Portable Power

Portable Power


Whether it’s wealth or influence or electricity,
all the power in the world is worthless if you can’t access it where you need to. So today’s topic is portable power and energy,
and we’re going to cover everything from the classic modern batteries up to peculiar
stuff on the hazy edge of theory, like ultra-small black holes, antimatter, and bottled light.
We’re not really that interested in batteries for today’s discussion though, nor are they
our first portable energy source. In the past we’ve used flywheels or big containers of
water, like tidal mills, to store energy but neither is very portable. Nor is firewood,
one of our first ways of storing energy outside what we’d use in our bodies, though it’s
actually more energy-dense than even the best modern batteries.
Of course we’ve been storing food for longer, and doing so predates humanity as a lot of
critters squirrelled food away. But we’ve been storing energy as triacylglycerols[a][b]
in fat cells and as glycogen in liver and muscle cells and even proteins since long
before life crawled out of the ocean. Batteries are technically devices for converting
chemical energy into electrical energy, which is also reversible if the battery is rechargeable.
Capacitors, on the other hand, store electrical energy directly as charge. There weren’t
any batteries when Benjamin Franklin started looking at electricity, which he called liquid
fire at the time, but those earliest devices, Leyden Jars, a basic form of capacitor, reminded
him of a group of cannons, called a battery. I spent many years working in artillery and
a friend once asked me if we called the guns and our company-sized unit a battery, and
the wads of gunpowder we’d load into them a charge, as some reference to electric batteries
and it’s actually the reverse. Battery and electric charge both derive from cannons and
Franklin also coined conductor and positive and negative electric charge too, though those
make more sense, even if some argue that positive and negative should be reversed.
For today’s discussion, we’ll borrow the way Benjamin Franklin looked at a battery,
basically anything you deliberately store energy in for future withdrawal, to save time,
and because fundamentally we don’t actually care what type of energy is being stored or
how, we just want to be able to store our energy for easy withdrawal and little loss
during storage or difficulty moving it around and using it..
But storing energy, storing food, storing money or information or anything else always
has the same basic problems. It’s valuable and you want to put it somewhere safe where
it is convenient to access or move around. But storage always has a cost.
A battery is a lot like a grain silo, our first real dedicated energy storage structure
except for maybe a woodshed. You need to take a lot of time and energy to build one, and
to maintain it, and you need to guard that silo from rodents and weather and thieves,
and even while the grain is safely stored it’s decaying, losing its food energy. Batteries
are the same way only far worse. Energy units can get confusing, amp-hours aren’t exactly
energy but basically that’s the term for it for batteries.
It’s a little cumbersome like saying kilowatt-hours instead of 3.6 megajoules but it’s the standard,
same as food still tends to be given in calories instead of kilojoules and lots of fuels are
given in BTUs or essentially miles or kilometer per gallon or liter but fundamentally it’s
still energy and all those terms can obfuscate how they all compare. Your typical 1.5 volt
AA Alkaline battery is 2.4 amp-hours and weighs about 15-20 grams, meaning it is storing,
when brand new, about 13,000 joules or a bit under a thousand joules per gram, and costs
about a buck. A buck will also usually buy you about 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity,
equal to 2800 AA batteries or about 40 kilograms of them.
Of course, your wall socket isn’t portable and even a cord for nearby use is often quite
a hassle. Considering those batteries are a few thousand times more expensive per unit
of energy, not that much of a hassle. Thus bigger energy using devices either come with
a plug or a small engine. Weight-wise, 40 kilograms worth of AA batteries contain less
energy than a single kilogram of gasoline, about a third of a gallon. Wood, fat, and
carbohydrates, our more classic energy storage systems, all fall short of gasoline in energy
density but not by that much, and store far more than an electric battery.
Actually, about the only thing they match in energy density is the even older mechanical
flywheel, that you spin up and tap for rotational energy, of which the bicycle wheel and car
wheels are among the last common modern examples. Those also leak energy to air drag and friction
even faster than the worst batteries and are anything but portable. They are large and
bulky and actually very hard to walk around corners with due to conservation of angular
momentum. We see more of a push to improve batteries
nowadays mostly because we’ve already so improved small electronic devices to need
less power that they can actually run on the fumes of the typical battery. But if you loaded
a pair of AA’s into a microwave they’d power it about long enough to heat a glass
of water. A modern smartphone battery has about the
same amount of juice in it when fully charged, even laptops aren’t much more. These devices
use little power so they can run off batteries. Our batteries have gotten better, especially
rechargeable ones, but ultimately it’s the improved power efficiency that’s allowed
us to have more and more devices that don’t have to be plugged in constantly to operate.
Like I said earlier though, this is not an episode on batteries, it’s about having
power where you need it, and we don’t care if that’s by a battery, a solar panel, a
fuel tank and generator, or miles of power lines and local extension cords. I want to
talk about a few of those methods before we launch into the high-tech options because
they tie into the real fundamental issue, which is getting your energy where you need
it, when you need it, for the least hassle and loss.
As mentioned for energy storage we’ve got problems. You have to build and maintain that
storage device, you’ve got losses filling it up, you’ve got losses while it stores
it, and you have them when you make a withdrawal. To make it portable you also have to drag
it around and batteries are very heavy, generally having only a small percentage of the energy
an equal weight of the typical chemical fuel will have. Size matters too, not just weight,
by making things cumbersome. For these non-battery approaches we’ve got
problems too. With power cords you have the obvious problem, you need a cord and I don’t
need to elaborate on the hassles involved there as we know them all too well. They also
require a big generator somewhere making the energy and countless kilometers of power lines
that require space, right of way, heavy initial investment, continuing maintenance, and also
bleed off precious energy due to the wires not being superconductors.
I want to spend a little time explaining why the losses in power storage and delivery are
an important consideration. For an electrical cable, loss is proportional to the amount
of current passing through a given length of conductor, and this was a major headache
for the likes of Thomas Edison around the 1900s. The thicker the cable, the more efficiently
