March 18, 2017

Israel hit Syrian targets using conventional fighters, missiles and electronic jamming

The Israeli strike on Syria was probably with conventional fighters and missiles. There had been reports and speculation that Israel used new F35 stealth fighters for the attack.

Israeli jets have been able to operate almost freely in or close to Syria, hitting targets across the country with guided weapons without the Syrian Arab Air Force posing any real threat to the Israeli attackers. It’s likely Israel employed powerful electronic warfare during the strikes.

The last time Syrian air defenses shot down a foreign aircraft was back in 2012, when a Turkish air force RF-4E violated Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea and was hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Israel likely used the Popeye missile. The Popeye has 750 pounds of explosives and a range of about 48 miles.

In a few years new Quantum computers from IBM, Google and Microsoft will accelerate breakthroughs in chemistry and materials

IBM and Google both aim to commercialize quantum computers within the next few years (Google specified five years.)

Quantum computers will be more powerful than conventional computers for problems like efficient routing for logistics and mapping companies, new forms of machine learning, better product recommendations, and improved diagnostic tests.

The first universal quantum computers will be used for simulating molecules and reactions. Early, small quantum computers are ideally suited for chemical and molecular simulation.

Simulating the quantum effects that shape molecular structures and reactions is a natural problem for quantum computers, because their power comes from encoding data into those same challenging quantum states. The components that make up quantum computers, known as qubits, can use quantum-mechanical processes to take computational shortcuts impossible for a conventional machine.

Microsoft is betting on a less mature form of quantum hardware than IBM and Google but it has one of the most advanced efforts to develop practical quantum algorithms. Chemistry and materials science are among of its primary areas of focus. The group’s researchers have recently tried to show how hybrid systems in which a conventional computer and a small quantum computer work together could simulate chemistry.

“It has great promise for studying molecules,” says Krysta Svore, who leads Microsoft’s group working on quantum algorithms. Looking for new, practical superconducting materials is one possible application of the hybrid model that shouldn’t require very large quantum computers, she says. Conventional computers struggle to replicate the quantum behavior of electrons that underpins superconductivity.

US Shale oil strength and world oil prices and production predictions

Wellhead breakeven prices have dropped significantly among all shale plays over recent years and since 2014, the average decrease has been around 46% within the main shale oil plays. The main cause has been a reduction in unit prices, which represented approximately 57% of the total decrease. However, acreage high grading and efficiency improvements have also played their part, contributing approximately 19% and 26% respectively.

Among the main shale oil plays, Permian Midland has moved from averaging a wellhead breakeven price of 71 USD/b in 2014, to 36 USD/b in 2016. Effectively realizing a 49% decrease, this is the highest among all main shale oil plays.

In order for the U.S. shale to start thinking of idling rigs en masse again, oil prices would have to drop and stay at even lower for longer, at below $40. The leaner, meaner and more resilient U.S. shale is basically wiping out OPEC’s efforts to achieve higher oil prices with the output deal. The cartel seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place -- extending and/or deepening cuts and losing precious market share to U.S. shale, or ditching the price-fixing policy and letting the next oil price war begin.

There are several reasons behind the observed drop in breakeven prices (BEP). A part of it is attributable to the structural changes, such as improved well performance (which can be measured by improvements in the EUR); and the improved efficiency gains (which can be measured by the effect of lower drilling and completion cost, a result of more effective operations).

Even though the BEPs have fallen across the shale plays due to the factors described above, the most important question to answer is how much of this change is sustainable. Rystad Energy studied and quantified the different cyclical and structural drivers of the changing BEP and arrived to a conclusion that if all of the cyclical effects are reverted when the oil price starts recovering, the BEP might grow by 62% over the next couple of years for U.S. shale plays. As we enter 2017, it is important to look into whether the shale operators are ready for a growth in the current year. Activity-wise, in the main shale oil plays (EFS, Bakken, Permians and Niobrara), there are ~335 horizontal rigs drilling currently. This represents a nearly 100% increase compared to the bottom rig count in May 2016 at 168 Hz rigs for the same plays.

Third year of flat global carbon dioxide emissions but less than four years til 1.5C CO2 budget is gone

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency, signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity. This was the result of growing renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas, improvements in energy efficiency, as well as structural changes in the global economy.

Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous two years, while the global economy grew 3.1%, according to estimates from the IEA. Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, the world’s two-largest energy users and emitters, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world.

As of the beginning of 2011, the carbon budget for a 66% chance of staying below 1.5C was 400 billion tonnes. Emissions between 2011 and 2015 mean this has almost halved to 205 billion tonnes. The result is that, as of the beginning of 2016, five years and two months of current CO2 emissions would use up the 1.5C budget. Now in 2017 with emissions still at about 40 billion tons per year. The 66% chance of 1.5C budget has 3 years and 11 months. The equivalent remaining budgets for a 66% chance of staying below 2C and 3C are 19 years, and 54 years and three months (respectively) of current emissions. This assumes that emissions stop immediately once the threshold temperature is reached, which is essentially impossible in the real world. It also assumes there is no further warming once emissions have stopped, yet recent research shows this isn’t the case

The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.

