November 30, 2007

A review my favorite space launch and propulsion systems

Accelerating future had reviewed systems for getting into space in 2006

I had covered the EM drive but is definitely one of the long shots with a lot of unknowns in the science (ie. I seriously doubt that it will work).

My preferences are for:

Bussard IEC fusion earth to orbit spaceship. Credit: Tom Ligon and EMC2fusion

Fusion propulsion if Bussard IEC fusion or Trialpha energy colliding beam fusion or laser fusion or Z pinch fusion work. The fusion systems would have a superior version for getting from ground to orbit. However, as we have experienced fusion technology could disappoint and take longer than we would like to develop.

Laser launch concept

Laser mirror concept for station keeping. For laser mirror propulsion, there would be an array of large (100+ kw solid state) lasers firing at one of the mirrors and the other non-moving mirror would be on the moon or the earth.

Mirror Laser array launches Solid state high power lasers are progressing far faster in power and efficiency than many people realize. I think convergence of technology could make this happen far quicker than many would expect. It would bring the cost of launches down to about the cost of electricity (even better with mirror systems)

I would really like it if people would become rational and allow nuclear rocket launches. The liberty ship is one that could luanch 1000 tons at a go and would not release radiation into the atmosphere I think nuclear rocket systems would be safer than chemical and space planes because there is so much safety margin to play with.

Project Orion definitely made sense. It would be cheaper than the space elevator. The launch cost for the largest Orions was 5 cents per pound (11 cent/kg) to Earth orbit in 1958 dollars. In 2005 dollars, the cost would be 32 cents/lb or 70 cents.

Minimag Orion and other external nuclear pulse propulsion systems One thing to note is the pussy footing around with sub-critical explosions is stupid if we have technology for achieving 10+% of the speed of light and have 20+GW laser arrays. 10 kiloton TNT equivalent bombs would be like hand grenades.

What seems like a cheap system for bringing the cost of gravity hardened systems and cargo into space for less than 25% of current costs is ram accelerators (big guns)

nuclear electric rocket
A nuclear powered vasimr might look more like this nuclear electric vehicle. Replace the MPD thrusters with vasimr engines, replace the Brayton units with advanced thermoelectric devices.

Image of a vasimr rocket

Nuclear powered Vasimr for getting around from orbit to other places

My issues with the space elevator is that it will take longer than I would like to make it happen. It brings the goal of bringing the cost of getting to space to approach the cost of the electricity to lift mass to the right height. The mirror laser array system seems like something that could come together faster than the space elevator. I also prefer a longer space pier over the space elevator. However, I still support the space elevator project because other approaches might have development delays as well. Capturing mind share and imagination are useful things for making something happen.

high altitude winds

I am also concerned about the performance of the recent contest climbers when they could not climb because of wind. The actual climbers will have to go through high winds at higher altitudes. I do not think this is a show stopper but a possible show delayer.

J Storr Hall's space pier seems like a better approach than the space elevator. One design would lift 10-ton payloads up a 100 km elevator and then accelerating it to 8.2 km/s would only consume about 5,000 US dollars (USD) worth of electricity, working out to about half a dollar per kilogram.

A description of the space pier is here.

The space pier is 100 kilometers tall and 300 kilometers long.

Island one survey of earth to orbit launch systems

Space fountain at wikipedia

Launch loop at wikipedia

Orbital rings at wikipedia

Thermoelectronic advances

Recent quantum dots are three times better than thermoelectric devices from the mid-1990's. There are quantum wells that get 4.5ZT.

Vehicle efficiency technology gets about 176 million per year The new thermoelectronics are not magic technology. They are part of one of the highest value US government research programs. The advanced versions should be ready in 2014. (Actually the first versions will be in BMW car in 2010. Crude versions are already used for beer refridgerators and are used for car seat warmers).

It can be seen on this chart that 4.5 ZT gets 38% efficiency for 500 degrees and 54% efficiency for 1000 degrees

Recent quantum well samples have achieved 4.5 ZT.

The 4.5 ZT would have 17-25% efficiency under more common temperature ranges

Nanostructured material could achieve ZT of 10-15.

The 2014 target is a ZT of 10 which would make thermoelectric conversion of 35% for temperature ranges typically found in cars. The goal is raise diesel engine efficiency from 38% now to 60%. More than 50% better without adjust the weight of the vehicle.

Powerchips claim 70-80% carnot efficiency.

Quantum well thermoelectronics 28 page presentation

A 55 page presentation on using thermoelectronics for cars and other applications. It also discusses scaling up the production processes.

Another set of slides on making diesels more efficiency

Freedomcar website

A presentation on a near term target of 10% efficient thermoelectric system.

2006 advanced engine project status review.

The target for engine efficiency increase was 10%– 13% which was met by achieving 10.5% efficiency improvement when the engine was operating over a steady-state cycle. However, the achievement in the road cycle was 8.2% increase in efficiency. When the engine was coupled to a CVT the efficiency increase was only 5%.

A comprehensive study showed that with a 5% increased efficiency and the fuel price of $2.50/gal, it takes a little less than 1.5 years to compensate the initial charges added to the engine due to the efficiency recovery units. This study has been done for a 10,000unit production volume per year. With increase in annual production numbers and considering a learning factor of 0.87 the pay back time will reduce significantly.

thermoelectric addon to freight trucks payback
A thermoelectric addon device costing a few thousand dollars would pay for itself in 9-18 months. Better systems will perform even better, cost less and would become economic as add-ons for smaller trucks and cars.

Update on the nuclear "battery"

November 29, 2007

Other advances in enhanced oil recovery

More than two-thirds of all the oil discovered in America to date remains in the ground and is economically unrecoverable with current technology. About 218 billion barrels of it, a volume approaching the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, lies at depths of less than 5,000 feet. This by-passed oil represents a huge target for the roughly 7,000 independent producers active in the thousands of mature U.S. fields which cumulatively account for a significant share of the country's crude oil supply.

