How to build a hydrogen-boron fusion reactor

Australian plasma physicist Heinrich Hora believes a fusion reactor can be built for $100 million

by Jonathan Tennenbaum

May 6, 2020

In this article, Jonathan Tennenbaum constructs – conceptually – a hydrogen-boron fusion reactor similar to one proposed by Australian plasma physicist Heinrich Hora

Hora’s approach is one of many – in various stages of development – proposed for achieving nuclear fusion power. I don’t intend to endorse one idea over another but writing about Hora’s extremely promising concept is an excellent way to acquaint readers with some of today’s most exciting areas of science and technology.

Ideally, readers should be familiar with the preceding articles in this series and the following pieces of the puzzle:  

1. The reaction between a nucleus of hydrogen and one of boron yields three helium nuclei (alpha particles), which escape from the scene of the reaction at high velocities. The fact that the alpha particles are charged particles – each one carrying two units of positive charge – provides the possibility of converting their energy of motion directly into electric power. (Part 2)

2. The enormous difficulty of achieving hydrogen-boron fusion. If heat is to be used, the required temperatures lie in the range of billions of degrees; the reaction probability (the “cross-section” of the reaction) is low; extremely high densities (or very long confinement times) are required in order to ignite the hydrogen-boron fuel and obtain a sufficient degree of “burn-up.” (Part 2)

3. Use lasers to trigger “microexplosions” of tiny pellets of hydrogen-boron fuel. A hydrogen-boron power plant will work in a pulsed regime, generating one microexplosion per second (or several seconds) in an explosion chamber equipped to extract electrical energy from the resulting bursts of alpha particles by slowing them down in an electric field.

4. Lessons learned from a half-century of attempts to realize fusion power by means laser-triggered “microexplosions,” following a paradigm inherited from the development of the first hydrogen bomb. This approach involves compressing and heating a spherical fuel pellet by hitting it from all directions by simultaneous laser pulses. Unfortunately, instabilities tend to develop in the plasma created when the fuel is heated, interfere with the compression and ignition process (Part 3).

5. One approach is to “outflank” instabilities by operating on time-scales that are much shorter than the time required for bad behavior to develop.

6. Theoretical predictions and experimental indications of the existence of “ponderomotive” (accelerating) forces generated in target material under the action of intense pulses of laser light, whose effects differ radically from those caused by heating alone. The shorter and “cleaner” the laser pulses, the more these ponderomotive forces dominate the scene relative to thermal effects. Calculations predicting that under appropriate conditions, ultra-short, ultra-high-power laser pulses will accelerate macroscopic “blocks” of plasma to enormous velocities. (Part 5)

8. In 1985, the invention of chirped pulse amplification (CPA), allowed laser pulses to be amplified to enormous powers. Lasers were then developed with powers in the range of petawatts (a million billion-watts) and pulse-lengths between a picosecond and a femtosecond. (Part 4)

9. Experimental confirmation, in 1996, of the “plasma block acceleration” phenomenon in 1996, confirmed again in later experiments. (Part 5)

10. Calculations indicating that ignition of hydrogen boron fusion could be obtained far more easily with a cylindrical configuration using a single laser pulse focussed on one end of a cylindrical fuel pellet than the classical spherical implosion method. The plasma block accelerated to tremendous velocities into the fuel material, acts as a compressing piston as well as – de facto – a neutralized particle beam, with a million times the current densities achieved with conventional particle accelerators. (Part 5)   

Illustration: Courtesy Heinrich Hora

11. Successful experimental generation of large numbers (billions or more) of hydrogen-boron reactions, occurred by irradiating a fuel target with a single high-power laser pulse. (Part 5)

Borrowing from magnetic confinement fusion

There is one more essential element missing before we can go ahead with the hydrogen-boron prototype reactor.

The proposed set-up, with a cylindrical fuel pellet hit end-on by a single laser pulse, has a serious weak point: there is nothing to prevent the fuel from expanding radially outwards during the ignition process. This would cause the density of the fuel to drop, preventing an effective burn-up of the fuel. We might get a “fizzle” instead of a full microexplosion.

To solve this problem, Hora borrows a basic principle from so-called magnetic confinement fusion – the great competitor to laser fusion. A sufficiently powerful magnetic field, directed parallel along the axis of the cylinder, can counteract the tendency for the burning fuel to expand, confining it for the short instant required for the fusion burn wave to propagate all the way to the far end of the cylinder.

Magnetic confinement fusion exploits the fact that charged particles, when moving in a powerful magnetic field, experience forces that cause them to spiral around the magnetic field lines. The plasma is thereby trapped in the magnetic field.

In reality, the situation is complicated – as usual in the field of plasma physics – by the fact that plasmas generate their own magnetic fields and can defeat attempts to contain them in externally imposed “magnetic bottles.”

Faced with such misbehavior, the pursuit of magnetic confinement fusion has pushed researchers toward ever-higher magnetic field strengths. The mammoth International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction in Cadarache, France, requires 10,000 tons of giant superconducting magnets to confine its plasma in a six-meter-radius toroidal chamber.

The ITER magnet system. Illustration: Wikimedia

ITER’s magnets are designed to generate magnetic field strengths of 10-12 Tesla – about six times the strength of the fields employed by the nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines used by hospitals.

By contrast, radial confinement of the burning fuel cylinder in Hora’s proposed reactor will require magnetic fields of more than 1,000 Tesla, a hundred times stronger than the ITER, albeit in an extremely tiny volume. This, at least, is what the calculations show.

How to produce super-high magnetic fields?

In 2012 the research group of Shinsuke Fujioka at the Institute of Laser Engineering in Osaka, Japan succeeded in generating fields of the even larger intensity with a simple method using laser pulses. For this purpose, they used the Gekko XII laser, built to carry out laser fusion experiments. The laser produced a short (one nanosecond) pulse with a power of approximately 10 trillion watts.

