Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

A by-product of Beaufort cheese, skimmed whey, is converted into biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, at the plant in Albertville, in Savoie in the French Alps.

Bacteria are added to the whey to produce the gas, which is then used to generate electricity that is sold to the energy company EDF.

“Whey is our fuel,” said François Decker of Valbio, the company that designed and built the power station, which opened in October. “It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yoghurt.”

After full-fat milk is used to make Beaufort cheese, whey and cream are left over. The cream is taken to make ricotta cheese, butter and protein powder, which is used as a food supplement.

The residual skimmed whey is then placed in a tank with bacteria, where natural fermentation produces methane in the same way that the gas is produced in cows’ stomachs.

The gas is then fed through an engine that heats water to 90 degrees C and generates electricity. The plant will produce about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, enough electricity to supply a community of 1,500 people, Mr Decker told Le Parisien newspaper.

It is not the first cheese-based power station, but one of the largest. Valbio built its first prototype plant 10 years ago beside an abbey where monks have made cheese since the 12th century.

Since then, about 20 other small-scale plants have been built in France, other European countries and Canada. More units are planned in Australia, Italy, Brazil and Uruguay.

In Somerset, the family-owned cheesemakers, Wyke Farms, generate their own electricity from waste cheese, cow manure and leftover crops. The mixture is poured into biodigester vessels that generate enough electricity to make the cheese producer self-sufficient.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12060538/French-power-station-generates-electricity-from-cheese.html

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Scientists with the United States Navy say they have successfully developed a way to convert seawater into jet fuel, calling it a potentially revolutionary advancement.

Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) developed technology to extract carbon dioxide from seawater while simultaneously producing hydrogen, and then converted the gasses into hydrocarbon liquid fuel. The system could potentially shave hours off the at-sea refueling process and eliminate time spent away from missions.

Currently, most of the Navy’s vessels rely entirely on oil-based fuel, with the exception of some aircraft carriers and submarines that use nuclear propulsion, reports the International Business Times. The ability to render fuel from seawater may change that.

“For us in the military, in the Navy, we have some pretty unusual and different kinds of challenges,” Vice Admiral Philip Cullom told Agence-France Presse. “We don’t necessarily go to a gas station to get our fuel. Our gas station comes to us in terms of an oiler, a replenishment ship. Developing a game-changing technology like this, seawater to fuel, really is something that reinvents a lot of the way we can do business when you think about logistics, readiness.”

The carbon and hydrogen gasses produced from the seawater extraction process are converted to liquids using metal catalytic converters in a reactor system. That liquid product contains hydrocarbon molecules with carbon levels suitable for replacing petroleum jet fuel, the NRL noted in a press release.

“Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much. But the reality is that we do have to worry about it,” Cullom told AFP.

The NRL projects the new fueling system could be commercially viable in less than 10 years and could produce jet fuel that costs $3-6 dollars per gallon.

Forbes columnist Tim Worstall says the system could be great for the Navy, but he doubts it will be an economically feasible or energy-efficient alternative for those of us on land. “We need more energy to go into the process than we get out of it,” he wrote of the Navy’s method for converting seawater to fuel, adding later, “[A]s a general rule it’s not really all that useful. We want to produce energy, not just transform it with efficiency losses along the way.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/09/seawater-to-fuel-navy-vessels-_n_5113822.html

Thanks to Ray Gaudetter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

<img src=https://itsinterestingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/living-off-the-grid.jpg&#8221; alt=”living off the grid” width=”614″ height=”429″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-7407″ />

At a time when we carry computers in our pockets and our cars practically do the driving for us, a certain subset of people have willingly chosen to cut the cord on modern American life — for good.

Off-the-grid living — that is, using natural resources like sun and wind power to provide amenities like heat and electricity — has become commonplace in places like Terlingua, an isolated community in Southwest Texas. What was once a bustling mining town is now a veritable ghost town, tucked into the foothills of Big Bend National Park in the north Chihuahuan desert.

To Abe Connally, 34, it was the perfect place to go off the map. In 2002, Connally moved to Terlingua, leaving behind a lucrative job as a web designer in Austin, Texas in order to try his hand at rural life.