it carries a given amount of current. Edison found that to get power at 110 volts DC to
nearby homes and businesses required very thick, heavy and expensive power cables and,
even so, the losses to get power from a power station just a couple of miles away to a house
were staggering. Another famous man discovered something that
revolutionized the way that we transport power. His stroke of genius was to use alternating
current, or AC power, as opposed to direct current, or DC power, that Edison used. I
am, of course, talking about Nikola Tesla here. What makes AC so brilliant is that you
can easily transform it. Now, electrical power is the wattage that
the electricity can deliver and it is volts times amps, for single phase systems anyway.
If we put that power through a transformer, we can play with the ratios of the volts and
the amps. So, if we increase the voltage to thousands or even hundreds of thousands of
volts, we can decrease the current proportionally. This means we don’t need to have thick cables
to carry the power on. This is the reason that typical energy grid power lines run at
anything from a couple of hundred thousand volts to some that run close to a million
volts. It means we can get power hundreds or even thousands of kilometers without huge
losses and using relatively small cables. However, large voltages have their problems
too as the electricity can jump between conductors and if you get zapped by a high voltage, one
carrying even a moderately small current, it will electrocute you. We are trading off
one type of problem for another. Ideally you want wires with little to no resistance
but even if you could use superconductors, those need coolant that has to be made and
replaced and the amount of current that can be carried by a given conductor size is also
limited as the conductor loses its superconductivity if too much current flows through it. Should
we ever get a warm temperature superconductor, the coolant problem goes away, but the other
problems remain. That is an example of how one tech can cause
damage to the development of others though, and we see that a lot with energy. Some new
improvement to some type of energy technology makes it better and the other worse, relatively
speaking, so R&D drops off to those areas and slows improvement. We actually had solar
power long before cars were common and most houses had electricity, but research in improving
that died off, and indeed probably would have stayed dead if we hadn’t invented semiconductors
and improved them for their value in computing. We’ve been using wood and other biofuels
a long time too, and had wood powered vehicles, but seen very little improvement in those
because gas and diesel were better. Ditto, even solar and wind have probably hampered
improvements in safer & cheaper atomic energy because they tend to be viewed as more ecologically
attractive alternative energy sources, which is very debatable. Economics and perception
matter a lot in this field though. So batteries and land line power we know well
enough. How about a local generator? Of course we do that too. Lots of yard tools have their
own gasoline engines, but these need to be fairly large, require additional maintenance,
have reliability issues, acquiring and storing fuel, and also tend to be loud. We can’t
really do wind power for smaller objects either, as while it’s great for windmills, it -, like
the flywheel – is quite cumbersome and large, and not something you can easily make smaller.
If the wind dies off, or if your windmill is in a blocked or sheltered location, you
get no power; meaning you need a battery or flywheel in it or would need to blow on it.
Solar isn’t terribly energy dense either, 200 watts is a very good output rate for a
square meter of solar panel under full sun, but you won’t usually get that and obviously
not inside a building or at night. Even if you did though, it couldn’t power a car.
A horsepower, our unit of power for cars, is 746 watts, and you’d barely get just
one if you coated the whole surface of a car in solar panels. It generally take tens of
thousands of watts just to maintain cruising speed of an automobile on a highway. Still,
solar is a very attractive option, in conjunction with batteries, for powering smaller devices.
Atomic power sources are also pretty tempting. Now, you can’t stuff a thorium reactor into
a car, but you can use Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, RTGs, as a power source. Such
things are phenomenally energy dense, on an order of a million times that of any chemical
fuel and a billion times better than most batteries, though it drops off quite a lot
as you add in shielding from radiation, and factor in the incredibly low efficiency of
thermocouples, which have never broken 10% and generally do about half that. But these
are incredibly durable objects lacking moving parts, that just put out a constant supply
of power and metamaterials hold promise to improve the efficiency of the thermocouples
in the foreseeable future. Most RTGs are pretty heavy affairs, able to
turn out hundreds of watts for decades off only a few kilograms of fuel, and a good deal
more of shielding. But we actually have something called a betavoltaic battery that can be quite
small. The name comes from them running on beta radiation, which is electrons or positrons,
and beta radiation can be stopped by virtually anything, including a thin piece of tin foil
or your own top layer of dead skin. So you can take a quick beta-decay isotope
like Strontium-90, half-life of 29 years, and have a power source that creates a steady
supply of energy for decades. Indeed we used these in older pacemakers and use tritium
based ones in a lot of tiny low-power, long term devices. Two key caveats there though,
first, the power supply is not actually constant, it slowly decreases over time and at the half-life
of the isotope will be down to half-wattage so a 20 watt Strontium-90 betavoltaic battery
would be down to 10 watts in 29 years and 5 watts in 58 years. Second, it is a steady
power supply. You can’t stop it, it just keeps going and going and going at that wattage.
Meaning unless your device needs a constant power supply of X amount, all the rest of
that energy is being wasted, and if you need more than X power sometime, you will need
a battery attached too. A new type of betavoltaic device that shows
a lot of promise is the diamond battery. This device takes advantage of Carbon-14, a radioisotope
made in our own atmosphere by cosmic rays, or in graphite in fission reactors, and of
course diamonds are made of carbon. The outer, non-radioactive Carbon-12 slows the electrons
being emitted by the inner, mildly radioactive Carbon-14. This is a very low power device,
just 3 watts, and isn’t the most energy dense, but it does allow for a more than 6000
year lifetime before reaching half power, making it attractive for space missions and
other remote or difficult to reach applications. These kinds of isotopes are expensive too.
That’s the real limit on RTGs, not them being dangerous. An atomic power plant uses
a reaction that causes fission, RTG’s and the like rely on natural decay. Needless to
say, things with half-lives of less than many millions of years are not found much in nature
because they don’t live long after the event that made them, which for many was some giant
supernova billions of years ago. And tritium, the most popular to use, costs
about 30 thousand dollars per gram, hundreds of times more than gold or platinum, though