Fujioka’s setup consists of two parallel metal plates connected by a length of wire shaped in a loop. One of the plates has a small circular hole in it, through which the laser pulse can illuminate a small area on the opposing surface of the second plate. See the diagram below. (two loops are used instead of one, and the fuel pellet is added).

When the intense Gekko laser pulse hits the lower plate, it immediately transforms the outer layers of the metal into a plasma. The electrons are ripped away from the nuclei and rapidly accelerated to velocities near the speed of light (so-called “hot electrons”).

A huge number of these electrons fly across the gap between the capacitor plates and land on the upper plate, giving it a high negative charge. For a short moment the positively charged nuclei – which are much more massive than the electrons and much slower to respond – are left behind.

A huge electric potential difference builds up between the upper and lower plates. This drives electric current through the wire. The loop in the wire acts as a single-turn coil, generating a super-intense magnetic field pulse. The Japanese researchers measured field strengths of 1,500 Tesla, more than enough for Hora’s requirements.  

Time to ‘build’ a hydrogen-boron fusion reactor

(Again, I am talking about a conceptual design, nothing more, along the lines of Hora’s proposal as I understand it. Interested readers can consult his US patent application, granted in September 2019.)

The reactor produces energy in the form of regularly repeated microexplosions within an explosion chamber. The rate of “shots” might be about one per second for a commercial version, longer for the prototype.

Each microexplosion yields about one gigajoule of energy, equivalent to 280 kWh. At one “shot” per second, that would yield an average gross power of 1 GW. Assuming a high efficiency of conversion (see below), we would get an electric power output comparable to modern nuclear power plants. A prototype would presumably have slower pulse rates and a correspondingly lower power output.  

The fuel for the microexplosions comes in the form of long and thin cylinders, approximately 0.2 millimeters in diameter and a centimeter long, each containing approximately 14 milligrams of hydrogen and boron. The fuel cylinder is suspended in a small assembly with two capacitor plates connected by two conducting loops as shown in the diagram. Their purpose is to generate a powerful magnetic field parallel to the cylindrical axis, at the moment of ignition of the micro explosion, in the manner demonstrated by Fujioka et al.  

Hydrogen-boron fuel assembly (left). Explosion chamber for the hydrogen-boron reactor, with fuel assembly. Illustrations courtesy Heinrich Hora

Each microexplosion is generated using a pair of precisely-timed, nearly simultaneous ultra-short pulses from two lasers (presumably combined in a single system).

The pulse from Laser 1 (see diagram above) generates a powerful 1,000 Tesla magnetic field parallel to the cylinder axis. The pulse from Laser 2, focused on one end of the fuel cylinder, ignites the hydrogen-boron reactions and sets off a “burn wave” that propagates through to the opposite end. The magnetic field ensures that the plasma does not expand much until the burnup is completed.

The explosion chamber, kept at a high vacuum, is about one meter in diameter and designed to withstand the force of the microexplosions, each corresponding to about five grams of TNT. The chamber has ports for the entry of the two laser beams and for exchanging used and new fuel assemblies. It is connected to the high-voltage system used to extract the energy of the alpha particles.

Producing electric power from the hydrogen-boron microexplosions is relatively straightforward in principle. The shower of positive-charged alpha particles emitted by a microexplosion in the center of the chamber generates a powerful current pulse, which can be harvested using technology already ok developed in the context of ultra-high-voltage DC electric power transmission systems. The DC pulse is then transformed into alternating current.

How much will it cost?

Hora estimates that a working prototype of his hydrogen-boron reactor could be built for around US$100 million. Although he admits the cost almost sounds suspicious, the biggest cost would be a laser system similar to those already in operation in various laboratories. These installations already have the approximate power and pulse length required by Hora.

Japan’s Gekko XII is one such facility. Another operation suitable for fuel ignition is the PETawatt Aquitaine Laser (PETAL) in Bordeaux, France. This facility went into service in 2015 and cost about $55 million to build.

The cost of a tailor-made reactor might be considerably lower since PETAL is a one-of-a-kind facility designed to fulfill a variety of different applications.

One important problem remains to be solved: Gekko XII and PETAL need considerable time between pulses – an hour or more. Attaining higher pulse repetition rates for such laser systems is a significant technological challenge – one which is already the focus of much international research for diverse applications.   

Will it work?

At this point, prospects look good. However, as Hora stresses, a series of issues need to be resolved to ensure there are no unforeseen barriers and to obtain more precise parameters for the reactor’s design. Fortunately, the necessary experimental and computational investigations do not require investment into new facilities and know-how. Both are already available in laboratories around the world. This greatly reduces the cost and risk in the run-up to building the first prototype. A priority for Hora’s company, HB11 Energy, is to raise the required funds and to distribute tasks to suitable research groups.

If all this works out, we could be approaching a golden-age of cost-effective electricity production.

Nuclear power’s ray of hope: hydrogen-boron fusion

An 85-year-old experiment could open the door to nuclear fusion without billion-degree laser beams

by Jonathan Tennenbaum

April 21, 2020

In 1933 the British physicists Ernest Rutherford and Mark Oliphant reported on a series of experiments in which they bombarded a thin film of the boron compound borax by a beam of protons (nuclei of hydrogen atoms) and registered the emission of high-energy alpha particles (nuclei of helium atoms).

This confirmed the earlier evidence of Cockcroft and Walton, that nuclear reactions were taking place between protons and boron nuclei, resulting in the transmutation of chemical elements: from hydrogen and boron, we get helium. This hydrogen-boron (or proton-boron) reaction was one of many nuclear reactions discovered in the 1930s.