“I’ve always enjoyed rural life, and the thought of sustainability and home-scale energy production intrigued me,” says Abe, who grew up in New Mexico and Texas. “On top of that, I wanted to see how integrating systems to reduce waste and improve efficiency would affect the architecture and other components of this lifestyle.”

Within a year, he met and married his wife, Josie, a British expat who was raised in Africa, Portugal and England before she finally settled out West. They never questioned whether to build their own home or not. It was only a matter of finding the right land and the right resources.

“When we started building our first home, we figured that if we could build a sustainable homestead from scratch in the desert, then we could do it anywhere,” Josie says. “We realized that if we could reduce our needs and resources, our lifestyle would be cheaper to maintain, giving us money to save or invest.”

More than a decade, two hand-built homes and a pair of energetic sons later, they’ve dedicated their lives to maintaining their sustainable home, using their blog VelaCreations to teach others how to follow in their footsteps.

Here’s what it’s like to live really off-the-grid:

“When we built our first home, we had almost no money,” Josie says. “We bought 20 acres of pristine desert land for $1,000 and moved an old bus onto it. The bus — retrofitted with a bed, small stove, solar panel and batteries, etc. — was our home until we could build a better quality one.”

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Neither Abe nor Josie were particularly experienced home builders — far from it. They relied on books, blogs and online tutorials to learn everything from bricklaying to building solar panels for energy.

Abe: “[Renowned architect] Michael Reynolds introduced us to the concepts of architecture as a group of integrated systems. From passive solar designs to using waste as construction materials, his books showed us that it was possible to live like we wanted to.”

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They built their first sustainable home in 2002 near Terlingua, but they were 30 miles from the closest schools and hospitals — not exactly ideal for raising small children. In 2007, they moved closer to town and started constructing home No. 2.

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Like their own personal Rome, their new home took years to complete and is a constant work in progress.

Abe: “We added to each system as we could afford it, in other words, little by little. For the house itself, we used adobe, mixing the mud with our feet and putting it into forms (made from scrap materials) straight on the walls. It took a long time, but cost almost nothing.”

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For off-the-gridders, the sun is crucial. The Connallys rely on solar power for all of their heat and electricity (with help from a homemade wind generator).

“The house is partially buried in a south-facing hill [and] the thermal mass of the hill helps to keep a constant temperature inside the house year-round, like a cave,” Abe explains. “The house stays about 70 degrees for most of the year.”

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Abe: “Our water is collected from the roof. We live in a desert, so rainfall is limited, and the majority of our rain comes from July through September. We store this water in large tanks we make ourselves and then filter for domestic use.”

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“The first part of off-grid living is to conserve, and reduce your needs, so that it’s easier to produce your necessities for yourself,” Abe says. By using a composting toilet, which requires no water, they cut down on waste and fertilize their land at the same time.

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The interior has a modern feel, with hand-laid brick floors and painstakingly carved entryways.

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Their $9,600 annual budget is planned down to the dollar. They earn a small income through Abe’s web consulting business and some freelance writing, but their farm is their real paycheck.

When they decided to rebuild, they sought out more fertile land with enough rainfall to sustain a garden and livestock.

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As a family, they bring new meaning to the term “farm to table”:

“We’ve had tomato plants that produce for several years, and they become these jungles of fresh food right in the dining room,” Abe says. “In fact, our youngest son, Nico, will sit there and eat every red tomato he can reach, but if you put one on his plate, he refuses to touch it.”

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Josie: “We grow a wide variety of things, depending on our tastes at the time. We regularly grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, okra, cucumbers, squash, corn, sunflowers, melons, greens, roots and several herbs. We also have a few fruit trees (plums, apricots, peaches).”

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“There is no food fresher than that, and it’s something you get kind of used to,” she says.

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They’ve even got a tiny village of beehives for fresh honey.

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Meat is also on the menu. The Connallys have gradually raised a menagerie of livestock, including pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens. It’s vastly cheaper than purchasing their meat from stores.

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One of their pigs just had a litter.

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They’re cute now, but eventually they’ll be sold in the village or, more often than not, wind up on the dinner menu. The Connallys have become quite the bacon connoisseurs.

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Everyone lends a hand in the family harvest.

Josie: “The kids collect eggs and feed all the poultry. We feed the rabbits, pigs and all the other little critters. We then all go look at any baby rabbits and the kids often get out their guinea pigs to play with.”