it produces about a watt of power and has a half-life of 12 years. Still insane though
that sounds, you could power quite a few devices off that much juice, especially with an attached
battery to handle peak use, and its cost comes from production, you need a fission reactor
to make it, so there are scenarios where that could become much more plentiful in the future.
Ignoring that cost, you could easily have a 10-watt tritium ‘battery’ that with
shielding and thermocouple loss included weighed no more than a typical smartphone battery
and lasted decades, or you could have, say, 3 or 4 smaller ones where you just staggered
the usage and pulled one for replacement every 5 or 6 years with no radiation concerns.
Another option is to not use radioactive decay as your power source, but to use micro fission
reactors. The smallest thermal nuclear reactor ever designed is only 4.6 kg, including all
shielding. Less than half a kg of Americium-232, the most easily fissioned fissile fuel known
that can sustain a chain reaction, it is dissolved in nitric acid, then this is mixed with water,
and placed in a sphere 9.6 cm across that serves as a neutron reflector and radiation
shield. While this is only produces a few hundred watts, the fission reaction can be
throttled to meet energy demands, and it is able to be refueled or replaced.
This is the smallest you can go for a reasonably traditional reactor, but there are experiments
being conducted into other quirks of neutronics that may make it possible to go even smaller.
Two related concepts have been bounced around for a number of years, ultra-cold neutrons
and tetraneutrons. Briefly, ultracold neutrons move very slowly and are thus more likely
to be captured and cause a fission event, and tetraneutrons are bundle of neutrons that
are also more likely to be captured and cause fission. If we can advance this technology
we may be able to produce smaller, safer reactors that can actually be throttled quickly to
allow you to produce power only in the amount you want when you want it.
We also have energy beaming and wireless energy, and like the others these are not new concepts
but are seeing more interest these days. Energy beaming is more of a space-based application,
where instead of a wire, you beam light or microwaves to something like a spaceship or
satellite. We’ve discussed that here on SFIA a lot so we’ll skip it today. It’s
not very ideal for terrestrial applications. Wireless power, though, is seeing more use,
due in part to the quantum uncertainty of power plugs and USB ports, which are always
backwards from whichever direction of the plug you are attempting to insert, particularly
if said connector is in an awkward place to reach or see. Wireless power has its pros
and cons too. Range is quite an issue, which is why most devices using it now require them
to be practically physically touching to work, meaning it’s basically just an easy plug.
But those are improving, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that became common enough
in homes in a decade or two that ‘wireless’ started meaning power supply for devices rather
than an internet connection. This is a good place to jump in to higher-tech
stuff. Even if we had a teleporter, like we discussed two weeks back, we can’t just
freely refuel things or move power, at least not under the methods that look like they
might be allowed under known physics. But that is also one potential option, as is quantum
energy teleportation. I generally tend to expect these to be impossible, or at least
impractical, but we can’t rule it out yet. Like energy beaming though, it potentially
lets you move energy over huge distances and not have to carry it with you like fuel. And
considering the big issue with such things is scaling it up past the atomic scale, micro-sizing
it for portable electronics is presumably not the issue, rather the reverse, getting
it even that big. We were also talking about atomic batteries
as a great option, and they absolutely are if you can find a way to produce those low-half-life
beta-decaying isotopes cheaper, and that derives from them being atomic rather than chemical,
millions of times more energy dense. . Another way to harvest energy from decay would be
to develop gammavoltaic systems. These are basically a lot like solar panels, but working
in a MUCH higher frequency than visible light. Because of the way traditional Photovoltaics
works, the wavelength of the light and the size of the components actually converting
the light into electricity are linked, so traditional silicon wouldn’t cut it, even
if the radiation wouldn’t overwhelm the thing first. The two most promising options
here are perovskites, which are already being used in the newest generation of solar panels,
and biogammavoltaics, which are really interesting. Biogammavoltaics come from certain radiotrophic,
or radiation eating, fungi that have been studied fairly extensively in Russia. One
of the most promising is a fungus that lives in the same room as the Elephant’s Foot,
or the melted down corium from the Chernobyl meltdown. These fungi contain a LOT of melanin,
with basically just enough room to squeeze in the rest of the things that they need to
live, and this melanin converts the gamma radiation into biochemical energy. Since most
radioisotopes also produce gamma radiation, being able to use this to harvest power would
truly be a game changer, not just for RTGs, but for antimatter devices as well.
Antimatter lets us get even denser than atomic energy. Under Einstein’s famous E=mc²,
a single gram of matter contains about 100 trillion joules of energy, as we mentioned
earlier you only get maybe a thousand joules out of an equal mass of batteries and at most
a hundred times more than that out of a gram of chemical fuel, so raw matter to energy
conversion batteries are around a billion times more energy dense than chemical fuels
and a hundred billion times as dense as modern batteries.
Now that would be the penultimate energy supply, just short of being able to yank power out
of nothing. And we have two approaches that let us more or less do this. The first is
antimatter, which is technically twice as good since it will render itself and an equal
amount of regular matter into energy. It’s more properly thought of as a battery too
because there’s no real source of naturally occurring antimatter in any significant quantity,
you have to make it. And right now not only can we not store it, but we need to spend
millions of times more energy to make a bit of anti-matter than it would release. Like
being able to cheaply mass produce radioisotopes, if we could ever mass-produce antimatter and
safely store it, it would be an amazing power storage medium. Not only is it even more energy
dense than fissionable materials and radioisotopes – indeed it even outstrips fusion – but you
can throttle your power output. An RTG produces a set power supply, constantly, whether you
need it or not and you can’t squeeze any extra out.
Antimatter is more like a fuel, you only burn it when you want to at the rate you want to.
Since it has otherwise identical properties to normal matter, long term storage without
decay isn’t really an issue, though considering touching any matter makes it explode, even
short term storage is an issue. But a big ball of antihydrogen or anti-iron left to
itself isn’t decaying and can just sit there indefinitely awaiting use without loss to
