he will see a commercially viable reactor in his lifetime.

“It is difficult to say,” he said ruefully.

“I believe we will have a fusion power plant within 50 years, but I don’t know if I will still be here to see it.”


Huge X-class solar flare

could jam satellite signals

February 18, 2011

A powerful solar eruption that has already disturbed radio communications in China could disrupt electrical power grids and satellites used on Earth in the next days, NASA said.

The massive sunspot, which astronomers say is the size of Jupiter, is the strongest solar flare in four years, NASA said.

The Class X flash – the largest such category – erupted at 12.56pm [AEDT] on Tuesday, according to the US space agency.

A powerfuil solar eruption could disrupt satellites on Earth.A powerful solar eruption could disrupt satellites on Earth. Photo: AFP

“X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms, disturbing telecommunications and electric grids,” NASA said.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory saw a large coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the flash that is blasting towards Earth about 900 kilometres per second, it said.

The charged plasma particles were expected to reach the planet’s orbit at 2.00pm [AEDT] yesterday.

The flare spread from Active Region 1158 in the sun’s southern hemisphere, which had so far lagged behind the northern hemisphere in flash activity. It followed several smaller flares in recent days.

“The calm before the storm,” read a statement on the US National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Service.

“Three CMEs are enroute, all a part of the Radio Blackout events on February 13, 14, and 15 [UTC]. The last of the three seems to be the fastest and may catch both of the forerunners about mid to late … February 17.”

Geomagnetic storms usually last 24 to 48 hours, “but some may last for many days”, read a separate NWS statement.

“Ground-to-air, ship-to-shore, shortwave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected.”

The China Meteorological Administration reported that the solar flare had jammed shortwave radio communications in southern China.

It said the flare caused “sudden ionospheric disturbances” in the atmosphere above China, and warned there was a high probability that large solar flares would appear over the next three days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In previous major disturbance of the Earth’s electric grid from a solar incident, in 1973, a magnetic storm caused by a solar eruption plunged six million people into darkness in Canada’s eastern-central Quebec province.

The British Geological Survey [BGS] said meanwhile that the solar storm would result in spectacular Northern Lights displays starting on Thursday.

One coronal mass ejection [CME] arrived on February 14, “sparking Valentine’s Day displays of the Northern Lights [aurora borealis] further south than usual”.

“Two CMEs are expected to arrive in the next 24-48 hours and further … displays are possible some time over the next two nights if skies are clear,” it said.

The office published geomagnetic records dating back to the Victorian era which it hopes will help in planning for future storms.

“Life increasingly depends on technologies that didn’t exist when the magnetic recordings began,” said Alan Thomson, BGS head of geomagnetism.

“Studying the records will tell us what we have to plan and prepare for to make sure systems can resist solar storms,” he said.

AFP Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Hurricane winds can rupture undersea pipes

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve determined undersea forces produced by strong hurricanes are powerful enough to rupture underwater oil pipelines.

The scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said the pipelines could crack or rupture unless they are buried or their supporting foundations are built to withstand hurricane-induced currents.

“Major oil leaks from damaged pipelines could have irreversible impacts on the ocean environment,” the researchers said, noting a hurricane’s winds can raise waves 66 feet or more above the ocean surface.

Based on unique measurements taken during a powerful hurricane, the researchers said their study is the first to show hurricanes propel underwater currents with enough force to dig up the seabed, potentially creating underwater mudslides and damaging pipes or other equipment resting on the bottom.

They said they’re not sure what strengths of forces underwater oil pipelines are built to withstand. However, “Hurricane stress is quite large, so the oil industry better pay attention,” said Hemantha Wijesekera, who led the study.

The findings are to appear in the June10 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Sourced and published  by Henry Sapiecha

Natural Solar Collectors

On Butterfly Wings

Inspire More Powerful Solar Cells

ScienceDaily (Feb. 5, 2009) — The discovery that butterfly wings have scales that act as tiny solar collectors has led scientists in China and Japan to design a more efficient solar cell that could be used for powering homes, businesses, and other applications in the future.

In the study, Di Zhang and colleagues note that scientists are searching for new materials to improve light-harvesting in so-called dye-sensitized solar cells, also known as Grätzel cells for inventor Michael Grätzel. These cells have the highest light-conversion efficiencies among all solar cells — as high as 10 percent.

The researchers turned to the microscopic solar scales on butterfly wings in their search for improvements. Using natural butterfly wings as a mold or template, they made copies of the solar collectors and transferred those light-harvesting structures to Grätzel cells. Laboratory tests showed that the butterfly wing solar collector absorbed light more efficiently than conventional dye-sensitized cells. The fabrication process is simpler and faster than other methods, and could be used to manufacture other commercially valuable devices, the researchers say.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 15th April 2010

Blueprint for ‘Artificial Leaf’

Mimics Mother Nature and helps to

turn water to hydrogen for fuel

ScienceDaily (Mar. 26, 2010) — Scientists have presented a design strategy to produce the long-sought artificial leaf, which could harness Mother Nature’s ability to produce energy from sunlight and water in the process called photosynthesis. The new recipe, based on the chemistry and biology of natural leaves, could lead to working prototypes of an artificial leaf that capture solar energy and use it efficiently to change water into hydrogen fuel, they stated.