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Nothing goes to waste.

Josie: “We sell any surplus. We often have extra meat (especially rabbit), which we sell locally. We also sell eggs, as well as trading them for raw milk. Any vegetables and such we tend to preserve (drying, canning, kimchi) as we don’t yet grow enough to fill our yearly needs.”

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Even rabbit fur gets turned into cozy hats and slippers.

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Josie: “Right now, we’re spending about $800 a month: $100 on fuel, $500 on [feed for the animals], groceries and other household items, and $100 on Internet and phone. We also continue to improve our homestead, which costs a little extra, depending on the task at hand.”

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Their bedrooms are cozy and get a lot of natural light, which helps them conserve electricity.

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Abe: “I think there’s a certain pride that comes from being able to say ‘I made that’. We are surrounded by things we’ve made ourselves, including our home and energy infrastructure.”

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With two kids under the age of 5, the Connallys admit they’ve made some allowances in their off-grid lifestyle. They have games for game nights and keep a healthy stock of books and DVDs for entertainment.

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But, naturally, they spend most of their free time outdoors.

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They keep a car handy for trips to town and to cart the kids to and from school each day. Their goal this year is to get their car running on natural fuel supplies.

Josie: “We live about a 20-minute drive from a small village, where there’s a kindergarten, primary school, clinic and a couple of basic stores. That’s actually one of the main reasons we moved here before starting a family: still very rural, but with everything needed for small kids.”

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The kids seem to dig it.

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Laundry gets done the old-fashioned way.

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Sunlight and fresh air are all the dryer they’ll ever need.

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It’s always nice to have relatives visit, like the kids’ grandparents.

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Josie: “We’re in constant contact with family and friends over the Internet (huge fans of Skype and the like). However, visits are unfortunately much less frequent. If we ever get around to building the blimp we’ve always wanted, we’ll be sure to stop by a lot more often.”

Abe: “We’ve been able to save a few years worth of income, but also, because of our lifestyle, we don’t have to earn as much. So instead of working 40-hour weeks for money, we work 5-10 hours a week. This gives us enough for savings and expenses. The real value is the 30 hours a week we gain.”

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Abe: “It took a long time, but cost almost nothing. That was 12 years ago and we are still amazed by how far we’ve come since then.”

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To see more from the Connallys’ off-the-grid home, check out their blog, VelaCreations: http://velacreations.com/

Read more: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/family-life-off-the-grid-abe-connally-vela-creations-144054081.html

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

warheads

Here’s a remarckable fact: For the past two decades, 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads.

It was all part of a deal struck at the end of the Cold War. That deal wraps up today, when the final shipment of fuel arrives at a U.S. facility.

The origins of the plan lie in the early 1990s. At the time, Philip Sewell was working for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated, and Sewell’s job was to find ways to collaborate with the former adversaries. In practice, this involved driving out into the Russian countryside, to military facilities that weren’t even on the map. When Sewell got there, what he saw wasn’t pretty.

“Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around,” Sewell says.

But inside these crumbling buildings, the Russian government stored the uranium from thousands of decommissioned nuclear weapons. It seemed like practically anyone could walk off with stuff for a bomb. Sewell and his colleagues wanted to get rid of this uranium. So they decided to try to persuade the Russians to sell their surplus to the U.S. After all, the stuff was just lying around.

Initially, the Russians refused. “It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” Sewell says. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.”
But in the end they did let go. For one reason: money.

“Russia’s nuclear industry badly needed the funding,” says Anton Khlopkov, the director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies outside Moscow. He says Russia’s nuclear complex had nearly a million workers who weren’t getting paid a living wage.

So, in 1993 the deal was struck: The Russians would turn about 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel. The U.S. would buy it and sell it to commercial power plants here. Khlopkov says it was a win-win. “This is the only time in history when disarmament was actually profitable,” he says.

Very profitable. The Russians made around $17 billion. Sewell’s government office was spun off into a private company — the United States Enrichment Corporation — and made money from the deal too. And the U.S. power plants got the uranium at a good price.

