article Posted by Times of Indian Express on November 06, 2018 08:04:17The world’s largest atomic energy plant, the Sun-2, has a reputation for producing a lot of energy.
But the energy produced in its reactor can be converted into electricity by adding lithium ions to the water in the reactor’s containment tanks.
But this process could also have disastrous consequences if lithium ions were released during a hydrogen reaction in the water, scientists have warned.
A group of scientists led by Dr Ravi Narayanan at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has been working to understand how the lithium ion reacts with the hydrogen in a solution of water, a process that generates the energy of a hydrogen-based power plant.
In the process, water is subjected to a very high pressure and temperature, and then a highly specific salt is added to the solution to create a hydrogen gas.
This is the “polarization” that produces the electricity produced by the plant, said Narayanat, who was not involved in the work.
The ions in the salt are trapped by the hydrogen gas, and this creates a magnetic field that pulls the ions towards it.
The result is a high-temperature hydrogen reaction, where a large amount of energy is generated by the electrostatic interaction between the hydrogen and lithium ions.
The problem is that, even if the water has been heated sufficiently to produce the necessary pressure and the right temperature, there is still an excess of hydrogen ions in it, and they could escape from the reactor into the atmosphere.
This can result in the release of a toxic gas, which could harm the environment.
“If a large number of such leaks occur, they could release a very harmful gas, with significant consequences to the environment,” said Narayanan.
The Sun-1, a large-scale solar power plant that has already produced more than 100 terawatts of electricity, is the largest plant in the world with a capacity of 30 gigawatts.
A further 100 gigawatts of the plants planned will be installed across the world by 2025.
The safety of this process has not been fully understood.
The Sun-3, a larger-scale plant planned for 2030, has been built in the same location.
“The Sun 3 reactor was built by the French company Areva, but is not yet in service,” said Dr Narayaninan.
“If a leak occurs in Sun 3, it could cause a big loss of life.”
Dr Narayanen and his team were working on a paper, published in Science Advances, on the topic.
“We had to develop a novel process that uses the electrostatics in the liquid water of the reactor to extract the ions,” he said.
The team also studied how the ionic reaction in liquid water can be influenced by the temperature.
They studied the reaction between sodium ions and calcium ions in water, and found that the temperature was key.
“This is an interesting and promising area to look into, because it involves some novel technologies that could make these types of experiments possible,” he added.
Narayanan said that the potential benefits of a liquid-water reactor were vast.
“It could help us to create energy at low cost, with no harmful effect on the environment, and to store the power of the Sun for decades to come,” he noted.
However, he cautioned that the team had not looked at all the potential risks that a leak could have on the plants life.
“This was just a theoretical work, and we are still in the beginning stage of developing a practical system to achieve these results,” he pointed out.
“Even if we manage to get the reactor running smoothly, we need to consider how it would react with other pollutants,” he concluded.