Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Production of medical isotopes using electron laser

In the quest to develop lithography machines that can produce ever smaller chip components, Dutch machine manufacturer ASML has discovered a way to produce medical isotopes using an electron laser (presentation video in Dutch). To produce ever smaller chips, ASML uses ever more energy intensive light energy sources. Currently ASML is introducing new machines using extreme ultra violet (EUV) light produced from a plasma laser. But ASML is already researching potential light energy sources for the next generation. Research with a free electron laser showed the potential to produce isotopes.

The free electron laser works much like a linear particle accelerator which propels charged particles (in this case electrons) towards a target thus forming photons or other particles. Those can then hit a secondary target where isotopes can be created.

According to a feasibility study conducted by ASML and its partners this technology (named lighthouse) can also be used to produce medical isotopes such as Molybdenum-99. Medical isotopes are used in nuclear medicine, for both diagnosis (nuclear imaging) and treatment (interventional nuclear medicine).These isotopes are currently produced in special nuclear reactors such as the Dutch reactor in Petten which produces about thirty percent of medical isotopes globally. These reactors use a nuclear reaction to produce the neutron radiation needed for the creation of radioisotopes. This requires high cost due to safety concerns and leads to the production of nucleair waste.

The new method of production appears to be a good alternative requiring a smaller installation with lower operating cost and almost completely eliminating production of nuclear waste. The production method also has the potential to produce different radioisotopes than is currently common.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Belgium and Germany take step back from renewable gas

Gas production from the Netherlands' main gas field has been decreasing for years. By 2030 Dutch low-calorie gas exports to Belgium, France and Germany will be finished. This leads to high cost for those countries as they will have adjust to supply consumers with an alternative. Interestingly we see that the Netherlands has a totally different strategy to adopt than Belgium and Germany.

Belgium and Germany
Belgium and Germany use both Dutch low-calorie gas and high-calorie gas. Some parts of their grids are suitable for low-calorie gas while other parts are suitable for high calorie gas. In Belgium low calorie gas is mostly used in Flanders and Brussels, while Wallonia uses high calorie gas. In Germany low-calorie gas is used in the northwest near the main Dutch gas field.
To adapt to reduced imports from the Netherlands Belgium and Germany plan to adapt their grids to be suitable for high-calorie gas. The first German projects have already been completed and new conversion projects have been announced.

The Netherlands
In the Netherlands we see a totally different approach. The goal in the Netherlands is to almost completely eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050. Investing to make the gas grid suitable for continued use of fossil natural gas does not seem to make much sense in that light. The Netherlands therefore are investing in three main strategies:
1. energy saving
2. alternative sources of energy mostly for domestic heating such as geothermal heat, solar heat, heat pumps, electric heating etc.
3. increasing production of renewable gas (called green gas in the Netherlands).
For now the Netherlands are also investing in increasing its capacity for blending down high-calorie gas to low-calorie gas by adding nitrogen. But over time high-calorie natural gas will mainly become a backup for when there is insufficient green gas.

The use of a low calorie gas grid has advantages for increasing the share of renewable gases. Upgrading biogas to low-calorie gas quality is cheaper as there is no need to add propane and butane to reach the high-calorie value. It just requires removal of some of the CO2. At blending stations part of the nitrogen can be replaced by unupgraded biogas and hydrogen. To this end hydrogen can be produced on the spot using power-to-gas technology and biogas can be piped in. The Netherlands are funding research to lower the cost of green gas production and facilitate the use of new gases.
On the contrary a switch to high-calorie gas makes the transition to a future based on renewable only more difficult to reach.