“These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source.”

In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydro accounting for half of that share. The overall increase in the world’s nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors coming online in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan. Coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11% in 2016. For the first time, electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal last year in the United States.

With the appropriate policies, and large amounts of shale reserves, natural gas production in the United States could keep growing strongly in the years to come. This could have three main consequences: it could boost domestic manufacturing, supply more competitive gas to Asia through to LNG exports, and provide alternative gas supplies to Europe

Two-thirds of China’s electricity demand growth, which was up 5.4%, was supplied by renewables — mostly hydro and wind – as well as nuclear. Five new nuclear reactors were connected to the grid in China, increasing its nuclear generation by 25%.

March 17, 2017

Startup X-energy has started design of a gas-cooled pebble bed modular nuclear reactor

X-energy yesterday announced the start of work on the conceptual design of its Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor, following a review of the company's readiness by an external panel of industry experts.

Maryland-based Xenergy's has a panel of industry experts from Southern Nuclear, Burns and McDonnell and Technology Insights. The conceptual design readiness review validated the baseline design parameters, preparatory documentation, analysis tools, scope of the proposed conceptual design phase (including all planned deliverables), management processes and overall team readiness to proceed to the next phase of reactor development.

X-energy plans to deploy the Xe-100 within 10 years, and CEO Kam Ghaffarian said moving the reactor into conceptual design put the company "well on the way" towards its goal. "A successful conceptual design phase requires thorough planning, a mature technical baseline, and a workforce committed to creating a safe, deployable design. I and our external review panel confirmed our readiness on March 8," he said.

US research into high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) began in the 1940s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and X-energy's reactor design builds on earlier Department of Energy (DOE) studies. Demonstration HTGR plants of various designs have operated in Germany, the UK and the USA, and two are currently operable - Japan's HTTR, and China's China's HTR-10.

The Xe-100 is a 200 MWt (75 MWe) reactor, which X-energy envisages being built as a standard "four-pack" plant generating about 300 MWe. The plant will use 'pebbles' of fuel containing Triso (tristructural-isotropic) fuel particles. Each Triso particle has a kernel of uranium oxycarbide (uranium dioxide) enriched to 10% uranium-235, encased in carbon and ceramic layers. About 25,000 Triso particles, each about 0.4 millimetres in diameter, are embedded in graphite to produce spherical fuel pebbles. About 17,000 pebbles will be used in each reactor.

Triso fuel's carbon and ceramic layers prevent the release of radioactivity, providing each particle with its own independent containment system, while the graphite surrounding the particles moderates the nuclear reaction. Such fuel cannot melt down and X-energy describes the reactor as "walk-away" safe in the event of a loss of coolant.

All of the plant's components will be road-transportable, streamlining construction by enabling the plant to be installed, rather than constructed, at the project site.

In January, X-energy was awarded cost-shared funding of $53 million over five years from the DOE to support the development of the Xe-100, working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory and ORNL. At the same time, the DOE selected Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of Southern Company, to receive similar funding to develop its Molten Chloride Fast Reactor in partnership with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and ORNL. In August last year, X-energy and Southern Nuclear Operating Company signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on development and commercialisation of their respective advanced reactor designs.

Lockheed Martin to Deliver World Record-Setting 60kW Laser to U.S. Army

Lockheed Martin has completed the design, development and demonstration of a 60 kW-class beam combined fiber laser for the U.S. Army.

In testing earlier this month, the Lockheed Martin laser produced a single beam of 58 kW, representing a world record for a laser of this type. The Lockheed Martin team met all contractual deliverables for the laser system and is preparing to ship it to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Ala.

"Delivery of this laser represents an important milestone along the path to fielding a practical laser weapon system," said Paula Hartley, vice president, Owego, New York general manager and Advanced Product Solutions within Lockheed Martin's Cyber, Ships and Advanced Technologies line of business. "This milestone could not have been achieved without close partnership between the U.S. Army and Lockheed Martin; we are pleased to be able to deliver this system for their further integration and evaluation."

Lockheed Martin's laser is a beam combined fiber laser, meaning it brings together individual lasers, generated through fiber optics, to generate a single, intense laser beam. This allows for a scalable laser system that can be made more powerful by adding more fiber laser subunits. The laser is based on a design developed under the Department of Defense's Robust Electric Laser Initiative Program, and further developed through investments by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Army into a 60kW-class system.

German manufacturer Jenoptik has a 100 kilowatt generator for a small trucks.

US does not rule out pre-emptive strike on North Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is considering “all options” to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat while criticizing China over moves to block a missile-defense system on the peninsula.

In some of his most detailed comments yet on North Korea, Tillerson ruled out a negotiated freeze of its nuclear weapons program and called for a wider alliance to counter Kim Jong Un’s regime. He also left the military option on the table if the North Korean threat gets too large.

“If they elevate the threat of their weapons programs to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson told reporters on Friday on a trip to South Korea when asked about the possibility of a military strike. He ruled out talks with North Korea until it commits to giving up its nuclear weapons.