Closer analysis revealed that the boron nucleus, having absorbed a proton, splits into three alpha particles, which fly off with enormous velocities. The total energy contained in their motion – their kinetic energy – turns out to be millions of times larger than the energy liberated per atom by any known chemical reaction.

This makes the hydrogen-boron reaction, alongside more familiar nuclear reactions such as the fission of uranium and fusion of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, into a potential candidate for large-scale energy production. All the more so because boron is a readily available element.

Looking more closely, the reaction in question occurs only with a specific isotope of boron, called boron-11. No problem, boron-11 makes up 80% of naturally-occurring boron.

Although the hydrogen-boron reaction is commonly referred to as a form of fusion, it would perhaps be more accurate to describe it as a combination of a fusion and a fission process: A hydrogen nucleus (a proton, denoted p in the diagram) fuses with a B-11 nucleus to form an unstable, highly-exciting nucleus of the carbon isotope C-12; this excited carbon nucleus nearly instantaneously splits into three high-energy alpha particles which fly off at huge velocities. (That, at least, appears to be the generally accepted account of what happens.)

Diagram of a hydrogen-boron reaction (Source: )

A number of reasons make the hydrogen-boron reaction especially attractive as an energy source.

1. Practically unlimited reserves of fuel

One, already mentioned, is that plenty of boron is available, along with virtually endless amounts of hydrogen from ordinary water. On the basis of the hydrogen-boron reaction, a single gram of hydrogen-boron mixture would produce very roughly as much energy as is released by the combustion of three tons of coal. Present proven reserves of boron, contained in borax and other minerals, amount to over one billion tons.  A bit of arithmetic shows us that this would be sufficient to supply world electricity consumption at present levels for a million years.

2. Radioactivity-free energy generation

A second big advantage is that the hydrogen-boron nuclear reaction produces essentially no radioactivity. The products of the reaction, alpha particles – identical with the nuclei of ordinary helium atoms – are stable particles, which do not undergo radioactive decay. Also, alpha radiation (fast-flying alpha particles) has a very low penetrating power. Alpha particles rapidly give up their energy by elastic collisions with heavier nuclei when they interact with ordinary materials.

Even at the indicated high energies, alpha particles have a range of only a few centimeters in air and can be stopped by a few layers of paper. Alpha radiation is dangerous to health only if a person is exposed to it directly at a very short distance. Also, the radioactivity generated by secondary reactions, e.g. caused by rare reactions between the alpha particles and other nuclei, is negligible. 

By contrast, the fusion reactions between the hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D) and tritium (T), which have been the main focus of fusion energy development until now, release penetrating gamma radiation and – most problematic – large numbers of neutrons. These neutrons are absorbed by the nuclei in the surrounding materials, transforming some of them into radioactive isotopes.

Although the problem of disposing of “activated” materials in D-T fusion reactors is relatively minor compared to the problem posed by radioactive waste from nuclear fission reactors, it imposes costs and makes the reactor more complicated. This problem does not exist for the hydrogen-boron reaction. It belongs to the class of so-called aneutronic nuclear reactions. 

3. Direct electricity generation

A third, very big advantage lies in the fact that alpha particles are electrically charged, carrying two units of positive electricity. We can think of a stream of fast-moving alpha particles as a high-voltage electric current. By making the particles traverse an electric field we can transform their energy of motion into electrical energy, with practically no loss. The heat exchangers, pumps and turbine systems, which account for much of the cost of fossil fuel or nuclear fission power stations, become superfluous.

All of this sounds wonderful. But now the trouble starts.

At present, practically all research into fusion energy has been focused on the deuterium-tritium reaction. D-T is by far the easiest to realize, in terms of the required combination of temperatures, pressures and “burn” durations. Nevertheless, despite over half a century of research and tens of billions of dollars of R&D, the goal of net energy generation from D-T reactions has still not been achieved.

Even then, the pathway from successful experiment to functioning reactor promises to be long and difficult. At least for the approaches which are getting most of the funding today. In recent years significant amounts of private money have been going into alternative pathways, some of them quite promising.

The hydrogen-boron reaction is incomparably more difficult than D-T, in terms of the required combination of physical parameters. Among other things, nuclei do not always react when they collide, but only with a certain probability, the so-called “cross-section” of the reaction. The reaction cross-section for hydrogen-boron – and thereby also the reaction rate – is about 300 times smaller for the hydrogen-boron reaction, than for the conventional D-T reaction. 

The required temperature is also 10 times higher, and the energy obtained per hydrogen-boron reaction is half of that from a D-T reaction. The reason for these differences lies in the specifics of the nuclear structures and interactions involved. There are other issues such as potentially much larger energy losses due to the so-called bremsstrahlung, but that would be too technical to go into here. 

In sum, the obstacles to exploiting the hydrogen-boron reaction as a practical energy source appear so immense, that it has hardly been considered a serious option. At least by the vast majority of the fusion community. 

A beam of hope?

At this point, the reader might pose a naive question: If Rutherford and Oliphant already generated hydrogen-boron reactions with a rudimentary proton accelerator, 85 years ago, then why don’t we just scale that up? Their measurements showed, in fact, that the energy liberated when a fast-moving proton collides and reacts with a boron nucleus, is more than 10 times the original energy of the proton.

Simply irradiating a boron target with a beam of protons, looks like an easy way to generate energy. Compact proton accelerators are available on the market. What is the problem? Above all, what do we need billion-degree temperatures for?

It is easy to give reasons why the simple-minded beam-target approach, just described, doesn’t work. First and foremost, only a very tiny percentage of the protons in the beam actually trigger reactions  – the “cross-section” problem. The rest of the protons bounce off, fly off or are otherwise lost, and with them, the energy expended to accelerate them. The overall efficiency is less than zero. This applies not only to the hydrogen-boron reaction but to the much “easier” deuterium-tritium reaction as well.