time and decay. You can also potentially use antimatter to
catalyze fusion. We generally think of a fusion power source needing to be very large. But
you might be able to make a very small one that ran on a little antimatter and much more
common and mundane fusion fuel instead. Which is nice unless you have very cheap antimatter
production, more so since the assumption is the process will always require at least as
much energy be put in as you get out, whereas you might get a net positive output using
it to catalyze fusion. Our other approach for raw matter to energy
conversion is black holes. Now needless to say these are not normally portable, but as
we discussed way, way back in micro-blackholes, you can potentially make very tiny ones by
jamming a lot of energy into one place at once, usually by targeting a tiny spot with
a huge array of lasers, energy has gravity too, not just mass, and lasers are the only
type of non-mass energy we usually can get anywhere that dense. This is called a kugelblitz
black hole, and according to current theory they decay and release energy via Hawking
Radiation at a speed roughly inverse to the cube of their mass. Making one ten times lighter
means it lives only tenth-cubed or one thousandth the time. It will also produce ten-squared
or one hundred times the power. We’ve talked about moving starships with ones weighing
hundreds of thousands of tons, or fueling whole civilizations with far more massive
but lower-powered versions that will keep going for eons.
However you could potentially make very tiny but ridiculously high powered ones too. Ones
that shine nearly as bright as a star for just a few seconds. This, needless to say,
is pretty darn useless for most applications, as would be some billion ton black hole producing
only a few thousand watts even if it did so steadily for a trillion years.
But the solution comes with the problem. We regard these as batteries because it’s virtually
impossible to feed new matter into such a black hole, so they run out. This sounds counterintuitive,
since normally feeding a black hole is very easy, eating stuff is what they are best known
for. But these tiny black holes are even tinier than an atomic nucleus and so it’s hard
to get fuel into them while they are gushing out so much energy, it will push away the
stuff you are trying to get in. It’s kind of like trying to jam a beach
ball into a hole in the wall the size of a dime while someone is spraying a pressure
washer through the other side. So if you can feed one, you have a power generator rather
than a battery; but trying to do so is nigh impossible. They also – like our RTGs – produce
a set amount of power constantly, not on demand. Though unlike them, that power rises as the
black hole shrinks, instead of diminishing as the radioisotopes decay.
Now last week we were talking about metamaterials and possible perfect mirrors and better lenses,
so let’s imagine for the moment we had a truly perfect mirror around such a super-tiny
black hole. Everything keeps reflecting around and going back in eventually. Now you have
an ideal battery, and you can use even a very low-mass black hole for this, and just let
some energy leak out in the amount you need. This is much easier said than done. For one
thing, the energy released this way is going to be mostly gamma radiation; which we not
only don’t have any perfect mirrors for, but honestly any mirrors at all. But it may
be possible. Still fairly dangerous though since the lighter ones are so short-lived
that if it started leaking, it would basically explode.
So feedable blackholes, or mirror contained ones, at the larger scale are possibly on
the table but one light enough to carry around in your pocket probably are not.
That said, if you’ve got perfect mirrors you maybe don’t need a black hole for power
storage. Instead of making a kugelblitz black hole by shooting tons of lasers at one atom-sized
spot, you shoot them all into a box with perfect mirror sides and close it up. All that light
bounces around until you release it. This is definitely physically possible, even now,
it’s just miniaturizing it that’s hard because light moves very fast and mirrors
aren’t perfect, though we’ve made some that are perfect for a single wavelength.
Every bounce on an imperfect mirror loses some energy, so if you had a mirror box billions
of kilometers long you aren’t getting many bounces and loss.
Micro-sizing that to a useful size means your mirrors need to be perfect. at least for that
wavelength of stored light. The energy density is the same as matter, stick a hundred trillion
joules of photons in a box and it will weigh one gram more. This basically ties with anti-matter
as your penultimate battery, and depending on how mirror technology goes, might be the
most plausible approach. Indeed it might not be all that far off either, again we’ve
made perfect mirrors for individual wavelengths. Can we do even better? Well nothing beats
entirely free energy produced wherever you want it in the amount you want it, and while
we have no theory for that, vacuum energy potentially offers something pretty close.
There’s an awful lot of energy sitting around in the seeming emptiness of the true void,
and being able to tap that or dark energy or even reaching into other universes to snatch
some are things we can’t rule out for the future, but sadly we also can’t discuss
them much as we don’t have anything approaching a solid understanding of any of those yet.
This is something that Iain Banks described in his Culture novels with his Gridfire weapon,
and this weapon truly dwarfs any other type of weapon that we could possibly obtain in
this universe. That would however, be the ultimate game changer,
vast amounts of energy available to you wherever you go when you want it that you didn’t
even have to lug around, the ultimate in portable power.
All right, we’ll wrap up there for the day. One quick announcement before we get into
the upcoming episodes, folks have been asking me to make some channel merchandise for a
long while now and we’ve finally gotten around to starting that up. The big request
was for T-shirts and coffee mugs and I was delaying a bit in large part because I wanted
to make sure it wasn’t junk that would melt in folks’ dishwashers, once we found a good
company, Signil, we were ready to proceed. We’ll add to the available options as time
and interest permit, but those are now available at Signil.com and will be linked below in
the video description. Next week we will be looking at how humans
and life in general need to adapt to live in the empty expanse of space, and probably
not surprisingly our SFIA Book of the Month is Leviathan Wakes, the first book of The
Expanse series, whose TV adaptation has its third season premiering next week too. The
week after that we will go the opposite direction, and talk about making habitats in space tailored
to humans, with a detailed look at the O’Neill Cylinder, the largest rotating habitat you
can make from materials we can currently cheaply mass produce, and probably the first megastructure
you would build in space. For alerts when those and other episodes come
out, make sure to subscribe to the channel, and if you enjoyed this episode, hit the like
button and share it with others, or donate to support future episodes at our website,
IsaacArthur.net, or Patreon, or of course you can buy some channel merchandise. Until next time, thanks for watching, and have a great week!

