ENERGY, PHYSICS: Harnessing the storm (13/07/01)
A Franco-German collaborative research project plans to hurl lightning bolts back up to the sky.
Damage caused to human lives and property by storms could soon be a thing of the past, if a new project carried out by four research institutes in Berlin, Jena, Lyon and Palaiseau proves successful. The central element of their research is a laser capable of reaching energy levels of a Terawatt, or the equivalent of a thousand nuclear power stations. The Teramobile system, which was built by French contractors, has just undergone initial testing in Berlin where it showed itself capable of provoking lightning-like electrical discharges from simulated clouds in an abandoned hangar.
laser's tremendous energy ionises the air along its path, creating a
temporary equivalent of an electric wire in the sky, which serves as
a pathway for accumulated electricity. This should allow the
dangerous charges in cumulo-nimbus clouds to be conducted safely into
the ground. With this sort of use in mind, the two-tonne Teramobile
system is integrated in a fully autonomous standard shipping
container equipped as a mobile laboratory. Project officials are
awaiting further financing before taking the Teramobile out for a
trial under real clouds. Nevertheless, there is much international
interest in the project, notably from Canadian electric power
officials whose pylons suffer costly damage each year. A further use
of the Teramobile is its ability to detect pollutants in the
atmosphere. Its technology will allow it to detect pollutants such as
methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the
Teramobile is financed jointly by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the German National Research Council (DFG).
Source: Sciences et Avenir
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