What, now?

To get fusion to pay off in energetic terms, it doesn’t work to try to make reactions happen separately, one-by-one. We need some sort of collective process, in the broadest sense of the term.

The crudest approach would be to simply stuff as many of the mutually repelling particles as possible into a bottle (compression) and shake the mixture violently (heating) causing them to bounce around and collide with each other as often as possible. Keep that going until as many fusion reactions as possible take place. Hopefully you will end up with more energy than you put into the shaking process.

Ultimately, despite all their enormous technological sophistication, the mainline approaches to realizing fusion energy so far all boil down to this basic scenario. We could call it the “thermal” scenario insofar as heat – a disordered form of energy – mediates the whole process.

In the case of hydrogen-boron, for the reasons indicated above, the thermal scenario offers little hope. It would require a combination of temperature, density and so-called confinement time – the time during which the process is maintained in its compressed, heated state – far beyond the reach of present or readily foreseeable technology.

Fortunately, the advent of ultra-high-power lasers and “extreme light” opens the door to a short-cut method for realizing hydrogen-boron fusion, in which non-thermal, highly organized collective processes play the decisive role.

Jonathan Tennenbaum received his PhD in mathematics from the University of California in 1973 at age 22. Also a physicist, linguist and pianist, he’s a former editor of FUSION magazine. He lives in Berlin and travels frequently to Asia and elsewhere, consulting on economics, science and technology.

Nuclear energy report shows progress is two steps forward, one step back

By Robin Bromby – May 20, 2020

Uranium mining hopefuls are fond of tables showing how many reactors are operating around the world and — even more exciting — how many are in construction, being planned or being thought about.

The picture from the 2020 annual report of the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) reveals a situation where, yes, there are more nuclear reactors coming on stream — but also, some producers are pulling out of the sector.

Fortunately for the uranium miners and the proponents of nuclear-produced electricity — the only base load option that is emission-free — the gains outnumber the losses.

The NEA report sets out a detailed account of developments through 2019 that fills in the background to the headline reactor number figures.

As at 31 December 2019, 449 power reactors were operational worldwide, between them capable of producing 399 gigawatts of electricity.

Six new reactors connected in 2019

The year saw six new reactors connected to a power grid — four in NEA member countries (three in Russia and one in South Korea) and the other two in China.

Two of the Russian ones were small, 35-megawatt modular reactors on a floating barge, the Akademic Lomonosov, designed to be towed to remote locations and provide power and heat; in this case, it was towed above the Arctic coast to the city of Pevek in Siberia.

The reactors began generating power last December to be followed by connection to the local heat grid.

The end of the year saw 52 reactors under construction, with projects begun during the year located in China, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Russia is the most active of the NEA members with five plants at present under construction.

Argentina last year completed refurbishing its Embalse nuclear power plant and it is back with generating capacity of 683MW and an expected life of 30 years. Argentina and China continued talks on Beijing providing finance for a new 1,150MW reactor.

Several European countries expanding nuclear

The Czech Republic decided in 2019 to increase nuclear capacity by 40%, giving preliminary approval for one planned reactor.

Finland’s newest nuclear reactor, Olkiluoto 3, was due to have its nuclear fuel loaded next month but this has been delayed by the COVID-19 prevention measures. The country is planning to phase out all coal-burning power plants by 2029.

France, a country heavily reliant on nuclear energy (about 75% in its case), is this year starting research and development on a new generation of reactors. The new Flamanville 3 reactor was completed last year.

During the year, Japan saw plans to build a new nuclear power station at Aomori, while Tohoku Electric got the green light to restart Onagawa 2, one of the reactors that closed after the Fukushima disaster.

Other countries that began work on new plants or plan for them, or decided in 2019 to refit old ones, included Poland, Hungary, Romania and Brazil, while India announced plans to build 21 new reactors.

Belgium, Spain seek to abandon nuclear

On the negative side, Belgium plans to shut down all of its seven operating reactors (which provide 50% of the country’s electricity) by 2025, with the first closure in 2022. Belgium will need to build at least five gas plants and greatly expand wind power generation to ensure sufficient electricity supply in a post-nuclear country.

Spain drafted its new national energy and climate plan in 2019 which includes the phasing out of all nuclear plants by 2035. Nuclear at present provides about 20% of the country’s electricity.

Plant operators have agreed to meet the deadline and to decommission the nuclear waste agency, Enresa.

Spain has seven nuclear reactors in service.

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Anti-Huawei tech bans will hurt US more than China

Joy TanMay 19, 2020

Joy Tan is a Senior Vice President at Huawei Technologies U.S.A

For the past year, the U.S. government has sought to disrupt Huawei Technologies’s ability to sell its fifth-generation, or 5G, technology and buy the components needed to produce it. Despite this campaign, Huawei’s revenue rose more than 19% last year, leading Washington to redouble its efforts.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced plans to modify the Foreign Direct Product Rule, which considers that when products are made outside of the U.S. but manufactured with American technology, they are a “direct product” of the U.S. and therefore subject to U.S. export regulations.

Under the rule change, Huawei will no longer be able to buy chips from the world’s largest maker of semiconductors, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), headquartered in Taiwan. TSMC makes chips for Huawei using equipment from U.S. companies such as Applied Materials and Teradyne. To continue working with Huawei, TSMC would need to seek a U.S. government license that undoubtedly would be denied.

This will be bad for Huawei, but it will also deal a major blow to American businesses. Last month, nine U.S. trade associations wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying the move would harm “the semiconductor industry, its global supply chain, and the broader technology sector.”