91 COMMENTS

    The little girl blowing away the dandelion seeds is so cute. Besides that, it looks promising but doesn't sound like it's going to happen. They talked about Thorium for abut 6 seconds. Portable reactors? Forget it. Wireless power is OLD tech. My Dad built one, although just enough to power a transistor radio, from Popular Science plans from the 50s! It runs on all the radio waves we send out. That was 70 years ago! Nothing here is new, just rehashed. The rest is speculation. Chernobyl mushrooms powering my car? Sure. Maybe when I live in Pripyat and drive a bumper car to work. I'll need to get a dashcam so I can put it all on YouTube. "American saves the World with Mushroom Powered car in Russia" (National Enquirer, August 2019).

    Wait, wait. There's a fungus living in the same room as the Elephant's Foot, a pile of slag so radioactive that humans can't even get close to it? And it EATS THE RADIATION?! Evolution is f**king amazing.

    Imagine if you are a horse on a prairie, everywhere you go is power, all you have to do is lower your head and refuel yourself.

    To bad the facebook group is moderated by radical leftists banning anyone uttering anything even remotely right wing.

    Quantum Plug Uncertainty? I thought I was just hopelessly uncoordinated. But now I know it’s a universal principle!! Thanks, Isaac!!!

    I love the voice and the pronunciation of words here. It is unusual and unique. It is part of the icon of this channel. Please don't change it. Just as a channel like this should be. Keep up the great work.

    I am surely not the first to have this idea, but if you can produce a lot of antimatter, and use it in space on a large scale, storage becomes kind of trivial. You just have to put enough of it on one spot so it becomes bound by its own gravity. That would give you a planet-size, 100% efficient battery. You just have to keep the mass of your antimatter between the point of loosing its own gravity and the point of starting fusion.
    The only thing you have to build is a shell around your ball of antimatter to shield it from cosmic radiation or bigger chunks of normal matter.

    So if we create alternate universes, feed it to antimatter and receive back energy, we basically won, like we did it reddit

    We can't get a thorium generator in a car, huh? Grabs his best Fallout paraphernalia challenge accepted. 😀

    No, not dark energy. Sure, it's energy, but there are two big problems. The first is that dark energy is incredibly thin, as you might know from the vacuum catastrophe. Even if you can harness it, it will require a huge area to collect it in useful quantity. Second, you can't harness it. It is a property of space and can never be concentrated as a result; no possible heat gradient means no gibbs free energy per thermodynamics, which is sacrosanct.

    2:13 Christians (and all religions within their spheres of influence) like to abuse their power as the majority by putting a little Christian stamp on everything so they can claim it as their own. The cherubs represent God giving man this gift of knowledge so they can proclaim: "Aw see? See this? See this thing? This thing that exists? Our God did that. Yeah. That's a thing that proves our God is even more powerful and cooler than before. Give us more money. And power. And let us have sex with your children." It's the same as putting "in god we trust" on the currency and "under god" in the pledge of allegiance.

    Hey Isaac, I've been poking around the web all day trying to find any information on the americium reactor you mentioned and I can't seemed to find anything. Any chance I could get a source or the name of the device so I can do some further reading? Thanks!

    Quantum Uncertainty of USB Connectors – omg I am going to be laughing about that for days! That’s hysterical! Thanks for the belly laugh. : )

    Hey, Isaac! I'm enjoying the channel a lot. Great work! The bad actors stock shots are starting to get to me, thou. Maybe it's time for me to switch to the podcast version.

    When I was a kid I was a bit obsessed with energy sources and I had imagined bottling light. Made lots of research on the absorption rates, light reflection, etc., of various materials in the visible and infrared wavelenghts. My idea was to build a multi-layers box that wouldn't absorb, but rather reflect visible and infrared (even far infrared) light. Bouncing light generates photons of lower and lower energy, since no mirror is ever perfect. So being able to reflect far infrared considerably reduces the energy loss. Photons are hard to contain!