“Let me be very clear: this policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said. “All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Any US pre-emptive strike would involve conventional stealth fighters and bomber and cruise missiles

Any pre-emptive strike would be similar to other conventional strikes that the US has made

The initial targets would include nuclear reactors, missile-production facilities, and launching pads for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Cruise missiles and F-22s would target North Korea's rudimentary air defenses, and B-2s would hit known missile sites.

Planes like the F-35 and the F-22 would hunt down mobile missile launchers, which can hide all over North Korea's mountainous terrain. In the event that North Korea does get off a missile, the US and South Korea have layered missile defenses that would attempt to shoot it out of the sky.

North Korea would hit back with artillery and roll tanks on South Korea. They would also try to fire any surviving missiles at South Korea and possibly Japan.

New modeling of fullerite and diamand based ultrahard materials

Russian physicists modeled a fullerite and diamond-based structure and demonstrated that the MIPT press office said. This breakthrough sets the stage for estimating the possible conditions for the production of the super-rigid materials. The results of the study were published in the journal Carbon .

Fullerite is a molecular crystal, where fullerene molecules are located in the lattice points with the fullerene. The fullerene possesses an outstanding rigidity, that the fullerite is a rather soft material, which nevertheless becomes harder than a diamond.

They believe they are getting closer to unlocking of the secrets of the ultrahard carbon.

They are using ultrahigh pressures in their experiments.

They plan to synthesize new ultra-hard carbon materials.

New steel process is faster, lower cost, higher quality, uses 5-10 times less energy and enables new thinner sheets

Advances in production technology and materials science, particularly for new types of high-tech steel, mean that an old concept called “twin-roll” is being taken up successfully. An alternative system that casts liquid steel directly onto a single horizontally moving belt is also being tried. Both techniques could cut energy consumption—one of the biggest costs in steelmaking—by around 80%. Other savings in operating and capital costs are also possible. If these new processes prove themselves, steelmaking could once again be transformed.

The Castrip process uses up to 90% less energy to process liquid steel into hot rolled steel sheets. In addition, the Castrip process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%. The Castrip® technology offers considerable savings in capital outlay, completion and delivery times and energy costs.

In sheet steels, thinner is more valuable. Thickness of as-cast product from the Castrip® process is less than conventional hot rolled products. With the single stand in-line hot rolling mill, ultra-thin products of less than 1.0 mm can be produced. The long-term goal is to produce ultra-thin cast strip as thin as 0.7 mm (0.028”). It is interesting to note that as the cast thickness is reduced, the productivity of the process actually increases.

Because the Castrip process operates best when making thin products at high casting speeds, exciting opportunities are now being created for new sheet steel product categories. The potential exists for the Castrip product to be used in many applications that were not previously possible for hot rolled material. Several market segments that could initially benefit include structural decking, purlins and light-gauge steel framing, as well as tubular goods and structural applications such as racking.

Due to its thinness, the Castrip product can also be used as a direct replacement for cold rolled material in many applications. Short term plans include the production of galvanized products directly from the caster without the need for further cold rolling.

The Castrip® process is a major technological breakthrough for producing flat-rolled, carbon and stainless steel sheets at very thin gauges. The process is based on Sir Henry Bessemer's 1857 concept of twin roll casting, which has proven very difficult to bring to commercial reality...until now. Castrip technology allows steel makers to produce thin flat-rolled products in far fewer process steps, saving money on both capital outlay and operating expenses. And by casting steel at or near its final dimensions, tremendous savings of time and energy can be achieved.
Process Fundamentals

The twin roll casting process shown in Figure 1 uses two copper water-cooled, counter-rotating rolls. A refractory core nozzle (not shown) is positioned between the rolls to distribute molten steel into the melt pool. Side dams are positioned at each end of the rolls to contain the melt pool (also not shown).

Starting at the first point of contact between the rolls and the molten steel, solidification begins and continues as the rolls rotate downwards. Two individual steel shells are formed, one on each roll. The shells form one continuous sheet when they are brought together at the roll nip or kissing point. This steel strip is guided through pinch rolls and a hot rolling stand, where it is reduced to the desired dimensions, typically between 0.7 and 2.0 mm. (See Figure 2 for a complete diagram of the Castrip process. The typical layout of a Castrip plant is illustrated in Figure 3.) Water-spray cooling reduces the steel from its rolling temperature to a temperature suitable for coiling.

Process-to-Process Comparison

The Castrip® process represents a step-change over conventional thin slab casting of steel products in almost every aspect of operations - in fact, most characteristics are an order of magnitude different from comparable values from slab casting. The solidification event is completed in a shorter amount of time, the casting speed is much faster, heat fluxes are tremendously higher and the product is thinner.

Unlike slab casting, the Castrip process does not utilize any form of lubrication between the roll surface and the molten steel. Further, oscillation of the mold is not used and intimate contact is maintained between the solidifying shell and the roll. This allows for greater heat transfer, which dramatically reduces the solidification time to just 0.15 seconds, compared with 1070 seconds for conventional casting.

