Nuclear fusion breakthrough Q&A, California doubling its EV chargers

The National Ignition Facility is a laser-based inertial confinement fusion research device, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

A few points on the major nuclear fusion lab breakthrough:
What happened: Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported that on Dec. 5, a team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California was able to achieve an historic first: it produced more energy from nuclear fusion than the laser energy used to drive it. Achieving this “fusion ignition,” means that it was “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power,” DOE said.

It is going to take quite a long time to become commercially viable. Kim Budil, the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said on Tuesday that cheap, abundant electricity from nuclear fusion is still “probably decades” away.

What are the advantages?
“This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels but instead powered by new clean fusion energy,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said in the Tuesday announcement.

It is a zero emissions energy source, and it excels past nuclear fission (which fuels nuclear power plants across the U.S. and the world) mainly because it doesn’t produce the nuclear waste associated with these current nuclear power plants; radioactive waste that can last thousands of years. Another strength is that nuclear fusion can be commercialized at scale.

Where does national defense come in?
That’s one of the main mission statements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons. Scientists have known how to produce fusion since 1952, when it started being used in thermonuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said this breakthrough solves two fundamental problems — producing clean power to combat climate change and
“maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”

There have been concerns over nuclear power plants becoming weaponized if governments are prone to starting wars. Iran’s supply of enriched uranium from nuclear power plants has been the focus of heated debate and pressure on that country for several years.

Does it raise the concerns of the anti-nuke protestors?
Yes, but so far the reactions have been more quiet than they were years ago. Protestors in the late 1970s and 1980s were most concerned about the implications of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 that was a partial meltdown of its Unit 2 reactor in Pennsylvania. It’s been the most significant accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history but there have been several incidents before and after; and many more around the world. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, near San Clemente, Calif., was shut down in 2013, and was another incident raising concerns over safety.

There’s also a sense of purism for many Americans who belong to environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth. For many of them, the ideal future would be having solar and wind power our electricity supply, which would then transmit power to energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings, and keep electric vehicles charged up and ready to drive. America and the rest of the world has many years ahead before that, or anything like it, could be the norm. It is looking like it won’t just be renewable energy — green hydrogen and nuclear fusion look like they’re getting the backing they need to be part of the clean energy and clean transportation future.

The California Energy Commission on Wednesday approved a $2.9 billion investment backing zero emission vehicles and their needed infrastrucrure. The plan will bring 90,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers to the state — more than double the current level at around 80,000 chargers. The 2022-2023 Investment Plan Update increases funding for the CEC’s Clean Transportation Program by 30 times; and it accelerates California’s 2025 EV charging and hydrogen refueling goals. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will benefit from $90 million going to hydrogen refueling infrastructure, $118 million for zero emission vehicle manufacturing, and other funding. Much of it will go to the medium-to-heavy duty vehicle infrastructure.

In this month’s Green Auto Market — Market Intel
One reason that hydrogen and fuel cells continue to stay visible is all the deals being made by publicly traded companies (and a small number of privately held) in the field. Here’s a look at these companies that are going way beyond transportation………. If you take a good look at where self-driving passenger cars, drones, and autonomous transport is going these days, there are a few positive stories. But most of what’s coming out implies that AVs still have a few years left before gaining mass market approval. Click here to order, or back issues.

Has Elon Musk gotten carried away, and it’s time to pay the price? Things are not looking good for the CEO of Twitter, Tesla, and SpaceX. This may be the year the chickens come home to roost, after many years of him getting away with various shenanigans. For one thing, Tesla’s global electric vehicle share dropped down to 65% in the first six months of 2022 — that’s down from 79% share in 2020. The numbers will likely drop as competitors to continue to surge forward. Musk is taking an aggressive approach to legal squabbles over at Twitter. The company has also cut payments for leasing its HQ building, and has written off a nearly $200,000 bll for private chatter flights the week he took over. But the situation may be much bigger than Musk’s fight to take over Twitter. Reuters reports that Tesla may be down in stock price but so is Rivian Automotive. Other EV startups had it even worse. Electric van maker Arrival warned it could run out of cash in less than a year. Lucid Group Inc., backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, struggled to build its Air luxury EVs. Chinese Tesla challenger Xpeng Inc.’s shares lost more than 80% of its value.

Mileage and emissions numbers improve: On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual Automotive Trends Report, which shows that model year (MY) 2021 vehicle fuel economy remained at a record high while emission levels reached a record low. The report also shows all 14 large automotive manufacturers achieved compliance with the Light-duty Greenhouse Gas (GHG) standards through at least MY2020. For MY 2021, vehicle fuel economy remained at an all-time high of 25.4 miles per gallon (mpg), and new vehicle real-world carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased to a record low of 347 grams per mile (g/mi).

“Today’s report demonstrates the significant progress we’ve made to ensure clean air for all as automakers continue to innovate and utilize more advanced technologies to cut pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Working together across the public and private sector, we can deliver on EPA’s mission to protect public health, especially our most vulnerable populations, and advance President Biden’s ambitious agenda to combat the climate crisis.”

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