Much by-passed oil lies in difficult-to-access pockets. Predicting the location and size of these elusive, compartmentalized deposits is costly because it often requires complex computing capabilities. Many independent producers aren't able to commit the personnel or buy the expensive supercomputer time required to build and operate the models needed to find and produce these overlooked stores of oil.

The A&M research effort engineered a cost-effective way to streamline computer-generated reservoir models. It provides significant savings in computation time and manpower.

Reservoir characterization identifies "unswept" regions in these mature fields containing high oil or gas saturation. In this process, geoscientists first employ computer models to develop an accurate picture, or characterization, of a productive oil reservoir. "History matching" is then used to calibrate the model by correlating its predictions of oil and gas production to a reservoir's actual production history.

In the Texas A&M project, researchers developed a novel, computerized method for rapidly interpreting field tracer tests. This innovation promises a cost-effective, time-saving solution for estimating the amounts of remaining oil in bypassed reservoir compartments. The new method integrates computer simulations with history matching techniques, allowing scientists to design tracer tests and interpret the data using practical PC-based software - a process that is much faster than conventional history matching.

Here is the summary for a pdf that has an overview of enhanced oil recovery

The 11 page pdf discusses that 2.6 million bpd is from EOR. Past successful methods have been steam and CO2 injection and applying heat.

Here is a 148 page study of enhanced oil recovery methods

Cheaper supercomputers with teraflops of performance for less than $10,000 will also help the small oil producers to make better reservoir models

I have looked and short, mid and long term plans for transitioning from oil.

Al Fin also has a feature on the Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI) technology for extracting oil from tar sands deposits.

China yuan update: China allowing more market forces

The Chinese government would further allow the market to determine the RMB exchange rate and more flexibility to the RMB band, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday. The yuan is at 7.38 to the USD and is holding steady with the Euro.

China could be moving towards a stronger exchange rate for the yuan long advocated by Europe and the United States to help reduce global economic imbalances, European officials said on Wednesday.

But Ben Simpfendorfer, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong, said he was wary of exaggerating the importance of Trichet's remarks; a shift in the exchange rate was only part of the solution to China's economic imbalances.
"We do expect a faster pace of appreciation but we warn against getting too excited about the magnitude," he said.

Zhao Qingming, an economist with China Construction Bank in Beijing, said the course of the yuan could depend on the next generation of China's top economic policy makers, who will take office next year.

"I think there is great uncertainty both at the level of central bank and the central leadership," he said. "But we can definitely exclude the possibility of another one-off revaluation."

Past talk from within China about currency valuation.

China's economy appears on track to pass the size of the US economy on an exchange rate basis in 2016-2018. It appears China may allow the yuan to appreciate by 10-15% in 2008. If it ends 2007 at 7.3 then that appreciation would put the yuan in the 6.34 to 6.64 range.

Carnival of Space week 31

November 28, 2007

Stabilizing Iraq using In depth understanding and connection with the local people

Molecular map for aging created for Mice

Previous studies have studied gene expression changes during aging in just one tissue. The new work stands out because it is much larger and more complete, including aging data for 16 different tissues and containing over 5.5 million expression measurements.

One noteworthy result is that some tissues (such as the thymus, eyes and lung) show large changes in which genes are active in old age whereas other tissues (such as liver and cerebrum) show little or none, suggesting that different tissues may degenerate to different degrees in old mice.

Another insight is that there are three distinct patterns of aging, and that tissues can be grouped according to which aging pathway they take. This result indicates that there are three different clocks for aging that may or may not change synchronously, and that an old animal may be a mixture of tissues affected by each of the different aging clocks.

Finally, the report compares aging in mice to aging in humans. Several aging pathways were found to be the same, and these could be interesting because they are relevant to human aging and can also be scientifically studied in mice.

CITATION: Zahn JM, Poosala S, Owen AB, Ingram DK, Lustig A, et al. (2007) AGEMAP: A gene expression database for aging in mice. PLoS Genet 3(11): e201. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030201,

Vasimr engines plus 200 MW of nuclear "batteries" = 39 days to Mars

A proposed portable nuclear reactor (simplified solid core) is the size of a hot tub and will be able to generate 27MW. It is in funded development. A 200 KW version of the Vasimr engine is being ground tested in 2008 and a flight version is being readied for 2010. Seven of the nuclear generators would provide 200 MW of power to enable 39 day one way trips to Mars. Two technologies that are both in funded development and with no major feasibility questions could revolutionize space travel.

LATEST UPDATE - Clarification about what is novel about this design and what should be the same as other nuclear reactor and nuclear propulsion systems:

The reactor does not exist yet. Therefore, it is not space rated. They have just announced that they are working on it. They are talking 2012 for the first one to get finished for some ground application.

However, it is just another solid core nuclear reactor. I do not see why other nuclear reactor designs and solid core rockets would work and this would not. There have been other nuclear thermal spacecraft designs using similar technology. I am just choosing to pair the reactor with the Vasimr plasma drive instead of using direct nuclear propulsion systems. It is nuclear electric powering a vasimr drive.

The patent indicated that if they used thorium hydrate then the reactor would run at about 1900 degrees, which could be better for nuclear power system for a rocket. However, they are first working on uranium hydrate.

I have not done any detailed design for this system, but there is not that much about it that is that novel compared to other nuclear reactor for space rocket designs. The main novelties - no people needed to tend the nuclear reactor - it keeps a constant temperature by itself - it is simple and presumably easier to build and maintain - less waste than many other systems. Heat piping, radiation shielding, heat radiators, conversion of the steady state heat to electricity are all things that can be tweaked based on the application and which can be cribbed from past nuclear rocket designs. Some other nice things are that they are talking about mass factory production and low costs.

