How to save energy on particle colliders

Summary:We all know how to trim consumption at home. But how do you lower the electricity bill at the particle collider, the wind tunnel, the cryogenics lab, the fusion reactor and the like?

We all know how to trim consumption at home. But how do you lower the electricity bill at the particle collider, the wind tunnel, the cryogenics lab or at the fusion reactor?

Most of us are now pretty well up on how to trim our domestic energy consumption. Turn off the lights, don’t leave the TV on standby, lower the thermostat, set the washing machine on cold and all that stuff.

But how do you save energy if you run the Large Hadron Collider? A 10-story fusion tokamak? A colossal cyclotron?

Fortunately, some good answers are brewing. Late last week, CERN helped gather international scientists and utility industry executives at a 2-day workshop in Lund, Sweden to figure out how to lower their energy bills and limit CO2 emissions every time they smash atoms and the like. The European Spallation Source and the European Association of National Research Facilities co-sponsored the event.

If like me you couldn’t make it, you missed some useful-looking sessions, starting with the kick-off “The energy future of large scale facilities” and including:

  • Energy management for high magnetic fields
  • Energy management for the large wind tunnels of Europe
  • Energy supply for RI’s in remote areas – a case study of the ESFRI’s SKA facility in radio astronomy
  • Radio frequency energy recovery studies at CERN
  • Turning TRIUMF accelerators into green machines
  • LHC cryogenics design and operation at LHC: optimization and reduction of energy consumption
  • The Argonne sustainable plan

I would love to have sat in on “Energy management at ITER”. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is the 10-story tokamak under construction in Cadarache, France that will create temperatures of 150 million degrees C in an effort to coax hydrogen isotopes to fuse. One of nuclear fusion’s greatest challenges is to deliver more energy than it takes to run machines like tokamaks.

The confab was scheduled for last Thursday and Friday. We’re working on getting a hold of its proceedings and top tips. Nothing has yet posted on the web, and I haven’t yet heard back from the scientists. Watch this space.

So for now, I leave you with this advice: Collide your protons on cold. And for goodness sake, turn off the accelerator before you leave tonight.

Photo: CERN

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This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter.

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