    I particularly liked ;
    bio Gama voltaics 19:49 schwartzschild kugelblitz 22:50
    Zero point energy 27:11 really cool mug 28:14

    Wait, if fat is a form of energy, why don't Energy companies offer free liposuction? Then everyone would be happy t lose all that weight and the energy companies would have a ton of free fule to suplement their business.

    This is so cool, but I have so many questions…
    Do those "light batteries" have a name? Can I learn more about them somewhere?
    Could you use a black hole generator to create anti-matter relatively efficiently? Wouldn't a black hole be better for "charging" a light battery too, as storage for the hawking radiation?
    Could you use a light battery to power a small electronic, like a modern cell phone or laptop? How would we do that? A solar panel? How efficient is that? What about recharging them? Could you use modern wireless "charging" technology to effectively power an LED and shine light into it? How efficient is that?
    Could we use antimatter to do the same thing, power cell phones and the like?
    In any case I guess that we'd probably want these to contain only a small amount of energy, nowhere near even a single gram.

    About the painting with Cherubs.. Cherubs being an older version of angels. I assume its a reference to the medieval Rabbi Maimonides, who had a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of the Bible. Maimonides writes that to the wise man, one sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as "angels" are actually allusions to the various laws of nature; they are the principles by which the physical universe operates… interesting guy thanks for the breadcrumb 🙂

    All of your videos are superb. The wonderful information & insightful explanations you provide on every topic you end up completely schooling us on is so well thought out & articulated with such style & attention given to every detail that you are the best on the internet making these kinds of videos. I like this video specifically because it's different from the 'usual' types being that it's discussing something we already are familiar with but truly know little about. So naturally once you put your smart as hell spin on it it becomes pleasantly educational. I love your videos Isaac and I'll love you for making them. Keep up with the premium work that you do so well as it is much appreciated and it is the highlight of my evening when I get to watch a new video.

    What about Tesla and his Wardenclyffe project on Long Island? 100 years ago. Transmitting power without power lines but he was shut down because J P Morgan couldn't put a meter on it to charge money. Bankers/intelligence agencies are the ones holding humanity back, not scientific breakthroughs.

    Does counting the energy from the matter part of antimatter power really double it? Since it would also be twice the mass (so antimatter+matter energy / 2x mass = same energy per volume).

    17:00 – error in video. Super-slow "cold" neutrons are easier to absord, but also DO NOT cause fission because of their low energy – no enough to scatter nucleus!
    20:20 – Godzilla :
    23:00 – common mistake. Only after crossing TOV limit we can have black hole.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tolman%E2%80%93Oppenheimer%E2%80%93Volkoff_limit

    + Isaac Arthur
    You REALLY should made a LONG 40 min. ep about thorium. Material is so easy to get from net and youtube you should be able to do video under a day…and thorium fans give you subs!

    BTW – wind and solar safer than nuclear? Let's see:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents#Fatalities
    GOD DAMN HELL NO !!!

    So..

    A big wheel.

    Compartmented.

    Each partition is a radioactive honeycomb, full with Nitrogen.

    Compressed.

    This is spun to a reletivistic speed.

    Now the inertia alone makes it a battery..

    Now.. The existing radioactivity in the honeycombs will make Nytrogen turning both radioactive..

    But also change number of possible bonds.. Thus both reducing the preassure..

    And make atoms closer..

    In a high energy, radioactive environment..

    We will have a lot of Carbon14.

    Renewable even.. To a point.

    can we harvest usable wavelengths of light for "free: from the sun with a mirror box to make useful work for us later? what is the ratio to size/energy density/ wavelength of light in the box before it becomes a kugleblitz black hole?

    Please start by developing a cell phone battery that will let me watch Isaac Arthur videos all day long without being connected to the charger!

    As a matter of fact, the military industrial complex spooks already have zero point energy devices derived from Tesla's principles and the reverse engineering of downed ETV craft.

    Aha, my friend. No offense, but did you lose your hearing working with artillery? I ask that because I have had some hearing loss from artillery and have heard of others who had even more. Plus, your speech problem could be the result of hearing loss.

    Hi Isaac, first of all, thank you for your videos. I’ve been a subscriber for a while now and find each and every one of your videos extremely thought-provoking. My name’s Luke.

    About the bottled light idea that you brought up… some scientists have been studying and using Bose-Einstein Condensates (BEC) to slow light down to the “speed of a bicycle” (please refer to this video: https://youtu.be/EK6HxdUQm5s). I’m thinking that you’d be more knowledgeable and able to talk about it more than I can, which is why I’m asking you…

    What do you think about using BECs to slow down visible light and sticking it into a bottle whose insides are a perfect reflector of infrared, and then coated with Vantablack? This theoretically would work around light moving too quickly to stuff into any sort of reasonably-sized container.

    The light would the exit the BEC and be perfectly reflected around inside the bottle, only escaping when being released as needed. Sure, some photons would bump back into the BEC, but much would not.

    Any light initially in the BEC when it is inserted into the bottle would emerge, be absorbed by the Vantablack coating, become converted to infrared light, be perfectly reflected by the inside of the bottle, and then pass back out of the Vantablack layer inside the bottle, and bounce around like that.

    We couldn’t coat the BEC itself with Vantablack as they are almost oxymorons in terms of the temperatures involved.

    With your background and your research, do you think this is theoretically possible within currently known physics?

    Haha! I love the merchandise and am hoping to save up enough to order a shirt or mug! Ooh, perhaps I can ask someone to get one for xmas!

    Excellent as usual.

    I didn’t know you were a fellow veteran, not that I would have a reason to.