From the patent (section 58)

At the rate of power production assumed for the reactor, 50 to 100 W/cm**3.

If the density is 8, then it would seem to work out to 7-14KW per kg.

There are some basic sources online to perform the rough estimates of heat pipe weighting and heat radiators.

Some other component weights for other nuclear rockets.

The hyperion device runs at 400-800 degrees using uranium hydrates and can run at 1900 degrees using thorium hydrates. We can look at other spacecraft designs that have heat radiators. Those are separate technologies from the main hyperion nuclear reactor and the physics of dealing with the heat is the same. The Hyperion reactor's main advantage is that it self-regulates to whatever temperature range it is designed for based on different metal hydrates that are used. Dealing with heat and electricity conversion is not changed from other solid core nuclear reactors.

I have a new article that discusses the state of thermoelectronics, which has improved a lot since the mid-90s and which has a lot of money going into improving them to help deal with high oil prices. The goal of the DOE EERE is to raise diesel engine efficiency by over 50% by 2014 with addon systems to utilize waste heat.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I exchanged email with hyperion power systems (the maker of the new power generator. They indicate that the Sante Fe reporter made a mistake. The output is about 25-17 MW ELECTRIC [This statement was also consistent with the patent which talked about tens of MW in electricity. They also said that the containment vessel will be dense enough that no radiation will escape even if it is not buried in the ground.

The proposed nuclear "battery" reactor

UPDATE: For a space craft we would want to eliminate extra weight and especially any dirt radiation shield. There are several approaches. Research has been looking at using lightweight electric and electrostatic fields for radiation shields. We would only need to concentrate shielding on the crew quarters. The crew quarters would probably be in the front with the 600 tons of fuel in fuel tanks between them and the reactors. Shorter trip times mean less exposure to low gravity and cosmic rays.

Spacecraft designers may also use a ship's own cryogenic fluids as a radiation screen by arranging the cargo tanks containing them around crew compartments.

"In most [mission] scenarios, you need liquid hydrogen for fuel and you need water," explained Richard Wilkins, director of NASA's Center for Applied Radiation Research at Prairie View A & M University in Texas, conducting one study into liquid shield approaches. "And these are all considered materials that are particularly good for cosmic ray shielding."

Here is a 12 page pdf on electrostatic radiation shielding

Another issue is converting heat from the nuclear plant to electricity. There has been a great deal of progress on thermoelectronics. Thermoelectronics are electronics that convert heat into electricity. The thermoelectric effect is discussed at wikipedia

One company Powerchips claims to be able to achieve 70-80% carnot efficiency. This would mean that at 70% carnot efficiency if the hot side was 500 degrees celsius and the cold side was 0 then 45% of the heat would be captured as electricity. If the cold side could get down to -80 or -90 then the effiency would be 54%. The cold side might get that cold or colder in space if it was shaded.

The total critical mass is from 600-1200 kg. The total mass for the nuclear reactor is probably under 100 tons and possibly in the 10-20 ton range. A nuclear powered Vasimr rocket would enable one way trips to Mars in 39 days and delivering 22 tons of payload. Vasimr engines can get up to 50,000 ISP which is 1100 times more fuel efficient than the Space Shuttle. The nuclear space vehicle would weigh about 600-1500 tons fully fulled. So it would take several launches using chemical rockets to put the pieces in orbit for assembly. A slightly scaled back system with one or two nuclear reactors would still enable trip to Mars for 70-100 day trips to Mars.

There is no serious scientific question about whether these two technologies (improved nuclear fission and Vasimr plasma propulsion) will work. It is a matter of funding the work and doing the engineering development.

Combining this power source which is targeting 2012 operation with Vasimr plasma drive would then enable very good space transportation out to Mars or the asteriods.

Franklin Chang Diaz and his 200 kw Vasimr engine

This 28 slide presentation by Andrew Petro of NASA shows that using a Vasimr propulsion system with 200MW of nuclear power would enable a one way trip to Mars in 39 days.

Information on the 200MW Vasimr system and one way travel times to Mars

The VASIMR system is a high power, electrothermal plasma rocket featuring a very high specific impulse (Isp) and a variable exhaust. Its unique architecture allows inflight mission-optimization of thrust and Isp to enhance performance and reduce trip time. VASIMR consists of three major magnetic stages where plasma is respectively injected, heated and expanded in a magnetic nozzle. The magnetic configuration is called an asymmetric mirror. The 1st stage handles the main injection of propellant gas and the ionization subsystem; the 2nd stage acts as an amplifier to further heat the plasma. The 3rd stage is a magnetic nozzle which converts the plasma energy into directed momentum. The magnetic field insulates nearby structures from the high plasma temperature (>1,000,000 oK.) It is produced by high temperature superconductors cooled mainly by radiation to deep space. Some supplemental cooling from the cryogenic propellants ( hydrogen, deuterium, helium or mixtures of these) may also be used.

The system is capable of high power density, as the plasma energy is delivered by wave action, making it electrodeless and less susceptible to component erosion. Plasma production is done in the 1st stage by a helicon discharge, while additional plasma heating is accomplished in the 2nd stage by the process of ion cyclotron resonance.

Another paper analyzing vasimr engines

Another nuclear powered vehicle that we have the technology to start building now is the liberty ship a gaseous core nuclear design. It could launch 1000 tons into orbit in one trip and would not leak any nuclear material. This kind of design is needed to greatly improve launching from earth to orbit. The nuclear Vasimr only helps with getting from orbit to anywhere else.

Be sure to read my analysis of the patent for the nuclear "battery" a solid core uranium hydride reactor.

MIT interview with Franklin Chang Diaz, president and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, who is working on the Vasimr propulsion system that could shorten trips in space and improve fuel efficiency.