Their report was scheduled for the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco. It was among more than 12,000 scientific reports scheduled for presentation at the meeting, one of the largest scientific gatherings of 2010.

“This concept may provide a new vista for the design of artificial photosynthetic systems based on biological paradigms and build a working prototype to exploit sustainable energy resources,” Tongxiang Fan, Ph.D. and colleagues Di Zhang, Ph.D. and Han Zhou, Ph.D., reported, They are with the State Key Lab of Matrix Composites at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China.

Fan pointed out that using sunlight to split water into its components, hydrogen and oxygen, is one of the most promising and sustainable tactics to escape current dependence on coal, oil, and other traditional fuels. When burned, those fuels release carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Combustion of hydrogen, in contrast, forms just water vapor. That appeal is central to the much-discussed “Hydrogen Economy,” and some auto companies, such as Toyota, have developed hydrogen-fueled cars. Lacking, however, is a cost-effective sustainable way to produce hydrogen.

With that in mind, Fan and co-workers decided to take a closer look at the leaf, nature’s photosynthetic system, with plans to use its structure as a blueprint for their next generation of artificial systems. Not too surprisingly, the structure of green leaves provides them an extremely high light-harvesting efficiency. Within their architecture are structures responsible focusing and guiding of solar energy into the light-harvesting sections of the leaf, and other functions.

The scientists decided to mimic that natural design in the development of a blueprint for artificial leaf-like structures. It led them to report their recipe for the “Artificial Inorganic Leaf” (AIL), based on the natural leaf and titanium dioxide (TiO2) — a chemical already recognized as a photocatalyst for hydrogen production.

The scientists first infiltrated the leaves of Anemone vitifolia — a plant native to China — with titanium dioxide in a two-step process. Using advanced spectroscopic techniques, the scientists were then able to confirm that the structural features in the leaf favorable for light harvesting were replicated in the new TiO2 structure. Excitingly, the AIL are eight times more active for hydrogen production than TiO2 that has not been “biotemplated” in that fashion. AILs also are more than three times as active as commercial photo-catalysts. Next, the scientists embedded nanoparticles of platinum into the leaf surface. Platinum, along with the nitrogen found naturally in the leaf, helps increase the activity of the artificial leaves by an additional factor of ten.

In his ACS presentation, Fan reported on various aspects of Artificial Inorganic Leaf production, their spectroscopic work to better understand the macro- and microstructure of the photocatalysts, and their comparison to previously reported systems. The activity of these new “leaves,” are significantly higher than those prepared with classic routes. Fan attributes these results to the hierarchical structures derived from natural leaves:

“Our results may represent an important first step towards the design of novel artificial solar energy transduction systems based on natural paradigms, particularly based on exploring and mimicking the structural design. Nature still has much to teach us, and human ingenuity can modify the principles of natural systems for enhanced utility.”

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 9th April 2010

Toshiba Enters Residential Solar Cell

System Market

Mar 2, 2010 12:57 Motonobu Kawai, Nikkei Electronics

Toshiba Corp will start selling residential solar cell systems using SunPower Corp’s monocrystalline silicon solar battery module April 1, 2010.

“We decided to enter the residential solar cell system market to promote our electric appliance and smart grid businesses,” the company said.

Toshiba plans to sell its solar cell systems together with its “SCiB” lithium-ion batteries and smart meters in the future.

All of the devices used for the residential solar cell system are purchased from outside companies, including the solar battery module, power conditioner (power conversion efficiency: 94%) and color display. Among them, SunPower’s solar battery module, “SPR-210N-WHT-J,” features a cell conversion efficiency as high as 21.5%, which Toshiba claims is the world’s highest level for commercialized solar cells.

The high conversion efficiency was realized by, for example, employing the monocrystalline silicon cell and the back-contact structure, in which electrodes are formed only on the back to increase the light-receiving area. The conversion efficiency as a module is 16.9%, and the maximum output is 210W.

The advantage of the back-contact structure is not only the enhancement of conversion efficiency. Because there is no electrode on the surface, electrodes do not glare when solar batteries are mounted. Some construction firms say that the electrodes on the surface of solar cells are a problem in designing, and this problem can be solved by employing the structure.

Toshiba’s employment of SunPower’s solar battery module will probably influence the business strategies of Japanese solar cell manufacturers. So far, Sanyo Electric Co Ltd’s HIT (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) solar cell has been known as a solar cell with a high conversion efficiency in Japan.

Sanyo and SunPower have been competing for the highest conversion efficiency at academic conferences. Also, as for the back-contact structure, Kyocera Corp is planning to release a product using polysilicon solar cells with the structure.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 4th March 2010

Coupled Water Tower/Wind Turbine Controller
Andras Tanczos
Helsinki, Finland


altA jointed water tower/wind turbine controller stores wind energy in the water towers of the drinking water network. At strong winds, the extra electrical energy generated by the wind turbine can be used to pump water into the water tower. When there is no wind, this energy can be released with a hydro-turbine, and the water goes back to the wells. The pump of the water tower and the hydro-turbine are used to control the water level in the reservoir. The electricity from the wind turbine is used for pumping the water or for supplying the electrical grid. The controller can also be installed on existing water towers and water tanks placed on top of buildings.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 8th Sept 2009