That letter followed an earlier missive to President Donald Trump from the head of SEMI, a trade association representing the semiconductor and electronics manufacturing supply chain.

Noting that U.S. companies export $20 billion of chipmaking equipment each year, SEMI said the administration’s planned move against Huawei would “serve as a disincentive for further investments and innovation” and would encourage tech companies around the world to “design out” U.S. components from their products.

TSMC, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, supplies advanced processors to Huawei. (Photo courtesy of TSMC)

Changing the Foreign Direct Product Rule will trigger significant revenue loss for U.S. businesses. In March, an independent report by the Boston Consulting Group noted that “a strong semiconductor industry is critical to U.S. global competitiveness and national security.” It projected that, over the next three to five years, U.S. companies could see a 16% drop in revenue if the U.S. maintains its current restrictions, and a 37% drop in revenue if the U.S. completely bans chipmakers from selling to Chinese customers.

Losses of that magnitude would force American companies to cut R&D spending and capital expenditures, reducing U.S. innovation capacity. Such losses would also force companies to eliminate between 15,000 and 40,000 highly skilled direct jobs in the U.S. semiconductor industry, according to BCG’s estimates.

A global pandemic is a bad time to put U.S. jobs at risk. COVID-19 has already caused more than 36 million American workers to file for unemployment benefits, and the Federal Reserve says the U.S. economy could shed as many as 47 million jobs. That would translate into an unemployment rate of 32%, well above the rate during the Great Depression.

In the longer term, U.S. regulations could force the world’s chip manufacturers to make a choice: cut all business ties with Chinese tech companies or stop using American equipment to make chips.

Given the growth of China’s tech sector, chipmakers could choose the latter option, creating a new semiconductor manufacturing industry completely divorced from the U.S. This will set U.S. tech companies on a path toward stagnation and decline, damage the global tech ecosystem and risk destroying U.S. leadership in the semiconductor industry.

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Australian quantum technology could become a $4 billion industry and create 16,000 jobs

By Cathy Foley, CSIRO and Dominic Banfield, CSIRO

Quantum technology is not a phrase discussed over kitchen tables in Australia, but perhaps it should be.

Australia’s quantum technology research has been breaking new ground for almost 30 years. Governments, universities and more recently multinationals have all invested in this research.

Quantum technology is set to transform electronics, communications, computation, sensing and other fields. In the process it can create new markets, new applications and new jobs in Australia.

So, what is quantum technology?

Quantum physics explains the behaviour of the world at the smallest scale. Scientists can now isolate individual quantum particles (such as electrons and photons) and detect and control their behaviour.

This opens the door to creating new types of quantum electronic devices. The possibilities range from precision sensors and secure communication networks to incredibly powerful computers to tackle problems that can’t be solved today.

Commercial applications of these technologies are emerging, and Australia is one of the leaders.

In the 1990s CSIRO led research into one of the first commercial applications of quantum research: using superconducting quantum interference devices to detect mineral deposits deep underground.

More recently the University of Adelaide developed a way to produce one billion electrons per second and use quantum mechanics to control them one-by-one. Advances like these are paving the way for quantum information processing in defence, cybersecurity and big data analysis.

Australia is also home to some of the top quantum technology companies in the world. They are working on advanced quantum control solutions (Q-CTRL), unique quantum computing hardware (Silicon Quantum Computing), and quantum-enhanced cybersecurity tools (Quintessence Labs).

Multinationals like Microsoft and Rigetti Computing have also set up shop in Australia to work with our quantum experts.

A multi-billion-dollar opportunity

Australia has a strong research base in quantum technology. With the right approach, we at CSIRO believe this could become a A$4 billion dollar industry for Australia by 2040 and create around 16,000 new, high-value jobs.

This is a competitive area, and the world is racing. Since 2019, the UK, US, European Union, India, Germany and Russia have established multibillion-dollar quantum technology initiatives. Reports also suggest China has committed around US$10 billion to quantum research and development.

To maintain our leadership and capture this opportunity, Australia needs a coordinated, collaborative approach to growing our domestic quantum economy.

A roadmap to 2040

CSIRO has collaborated with industry, research and government to produce a roadmap to help position Australia for success. We have together defined the opportunities and what we need to do to turn this significant investment into a high technology industry for Australia.

The big opportunities are around advanced sensors, secure communication networks and quantum computing. Quantum computing presents the largest long-term opportunity, with potential to create 10,000 jobs and A$2.5 billion in annual revenue by 2040, while spurring breakthroughs in drug development, industrial processes and machine learning.

While quantum computing is the big one, it may take a while to deliver benefits. We’re likely to see applications of quantum sensors and communication networks much sooner in defence, mineral exploration, water resource management and secure communication. These applications in turn could enhance productivity in Australian industries and help ensure our national security.

The roadmap identifies areas where Australia needs to act to make the most of the quantum opportunity, including continued investment in research and development and changes to support translating research into commercial products.

Crossing the “valley of death”

It’s a long way from a technically proven technology to a successful commercial application. The gap between the two is often referred to as the “valley of death”.

Australia often has trouble crossing this valley, where many of our innovations seem to wither. We need a concentrated effort to help our research make it through.

We need new ways to help universities and researchers navigate the valley, and support the prototypes, testing and marketing needed to get ideas off the bench. Investment in purpose-built facilities to help this process will help create the new markets and new jobs we need.

This system needs to be designed and developed jointly by federal and state governments, as well as industry and researchers. Success will only come from collective efforts and the collaboration of a strong network.

Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist, CSIRO and Dominic Banfield, Science and Technology Consultant, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Huawei 5G to roll out in 120 car models, starting with BYD Han EV in June

Bradley Berman

– May. 12th 2020

Huawei’s 5G-based HiCar technology is not just another auto infotainment system. It’s more like an interface to the car’s core operating system and a vehicle-to-X channel to the road. HiCar will first appear on the BYD Han EV in June, before arriving in models from about 30 different auto brands.

Analysts view 5G adoption in cars (and roads) as the ultra-fast communications backbone to autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and the internet of things. It also provides in-vehicle features such as controlling windows, locks, AC, and streaming media.

BYD, China’s largest EV maker, will use Huawei’s HiCar technology in its upgraded Han flagship electric sedan starting in June. The Han EV expected to have a starting price of about $40,000 — similar to the cost of a Tesla Model 3 in China. It shares some of the same styling as well.

But that’s just the beginning of the rollout of Huawei’s 5G into vehicles. Huawei has signed up about 18 different automakers to use HiCar. The company has been working with Audi. BYD also has a big tie-up with Toyota to make EVs. China and Japan are also collaborating on next-gen DC fast-charging standards.

Other Chinese automakers, many of them producers of EVs, include Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co., Beijing Automotive Industry Holding, Chang’an Automobile, Chery Automobile Co., Dongfeng Motor, FAW Group, Great Wall Motors, Guangzhou Automobile Group, Nanjing Automobile, and SAIC Motor.

The Han EV is equipped with BYD’s latest lithium iron phosphate batteries in multiple pack sizes, providing up to about 375 miles of range (in the NEDC test cycle). It travels to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. The BYD Han is available in single-motor and dual-motor configurations. The Han flagship model is also available as a plug-in hybrid.

Among battery makers in China, BYD was ranked second with 10.76 GWh capacity, behind battery giant CATL. The company claims that its blade-shaped design increases space utilization by more than 50% compared to other pack layouts — and that it’s safer than competing designs.

A conspiracy theorist could have a field day with Huawei’s incursion into cars. Huawei Technologies is the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier. (The Trump administration added the company to the US blacklist in its trade war with China.)

According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China has deployed nearly 200,000 5G base stations across the country. About 500,000 5G base stations are expected to be deployed nationwide by the end of this year. Installing hundreds of thousands of connected EV charging stations is part of the same Internet of Cars initiative.

Huawei’s C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) system includes roadside units that connect traffic lights, cameras, and speed limit signs.

Huawei has not expressed interest in making cars, but instead in becoming the central 5G communication systems for automobiles and the built environment. This could pave the way for ubiquitous smart autonomous driving systems.

In January, Huawei signed up with Dutch Sat Nav provider TomTom to pull away from Google systems.

Huawei is known to have developed extensive AI systems for autonomy and cloud-based communications, and integrating those systems into an automotive ecosystem. APIs can link camera data to core vehicle systems, including steering, as well as driver-monitoring systems. The robotaxi fleet from autonomous driving startup AutoX recently started operations in Shanghai, where the roads come equipped with C-V2X systems.

Originally published by ELECTREK

Climate explained: why we need to focus on increased consumption as much as population growth

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to

Almost every threat to modern humanity can be traced simply to our out-of-control population growth (think about arable land going to housing; continued growth in demand for petroleum fuels). Is anything being done to contain population growth on a national and international scale?

The question of population is more complex that it may seem – in the context of climate change as well as other issues such as biodiversity loss and international development.

As a starting point, let’s look at the statement “out-of-control population growth”. In fact, population growth is more “in control” than it has been for the past 50 years.

Population isn’t growing everywhere

The global rate of population growth has been declining from just over 2% per year in 1970 to less than 1.1% in 2020 (and this estimate was made before COVID-19 erupted globally).

To put this in perspective, if the 2% growth rate had continued, the world’s population would have doubled in 35 years. At a 1.1% growth rate, it would now be set to double in 63 years – but the growth rate is still declining, so the doubling time will be lengthened again.

Population growth also varies significantly between countries. Among the 20 most populous countries in the world, three countries have growth rates of more than 2.5% – Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – while Japan’s population is in decline (with a negative growth rate, -0.3%) and China, Russia, Germany and Thailand all have very low growth rates.

These growth rates vary in part because the population structures are very different across countries. Japan has an aged population, with 28% over 65 years and just 12% under 15 years. Nigeria has only 3% of people in the over-65 bracket and 44% under 15.

For comparison, 20% of New Zealanders are younger than 15 and 16% are older than 65. For Australia, the respective figures are 18% and 17%.

Migration also makes a significant contribution in some countries, propping up the working-age population and shaping the demographic structure. History and levels of economic development play an important role too: higher-income countries almost consistently have smaller families and lower growth rates.

Rise in consumption

It’s certainly valid to link population growth (even a more limited “in control” population growth) with climate change and loss of land. Everything else being equal, more people means more space taken up, more resources consumed and more carbon emitted.

But while population growth has slowed since the 1970s, resource consumption hasn’t. For example, there is no equivalent decline in fossil fuel use since the 1970s.

This is an area where not everyone is equal. If all people were to use the same amount of resources (fossil fuels, timber, minerals, arable land etc), then of course total resource use and carbon would rise. But resource use varies dramatically globally.

If we look at oil consumption per person in 2019, the average American used almost twice as much as someone in Japan, the second oil-thirstiest populous nation, and almost 350 times as much as a person living in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is an easy out for us in the industrialised world to say “out-of-control population growth” is killing the planet, when instead it is equally valid – but more confronting – to say our out-of-control consumption is killing the planet.

Population growth slows when women are educated

To come to the final part of the question: is anything being done to contain population growth, on a national or international scale?

Even if we set aside the argument above that population is not the only issue, or even the most significant one, in terms of threats to humanity, what factors might influence population growth in parts of the world where it is high?