For Mars and beyond, we will need to develop nuclear electric power. If we don't, we might as well quit. We're not going to get anywhere without it.

I also would not want to send people to Mars on a fragile and power-limited ship. If you send people that far, you have to give them a fighting chance to survive, and the only way you can do that is if you have ample supplies of power. Power is life in space.

Here is a 47 slide presentation by Tim Glover on a 12MW Vasimr system.

Tim Glover's presentation shows components that would be needed for high power Vasimr systems like this 4MW ICRF antenna

Size of parts for a 1MW Vasimr engine

2.8 MW RF power converter

The components and weights of a 2.5MW vasimr engine design

This pdf from 2003 surveyed various near term propulsion options for trips to Mars.

If we get fusion power working then we can do even better.


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Nuclear battery can be used to help blunt peak oil

The technology recognized is a self-stabilizing nuclear power source invented by Dr. Otis Peterson. It is a compact device capable of generating high levels of thermal power and is self-regulating to a constant temperature of operation. I think that a few thousand of these devices should be used for enhanced recovery of oil from the oil sands and oil shale, while we transition off of oil. I think that thousands of these reactors could be used to displace coal power. They could be buried on the property of existing coal plants (shut down the coal plants and use these devices) and at existing nuclear power sites. Later after there has been more operating experience with them, they could be positioned inside cities and towns.

I exchanged email with Hyperion Power Generation (the maker of the new power generator. They indicate that the Sante Fe reporter made a mistake. The output is about 25-17 MW ELECTRIC [This statement was also consistent with the patent which talked about tens of MW in electricity.] They also said that the containment vessel will be dense enough that no radiation will escape even if it is not buried in the ground. So in addition to the regular electric generation there would be probably double that amount of thermal power. Which could be partially converted to electricity using thermoelectronics. 30-66% with better technology like powerchips

UPDATE: The blunting and delay in peak oil would operate in the following way. This technology make it three times cheaper and faster (less infrastructure and piping) to tap 1.1 trillion barrels of oil that is in the form of oil shale in the USA. Increasing US oil reserves by 30-40 times and perhaps eliminating the need for oil imports in 10-15 years. Helping to more economically unlock global oilsands and oil shale. Plus it would at the same time allow up a 100 year transition to a lot more nuclear power and renewables. It would be possible for a shorter transition with less air pollution and fossil fuel use as well by eliminating coal. It would provide for 20-50 times more efficient use of Uranium and allow for the use of Thorium.

The nuclear device uses uranium hydride crystals and hydrogen isotopes to create an internal, self-regulating balance.

uranium hydride nuclear reactor schematic
Nuclear battery schematic

uranium hydride nuclear reactor schematic
Another schematic of the self contained uranium hydride reactor

The initial claimed ($1400/kw) prices look similar to the cost of latest generation 3.5 of large scale conventional nuclear reactors. I believe Thorium reactors would be better in terms of fuel efficiency (lack of waste), however, the nuclear battery could get up to 50% fuel burnup compared to 1-2% for conventional reactors which is very good. Thorium hydrides could also be used. A Thorium molten salt reactor could achieve nearly 100% burnup of the fuel.

I have looked at the patent for the Hyperion reactor. It is different from regular nuclear reactors but it is not like the radioisotope thermal generators.

The present invention is based on and takes advantage of the physical properties of a fissile metal hydride, such as uranium hydride, which serves as a combination fuel and moderator. The invention is self-stabilizing and requires no moving mechanical components to control nuclear criticality. In contrast with customary designs, the control of the nuclear activity is achieved through the temperature driven mobility of the hydrogen isotope contained in the hydride. If the core temperature increases above a set point, the hydrogen isotope dissociates from the hydride and escapes out of the core, the moderation drops and the power production decreases. If the temperature drops, the hydrogen isotope is again associated by the fissile metal hydride and the process is reversed.

They have many good features Hyperion also offers a 70% reduction in operating costs (based on costs for field-generation of steam in oil-shale recovery operations), from $11 per million BTU for natural gas to $3 per million BTU for Hyperion. The possibility of mass production, operation and standardization of design, allows for significant savings.

Because of the inherent properties of uranium hydride, Hyperion is "cleaner," producing only a tiny fraction of the waste produced by other types of reactors. Water is not used in the process, so there is no danger of pollution to local water bodies.

One of the greatest energy conundrums is accessing the estimated 500+ billion barrels of recoverable oil in U.S. oil shale fields. Hyperion would change the current almost self-defeating cost-production ratio caused by the use of natural gas to power steam engine extraction and refinery machinery. Over five years, a single Hyperion reactor can save $2 billion in operating costs in a heavy oil field.

I have examined the use of conventional nuclear reactors to assist with extracting oil from the oilsands.

I also looked at the impact in regards to water usage for conventional reactors. These nuclear batteries would not use water.

I believe that the Hyperion reactors would be 25-50% of the cost for the energy sources compared to the CANDU reactor approach. The Hyperion site claims to be 30% of the cost of natural gas approaches to insitu recovery of oil shale. (70 Hyperion reactors to equal the nearly 2000 MW of thermal energy from the CANDU) The Hyperion reactor would have the advantages of not need to use water and the numerous small reactors could be used in a more flexible way to directly heat the oilsands or shale. This flexibility and direct heating would further reduce the costs of oil extraction with the need for less additional infrastructure (no pipes for the steam or to bring in water etc...)

So there are definitely good and large energy niches for the Hyperion reactor. Smaller reactors with similar per KW costs as larger reactors allow for more distributed power and less losses in transmission.

If they can hit the $40 million per 27 MW unit, that would be very good. Ultimately I believe the Thorium molten salt reactor is better, but both technologies are useful. The molten salt reactor would also be made smaller, safer, cleaner and cheaper and more fuel efficient.

