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Antimatter Power Plants entry - 2180

antimatter energy

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#1
Jakob

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Will, your timeline states that antimatter power plants will be available (and apparently commonplace) in 2180.

 

 

A century after the global deployment of fusion, new forms of power production are becoming necessary in order to cope with the ongoing rise in energy demands on Earth and elsewhere. A new generation of power plants is becoming available, capable of harnessing the energy released in matter/antimatter collisions. The reactions involved are 1,000 times more powerful than fission produced in nuclear power plants and 300 times more powerful than nuclear fusion energy.*

 

Antimatter power plants are a really cool idea, and I've been tying myself in knots trying to figure out how they would work so I can include them in my own timeline. However, I'm can't really seem to figure out how antimatter power will ever be economically practical. The reference doesn't really address that either.

 

I assume that your timeline has some sort of factory to generate antimatter in kilogram quantities (or at least gram quantities). The problem with that is that to produce x grams of antimatter requires at least the amount of energy in x grams of antimatter. This page on Project Rho implies that this is a law of physics, inherent to antimatter production, not some sort of technical limitation that we can overcome. What I'm trying to say is that any hypothetical antimatter factory would be better off simply using its energy to power industries and whatnot directly, instead of making antimatter. If you want antimatter power plants, you have to "mine" the stuff. (To use an analogy with today's technology, what if we had to synthesize uranium in a particle accelerator? Nuclear power plants would be utterly useless, right?)

 

I can see two ways around this using the known laws of physics. For one thing antimatter does occur naturally in the Solar System, with Saturn's radiation belt being one of the best sources. But even Saturn produces less than a milligram of antimatter per year! I don't know how much antimatter is already there, but this comment suggests that the Earth's antimatter belt has 160 nanograms of antiprotons and a refill rate of 2 nanograms per year. If we apply this ratio to Saturn, we can assume that there are 20 grams of antimatter in Saturn's radiation belt.

 

Using the e=mc^2 formula, we get e=0.04*( 3E+8 )^2. (0.04 because 20 grams of antimatter+20 grams of matter = 40 grams or 0.04 kilograms). This comes out to 3.6 petajoules, which is puny. All the antimatter in Saturn's radiation belt could power a single 1-gigawatt power plant for about six weeks. Then we would have to wait for decades to have more antimatter. I suppose that hypothetically, an antimatter source orders of magnitude larger could exist somewhere, but it sure wouldn't be in the Solar System, because we likely would've already noticed.

 

What these power plants could be doing is, instead of using pure matter-antimatter annihilation (as the timeline claims) is to use antimatter as a catalyst and/or trigger for conventional nuclear/fusion fuel, which might give you more bang for the buck. If this is the case, the timeline should say so.

 

If Will or anyone else can figure out a solution, I'd love to hear it. The timeline should also be reworded to address this. (I'd personally go with the antimatter catalyst/trigger idea, but it's not my timeline.)


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#2
Whereas

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That's simply because you create an amount of antimatter (X) and combine it with an equal amount of matter (X) in order to produce an amount (2X) of energy. As long as your efficiency in producing antimatter is above 50% you're making a surplus. The engineering problem will be how to increase our antimatter production capacity. In one of Dan Brown's books a half-gram antimatter bomb was comparable to nuclear weapons in destructive power. However, that's many orders of magnitude more antimatter than humanity has actually produced so far in total.


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#3
Jakob

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That's simply because you create an amount of antimatter (X) and combine it with an equal amount of matter (X) in order to produce an amount (2X) of energy. As long as your efficiency in producing antimatter is above 50% you're making a surplus. The engineering problem will be how to increase our antimatter production capacity. In one of Dan Brown's books a half-gram antimatter bomb was comparable to nuclear weapons in destructive power. However, that's many orders of magnitude more antimatter than humanity has actually produced so far in total.

I punted the question over to Quora. I was essentially told that antimatter production with above 50% efficiency is simply impossible because antimatter production creates an equal amount of regular matter. This page seems to confirm that particles and antiparticles are indeed produced in pairs. Whereas and wjfox, can you (or someone else) please explain what is going on and/or remove/alter that prediction?

 

By the way, this is by no means a knock against antimatter weapons, rockets, or batteries, or antimatter-catalyzed nuclear power plants. All of those seem plausible to me.


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#4
wjfox

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Will, your timeline states that antimatter power plants will be available (and apparently commonplace) in 2180.

 

 

A century after the global deployment of fusion, new forms of power production are becoming necessary in order to cope with the ongoing rise in energy demands on Earth and elsewhere. A new generation of power plants is becoming available, capable of harnessing the energy released in matter/antimatter collisions. The reactions involved are 1,000 times more powerful than fission produced in nuclear power plants and 300 times more powerful than nuclear fusion energy.*

 

Antimatter power plants are a really cool idea, and I've been tying myself in knots trying to figure out how they would work so I can include them in my own timeline. However, I'm can't really seem to figure out how antimatter power will ever be economically practical. The reference doesn't really address that either.

