Lightning strikes can trigger substantial hurt to properties and essential infrastructure, this kind of as airports. To mitigate this risk, 1 EU venture is trying to use strong laser technologies to handle in which lightning strikes. If effective, the resulting laser lightning rod could help conserve dollars – and life.


© stnazkul #84059942, 2020

It is mentioned that lightning never strikes the similar spot twice. But just 1 strike can be ample to trigger substantial hurt. Not only do lightning strikes kill up to 24 000 men and women each individual 12 months, they’re also dependable for ability outages, forest fires, and structural hurt.

When lightning strikes vital infrastructure and sensitive sites like airports and rocket start pads, the end result can be billions of euros in hurt. To mitigate this risk, the EU-funded LLR venture has set out to do what was as soon as considered unattainable: handle lightning. 

“Today’s lightning protection devices are nevertheless based mostly on the lightning rod formulated by Benjamin Franklin virtually three hundred decades back,” claims Aurélien Houard, a researcher at Ecole Polytechnique in France and LLR (Laser Lighnting Rod) venture coordinator. “Our venture intends to update this principle employing a pretty strong laser.”

A strong laser beam

At the heart of the venture is a novel variety of laser featuring a strong beam. This beam will act as a preferential path for the lightning, diverting it absent from probable victims. The exceptional laser will also manual lightning flashes to the floor to discharge the electrical cost in the clouds.

To illustrate, when set up at an airport, the laser lightning rod would function in conjunction with an early warning radar process. “Upon the development of thunderstorm situations, the laser would be fired towards the cloud to deflect the lightning strike absent from plane through acquire-off, landing, taxiing, and floor functions,” explains Houard. “In effect, this would create a risk-free corridor surrounded – and secured – by lasers.”

Ground-breaking technologies

To attain the vital depth and repetition price, the venture has used a variety of floor-breaking systems. For case in point, it uses chirped pulse amplification (CPA), the recent-state-of-the-art procedure utilized by most of the world’s significant-ability lasers and the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. “CPA is a procedure for amplifying an ultrashort laser pulse,” claims Houard. “It is effective by stretching out the laser pulse temporally, amplifying it, and then re-compressing it.”

To provide the short laser pulses at a significant repetition price of 1 000 photographs per next, the venture crew had to scale up the laser’s common ability. To do this, highly developed amplification technologies formulated by Trumpf, a German industrial device producing firm and member of the venture consortium, was utilized.

According to Houard, the power equipped by the technology’s numerous diodes is concentrated in a pretty thin disk of crystal cooled by drinking water. “When the laser pulse goes though the crystal, the stored power is transferred to the laser pulse by way of a quantum system called ‘laser gain’,” he claims. “The style and design of this thin disk amplifier permitted for an increase in the ability of the ultrashort laser by an order of magnitude.”

The venture also formulated an ground breaking process for predicting lightning activity. “Using a blend of common information from weather conditions stations and synthetic intelligence, the associates formulated a new way of predicting lightning strikes inside a forecast interval of ten to 30 minutes and inside a radius of 30 kilometres,” opinions Houard. “This is the 1st time that a process based mostly on uncomplicated meteorological information has been capable to forecast lightning strikes by way of serious-time calculations.”

Demonstration planned for 2021

The LLR crew is at present screening the laser in Paris, with the goal of validating the principle of safely and securely guiding a lightning strike to the floor by projecting a prolonged-array beam into the ambiance.

A ultimate demonstration of the LLR principle is set to acquire spot on Mt. Säntis in Switzerland, which is house to a Swisscom tower that is struck by lightning more than one hundred situations each individual 12 months. The demonstration is planned for 2021. Adhering to a effective demonstration, the venture crew is assured that the process will be completely ready for total commercialisation inside a few decades.