I hope the Hyperion proceeds, it is definitely a lot better than coal and oil and natural gas. 4000 of them would double the energy in the USA from nuclear power. At $100-160 billion, (lower end cost based on lower prices from mass production efficiencies.) they would be worth it and would be great for helping the US blunt peak oil by better tapping oil shale and Canada to tap the oil sands.

Even if one wanted to use uranium hydride for a bomb it would only be as powerful as the largest chemical bombs. 200tons of TNT equivalent

Here is the patent for the Hyperion nuclear (uranium hydride) battery.

Uranium hydride has been demonstrated as a reactor fuel (G. A. Linenberger, et al., "Enriched-Uranium Hydride Critical Assemblies", Nucl. Sci. & Eng. 7, 44-57 (1960)), it has heretofore been unknown to exploit the volatility of the hydrogen as a control mechanism for the fission activity.

The invention is preferably limited in operation to the temperature range from approximately C. to C. for UH.sub.3 based fuel, where the dissociation pressure, shown in FIG. 5, of the hydride is in the range that permits efficient gas transport. The data comes from "The H-U System," Bulletin of Alloy Phase Diagrams, 1, No. 2 (1980), pp. 99-106. This temperature range is fortuitous because it includes the near optimum temperature for operation of steam boilers, i.e., the C. range. Samuel Glasstone, Principles of Nuclear Reactor Engineering, D. Van Nostrand Co. (1955), .sctn.1.24.

The "C" curve for 4.9% enriched uranium is the most appropriate for estimating the critical mass for this device. The line from 15 kg past 30 kg has been extrapolated from the published data and the critical mass for the hydride power source can be estimated from this extrapolation to be approximately 30 kg of U.sup.235 for the H to U.sup.235 ratio of 61, which is characteristic of UH.sub.3 enriched to 4.9%. This value is approximately double the critical mass measured for 93% enriched uranium hydride: G. A. Linenberger, et al., "Enriched-Uranium Hydride Critical Assemblies," Nuclear Science and Engineering: 7, 44-57 (1960).

Thorium hydride may ultimately be even more attractive than uranium hydride because separating the fissile components from the fertile components would be a chemical separation instead of an isotopic separation. Furthermore, the fissile product of thorium absorption of a neutron is U.sup.233, a very attractive fissile fuel for reactors.

Thorium also permits higher temperature operation of the reactor because of its high melting temperature, C. The higher temperature operation offers the possibility of higher efficiency conversion of the thermal power generated by the reactor to electrical power. The high melting temperature would complicate the zone refining processing of the spent fuel, however, alloys of thorium and uranium would reduce the melting temperature. For a wide range of compositions on the uranium rich side of the phase diagram the melting point of the alloy is a fixed value of C. On the thorium rich side of the phase diagram, the melting temperature is approximately linear with thorium content from the 1375 to the C. point for compositions from 50 to 100% thorium.

Fissile fuel burnup of at least 50% should be achievable with adequate design.

MIT has looked at the many small nuclear reactor concepts.

UPDATE: I have written an article on combining this reactor technology with Vasimr plasma engines to enable fast (39 day) trips to Mars.

November 27, 2007

Google funding renewable energy cheaper than coal

Google is funding renewable energy cheaper than coal is working with two companies that have promising scalable energy technologies:

eSolar Inc., a Pasadena, CA-based company specializing in solar thermal power which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy. eSolar's technology has great potential to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal.

Makani Power Inc., an Alameda, CA-based company developing high-altitude wind energy extraction technologies aimed at harnessing the most powerful wind resources. High-altitude wind energy has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of current global electricity needs.

"Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades," Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, said in a statement.

Working with its philanthropic arm, the company said it plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2008 on research and development and related efforts in renewable energy.

Eventually, the Mountain View, California-based company said it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars in "breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns."

November 26, 2007

Chinese yuan continues to appreciate

The currency gained 0.14 percent to 7.3867 against the dollar as of 12:54 p.m. in Shanghai, from yesterday's close of 7.3969, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System. The yuan rose 0.1 percent to 10.9836 per euro.

Forwards contracts in the currency show traders are more bullish about yuan gains over the next 12 months, betting on a 9.5 percent appreciation to 6.7485.

China's central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Nov. 18 that China would consider widening the currency's trading band ``if necessary,'' though he gave no timeframe and said he's comfortable with current policy.

``The day of reckoning for the yuan is getting closer,'' said Hong Liang, an economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Hong Kong, who expects the yuan will soon be allowed to trade more freely and predicts it will reach 6.78 per dollar in a year.

Dwave's Quantum computer Presentation from SC07

Dwave systems CTO Geordie Rose has published his slides from the SC07 conference, where he demonstrated there latest 28 qubit system.

Dwave system is a web services QUBO solver

Dwave to a computer scientist. QUBO is NP-hard. the decision version is NP complete

Real physical systems

dwave device schematic: nobium cjj rs-squid flux qubit

Dwave approach to AQC

dwave superconducting chip: bipolar couplers
dwave superconducting chip: bipolar couplers

dwave potential energy of Adiabatic quantum computer can be programmed by user
dwave potential energy of Adiabatic quantum computer can be programmed by user

Device physics : the hamiltonian

Qubit manipulation: modulate the barrier height

Qubit manipulation: tilt the double well

Readout bias: direction of the current

Dwave picture of the chip: readout section

dwave device schematic: symmetric bipolar coupler

The Dwave AQC implements both the AQC model and the quantum annealing model.

adiabatic quantum computation model

Quantum annealing model

Dwave implementing part of the image matching as AQC, part is a regular computer program.

