Fusion strength inches closer. Leaded gas dies. Carbon capture goes big.

Clean air figures into three of our briefs this week. One development in Iceland reflects the thinking that a range of solutions is necessary to address climate change.

1. United States

A superconducting magnet developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology brings scientists closer to commercial fusion energy. The fusion of abundant hydrogen atoms releases huge amounts of energy, and experts say a reliable carbon-free technology like this will be basic to slowing climate change. However, the resulting 100 million degree plasma can only be contained by a powerful magnetic field, usually using traditional copper electromagnets configured in a doughnut-shaped structure called a tokamak. The challenge is that fusion technology currently consumes more strength than it generates. But MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center has worked with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to create a magnet made with 16 layered plates of high-temperature, superconducting ribbonlike tape that may revolutionize the field.

Why We Wrote This

Our progress roundup highlights a century of energy consumption. While it took decades for the harm done by leaded gas to be widely recognized, today many people are eager for the possibilities of strength without fossil fuels.

In a September test, the team’s device achieved the necessary magnetic field with only 30 watts of energy, while a similarly sized copper magnet would have required 200 million watts. Researchers say the successful experiment proved the feasibility of their fusion reactor called SPARC, which is nevertheless in development. Bob Mumgaard, CEO of CFS, predicts the superconductor technology will allow for a commercial fusion plant to be built by 2030.

2. Brazil

The capital of Brazil was built in the Cerrado, the savanna eco-vicinity southeast of the Amazon that covers about a fifth of Brazil. Rapid agricultural expansion threatens the area and its people.

Thousands of families in Brazil have used a new digital mapping platform to outline territories before unrecognized by the government. Traditional communities have a rare understanding of local ecology, and are often credited with helping to keep deforestation and large-extent agriculture under control in the Cerrado, Brazil’s second largest biome. Savannas like the Cerrado are often overlooked by sustainability programs. Despite the rights guaranteed by the 2007 National Policy on Sustainable Development of Peoples and Traditional Communities and their stewardship of the land, many self-identified groups don’t appear on official maps and without access to legal sets that would help them claim rights. There are currently 3.5 times as many traditional communities in the northern Cerrado than are recognized, according to the Institute for Society, Population, and character (ISPN) and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

The Tô No Mapa app – “I Am on the Map” in Portuguese – was produced with input from traditional communities, the ISPN, IPAM, and several other Brazilian nongovernmental organizations in order to cure these oversights and help smaller communities fight back against agricultural invasion. According to a September report, the app has helped map more than 5,000 families in 76 communities across 23 Brazilian states since its set afloat in October 2020.

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