But all good things must come to an end, says Matthew Bunn at Harvard University. “Russia is a totally different place today than it was twenty years ago,” Bunn says. “As the Russian government is fond of saying, they’re ‘no longer on their knees.’ ”

Still Bunn says this deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever.

“I mean, think about it – 20,000 bombs’ worth of nuclear material, destroyed forever,” he says. “[Bombs that] will never threaten anybody ever again.”

The last shipment arrives today at a US storage facility. It will be sold off to utilities in coming years. So when you turn on the lights, feel good. Your bulb may be powered by what was once a bomb.

http://www.npr.org/2013/12/11/250007526/megatons-to-megawatts-russian-warheads-fuel-u-s-power-plants

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

solar power

Outside Phoenix, Ariz., on Wednesday, a power company turned on one of the largest solar power plants of its kind in the world. But unlike other solar farms, this plant continues giving power to 70,000 Arizona households long after the sunset.

The Solana plant uses 3,200 mirrors that are tilted so they focus the sun’s rays to heat a specially-designed oil. That boils water, which drives turbines and generates electricity. Or, the oil can heat giant tanks of salt, which soak up the energy. When the sun goes down, or when households need more power, the hot salt tanks heat up the oil, which again boils water to drive the turbines.

Whereas conventional solar panels only give power when the sun is up, these giant salt batteries give renewable energy on demand. They can store six hours-worth of energy, which can meet the demands of Arizona customers, according to months of test data.

“That’s the sort of thing you can do with a conventional gas plant that no one had envisioned doing with renewables,” says Patrick Dinkel, vice president of resource management for Arizona Public Service, which is Arizona’s largest utility company.

The company has already bought the power from this plant for the next 30 years, to add to the state’s goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The plant does mean higher energy bills for APS customers — an extra $1.28 per month for the first five years, $1.09 per month for the next five, and then 94 cents per month after that, according to the company. Dinkel says the state won’t see a lot more of these plants soon because that would cost too much.

“Right now natural gas wins that race (for cheap power,)” Dinkel says. “The challenge is no one knows what those economics look like in five years.”

The U.S. Department of Energy lent Abengoa Solar, the Spanish company that built that plant as well as Europe’s first solar thermal power plant, $1.4 billion, out of the $2 billion price tag. It’s the same program that financed Solyndra, a solar panel firm that went bankrupt in 2011. But this is a different kind of investment, says Armando Zuluaga, general manager of Abengoa Solar. He points out the company already has a public utility buying their output for the next 30 years, so the government will get its money back with interest.

“There’s no market risk here,” Zuluaga says. “It’s just about getting the plant built.”

This won’t be the last we hear of Abengoa Solar and this technology. The company is building a similar, though smaller plant in the Mojave desert in California, which will come online next year, as well as plants in South Africa.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/11/232348077/in-ariz-a-solar-plant-that-powers-70-000-homes-day-or-night

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Solar_graphsolar

Solar power is getting much easier to store — and at a much cheaper price

The total solar energy hitting the Earth each year is equivalent to 12.2 trillion watt-hours. That’s over 20,000 times more than the total energy all of humanity consumes each year.

And yet photovoltaic solar panels, the instruments that convert solar radiation into electricity, produce only 0.7 percent of the energy the world uses.

So what gives?

For one, cost: The U.S. Department of Energy estimates an average cost of $156.90 per megawatt-hour for solar, while conventional coal costs an average of $99.60 per MW/h, nuclear costs an average of $112.70 per MW/h, and various forms of natural gas cost between $65.50 and $132 per MW/h. So from an economic standpoint, solar is still uncompetitive.

And from a technical standpoint, solar is still tough to store. “A major conundrum with solar panels has always been how to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining,” says Christoph Steitz and Stephen Jewkes at Reuters.

But thanks to huge advancements, solar’s cost and technology problems are increasingly closer to being solved.

The percentage of light turned into electricity by a photovoltaic cell has increased from 8 percent in the first Cadmium-Telluride cells in the mid-1970s to up to 44 percent in the most efficient cells today, with some new designs theoretically having up to 51 percent efficiency. That means you get a lot more bang for your buck. And manufacturing costs have plunged as more companies have entered the market, particularly in China. Prices have fallen from around $4 per watt in 2008 to just $0.75 per watt last year to just $0.58 per watt today.

