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I'm Back, Here Is What We Missed
It has been an interesting week.
You may have noticed that for the past week or so, I haven’t posted a single article. I was supposed to post a “see you in a week” article and go on a well-deserved holiday with my family. Sadly, this didn’t happen. I have been struggling with an ongoing medical issue, for which I have had several operations to try and correct, and it flared up again, sending me into A&E on the first day of this break, leaving me pretty much incapacitated for the entire holiday. However, I am now recovering and back at the keyboard! So expect service as usual from now on.
Now, while I have been gone, groundbreaking news seemed to perpetuate the media. Sad Vlad faced a potential political coup, Ryan Reynolds bought a part of an F1 team and we found out that Trump has a problem with hoarding classified documents. So as a way of an apology for my absence, let’s go through some of the biggest news stories that didn’t get the coverage they deserved thanks to this recent media frenzy.
A Revolutionary Nuclear Fuel Plant Gets Regulatory Approval — World Nuclear News
Nuclear energy is on the cusp of a revolution. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are poised to make nuclear power far cheaper, quicker to deploy and way more flexible. It does this by using tens of scaled-down reactors rather than two or three large reactors. These smaller reactors can be built off-site in a factory and shipped to the location, which reduces safety concerns and enables economies of scale to kick in, which reduces the overall price. Now, nuclear power is one of the lowest carbon energy sources we have, and the only reason we don’t use more of it at the moment is the cost. So SMRs could be a crucial part of our transition to net-zero.
But, the square-cube law affects SMRs. This law states that any object that stays the same shape but shrinks by half will have a surface area a quarter of the original and a volume an eight of the original. This is a problem for SMRs as it means their fuel rods, which hold the uranium nuclear fuel, contain a lot less in comparison to the size and power of the reactor than a regular reactor. This means that if they used the same fuel, they would require much more regular fuel changes and potentially have issues with maintaining power. So they need nuclear fuel with a higher enrichment (meaning it contains a higher amount of fissionable uranium 235), also known as HALEU fuel, in order to be practical and commercially viable. This is a huge problem, as nowhere in the US makes HALEU fuel.
But, recently, Centrus got regulatory approval for its US-based HALEU fuel plant, enabling the SMR revolution to happen.
Decorated Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield Calls For “Astra Carta” — Space.com
As I have covered before, there are rising international tensions on the Moon. China and the US are locked in an arms race to explore the moon and even get permanent bases set up on the Lunar surface. But unlike the last space race, this one is set to be far more territorial, as China seems set to claim lunar real estate for itself. In an interview with Politico, NASA Chief Bill Nelson said, “We’re in a space race. And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the Moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out; we’re here. This is our territory’”.
Chris Hadfield, who is possibly one of the most famous astronauts out there, has teamed up with King Charles III to write up an Astra Carta. The name is an on-the-nose nod to the Magna Carta, which kick-started democracy in Britain and stood as a basis for many other Western democracies. The Astra Carta is designed to do the same for the Moon, stating what we can do with the Moon, whose laws apply there, who owns it and who can drill and take advantage of the resources there.
For the Astra Carta to be effective, it needs to be signed and agreed by all countries aiming to go to the Moon, including China. If King Charles and Hadfield can pull this off, they could overt Lunar wars and usher in yet another era of peace in space.
VW Will Copy Tesla’s Tempromental Dry Coating — Teslarati
Tesla’s 4680 battery was meant to be revolutionary, being cheaper, more energy dense and faster charging than anything else. But it has yet to live up to Musk’s claims. Why? Well, Tesla has really struggled with a key technology of the 4680, dry coating. You see when batteries are assembled, the different layers are laid down on top of each other using “wet coatings”. These solvents need to fully dry before being assembled, which takes a vast amount of space and energy. But a dry coating technique, which was pioneered by Maxwell (which was bought by Tesla), doesn’t need these drying stages, which dramatically reduces the energy and space needed to make cells, which in turn makes cell production far cheaper. This was how Tesla could produce the 4680 at such a low price.
The issue is that Tesla’s drying process isn’t that reliable and produces a lot of dud cells, which makes production at scale near impossible. This is why the 4680s that are being installed in Teslas were actually made with wet coated cells.
But VW has joined forces with German printing company Koenig & Bauer AG to develop and deploy their own dry coating process. The aim is to reduce the energy consumption of VW’s battery plants by about 30% and decrease the floor space required to produce cells by 15%. This means that if VW can crack its dry coating process, it could be producing cells on par or even cheaper than Tesla can get a leg up in the EV race. Only time will tell.
AI implosion incoming — The Register
ChatGPT4 has brought us screaming into the AI age. All of a sudden, the threat of AI replacing entire industries felt like a full-on reality. But recent research suggests that AI is on track to render itself useless.
You see, AI models need to be trained on vast sets of high-quality data. As such, ChatGPT4 is trained on high-quality writing scraped from the internet in order for it to “learn” how to write like a real human. But, this data needs to be hand-picked to ensure no rouge or counterproductive data gets into the set, as this can stop ChatGPT4 from working properly. To do this, OpenAI and other AI companies use third-party platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk to get colossal numbers of cheap workers to perform these repetitive data collection tasks.
But, researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland found that these cheap workers are using ChatGPT4 and other AI systems to generate or select data. This means that ChatGPT4 is currently being trained on its own output.
This can create a very negative feedback loop and destabilise the AI, leading to wild and useless results. So, there is a chance that as AI generated content and tools become easier to produce and permeate the internet, the AIs may actually become far less accurate.
So, maybe AI isn’t such a threat after all.
The name of the game at the moment for EVs is affordability. If you can produce an affordable EV that rapidly charges and has a large range, then you can get a jump on the competition and generate a huge lead in the EV race. VW knows this, and its upcoming ID2 promises to go toe to toe with Tesla’s upcoming Model 2. In fact, the ID2 seems set to be a better car, with longer ranges and faster charge times, than Tesla’s attempt at an affordable EV.
But VW recently announced that their ID1, which is around the same size as the current VW Polo, will be sold at £17,000 EV ($21,000)! Now, we currently don’t know the specs of this EV, but rumours are spreading that its range will be up to 250 miles and that it will charge at a decent rate. But even if the lower estimates of its range at 180 miles turn out to be the case, this is still a dirt cheap EV. The closest EV currently on the market is the Nissan Leaf, which gets 149 miles of range and costs £28,995 ($37,000).
This means VW might be about to take EVs mainstream before Tesla.
So that was some of my favourite not-widely covered news of the past week or so. It just goes to show that despite what you might hear in the media, we are living through one of the most innovative periods of human history. It makes you wonder what other advances or developments are going to come to light in the near future. So, if you want to read about that, don’t forget to subscribe.
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