Things are being done, but they may not be what most people expect. It has long been shown that as incomes rise and health care improves, more children survive and people tend to have smaller families.

This effect is not instantaneous. There is a lag where population growth rates might rise first before they begin to drop. This demographic transition is a relatively consistent pattern globally.

But, at the country level, the single most significant influence on reducing fertility rates, family size and overall population growth is access to education for girls and women.

One study in 2016, drawing on World Bank population data across a wide range of countries, found:

… the main driver of overall fertility reduction is clearly the change in proportions of women at each education level.

In relation to climate change action, this study specifically notes:

It is education, or more specifically girls’ education, that is far more likely to result in lower carbon emissions than a shift to renewables, improved agricultural practices, urban public transport, or any other strategy now being contemplated.

Recent research looked at how the global population might change if we implemented the aspirations of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. It found the change would be significant and could even mean the global population stabilises by mid-century.

Originally published by THE CONVERSATION

Dark clouds for barley farmers

Australia’s trade minister says there will be no tit-for-tat as Australian barley exports to China are hit with an 80% tariff

19 May 2020 | Marcus Reubenstein

In a process which began over two years ago, China has followed through with plans to place heavy tariffs on Australian barley exports.

The implementation of new tariffs comes into effect from today but Australia’s Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, says it is not necessarily linked to current China-Australia diplomatic tensions.

Speaking from Adelaide, he says, “The decision was always due by today, and so from the minute it started 18 months ago, the deadline for a decision was today, so there is some coincidence that exists around the timing.”

Though Australian barley growers have been expanding their overseas markets, China remains the most lucrative export market, in 2018 its estimated worth was $1.5 billion.

No dialogue with China

Despite the timing having been flagged since 2018, there are still concerns in trade circles that the minister has yet to speak with his Chinese counterpart over the issue.   

“I think it’s very disappointing that China has to date refused to schedule minister to minister discussions,” says Birmingham.

“Australia is always up for a conversation with any of our global counterparts, we do so even when issues are difficult, even when we may have disagreements, because the best way to resolve disagreements or to work through difficult issues is to talk about them, and that’s why we’re up for a discussion and it’s disappointing that others aren’t up for it.”

Commenting on the Chinese refusal to speak directly with the Trade Minister, a former Australian diplomat says, “You can just call the Chinese up when there’s problem and expect them to answer the phone.” He added dialogue needs to be constant in order to maintain the China relationship.

Australia says there’s no export dumping

In 2018 China’s Ministry of Commerce cited 32 direct and indirect Australian agricultural subsidies which it said allowed Australian producers to dump barley onto the Chinese market.

It says this has allowed Australian exporters to sell barley into China at below cost.

However, Australia’s grain industry is standing firm that it has not been dumping grain onto its biggest barley export market.

Says Brett Hosking, Chairman of Australian Grain Growers Board, “Australian Farmers are the least subsidised in the world, we should probably be going to the government asking for more assistance.”

In an interview with ABC television Hosking, a barley grower from Victoria, added:

“We need to speak to China and engage them and we need government to be doing it at the moment.”

Brett Hosking, Chairman of Australian Grain Growers

Hosking also eluded to growing concerns among rural exporters that a number of government backbenchers are undermining trade with their constant attacks on China.

“Are there times when I wish some politicians would close their mouths?”, he says. “Absolutely.”

Renegade backbenchers shooting from the hip

One of the more outspoken China critics in government is Queensland backbench MP George Christensen who serves as chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth.

In promoting his committee’s activities, there are serious concerns in senior government and trade circles about his attacks on China, not simply because of their tone but because a number of his statements are patently false.

Christensen falsely asserts that China is Australia’s largest foreign investor when official trade figures reveal China is only the ninth largest foreign investor in Australia with just 1.8% of total foreign investment.   

Furthermore, on his website Christensen does not rely on Australian government data on economic engagement with China, instead among his sources he lists The American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. Both of these are Washington DC-based conservative political lobby groups and publish no data on trade.

Despite his public assertions, Christensen does not enjoy the unanimous support his Trade committee, with other members privately accusing him of undermining its legitimacy by “freelancing” his views which are often opposed to that of his own government.

A government source says his rhetoric plays well with rank and file party members in Queensland but many of his parliamentary colleagues think of him as a “bull in a China store”.

Industry wants “respectful” engagement with China

The Grains Industry Market Access Forum, Australian Grain Exporters Council, Grain Growers Australia, Grain Producers Australia and Grain Trade Australia, today issued a joint statement on the tariffs. They maintain that their producers are not shipping heavily subsidised product into the Chinese market.

Clearly, there is solidarity at the top of the industry which is calling on pragmatism and diaologue from political leaders.

Its statement reads, “We call on the Australian government to support Australia’s farmers and exporters by engaging deeply with China in a respectful and meaningful way to resolve the issue and to concurrently and immediately pursue the WTO Dispute Settlement process to the fullest extent possible.

“The Australian barely industry’s relationship with China began in the 1960s. We very much hope a timely and amicable resolution can be agreed including the removal of duties to enable trade to be re-established for the benefit of industries in both countries.”

Trade diversification a China motive

According to trade and investment consultant Alistair Nicholas, China’s move on tariffs is part of a longer strategy which extends back several years before the COVID-19 crisis.

In a recent editorial he wrote, “Beijing is possibly thinking far more strategically and longer-term about its suppliers across a much broader range of products. Although Canada is the main winner of China diversifying its sources of barley away from Australia, Beijing approved Kazakhstan as a supplier of barley the same week it initiated its anti-dumping action against Australia in 2017.”

Australia too engages in trade blocking

Despite the Free Trade Agreement, Australia is certainly not innocent when it comes to penalising exporters in China. According to independent trade analysts, Global Trade Alert, Australia far more often punishes Chinese exporters than rewards them with tariff and quota changes.

