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BIG QUESTIONS
chew chew the robot

CAN ROBOTS EAT FOOD?

The New Scientist magazine reports that Stuart Wilkinson of the University of South Florida has built what has been called a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that powers a small robot - a gastrobot - named Chew Chew. The MFC is the gastrobot stomach that can be fed all kinds of food, but prefers meat for its high energy density. Within the MFC lives a population of bacteria that speed the breakdown of its food-fuel. As food is broken down, electrons are released. Electrons become a flowing current that charges a battery. When the battery is full, Chew Chew moves!

For further information, visit:
www.gastrobots.com

nuclear fusion

CAN SCIENTISTS CREATE A MINI SUN?

Well, this might not exactly be true, but scientists are making use of their knowledge of the way the sun creates heat energy for our own energy needs!

Nuclear fusion is the energy-producing process that takes place continuously in the sun and stars. In the core of the sun, at temperatures of 10-15 million degrees Celsius, hydrogen is converted to helium providing enough energy to sustain life on earth.

When we produce energy on earth we use different fusion reactions. The most suitable reaction is between the nuclei of the two types of hydrogen - deuterium (D) and tritium (T) - and this occurs at a temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius! The fuel changes its state from gas to
plasma, as pictured here, and this can be used to fuel industrial processes.

Nuclear fusion provides a vast, new source of energy, a little like a mini sun on Earth. A lot of fuel is made by a small amount of ingredients, and the amount produced is actually huge when compared to other sources of energy like coal. For example, 10 grams of deuterium (which can be taken from 500 litres of water) and 15g of tritium (produced from 30g of lithium) would produce enough fuel for the lifetime electricity needs of an average person in an industrialised country! Fossil fuels would never be able to compete with this!

Nuclear fusion is fairly safe because if anything goes wrong in the chemical process it will shutdown. Another good thing about it is that it produces no atmospheric pollution leading to acid rain (the greenhouse effect) and although the by-products to the reaction are radioactive, this material can be kept to a minimum. The materials needed in the process are fairly easy to come by as well.

The next challenge for scientists is to make the process more economical so that it can compete with other sources of electricity.

To find out more about European fusion development (formerly the Jet project), visit:
http://www.jet.efda.org/

Many useful resources on how fusion reactors at:
http://www.fusion.org.uk

Discuss
WHY DON'T WE ALL DRIVE ELECTRIC CARS?

The electrical cars that we have at the moment are not ideal. The batteries that they use cannot hold the same amount of energy as a petrol car, so they cannot travel as far without having to stop to recharge the battery. They also take several hours to recharge the battery before they can run again: can you imagine having to wait at a petrol pump for three hours?! This might be OK for people who travel short distances, but it is not good enough for long journeys. A possible alternative to this is by using hydrogen fuel cells.

Instead of lining up at the gas pump, owners of vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells will buy tanks of liquid or gaseous hydrogen. In a hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen is joined to oxygen taken from the air, and the only waste material is water. The hydrogen needed is made from water using electricity.

fuel cell powered bus

Discuss
energy from outer space!

CAN WE BEAM ENERGY FROM OUTER SPACE?

Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA) has been developing the way we get energy on Earth: by beaming it to us from outer space!

The fuel for hydrogen cell cars needs electricity to produce the hydrogen, which still uses power stations that pollute the atmosphere. The Japanese have come up with a different way to fuel the process that creates the hydrogen: by using energy from the sun, using solar power. A satellite in space (where it is closer to the sun and can pick up more heat energy) can beam a powerful laser to Earth that is powerful enough to produce hydrogen from water.

This might seem quite a strange idea, but it may be a good alternative to our energy needs. The scientists are planning to go ahead and for it to be working in the year 2020! Can you think of any benefits to using solar power in this way?

Discuss

orkney power!

HOW MUCH ENERGY CAN RENEWABLE SOURCES SUPPLY?

A new energy-producing farm is being developed in Orkney, Scotland. The reason that this place has been chosen is because it has some very strong tidal currents that provide a source of renewable energy. What are the advantages of using renewable energy?

Orkney also has a good system of power lines to take the electricity to where it is needed! The aim is to use seabed generators to produce the electricity.

It is predicted that the site may well be able to generate about a third of all of the power we need in the UK!

For further information, visit:
http://www.wavegen.com

 
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