The new techniques are particularly good for making higher-value, specialist steels, says Claire Davis, a steel expert with the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick in Britain. Ms Davis and her team are developing new high-tech steels especially for belt casting, including advanced low-density steels that are stronger, lighter and more flexible than conventional steel.

A twin-roll process, much as Bessemer conceived, is already employed by Nucor, a giant American steelmaker. Called Castrip, it is producing steel in two of its plants. A big advantage of twin-roll and belt-casting is compactness. Nucor reckons a Castrip plant needs only 20 hectares (50 acres) and provides a good investment return from the production of only 500,000 tonnes of steel a year. A conventional steel plant, by comparison, may sprawl over 2,000 hectares and need to produce some 4m tonnes a year to turn a profit.

Other firms are licensing Castrip as well. Shagang, a large Chinese steelmaker, is replacing a less energy-efficient plant with the new technology. The numbers look compelling enough to encourage a startup, too: Albion Steel is talking to investors about building a £300m ($370m) Castrip plant in Britain. The plant would be “fed” by a low-cost mini-mill that melts scrap and produces steel for galvanising, mostly for the construction industry, says Tony Pedder, one of Albion’s founders. Mr Pedder is the chairman of Sheffield Forgemasters, an engineering company, and a former boss of British Steel (which later became Corus). Britain has a surplus of scrap but imports galvanised steel. The plant would employ only about 250 people; traditional integrated operations need a thousand or so. “We believe in the technology,” says Mr Pedder. “In our view it is past the point of being experimental.”

Next Japanese solar sail will be 10-15 times bigger than Ikaros solar sail and have a far better ion engine

A researcher with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Matsumoto is deeply involved in the design of the space sail that will pick up where Japan’s IKAROS left off. Launched in 2010, the latter was a square sail 14 meters to the side that demonstrated the feasibility of maneuvering a sail on interplanetary trajectories. JAXA has talked ever since about going to Jupiter, but the challenges are formidable, not the least of which is the question of generating enough power to operate over 5 AU from the Sun.

(H/T Centauri Dreams)

The new JAXA sail, which has been in the planning pipeline since before IKAROS flew, will span 50 meters to the side, 2500 square meters that will contain the 30,000 solar panels — thin film solar cells attached to the entire surface of the sail membrane — necessary to operate at the 5.2 AU distance of Jupiter’s trojan asteroids.

Like IKAROS, the sail will use liquid crystal reflectivity control devices as a means of attitude control. But the new sail will also carry a high specific impulse ion engine for maneuvering among the trojan asteroid population. Here we’re at a key issue in the mission, for operating this far from the Sun, generating electrical power becomes increasingly difficult, and the craft will also need to perform numerous trajectory changes. Just as significant as the sail itself, then, will be the operational success of the new sail’s solar panels and ion engine.

The sail is to be made up of 10-micrometer-thick polyimide, with the payload attached to the center of the sail. Current plans are for launch in the early 2020s. The Jupiter trojans are a group of asteroids that share orbits with the giant planet, clustering in its L4 and L5 Lagrangian points. There should be no shortage of candidates, for the total number of Jupiter trojans greater than 1 kilometer in size is estimated at about a million. The JAXA sail will perform both flyby and rendezvous operations, with a landing on the surface of a 20-30 km asteroid, operations there and, if all goes well, a sample return to the Earth in the 2050s.

Despite military budget cuts Russia will partner with the UAE to develop a new light fifth generation stealth fighter

Russia and the United Arab Emirates will fund efforts to develop a light fifth generation jet, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said on Monday.

"We've signed an agreement on industrial cooperation in the field of military engineering," Manturov said at the 13th international weapons show IDEX -2017.

Isis not clear what the final configuration of the new fifth-generation aircraft will look like. Indeed, Russian sources offered conflicting information about the project. While Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov told TASS’ Russian-language service that the new fighter would be developed from the Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrum, Slyusar said that no decisions had been made on the configuration of the new jet.

"The more modern fifth generation aircraft will be created on the basis of the MiG-29" Chemezov told TASS. “Work on this aircraft, I think, will begin next year. It will take about seven or eight years.”

Slyusar, however, said that the while both Sukhoi and Mikoyan will contribute to the project, no decision has been made on the final configuration.

Fourth Yangjiang unit enters commercial operation

Unit 4 of the Yangjiang nuclear power plant in China's Guangdong province has completed commissioning tests and now meets the conditions for entering commercial operation, China General Nuclear (CGN) announced on March 15, 2017.

The loading of fuel assemblies into the core of the 1080 MWe CPR-1000 pressurised water reactor was completed on 21 November and it achieved first criticality on 30 December. The unit was connected to the grid on 8 January.

Since then, a series of commissioning tests have been conducted at the unit, including a load test run and a test run lasting 168 hours. Although CGN must still obtain necessary permits and documentation, the unit can now be considered to be in commercial operation.

Six units are planned for the Yangjiang site. The first four units are CPR-1000s, with units 5 and 6 being ACPR-1000s. Unit 1 entered commercial operation in March 2015, with units 2 and 3 following in June 2015 and January 2016, respectively.