 

I assume that your timeline has some sort of factory to generate antimatter in kilogram quantities (or at least gram quantities). The problem with that is that to produce x grams of antimatter requires at least the amount of energy in x grams of antimatter. This page on Project Rho implies that this is a law of physics, inherent to antimatter production, not some sort of technical limitation that we can overcome. What I'm trying to say is that any hypothetical antimatter factory would be better off simply using its energy to power industries and whatnot directly, instead of making antimatter. If you want antimatter power plants, you have to "mine" the stuff. (To use an analogy with today's technology, what if we had to synthesize uranium in a particle accelerator? Nuclear power plants would be utterly useless, right?)

 

I can see two ways around this using the known laws of physics. For one thing antimatter does occur naturally in the Solar System, with Saturn's radiation belt being one of the best sources. But even Saturn produces less than a milligram of antimatter per year! I don't know how much antimatter is already there, but this comment suggests that the Earth's antimatter belt has 160 nanograms of antiprotons and a refill rate of 2 nanograms per year. If we apply this ratio to Saturn, we can assume that there are 20 grams of antimatter in Saturn's radiation belt.

 

Using the e=mc^2 formula, we get e=0.04*( 3E+8 )^2. (0.04 because 20 grams of antimatter+20 grams of matter = 40 grams or 0.04 kilograms). This comes out to 3.6 petajoules, which is puny. All the antimatter in Saturn's radiation belt could power a single 1-gigawatt power plant for about six weeks. Then we would have to wait for decades to have more antimatter. I suppose that hypothetically, an antimatter source orders of magnitude larger could exist somewhere, but it sure wouldn't be in the Solar System, because we likely would've already noticed.

 

What these power plants could be doing is, instead of using pure matter-antimatter annihilation (as the timeline claims) is to use antimatter as a catalyst and/or trigger for conventional nuclear/fusion fuel, which might give you more bang for the buck. If this is the case, the timeline should say so.

 

If Will or anyone else can figure out a solution, I'd love to hear it. The timeline should also be reworded to address this. (I'd personally go with the antimatter catalyst/trigger idea, but it's not my timeline.)

 

Thanks for your comments Jakob. I'm going through and updating the entire timeline (currently up to 2027), so there's a while to go before I reach 2180, but I'll definitely look into revising/improving this prediction.


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#5
fractalfederation

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I've looked into anti-matter for my sci-fi universe. It's better to think of anti-matter as a really terrible battery unless you find a source where it occurs naturally. Dr. Forward made the claim that we may be able to achieve a conversion efficiency, from electricity to anti-protons, of 0.01% with purpose built facility. The highest possible conversion efficiency is 50% because creating an anti-proton also creates a proton.

 

Unless we somehow get a much higher conversion efficiency then we would need millions of solar powered satellites (a Dyson Swarm) mass producing anti-protons. It would make more sense for space stations closer to the sun to use solar panels but if it's further away, like orbiting Uranus, anti-matter reactors may be useful. Annihilating an anti-proton with a proton doesn't produce pure energy, it actually creates charged and neutral pions. The neutral pions break down into gamma rays shortly after they are created. Since ~60% of the pions are charged, you can generate electricity directly without having to heat some liquid to turn a turbine. There is also a lot of Deuterium and Helium-3 in the gas giants and mining Neptune with aerostats would probably be cheaper than producing anti-matter for space stations too far from the sun.

 

Beamed Core Anti-Matter Rockets aka Pion Rockets, would be awesome if you could make enough anti-protons. Proton and Anti-Proton annihilations have the HIGHEST exhaust velocity. There are still some huge problems that would have to be overcome, like anti-matter storage density. Right now the way we store anti-matter is in a magnetic bottle, a Penning Trap. The problem is, that the more anti-protons you put in, the more they repel each other and annihilate with the matter wall. If you can't get the storage density high enough, then the accumulated mass of all the storage containers pretty much cancels out the bonus of using anti-matter. I read about an idea that has never been done before. The idea is to take a anti-proton and combine it with a positron to create an anti-hydrogen. Then you freeze the anti-hydrogen into a snow ball, which is diamagnetic and could be levitated. Then you would use a laser to heat the snow ball and funnel the evaporated anti-hydrogens to your nozzle. I have no idea if that would ever be possible though. There is also the problem of waste heat. With a rocket big enough to get you to the nearest star, you will have an insane amount of gamma radiation to deal with. You can use a wire frame like nozzle, which allows gamma rays to pass through the openings in the nozzle but it's still a lot of waste heat.


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