    Although I went to grad school in a medical discipline (my undergrad studies were physical sciences) I took a class in the Department of Nuclear Science titled “Nuclear Reactor Theory and Design” just for the Hell of it (yeah, I’m one of “those people!”). There I was introduced to RTG’s and I’m still fascinated by them to this day. You do seem to dwell on shielding problems but those fueled by alpha emitters require little or no shielding.

    In regard to power transmission via lasers or microwaves/masers, there is a problem which limits transmission distance: the inverse square law. Resistance in metallic conductor cable can be overcome by cooling or otherwise using superconducting materials. But I know of no way to overcome the inverse square law limitations.

    If I ever have the opportunity to start my own country (or planet), I think I’ll use a power type not uncommon in industry but as far as I know not used anywhere on the globe (or in ships or aircraft…I once heard it was used on the International Space Station but I never attempted to verify the claim) for public power. I would used pulsed square wave DC. It’s easy to step voltage up or down using transformers. To improve efficiency my system would incorporate three or four phases. With the exception of the US and a few other countries, all of the world uses 220 VAC-240VAC for household power and I would continue this practice. To again further improve efficiency I would use a higher frequency than the 50 Hz-60 Hz worldwide standard. Large aircraft use 400 Hz power and one would be amazed in the difference in size between say a 62.5 kVA 400 Hz aircraft generator and a similar output 60 Hz generator. Picture a household vacuum cleaner or microwave oven with a power cord slightly larger than a pencil lead!

    To further save on copper usage (smaller wires) all vehicular power systems would use 24 VDC…42 VDC if an economical way could be found to construct a 21 cell battery (the 42 volt battery would be the same physical size as the 12 cell (24 volt) and 21 cell (41 volt). The higher the voltage, the less current is required for the same power and less current means smaller plates.

    I love how isaac sprinkles his humor in 100% deadpan and keeps moving on in the lecture without skipping a beat. 😁
    He covertly hides jokes in these videos like little easter eggs for his audience to find…
    “Quantum uncertainty of USB plugs…” 😂

    But I think about the electric car and its power problems the best solution is having something from f-zero where you go to the right or left side of the road and it automatically charges through wireless charging

    He always seems apologetic for his unique speech. I love it. I switched from listening to thunder storms and rain audio to sleep, now I listen to the soothing sounds of Isaac, then replay it the next day to hear what I missed because it’s the most interesting content on the internet.

    Does light exist as a particle and a continuous wave at the same time? Or is the particle & wave twinned in such a way that light pulses hyperfast but with infinitesimally small 'memory' gaps in between particle & wave? In the latter scenario could we find a way to interrupt the two and create a chain process utilizing the memory attraction between the two to harness energy or to improve solar electricity generation ? Could be a long shot. Lol.

    Finally someone is right about why AC is used for power transmission! It's just so darn easy to change the voltage. DC requires a power converter to increase voltage or decrease it efficiently.

    I love this channel, one of the very best I'll say, interesting information and some fiction too, I love to discuss about futurism.

    Whoa I had no idea we had solar panels before semiconductors. How did they make them work I wonder. The current ones use silicon right? Time to add this to the list of things to look into.

    QUANTUM PLUG UNCERTAINTY LOL!!!!!!! So that's what it is. I always thought it was little gnomes that lived in the plug port, having a laugh at my expense (AKA The Borrowers).

    Eh, even 'perfect' mirrors are merely >99.9% efficient. There are still losses, which means that in practice you couldn't really use them to make a kugelblitz without vaporizing them and you can't use them to 'store' light for more than a few seconds at best. A more exotic solution like combining 'perfect' mirrors with 'slow light' might work, but even that is pretty questionable.

    thanks mr arthur came here from giant robots episode, for me as a simple man the powersource we are looking for may never exist RIP cool powersuits

    There is also one more potential holding capacity for energy – spintronics. You can cram a lot of energy in atom nucleis themselves. Thats how NMR works. They would start to giving energy back instantly tho. If only we could "freeze" nuclear spins, we could hold huge amounts of energy.

    In current time we start looking ( 8:40 ) about using DC for long distance transfer lines, because they have less lose, and because transistors we can easily (with low lost) transform to AC, with one is easy to change voltage. There are many things why they was not possible in past, as transistors not exist, so they use very lost method of conversion, but DC do not make change magnetic field around cable, and use full profile of cable (DC mostly use only surface )

    Hello Isaac.

    Another wonderful video. I do so enjoy hearing you explain concepts that I often find hard to explain to people I know that have not spent the time I have over the decades to understand these concepts.

    I note that you will be doing a video on O'Neil Cylinders (by the time of this missive, you already have).

    I think I remember stumbling across that video, so I will address some concerns I have with building such devices.

    For one, I do not see why we would need to build such cylinders out of 'normal' metals. Using simple, large mirrors, you can 'pump' sunlight onto asteroids to melt them. Spinning said asteroid will cause the heavier elements to migrate outwards, leaving the lighter elements in the core.

    'Strip mining' the outer layers will net all the various metals one could desire for any applications one has a need for them. One could literally strip mine down to solid rock. Depending upon the spin given to the object, the rock would be fairly thick and be a short thick cylinder.

    Boring out the center after moving the mirrors to allow the rock to cool and solidify, would allow the 'miners' to mine the light weight elements in the center, while hollowing out the rock cylinder itself. Packing the resulting 'hollow' with ice obtained from the Kuiper Belt, and sealing off the ends allows for the next phase of 'construction'. The Ballooning of the rock, by melting the rock again and vaporizing the ice inside it to have pressures needed to expand the molten, or near molten rock.

    The end result would be a hollow rock tube, with the walls miles thick. One could then install air locks, use more kuiper belt ice to make an oxygen atmosphere and begin Terra-forming the interior surface of the cylinder.