First concrete for Yangjiang unit 5 was poured in September 2013, with that for unit 6 following three months later. CGN said the units are currently in the equipment installation phase, of which unit 5 marks the first application of a digital control system designed in China.

All six reactors at Yangjiang should be in operation by 2019.

Several tech billionaires are openly or secretely funding broadband mind computer interfacing projects

Last year Bryan Johnson, founder of the online payments company Braintree, starting making news when he threw $100 million behind Kernel, a startup he founded to enhance human intelligence by developing brain implants capable of linking people’s thoughts to computers.

Johnson isn’t alone in believing that “neurotechnology” could be the next big thing. To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web.

According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called “neural lace,” which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to “symbiosis with machines.” And Mark Zuckerberg declared in 2015 that people will one day be able to share “full sensory and emotional experiences,” not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

Even when speaking to a computer program like Alexa or Siri, you can convey at most about 40 bits per second of information and only for short bursts. Compare that to data transfer records of a trillion bits per second along a fiber-optic cable.

“Ridiculously slow,” Musk complained.

But it turns out that connecting to the brain isn’t so easy. Six months after launching Kernel amid a media blitz, Johnson says he’s dropped his initial plans for a “memory implant,” switched scientific advisors, hired a new team, and decided to instead invest in developing a more general-purpose technology for recording and stimulating the brain using electrodes.

Johnson says he concluded that Berger’s memory implant work “is really interesting, but not an entry point” into a commercially viable business.

DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a “high-fidelity” brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time.

Johnson declined to describe the specifics of Kernel’s technological approach to connecting with the brain, as did Boyden and Wentz. However, the team members have been working on well-identified problems. Wentz has been involved with developing electronics for high-speed reading of data emitted by wireless implants. Already, the flow of information that can be collected from a mouse’s brain in real time outruns what a laptop computer can handle. The team also needs a way to interface with the human brain. Boyden’s lab has worked on several concepts to do so, including needle-shaped probes with tiny electrodes etched onto their surface. Another idea is to record neural activity by threading tiny optical fibers through the brain’s capillaries, an idea roughly similar to Musk’s neural lace.

Under a concept that Boyden calls “brain coprocessors,” it may be possible to create closed-loop systems that detect certain brain signals—say, those associated with depression—and shock the brain to reverse them.

March 16, 2017

Russia and Venezuela are running out of cash

Russia's reserve fund could be depleted in mid-2017, perhaps a few months later," said Ondrej Schneider, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance.

Russia may start building up its Reserve Fund in the second half of 2017, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said January. This would be if oil prices average $50 per barrel and ruble rate remains at current levels, the budget could get additional 1 trillion rubles (£13.5 billion) in oil and gas revenues, resulting in a budget deficit of around 2 percent of gross domestic product in 2017.

Oil is currently at $48.86 per barrel. However, there is concern that OPEC-Saudi Arabia will stop oil production cuts in June. This could start an oil price war. US frakkers have gotten more efficient and are rebuilding production even with prices at $50 per barrel.

Venezuela is down to its last few billion.

Russia cuts military budget 25% from $65 billion to $48 billion

Figures released by the Russian Federal Treasury have confirmed that Russia's defence budget has been cut by 25.5% for 2017, falling from RUB3.8 trillion (USD65.4 billion) to RUB2.8 trillion.

The reduction represents the largest cut to military expenditure in the country since the early 1990s.

The reduction follows an extended period of large increases to Russian defence spending with growth having achieved an average rate of 19.8% a year since 2011 in nominal terms. Despite the cut, the 2017 budget will remain about 14.4% higher than the level of defence spending seen in 2014 in nominal terms.

The Russian government initially outlined plans to reduce defence expenditure in the draft of the three year budget for 2017 to 2019 released in October 2016.

The steep drop in spending will continue to derail Russia's much-hyped defense buildup, which in 2014 promised to replace 70 percent of the Russian military's arms with brand new items by 2020. The modernization effort was intended to procure 2,300 new tanks, 1,200 new helicopters and aircraft, 50 new surface ships and 28 new submarines. Russia's plans to field a new generation of nuclear platforms, from new rail-mounted ICBMs to a new strategic bomber will likely be slowed or placed on hold.

Low oil prices have reduced Russia's economy.
Russia also had high costs associated with the War on Ukraine.

Russia's military spending will fall from fourth in the world to eighth.

Russia’s GDP was $2.053 trillion (in U.S. dollars) in 2014, according to the World Bank, dropping to $1.331 trillion in 2015 — a drop of about 35 percent. There was a large drop in the value of the Ruble and Russia has had a recession because of the lower oil prices.

Future of completely robotic tanks is near

Kalashnikov, famous small arms weapon maker, will create a tank-like robot weighing 20 tons. Kalashnikov’s BAS-01G Soratnik is a seven ton unmanned vehicle that can carry a machine gun and quartet of antitank missiles, but they want one three times bigger. It would be about the same size as a U.S. Army M1126 Stryker ICV.