In 2019 there were 16 Australian market interventions adversely impacting China and just two that were of benefit to Chinese exporters.

Over the past decade Australia has placed almost twice as many restrictions on Chinese exports as policy adjustments to boost exports.

Steel products were second on the list with 16 interventions, Chinese exporters of some steel products now face Australian tariffs of up 144%.

Australia’s own Productivity Commission has singled out national trade policies reporting, “Australia is one of the most prolific users of anti-dumping measures in the world.”

According to the Commission in 2018-19 the Australian government forked out a net total of $12.1 billion in tariff protection and subsidies to industry, with $1.7 billion going to agricultural production.

Escalation of trade dispute unlikely

In a report published last week, Melbourne-based trade consultancy, ITS Global says, “Although concerning for the industries targeted, there is little evidence that Australia can expect further escalation of similar trade policy actions. The broader picture of Australia-China trade is very positive. 

“2019 was Australia’s biggest ever year for sales to China, which purchased 38% of all Australian exports, a figure that has doubled in just ten years. The China-Australian Free Trade Agreement has provided market access improvements and a legal framework to support this growth. “

Original article published by APAC News

China-Europe rail freight services buck falling volumes trend

By Sam Whelan 14/05/2020

China-Europe rail freight is bucking the pandemic-wide trend of falling air and ocean volumes, boasting double-digit growth this year.

According to China Railway Group, 2,920 trains ran between January and April, carrying 262,000 teu, up 24% year on year. Last month alone, westbound volumes were up 58% and eastbound 29%, totalling 88,000 teu.

Duisport reported its weekly China trains for April had increased from the “normal” 35-40, to 50, following the end of the lockdowns in China.

“We extended our train services to include further Chinese destinations,” explained CEO Erich Staake, claiming the crisis had seen rail become an important alternative to ocean freight.

Andre Wheeler, chief executive of Asia Pacific Connex, said Duisport’s figures were an “important indicator”, since 80% of all rail traffic out of Chongqing passes through the key dry port hub.

“It is also interesting that new routes are being added, as rail is proving to be a viable option. For example, Maersk has recently introduced its first rail service from Xi’an to Izmut, in Turkey,” he added.

Furthermore, said Davies Turner, the move by shipping lines to re-route sailings, via the Cape of Good Hope rather than the Suez Canal, is making express rail services more appealing.

Tony Cole, Davies Turner’s head of supply chain services, said: “If the lines maintain this revised routing, it means that with a transit time of just 24 days from Wuhan to Dartford, our direct Express China Rail service offers an even more competitive transit time versus the all-ocean alternative from ports on China’s east coast.”

Zafer Engin, head of value added services at DHL Global Forwarding China, said rail had proven a popular mode in its own right prior to the pandemic. He told The Loadstar: “Although many borders are closed for passenger traffic, there has been minimal disruption to rail freight, with only minor delays and temporary congestion when restricted movement measures were first implemented.”

There were some capacity concerns in February over a projected spike in demand, as China’s factories reopened and shippers searched for alternatives to air and ocean, but it appears any congestion was manageable, with extra trains and services running.

“There is a lot of interest in the first-of-its-kind DHL express rail service from Xi’an to Neuss in Germany, which takes only 12 days – 25% faster than standard rail service,” claimed Mr Engin. “Our direct railway service to Budapest or Milan is also growing in popularity, and we started shipping less-then-container loads (LCL) directly to Denmark.”

Eastbound volumes are on the up too, he said, since markets in China and elsewhere in Asia were recovering quickly from the pandemic.

“Factories are back in operation, and they are often under pressure to receive materials or components from European providers. China has a big consumer market with a demand for high-quality products from overseas. For example, we are receiving inquiries to move mineral water from Italy to China,” Mr Engin said.

He said DHL was moving “almost all” types of cargo, with particular demand for PPE. Indeed, according to Mr Wheeler, China is using the train services to initiate a “Health Silk Road” to bolster its soft diplomacy efforts, and highlighted a recent shipment to Spain.

“Medical supplies were shipped from Yiwu to Madrid through the Alataw Pass in Xinjiang, a rail hub-and-spoke centre, managed by China Railway Express,” he explained. “About 70% of Central Asian freight volumes travel through the pass. Shared digital documentation reduced custom inspection from 12 to six hours, suggesting that rail is being used to give China leadership in the roll-out of 5G applications.”

China also heavily subsidises the rail services, with Mr Wheeler estimating the cost of shipping a container from Xi’an to the UK, for example, at $4,500, while subsidies cut that to $3,000.

“I think the subsidies will remain in place until at least mid-2022, as this is when global trade is expected to have returned to normal,” he added.

Published by THELOADSTAR

Brabham supercar hand built in Adelaide – photo essay

Brabham Automotive has built and delivered its first BT62 Competition model to the UK.

And here at @AuManufacturing we just couldn’t resist giving you a close up look at its sleek and potent features.

The company, which is producing just seventy track and road variants in the coming months, has continued operations during the Covid-19 operations, despite some disruptions.

Dan Marks, CEO of Brabham Automotive said : “The growth of Brabham Automotive over the last couple of years is a testament to the up-front planning that we put in place operationally and the depth of infrastructure that we can call upon from the broader Fusion Capital group.

“This ensures that we can scale Brabham to meet demand and as future vehicle variants come on line.”

The BT62, which is hand-built to order, features a mid mounted, quad cam, longitudinal V8 engine producing 522KW (700HP) of power and torque of 667 Nm (492lb/ft), linked to a 6 speed sequential transmiassion.

Chassis and body feature new materials including carbon kevlar and carbon fibre composites.

Published by @AuManufacturing