If the trend stays on track for another 8-10 years, solar generated electricity in the U.S. would descend to a level of $120 per MW/h — competitive with coal and nuclear — by 2020, or even 2015 for the sunniest parts of America. If prices continue to fall over the next 20 years, solar costs would be half that of coal (and have the added benefits of zero carbon emissions, zero mining costs, and zero scarcity).

Scientists have made huge advances in thermal storage as well, finding vastly more efficient ways to store solar energy. (In one example, solar energy is captured and then stored in beds of packed rocks.)

Lower costs and better storage capacity would mean cheap, decentralized, plentiful, sustainable energy production — and massive relief to global markets that have been squeezed in recent years by the rising cost of fossil fuel extraction, a burden passed on to the consumer. All else being equal, falling energy prices mean more disposable income to save and invest, or to spend.

The prospect of widespread falling energy costs could be a basis for a period of strong economic growth. It could help us replace our dependence on foreign oil with a robust, decentralized electric grid, where energy is generated closer to the point of use. This would mean a sustainable energy supercycle — and new growth in other industries that benefit from falling energy costs.

Indeed, a solar boom could prove wrong those who claim that humanity has over-extended itself and that the era of growth is over.

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://news.yahoo.com/cusp-solar-energy-boom-075000286.html

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A Norwegian company is breaking with convention and switching to an alternative energy it hopes will be safer, cleaner and more efficient. But this isn’t about ditching fossil fuels, but rather about making the switch from uranium to thorium. Oslo based Thor Energy is pairing up with the Norwegian government and US-based (but Japanese/Toshiba owned) Westinghouse to begin a four year test that they hope will dispel doubts and make thorium the rule rather than the exception. The thorium will run at a government reactor in Halden.

Thorium was discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius who named it after the Norse god of thunder, Thor. Found in trace amounts in rocks and soil, thorium is actually about three times more abundant than uranium.

The attractiveness of thorium has led others in the past to build their own thorium reactors. A reactor operated in Germany between 1983 and 1989, and three operated in the US between the late sixties and early eighties. These plants were abandoned, some think, because the plutonium produced at uranium reactors was deemed indispensable to many in a Cold War world.

Thorium is ‘fertile,’ unlike ‘fissile’ uranium, which means it can’t be used as is but must first be converted to uranium-233. A good deal of research has been conducted to determine if fuel production, processing and waste management for thorium is safe and cost effective. For decades many have argued that thorium is superior to the uranium in nearly all of the world’s nuclear reactors, providing 14 percent of the world’s electricity. Proponents argue that thorium reacts more efficiently than uranium does, that the waste thorium produces is shorter lived than waste from uranium, and that, because of its much higher melting point, is meltdown proof. An added plus is the fact that thorium reactors do not produce plutonium and thus reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Some experts maintain that the benefits of thorium would be maximized in molten salt reactors or pebble bed reactors. The reactor at Halden is not ideal for thorium as it is a ‘heavy water’ reactor, built for running uranium. But it is also a reactor that has already received regulatory approval. Many thorium supporters argue that, rather than wait for ideal molten salt or pebble bed reactors tests should be performed in approved reactors so that their benefits can be more quickly demonstrated to the world.

But is thorium really cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than uranium? And if so, do the added benefits really warrant the cost and effort to make the switch? Data is still pretty scarce, but at least one report is urging us to not believe the hype.

Through their National Nuclear Laboratory the UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change released a report in September that stated: “thorium has theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk. While there is some justification for these benefits, they are often overstated.” The report goes on to acknowledge that worldwide interest in thorium is likely to remain high and they recommend that the UK maintain a “low level” of research and development into thorium fuel.

The place where thorium is proven either way could be China. The country is serious about weaning itself off of fossil fuels and making nuclear power their primary energy source. Fourteen nuclear power reactors are in operation in China today, another 25 under construction, and there are plans to build more. And in 2011 they announced plans to build a thorium, molten salt reactor. So whether it be Norway, the UK, China, or some other forward-thinking countries, we’ll soon find out if thorium reactors are better than uranium ones, at which point more countries may want to join the thorium chain reaction.

http://singularityhub.com/2012/12/11/norway-begins-four-year-test-of-thorium-nuclear-reactor/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.