The 2S25 Sprut-SD is a self-propelled russian tank destroyer or light tank developed. It weighs 20 tons and has a 125 mm smoothbore gun. Its main armament, the Sprut anti-tank gun, is capable of firing APFSDS, HE-Frag, HEAT and ATGM ammunition. This allows the 2S25 to be as powerful as a main battle tank and as maneuverable and amphibious as airborne infantry combat vehicles. The 2S25 can be used by units of ground forces and naval infantry as a light amphibious tank. Currently, the only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service.

The 7 ton robotic armored vehicle

Russia's 20 ton tank with a 125 mm gun

A modern autoloader for a 120–125 mm caliber weapon in good condition can achieve about 10–12 rounds per minute. This rating may or may not include the time required to bring the gun to the appropriate loading angle (if required) and then bringing it back up to firing angle after loading. This is fast, but not quite as fast as a human loader, for which claims of 15 rounds per minute (at least for a short time) are made. On the other hand, the very newest autoloaders claim to match this rate of fire. Furthermore, it is considered atypical to engage more than a few targets per minute in a tank. The autoloader may also have an advantage while travelling over rough terrain that may jar a human loader enough to disrupt his loading cycle.

For weapons above 127 mm, the increased weight of the round pushes this issue decisively in favor of the autoloader. For self-propelled artillery with calibers of around 155mm, for example, autoloaders can typically achieve 8–12 rounds per minute, while a human loader(s) can typically achieve 4 rounds per minute.

Global Foundries will use Free Electron Lasers to boost EUV throughput and lower cost

Semiconductor chip makers TSMC and Global Foundries are finally committed to dates for the commercialization of EUV lithography. Global foundries will use Free electron lasers to boost EUV volume production and lower costs.

Taiwan Semiconductor will have volume production of 7 nanometer chips using Extreme Ultraviolet lithography starting June 2018

TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor) disclosed plans for an enhanced 7nm FinFET node using extreme ultraviolet lithography, a 12nm upgrade of its 16nm process and a 22nm planar technology — its answer to fully depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI).

The foundry also described enhancements to its two chip-stacking techniques, advances in RF CMOS and work in transistors and materials, paving the way to a 3nm node and beyond. In addition, it previewed design capabilities using machine learning that it will offer before the end of the year.

Among its achievements, TSMC noted 76 percent yields on the 256Mbit SRAM made in its first-generation 7nm node, which will be in volume production next year. It also reported that an ARM Cortex-A72 processor in the node exceeded 4GHz using a new design flow.

The Taiwan company, already the world’s largest foundry by far, expects to ship 11 million 12-inch-equivalent wafers this year, a typical 10 percent annual increase. The biggest share—two million wafers—will use its planar 28nm processes for which it is boosting capacity 15 percent this year.

TSMC has taped out nearly 800 chips using flavors of its 28nm process. It has shipped 4.5 million 28nm wafers to date, clearly a big sweet spot it aims to defend.

TSMC also plans an ultra-low power version of its 12nm FinFET process, supporting 0.5V operation and starting risk production before June. It will likely be positioned as a competitor to the 12nm FD-SOI process Globalfoundries announced last year but is not expected in production until 2019.

TSMC’s plans to use EUV on an enhanced version of its 7nm process was perhaps the biggest eye opener of the event.

The foundry achieved similar yields using immersion and EUV steppers on a 7nm test chip. In addition, it hit 125W with its ASML 3350 EUV system, providing confidence it can hit about 250W for high volume manufacturing with EUV in 2019 on a 7+nm process.

Samsung announced late last year it plans to use EUV in a 7nm process that could be in production by 2019. “We believe we will be the first one” to use EUV in volume production, said TSMC’s Woo with risk production starting by June 2018.

The company did not detail exactly how it will use EUV steppers except to say it will be at multiple layers. Woo showed a demonstration of EUV 1P1E lines and spaces replacing 4P4E for immersion with “comparable yields and electric performance.”

The 7+ process promises 1.2x greater logic density and 10 percent more speed or 15 percent less power than TSMC’s first-gen 7nm node.

TSMC will start risk production on its first-generation 7nm process next month. It expects in May the first of 12 tapeouts in the process this year, and a total of about 20 tapeouts in the first 12 months.

The process should deliver 3.3x greater routed gate density and either 35 percent more speed or 60 percent less power than the foundry’s 16FF+ node. The process includes new cell libraries, cache macros and serdes.

One TSMC executive said the foundry expects a steep ramp for its 10nm node to 400,000 total wafers this year. He forecast TSMC will make three times as many 10 and 7nm wafers total in 2019. Another executive said volumes of 10nm wafers will surpass 16nm wafers this year.

The 10nm node is expected to be a short lived one, created in large part for Apple’s iPhone 8. It sports twice the gate density, and either 10 percent higher speed or 25 percent less power than the 16nm node, TSMC said.

Ultrafast laser pulses used to efficiently independently manipulate energy levels of electron pairs and this is progress to faster valleytronics computing

Valleytronics is exciting as a potential avenue to quantum computing. Like spintronics, valleytronics offers a tremendous advantage in data processing speeds over the electrical charge used in classical electronics.