    I do not see that I need to add any more to the later stages of construction of such a habitat. But I will note that dozens of miles of rock should be plenty thick enough to allow such a habitat to survive small impacts. Anything large enough to be dangerous to the habitat, one would either blast into tiny fragments to spread the damage out over a larger surface area of impact, or, drag off to be 'mined' itself for its valuable materials.

    Such rocky cylinders would not be ideal for multi-generational spaceships, but would be useful as habitats for farming, living space for populations, and manufacturing area under gravity-like conditions due to spin.

    Just my thoughts,

    speaking Frank-ly

    https://youtu.be/ffXqcf48D9Q?t=967 Mispronounced.. It is pronounced "Amer-i-cium". Brilliant video. Thanks for so much detail!

    Hurray for casual proper use of ‘electrocute’ at 8:58. Add solid wordplay like ‘squirrel’ and your scripts are a joy.

    Atomic mini reactors or atomic batteries………….that would melt the brains of eco-extremists………I can only imagine the protests from their NPC armies.

    Transmission lines would be safer and suffer less line loss over distance if the wire were insulated(and I'd still have a left hand). But the line would be far heavier, which would require stronger equipment, and after paying for injured workers your still looking at line loss being cheaper than improving it with current technology. Right now capacitor banks are the best bet to combat induction. They're all over the place. Companies are starting to play around with new voltage converters. DC has less line loss over long distances with high voltage transmission lines. So generate in AC step up to 500kv convert to DC. Miles of transmission lines to get to the load. Transfer back to AC and step down to distribution voltage. 12470 or 14,000kv then to a 120/240 transformer then to the tv and wifi to watch SFIA!!
    Great episode!

    How is wireless power transfer in homes allowed under known physics? There is one method that actually works which is induction, but this only works on distances less than a centimeter. It doesn´t make a difference if I have to carry my phone to its induction loading station or if this loading station actually has contacts I put it into. If you want to transfer power over larger distances you need either laser or microwaves and it doesn´t work with a moving target.

    So please tell me which known physics allows equipping homes with wireless power transfer for devices used in them.

    Do you have some resources I can research for bottled light? or is there a more technical term than bottled light? when I google "bottled light" I get a lot of light beer haha.

    Nuclear fusion = 353,000,000,000 J/g For fusion deuterium + helium-3. 24% of the particles produced by this type of fusion are x-ray and neutrons the other 76% are charged particles that can be captured for direct conversion to energy.

    If we had the domain of sustainable nuclear fusion in the future, and only stored 10 million tons of deuterium + helium-3, we would have as much potential stored energy as 378.122 trillion barrels of oil in usable net energy considering that 24% of the energy produced was 20%. x-ray 4% neutrons that cannot be captured and converted directly to energy and of the remaining 76% 3% would be used to keep producing and maintaining plasma within the reactor of the remaining 73% and an 88% efficiency conversion method to Deuterium + helium-3 fusion can produce 229 trillion joules per KG in actual usable energy as deuterium + helium-3 fusion produces very little in neutrons better and much more efficient energy conversion means than steam turbine can be used. so 88% of final usable energy conversion efficiency is quite acceptable.

    250 refined helium-3 space freighters loaded from planet Uranus totaling 5 million tons of helium-3 + 5 million tons of deuterium extracted from terrestrial ocean water could give us this immeasurable reliable reserve of energy for tough times.

    In my view the best way to store long term energy within the real world is possible.

    That is if we do not reside next to a star mass black hole that we can mass matter around it and throw it into it in order to convert matter to energy the black hole converts 6% to 20% of matter into energy depending on whether rotating or non-rotating this would be much better than merging, but we would have to have access to a natural black hole and would have to build the necessary structure and a safe distance to live in a black hole system if we don't have planets or at least planetoids abandoned orbiting this potential black hole.

    The other 20% of the energy produced by the deuterium + helium-3 nuclear fusion reaction is x-ray. A secondary system could be designed to use very bright x-ray particles to heat water and extract some amount of energy from that x-ray. x which would otherwise be lost unlike neutrons which is impossible, considering a 47% efficiency steam turbine for a large nuclear fusion reactor this could still yield tens of trillion barrels of oil in energy equivalence for use. So if we have controllable nuclear fusion it would be very interesting to store fusion fuel in some depot on planet earth or another desired planet and use it slowly in difficult times.

    Thanks for the amazing videos. I was wondering if quantum entanglement could be used for portable energy with on set of entangled particles in a big generator and the other anywhere in a small device doing work.

    the main problem with Betavoltaics, as far as I know, (and I am just an amateur) comes from the lack of broad range spectrum absorption (unlike your typical PV cell which absorbs ALL of the visible light spectrum.) So while the Beta radiation has higher energy output in that wavelength, the cumulative effect is much less power output. I have been trying to find a method to apply an alpha absorption layer (or maybe a clear varnish or lacquer) that would coat the cell, but I have not found that, nor such a materiel yet. As far as Gamma. x-ray or Neutrino absorption, I have no clue how to solve. I know in most light water plants here in the US we use large pools of water to absorb Neutrinos, because we have to…. If anyone else is looking into this tech, I'd love to start a discussion.

    I am really interested in a photo-nucleaic cell using tritium vials, specifically focusing on the different color wavelengths vs power output. However, I have seen the total output to be about 1/3 output of the total PV cell, additionally, to extract usable energy (33 watts or so) requires a huge surface area, and most of the available Tritium vials are 3 mm wide. So cost is way past any experimentation I can do realistically.

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