While electricity tends to be seen as number one in terms of energy use, gas makes up 22% of the world’s energy needs and it’s growing. Many countries are transferring from coal to gas power stations resulting in reductions in CO2 emissions, methane leakage however is still a problem, which is far from climate friendly. 40% of the UK’s electricity actually comes from gas, and 83% of its homes are heated by gas. The trend is likely to continue globally with China’s future gas demand forecast to grow by 60% in future. This means better infrastructure and demand forecasts are needed
Gas clearly plays a major role in making the low-carbon transition a reality, especially since it’s not only natural gas we’re talking about here – it’s also methane (biogas), hydrogen and other cleaner alternatives. The gas network itself is also an immense infrastructure that could be used to store energy as well as distribute it. But to do this efficiently you need to make accurate forecasts, which can be challenging if you’re a network operator and you don’t know how much gas they will need to satisfy demand.
Continue reading Maths to the rescue for predicting gas demand
Absolute zero is really cold – −273.15 °C to be exact. At temperatures close to absolute zero matter begins to act strangely at an atomic scale.
In nature when matter undergoes a transition from one form to another, such as a liquid into a gas, it is known as a phase transition. In physics this is well understood and is present in many of the things we encounter in nature, not to mention the formation of the universe more generally. But at the quantum level phase transitions are even more involved and fascinating.
For starters it’s challenging to view them experimentally, although it is possible to catch glimpses of what is taking place, capturing the whole picture of what is happening during a phase transition is another matter. Very different systems show the same phenomena, a concept known as ‘universality’ in physics.
Extremely cold states of matter are tested in Bose-Einstein condensates in which atoms ‘gather’ together and behave as if they were a single atom, thereby allowing quantum effects to be visible on a much larger scale.
Condensates are incredibly exciting in physics, and are relevant across a broad range of conditions — from sub-atomic particles to the early Universe itself – leading to bizarre phenomena such as superfluidity and superconductivity, which are useful to technologies.
Continue reading Visualising how matter transforms at the quantum level
Plastic wastes are a global problem. If you’ve been following the series of environmental horror stories in the media this year you know exactly what I mean. It’s bunk.
Even undiscovered species living in the deepest parts of the ocean are contaminated with plastic. Because humans bioaccumulate plastic from the environment, especially animals we eat from the sea like fish, we are sadly far from safe in this rather disturbing cycle.
At the time of writing there is no safe threshold for consuming plastics and research on whether eating plastic in certain quantities has ill health effects is ongoing. Time will tell. But in the meantime here’s an idea that may interest you:
We could prevent the majority if not all (optimistic here) waste plastics from entering the land and sea by using them as a resource.
How? One of the answers may lie in the ever so humble ‘cold plasma’.
Now before you turn your nose up and decide ‘that’s way too gross for me to handle right now’. I’m not talking about blood plasma. I’m referring to the fourth state of matter that we humans call plasma. Most of the matter in the universe is in fact plasma. I will save this epic tale for another time, but I encourage you to read about plasma here.
Ok, to put it simply, physicists define plasma as an ‘ionised gas’. But wait…I thought it was something different? It is, because in plasma electrons break free from their atoms and become highly energised. And once they do they are capable of amazing things like (wait for it) breaking down plastics into things that people use, which goes a step beyond ‘recycling’.
Continue reading Making plastic waste history with cold plasma