“In valleytronics, electrons move through the lattice of a 2D semiconductor as a wave with two energy valleys, each valley being characterized by a distinct momentum and quantum valley number,” Wang says. “This quantum valley number can be used to encode information when the electrons are in a minimum energy valley.”

Instead of relying on the electrons’ spin or their charge, valleytronics exploits their energy level in relation to their momentum.

Pioneering exploration of the valley began in earnest in 2007, when researchers first discovered that the recently developed 2-D material graphene could sort electrons and holes according to which valley they occupied. Prior to this discovery, electrons and holes had only been observed occupying different valleys at random.

The term is often used as an umbrella term to other forms of quantum manipulation of valleys in semiconductors, including quantum computation with valley-based qubits, valley blockade and other forms of quantum electronics. Several theoretical proposals and experiments were performed in a variety of systems, such as graphene, some Transition metal dichalcogenide monolayers, diamond, Bismuth, Silicon, Carbon nanotubes, Aluminium arsenide and silicene.

Faster, more efficient data storage and computer logic systems could be on the horizon thanks to a new way of tuning electronic energy levels in two-dimensional films of crystal, discovered by researchers at MIT.

Now, in a paper published today in the journal Science, researchers led by Nuh Gedik, an associate professor of physics at MIT, describe a new way of using laser light to control the electrons in both valleys independently, within atomically thin crystals of tungsten disulfide.

“The two valleys are exactly at the same energy level, which is not necessarily the best thing for applications because you want to be able to tune them, to change the energy slightly so that the electrons will move [from the higher] to the lower energy state,” Gedik says.

Although this can be achieved by applying a magnetic field, even very powerful laboratory magnets with a strength of 10 tesla are only capable of shifting the valley energy level by around 2 millielectronvolts (meV).

The researchers have previously shown that by directing an ultrafast laser pulse, tuned to a frequency very slightly below the resonance of the material, they were able to shift the energy of one of the valleys through an effect called the “optical Stark effect,” while leaving the other valley virtually unchanged. In this way they were able to achieve a shift in energy level of up to 20 meV.

“The light and the electrons inside the material form a type of hybrid state, which helps to push the energy levels around,” Gedik says.

In the latest experiment, the researchers discovered that by tuning the laser frequency to even further below resonance, and increasing its intensity, they were able to simultaneously shift the energy levels of both valleys and reveal a very rare physical phenomenon.

While one valley still shifts as a result of the optical Stark shift as before, the other valley shifts through a different mechanism, known as the “Bloch-Siegert shift,” according to MIT physics PhD student Edbert Jarvis Sie, the paper’s lead author.

Automation that could take away human jobs can also open the massive resources of the solar system

Massive and complete automation could enable industrializtion of the moon and space. By using some larger human colonies along with the robots then it would be more robust and less dependent on perfect automation.

Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game-changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self-sustaining, self-expanding industry at reasonably low cost. Simple modeling was developed to identify the main parameters of successful bootstrapping. This indicates that bootstrapping can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons (MT) landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years. The equipment will be teleoperated and then transitioned to full autonomy so the industry can spread to the asteroid belt and beyond. The strategy begins with a sub-replicating system and evolves it toward full self-sustainability (full closure) via an in situ technology spiral. The industry grows exponentially due to the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 MT with 60 humanoid robots, or as high as 40,000MT with as many as 100,000 humanoid robots if faster manufacturing is supported by launching a total of 41 MT to the Moon. Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States.

Nextbigfuture believes that initially a simpler way to jumpstart moon based solar power would be to use mirrors to melt the regolith of a crater into glass and then spray reflective metal onto it. Concentrated sunlight could be used to melt regolith. It would be crude and simple way to generate of lot of power. The crater sunlight would be focused onto a stirling engine.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the energy from the sun to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity when it is needed, day or night.

A CSP plant operates most efficiently when built in sizes of 100 MW and higher, requiring about ten acres of land.

It would be simpler to produce large quantities of lunar glass and mirrors than to make factories for solar cells.

The stirling engines for power conversion could initially be brought from Earth.

Concentrated solar in crater would simplify the creation of gigawatt levels of power.

Power would still be used to produce factories and robots on the moon like the original plan.

March 15, 2017

Warming Mars and thickening its atmosphere can be done in 10-100 years

If all the solar incident on Mars were to be captured with 100% efficiency, then Mars would warm to Earth-like temperatures in about 10 years. However, the efficiency of the greenhouse effect is plausibly about 10%, thus the time it would take to warm Mars would be ~100 years. This assumes, of course, adequate production of super greenhouse gases over that entire time. The super greenhouse gases desired for use on Mars would be per fluorinated compounds (PFCs) as these are not toxic, do not destroy ozone, will resist degradation by ultraviolet life, and are composed of elements (C, S, and F) that are present on Mars. Fluorine has been detected on Mars by Curiosity.

The Warming Phase of a terraforming project on Mars results in a planet with a thick CO2 atmosphere. The thickness is determined by the total releasable CO2 present on Mars.