The steps to run an adiabatic quantum computer

Continuing discussion of an $80 billion Wind powered supergrid

The $80 billion european wind powered electrical supergrid would make wind energy more practical I think this project makes sense and a similar power grid build out would be good for North America as well. It would work in combination with nuclear power and anything that is not coal or oil.

The average price of the electricity generated would be just 4.6 euro cents per kWh, competitive with today's rates. Europe's 1.25bn tons of annual CO2 output from electricity generation would be wiped out. High-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines, up to 100 times as long as the alternating current (AC) cables carried by the National Grid's pylons, would form the system's main arteries. While AC lines are the international standard, they leak energy. HVDC lines are three times as efficient, making them cost effective over distances above 50 miles.

"We have the technical abilities to build such a supergrid within three to five years," said Dr Gregor Czisch, an energy systems expert at the University of Kassel in Germany. "We just need to commit to this big long-term strategy."

Many supporters of renewable energy see it as a small-scale technology, but Dr Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association, said the megaproject was essential. "European policy is only just waking up to this," he said.

The supergrid would draw power from massed turbines in a band of countries to Europe's south and east that have above average wind potential, feeding it to the industrialised centres of Europe. The scale would overcome the biggest obstacle to wind power – its unreliability. In smaller networks, such as Britain's National Grid, calm weather could cut production to zero. But the supergrid would cover a region so large that the wind would always be blowing somewhere.

Congress pushes for re-examination of Thorium nuclear power

MIT Technology review reports that Senators representing several Western states, including Utah's Orrin Hatch and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, are working on legislation to promote thorium.

I am a big supporter of developing Thorium fission reactors and in particular molten salt reactors. I support the upcoming legislation from Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid.

They say it's a cleaner-burning fuel for nuclear-power plants, with the potential to cut high-level nuclear-waste volumes in half. [I agree that thorium is cleaner burning]

"It makes a lot of sense in my view," says Thomas Cochran, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Washington. He says that congressional action is needed to overcome resistance within the DOE to exploring thorium.

Using thorium in existing reactors means rethinking the "once through" nuclear fuel cycle employed today in most countries, including the United States. The cycle starts with uranium-oxide fuel enriched in the fissile uranium isotope U235. Fission of the uranium in a reactor generates heat to drive a nuclear power plant's turbines, and it produces a highly radioactive blend of fission breakdown products, including plutonium that can be recovered to make nuclear weapons. Other fission products slow the chain reaction, requiring replacement of fuel every one or two years. The spent fuel is removed and stored on site, awaiting burial.

The challenge for thorium proponents is that the DOE already advocates another fuel cycle that promises to cut waste and manage proliferation risks: a so-called closed fuel cycle, whereby chemical reprocessing recovers plutonium from spent uranium fuel for reuse in conventional reactors.

Reprocessing is central to the DOE's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), whereby major nuclear players such as the United States would guarantee uranium fuel supply to countries that promise to return spent fuel--the plutonium within which could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The GNEP has many critics who argue that the reprocessing of spent fuel will be costly, will increase rather than limit the risk of diversion of fissile materials, and will do little to reduce high-level waste volumes. The DOE's plan is to burn recovered plutonium by blending it with uranium. This produces a hotter and more toxic spent fuel that can only be burned in breeder reactors. Those reactors have, to date, proved infeasible at commercial scale.

The global status of thorium reactor and molten salt reactors

Considering mass production of thorium reactors and links other Thorium articles

Cancer resistant mouse with Par-4 gene

A mouse resistant to cancer, even highly-aggressive types, has been created by researchers at the University of Kentucky. The breakthrough stems from a discovery by UK College of Medicine professor of radiation medicine Vivek Rangnekar and a team of researchers who found a tumor-suppressor gene called "Par-4" in the prostate.

The researchers discovered that the Par-4 gene kills cancer cells, but not normal cells. There are very few molecules that specifically fight against cancer cells, giving it a potentially therapeutic application.

Funded by several grants from the National Institutes of Health, Rangnekar's study is unique in that mice born with this gene are not developing tumors. The mice grow normally and have no defects. In fact, the mice possessing Par-4 actually live a few months longer than the control animals, indicating that they have no toxic side effects.

The implications for humans could be that through bone marrow transplantation, the Par-4 molecule could potentially be used to fight cancer cells in patients without the toxic and damaging side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy

There are other promising cancer treatments

Dr Zheng Cui, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has shown in laboratory experiments that immune cells from some people can be almost 50 times more effective in fighting cancer than in others. The treatment is called "GIFT" (Granulocyte InFusion Therapy).

Up to 96.7 percent efficient home furnaces

DOE funds solar power research and several projects use nanowires, nanostructures and plasmonics

The DOE funded 25 projects as part of the Next Generation Photovoltaic Devices & Processes program to make solar power cost competitive with coal and nuclear power by 2015.

Here are several of the funded projects:
Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY) project will develop PV cells for solar concentrator applications using high efficiency nanostructures. DOE will provide up to $843,695 for the $1.1 million project. concentrated solar power is already a lot cheaper than PV solar.

Solexant, Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA) will seek to dramatically improve photovoltaics through inexpensive inorganic PV cell that harvest more than the conventional limit of maximum power efficiency. DOE will provide up to $869,435 of the $1.1 million project.

Soltaix, Inc. (Los Altos, CA) will seek to demonstrate and optimize an ultra-high-efficiency, thin-film, crystalline solar cell for cost-effective, grid-connected electricity. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for this $1.8 million project.

Stanford University (Stanford, CA) will use nanowire networks or meshes to create electrodes for high efficiency, low cost solution-processed photovoltaics. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for this $1.1 million project.

Stanford was also selected for a second project, in which researchers will produce advanced, higher efficiency thin-film solar cells from nanowires made of CIGS. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for this $1.1 million project.

Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) project will seek to increase efficiency levels to 20% by developing new materials to improve tandem thin film solar cells. DOE will provide up to $895,511 for the $1.1 million project. Arizona State University was selected for another project, in which researchers will demonstrate the fundamental viability of replacing expensive materials used in today’s solar cells with less costly alternatives.

California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA) project will seek to enhance solar absorption using plasmons to improve the performance of PV cells. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for the $1.1 million project.

Mayaterials, Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) project will seek to derive solar grade silicon from agricultural by-products. DOE will provide up to $837,000 for the $1 million project.

Penn State will seek to apply lessons learned from success with lithium ion batteries to develop dye-based sensitized solar cells with improved electrodes and electrolytes. DOE will provide up to $882,103 for the $1.1 million project. Penn State was selected for a second project, in which researchers will create PV devices from nanowires grown on inexpensive substrates like glass. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for the $1.1 million project.

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) project will seek to create solution processible, low cost tandem photovoltaics from inorganic nanorods (aligned for efficient energy collection) surrounded by organic polymers. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for his $1.1 million project.

University of Illinois (Urbana, IL) project will seek a low cost concentrator PV from automated printing and the interconnection of a large number of microcells with built-in optics. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for this $1.1 million project.

University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA) project will seek to produce high-efficiency photovoltaics that combine plasmonics and semiconductor nanostructures. DOE will provide up to $900,000 for this $1.1 million project.

Wakonda Technologies (Fairport, NY) will seek to apply low cost conventional thin film manufacturing techniques to the production of large area, high efficiency multi-junction PV. DOE will provide up to $892,735 for this $2.1 million project.

Carbon 60, fullerene, thin film electronics closer to electronic billboards

Using room-temperature processing, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have fabricated high-performance field effect transistors with thin films of Carbon 60, also known as fullerene. The ability to produce devices with such performance with an organic semiconductor represents another milestone toward practical applications for large area, low-cost electronic circuits on flexible organic substrates.

Previous reports have shown that C60 can yield mobility values as high as six square centimeters per volt-second (6 cm2/V/s). However, that record was achieved using a hot-wall epitaxy process requiring processing temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius – too hot for most flexible plastic substrates.

Though the transistors produced by Kippelen’s research team display slightly lower electron mobility – 2.7 to 5 cm2/V/s – they can be produced at room temperature.

The new technology is not trying to compete with CMOS at this time, they are looking to make electronic components for use with low-cost organic displays, active billboards and similar applications.

Kovio's inkjet printable electronics has electron mobility of ~80 cm2/(V·s).

Many companies and R&D labs have been aiming at getting the electron mobility—expressed in units of cm2/(V·s)—of organics semiconductors up to the 0.5-1.0 range of amorphous-silicon TFTs.

Terabyte bandwidth initiative

In a world with 100 cores on a single chip, how do you get enough data onto the chip to keep all those cores fed?

Rambus is working on technology that does 32 data transfers per clock beat, so that each line can transmit 32 bits per clock cycle. That's a ton of per-pin bandwidth, and it means that bandwidth will scale pretty dramatically even at low clockspeeds as you add bus wires. For instance, on a 500MHz clock that's 16Gbps per wire, a number that can be doubled by simply adding a second data link.

16 DRAMs x 16 Gbps x 32 bits per DRAM gives you 1 TB/s of bandwidth onto an SoC, hence the name of the initiative.

Intel is also looking to differential signaling for the medium-term future of board-level, chip-to-chip bandwidth in the 15Gbps range. The consensus seems to be that single-ended signaling isn't suitable for higher transfer rates, due to noise problems.

TBI is still in the "research initiative" phase, much like Intel's Terascale initiative. And like Intel's Terascale, Rambus has built a prototype to test some of the ideas mentioned above. The TBI prototype consists of three 65nm, chips, an SoC stand-in, and two simulated DRAMs. For the latter, Rambus tried to mimic the characteristics of a DRAM that might exist in the 2010-2011 timeframe, and they were able to get a potentially usable signal (it would need cleanup) between the SoC and the DRAMs at a 32x data rate.

Rambus is aiming for 2010 or later with the technologies in TBI.

UPDATE: as noted in the comments, there is no guarantee that Rambus or Intel will be successful or to what degree.

Near term lifeboat technology: integrated and seamless robustness

AlFin's excellent blog points out that "nuclear batteries" could be used for a near term civilization lifeboat. The initial goal would not be creating fully resistant civilization lifeboats that could handle destruction of the biosphere but hardened points of key civilization services like databases, medical facilities, food services, water services and electricity. The goal would be life shield bunkers which help keep the grid and civilization going when everything is going good but also keep operating at various levels of disaster.

UPDATE: My latest posting has all of the technical details on the nuclear "battery". It is a simplified solid core reactor variant.

With reliable power, a population could thrive underground, undersea, on/beneath polar ice, or in the starkest desert (even in nuclear winter conditions). Using aeroponic food-growing technology, artificial lighting, drilled or melted water supply, sophisticated filters etc. etc. small to medium communities of many types could find a way to develop in relative isolation.

Better, safer, more reliable ways to use nuclear decay to power civilisation (or civilisation's "restart") are coming.

The old bomb shelter were sunk costs and the shelters were unused when there was no crisis.

Technology would be selected and developed which could provide more robustness with less of a price premium and which would not just be stored material.

Instead of warehouses with cans of food, have aeroponic systems that provide food to city dwellers during normal times but which could still function in a crisis.

Water filtration and desalinization systems instead of tanks of stored water.

Instead of oil stockpiles a combination of nuclear batteries, solar and wind power generation systems.

Instead of only underground facilities, monolithic domes and geodesic domes that are integrated into cities Integrate certain homeland security budgets and planning in with the planning of academic, public transit, public facilities (like hospitals) and sports facilities.

Disaster planning should have a revamped and updated view.

