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Laser Lightning Rod

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LLR (Laser Lightning Rod)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-12-31

Lightning is a fascinating albeit destructive manifestation of nature. Estimates on the average number of persons killed by lightning every year range from 6000 to as many as 24000 worldwide. Lightning is also the cause of power outages, forest fires and damages to electronics and infrastructure amounting to billions of euros each year, making it a major societal concern. Although lightning protection techniques have seen considerable progress in the past, the best external lightning protection to date is still based on the concept of the lightning rod, invented by Benjamin Franklin almost 300 years ago. The present project proposes to use a laser-based technique to stimulate the number of upward lightning flashes with the aim of transferring cloud charges to the ground and thus to influence the incidence of downward natural lightning. The laser-based system could be easily deployable for the protection of especially vulnerable installations on a temporary or a permanent basis. Examples are large crowds gathering at events, rockets on their launching pad, storage or transport of hazardous materials from industrial, nuclear, chemical, electrical plants, etc. Another important issue is the protection of airplanes in airports prone to thunderstorms. It is foreseen that this last issue represent the first wide-scale industrial application of the laser lightning project.
The LLR project started in 2017. The first year was dedicated to the development of the instruments, the telescope, and the first stage of the laser, and to the preparation of the two main experimental campaigns of WP3 and WP4, including the study of the research on the conditions conducive to the initiation of lightning to enhance the probability of laser triggering. In 2018 the first filamentation experiments were performed by the partners at the premise of Trumpf Scientific Laser with the 200 mJ laser amplifier. The results obtained confirmed the efficiency of the laser, while the 1 J laser amplifier is curently beeing finilized.
Lightning can have a considerable influence on the environment and on the economy since it causes energy supply outages, forest fires, damages, injury and death of humans and livestock worldwide. The risk of adverse effects from lightning is likely to increase as a consequence of climate change, since storms may become more severe and the lightning itself could become more energetic. In addition, human activity, spurred in large part by efforts to curb climate change, is already influencing lightning incidence as the number of installed wind turbines and telecommunication towers increases. Thanks to the development of such a lightning protection technology, safer air transport is expected, with reduced flight delays and congestion of airports during intense thunderstorms activity. Also expected is a significant reduction of maintenance costs due to lightning strike either on airport assets or aircraft. This could be a showcase for airport technological modernity, in case of regional competition.
More generally, the target is the protection of industrial sites, chemical and nuclear power plants. It will more specifically concern the Space Industry (protection of launch pad and launcher/satellite integration buildings), airport (protection of aircraft during the take-off, landing and taxiing phases, protection of radars), wind turbines (for French, German, Danish, British, and Dutch offshore windfarms).
Picture of laser systems designed by Trumpf Scientific Lasers
Picture of the Saentis tower (experimental site)