January 22, 2006

Science question.

So, ponder this. Imagine we had viable nanotech, of a sort. It takes large physical plant to keep it working, say, or it only has a short lifespan and it takes a large physical plant to make it, whatever. And obviously, it doesn't violate thermodynamics. But it can do molecular rearranging so long as the energy equations work out.

I wonder if it would ever make sense to just have big vats of the stuff set up somewhere sunny to build gasoline?

I mean, gasoline is, in fact, a really really efficient medium for energy transport, modulo safety. It stores more chemical oxidation energy per unit volume than hydrogen (gaseous, certainly; dunno liquid but that introduces all manner of other storage/safety requirements) and doesn't go bang nearly as easily.

Plus, a liquid energy transport infrastructure already exists.

It removes the need for nano to be used anywhere outside the refinery setting, although you could always have more expensive setups that built gas for remote locations. Or built whatever. But the point is, Heinlein sort of had it right, in Friday and his short stories - the problem isn't energy production so much as energy transport. The 'Shipstones' from Friday were essentially a transport solution. He posited solar and orbital solar production.

Along those lines. Everytime people talk about orbital power production, the problem of getting the power to earth comes up. Obviously. Absent orbital tethers and superconductors, this isn't going away. People always seem to come up with masers, most likely because the atmosphere's gaseous components are transparent to microwaves. The problem is that there's a lot of water in the atmosphere, which sure isn't. Has anyone thought of (and I'm sure the answer is yes) just using visible lasers onto 'normal' solar arrays at visible wavelengths and then using orbital power to illuminate them at night, and to perhaps boost them somewhat during the day? You could at least double the productivity of a solar array without worrying about non-normal frequency EM radiation effects on the planet; you wouldn't have to collimate masers or lasers to some hideously tight beam and worry about keeping them aimed; you'd just make sure that the emissions level of the lasers was such that at the surface, the levels never got above 'normal sunshine.' Sure, since it would all be on one frequency, you'd have to worry about eye damage. But that seems better than 'hellish powerful masers hitting water clouds.'

Sorry. Noodling.

Posted by jbz at January 22, 2006 3:11 PM | TrackBack

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