The temperatures would become well above freezing and liquid water is common. An Earth-like hydrological cycle is maintained. Photosynthetic organisms can be introduced as conditions warm and organic biomass is thus produced. A rich flora and fauna are present. A natural result of this is the biological consumption of the nitrate and perchlorate in the
Martian soil producing N2 and O2 gas. While the pressure is high enough that humans do not need a space suit, they need a gas mask to provide O2 and prevent high levels of CO2 in the lungs.

The high O2 and low CO2 levels on Earth are due to photosynthesis which uses light to power the following transformation [H2O + CO2 = CH2O + O2 ] Where CH2O is a chemical representation of biomass. If all the sunlight incident on Mars was harnessed with 100% efficiency to perform this chemical transformation it would take only 17 years to produce high levels of O2.

On Earth the efficiency of the global biosphere in using sunlight to produced biomass and O2 is 0.01%.

Synthetic biology or molecular nanotechnology could boost the 0.01% efficiency.
Advanced technology could boost the amount of sunlight focused on Mars or increase the available energy.

Without more advanced technology oxygenating the Mars atmosphere could take 100,000 years.

(H/T to Universe Today

European superconducting tape achieves goals of lower cost and more efficient superconducting tape

European researchers have created a cheaper and more efficient superconducting tape which could one day be used to double the potency of wind turbines.

The Eurotapes research project addressed two broad objectives:

1.- The integration of the latest developments into simple conductor architectures for low and medium cost applications and delivery of +500 meter tapes (they made 600 meters of tape). Definition of quality control tools and protocols to enhance the processing throughput and yield to achieve a pre-commercial cost target of 100 €/kAm.

2.- Use of advanced methodologies to enhance performance (larger thickness and Ic, enhanced pinning for high fields, reduced ac losses and increased mechanical strength).

Demonstration high critical currents (Ic over 400Amps /cm-w, at 77K and self-field and Ic over 1000A/cm-w at 5K and 15T) and pinning forces (Fp over 100GN/m3 at 60 K). The CSD and PLD technologies will be combined to achieve optimized tape architectures, nanostructures and processes to address a variety of HTS applications at self-field, high and ultrahigh magnetic fields. Up to month 36, 3 types of conductors will be developed (RABiT, ABAD and round wire); at Mid Term 2 will be chosen for demonstration during the final 18 months.

The Eurotapes project came to an end in February 2017 and the project consortium met in Barcelona on the 13th-15th of this month to present their final results. After 54 months of research, the project will be closing as it has achieved its objectives. The Eurotapes project has managed to produce 600 meters of superconducting tape with a process that reduces the cost of production of superconducting materials, simplifies its architecture and improves its capacity in high magnetic fields through various temperature scales.

It has also obtained significant results for advanced magnetic research, a field in which reference centers such as CERN and ITER are working. In the long term, the project will allow renewable energy to be more competitive because it allows windmills to generate more energy through higher efficiency and lower generator costs.

"This new material could be used to make more potent and lighter wind turbines," he added, predicting it will make it possible to manufacture wind turbines one day with double the potency than existing ones.

In the long run the project could "revolutionize the production of renewable energy," the Institute said in a statement.

Iran starts building unit 2 of Bushehr nuclear plant

Construction and installation work formally started yesterday at the site of unit 2 of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, Atomproekt, the reactor design subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, announced today. The first foundation stone for units 2 and 3 of the plant was laid in a ceremony held at the construction site in southern Iran in September last year.

AtomStroyExport (ASE) - another Rosatom subsidiary and the general contractor for the Bushehr project - and Nuclear Power Production and Development Company (NPPD) of Iran signed an EPC turnkey contract for construction of the units at Bushehr in November 2014. The two VVER-1000 units will be built with Generation III+ technology, including the latest safety features, and have a combined capacity of 2100 MWe, ASE has said. During the ceremony held on 10 September, the two sides signed a protocol on the start of work on the project to build units 2 and 3, known as Bushehr II.

Russian-built Bushehr 1 was connected to the national grid on 3 September 2011 and became the first nuclear power plant in the Middle East.

Bushehr units 2 and 3 are to be completed in 2024 and 2026, respectively.

Last September, ASE director Valery Limarenko said Rosatom is keen on the "wide use" of Iranian-made materials and would therefore invite Iranian manufacturing companies to compete to work on the project via contract tenders.

Rosatom has said previously that Bushehr II is expected to cost about $10 billion to build, and that the physical start-ups of unit 2 and unit 3 are planned for October 2024 and April 2026, respectively. Provisional acceptance of unit 2 by the Iranian customer is scheduled for August 2025 and that for unit 3 in February 2027.

Video shows first sighting of the new Tesla Model 3 prototype

A Tesla Model 3 prototype was spotted and capture on video. In the background you'll also see the SpaceX Hyperloop test track.

At $35,000, the Tesla Model 3 will be the most affordable model yet. It is expected to be released in the latter half of 2017.

The spy video showcases the electric sedan from the Californian automaker. And it does look like the Tesla Model 3 is ready for the customers even months before its actual release.

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