Some aspect of enhanced disaster support would be to look prepositioning disaster support with nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. If costs could be contained then nuclear battery facilities and vessels could be examined as part of enhanced coast guard and national guard vehicles.

The russians have been examining floating nuclear power plants

Other people are also considering floating and submersible nuclear power plants

Thorium reactors would be well suited for submersible and floating designs

The compact and safe nature of a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor opens the possibility of building mobile reactors on floating vessels or submersibles. These systems could be built at centralized locations, taking advantages of economies of scale, and then deployed along the Tennessee River to replace coal-fired power plants, plugging directly into existing electrical infrastructure.

Widespread adoption of plug in hybrids would help stabilize the energy grid

Robert Zubrin has pointed at that flexible fuel vehicles would provide adaptability to high oil prices. The combination of plug in hybrids that could run on flexible fuel would help enable sections of an electrical grid to function and would allow vehicles to run on alcohol or methanol in the event of disaster that disrupted oil distribution.

- integrating nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers into disaster planning
- getting nuclear batteries and disaster hardened technology cost
justified for wider adoption
- revamping disaster planning and getting hardened architecture in the
thinking of architects as much as earthquake resistance is.
- Bring down the cost premium of disaster hardened technology.
- Encourage existing and near term technology choices that would enhance robustness
- flexible fuel plug in hybrids

Autonomous building is a building designed to be operated independently from infrastructural support services such as the electric power grid, municipal water systems, sewage treatment systems, storm drains, communication services, and in some cases public roads.

Distributed power generation

Flexible fuel vehicles

Atomic battery

More efficient and longer laster nuclear batteries

Cooper pairs make superinsulators as well as superconductors

A Brown University researcher, James Valles, claims to have discovered Cooper pairs in superinsulators that, when cooled near absolute zero, offer infinite resistance--acting as perfect blocks to conduction. Superinsulators may someday be wired together with superconductors to create supercircuits that generate zero heat.

The researchers are currently developing a theory to rival the theory of superconductivity while also explaining the workings of superinsulators. So far, the researchers theorize that when acting as a superinsulator, Cooper pairs are locked together rather than linking into chains. The holes in the bismuth template enabled the locked pairs to be detected as they spun segregated into tiny whirlpools, according to the researchers.

Next, the Brown researchers hope to create superinsulators for superconducting wires that resist heating. If superinsulators can be perfected for wires, the next step could be their integration to circuitry alongside superconductors.

For instance, Josephson junctions work by separating two superconducting metals with an insulator. New types of devices harnessing the quantum effects of a material with infinite resistance, could also be crafted from superinsulators, according to the researchers.

November 25, 2007

Doubling the fuel efficiency of cars with today's technology

Wired's autopia discusses current technology that can be used to double the fuel efficiency of cars We can do far better than this with better technology and better design choices. 300 mpg cars will be available October, 2008 from Aptera for under $30,000. They are basically safer and more fuel efficiency tricycles.

Advocates of the higher standard say the auto industry is full of it, and no less an authority on automobiles than Tom and Ray Magliozzi (both of whom, coincidentally, graduated from MIT), hosts of National Public Radio's "Car Talk," say Detroit can reach 35 mpg in five years using existing technology.

(1) Emphasis on reducing fuel consumption – dedicating future vehicle efficiency improvements to reducing fuel consumption, as opposed to improving vehicle performance.

MIT researchers indicate a wide range of technology exists to improve the efficiency of gasoline engines, including direct injection, cylinder deactivation and variable valve lift and timing. Each of these technologies has the potential to improve fuel efficiency by 3 to 10 percent and they are being used in many vehicles - but more often to improve performance, not fuel economy. Further development of dual clutch and continuously variable transmissions, lower-resistance tires and improved aerodynamics could further boost fuel economy, the authors note.

(2) Use of alternative powertrains – increasing market penetration of more efficient turbocharged gasoline engines, diesel engines, and hybrid electric-gasoline drives.

Currently, just 5 percent of vehicles sold in the United States have such alternative powertrains. The study assumes their maximum compounded growth rate in the U.S. market is about 10 percent per year. If turbocharged gasoline engines, diesels and hybrids are aggressively promoted, only 15 percent of new vehicles introduced onto the roads in 2035 will remain powered by conventional engines.

(3) Vehicle weight and size reduction – additional weight and size reduction for further fuel efficiency gains.

"Aggressive" use of aluminum, high-strength steel and plastic in automobile construction could bring a 20 percent reduction in vehicle weight, the report states.

Printing electronics with inkjets

MIt Technology Review provides more information on the work of Kovio of Sunnyvale.

Current contactless smart cards of the type used by frequent travelers on major transit systems can cost as much as $5 a piece to produce. But Kovio's technology could soon lead to nonmagnetic smart cards that cost a nickel.

Eventually, the technology could help enable a range of applications, including wall-sized displays.

Amir Mashkoori, Kovio's CEO, says the company can print memory and energy-efficient CMOS logic devices, as well as analog circuitry for radios, to make RFID tags that cost less than a nickel. To do this, they've developed a variety of inks, including nanocrystalline metals for electrodes and connections between devices, doped silicon semiconductors, and insulating materials. Kovio's process makes use of several types of commercial printers, including inkjet models. The printing is followed by a curing process. Kovio estimates that its system requires just 5 percent of the materials and a quarter of the electrical power used in conventional chip-making processes, with equipment that costs a third as much.

Within five years, the cost for some applications could fall to just a penny a piece, Mashkoori says--cheap enough for stores to replace barcodes with RFID tags. Such tags could make tracking inventory much easier. Eventually, consumers may be able to read the tags with their cell phones to confirm that a product complies with their dietary restrictions or to keep a tally of the cost of items in their basket. Items could be paid for by walking past a reader and accepting the charges.

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