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Writing: Input Wanted An overheating energy source (for a sci-fi story)?

  1. Apr 25, 2017 #1
    Hi. I'm trying to create a power generating technology for a sci-fi story that is ubiquitous in everyday life (e.g., flying cars, starfighters, elevators, homes, etc.). One element I need is for the power core to be able to overheat and kill a human in a starfighter. Is there an existing or speculative tech (e.g., cold fusion) that can overheat like this?

    Thanks
    Dirk
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 25, 2017 #2

    Drakkith

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    The first ones I can think of are fission-based nuclear power or fuel cells. Cold fusion is so speculative that we don't know what would happen even if we did develop it. You might be able to pull off regular fusion with a sufficiently creative power-source design though. Fusion generates a lot of heat, which needs to be gotten rid of. If the cooling system fails then you'd certainly start to cook things. I assume that by "overheat" you also mean "explode". Perhaps the reactor uses superconducting magnets and a failure of the cooling system would "quench" them, suddenly turning them into regular conductors that have huge amounts of current flowing through them. Lots of current + non-zero resistance = vaporized magnets = possible explosion. That's what happened at the LHC back in 2008" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider#Quench_incident
     
  4. Apr 26, 2017 #3
    In a story i am currently working on power comes from Qlinked gold dissolved in dense borasilicate glass with one part in orbit of the sun if it stopped getting cooling it would turn to lava and then vaporize
     
  5. Apr 26, 2017 #4

    Drakkith

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    Err, what? I can't make heads or tails of what your power source is or how it works.
     
  6. Apr 26, 2017 #5
    Yes that's exactly how it works :wink:
    The idea is the quantum entangled gold molecules will share energy between pairs and the glass is a convenient and cool looking way to carry a very small amount of gold in a dispersed medium
    I am not to concerned about how hard the science is on account of the
    pocket D elves that are also in the story
     
  7. Apr 26, 2017 #6

    Drakkith

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    Okay, so you basically have an object object absorbing radiant energy from a star and transferring it somewhere else then?
    I could certainly see the receiving object overheating if cooling is lost.
     
  8. Apr 28, 2017 #7
    Drakkith, what do you mean by fuel cells? Batteries?

    My story is set 2000 years in the future, so I'm interested in stretching current tech to its limits (assumes we succeed in miniaturizing fission tech, developing workable fusion tech, etc.). It's a space opera story, so I don't plan to go into the level of detail that would be appropriate for a hard-core sci-fi story. The tech simply exists. I'll probably try to use the name of the tech alone to describe its operation (e.g., fusion drive, miniaturized fission core, etc.). The tricky part is getting something simple that gives off heat. It doesn't need to blow up the pilot, just cook her. She sacrifices herself by crashing her ship into a shield generator rather than be cooked alive.

    Ideally, I'd like to get away from fission, since it's a 20th/21st century technology (aside from miniaturizing it, of course). Fusion seems ideal, since once it is made to work (assuming it's even possible), it would probably remain a dominant form of energy production for a very long time. I just don't know enough about its principles to know if it gives off heat that has to be removed from the system. Warm fusion?

    Thanks
    Dirk
     
  9. Apr 28, 2017 #8

    Drakkith

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    I mean literal fuel cells: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell
    A battery and a fuel cell are not the same.

    Most fuel cells today use hydrogen and react it with oxygen, but you could invent some future chemical that gave a much larger output than a hydrogen-oxygen reaction if you wanted to.

    Choose your poison! Just about any concept mentioned so far can work. Just scale up the power output and/or scale down the size and you're essentially good to go. Assuming your future tech is still at least a little inefficient when it comes to thermodynamics, you're probably going to need to provide some sort of cooling, no matter what method you choose.

    Currently, the most promising way to get power from a fusion reactor is to let the neutron radiation heat up water and then use that water to run a steam turbine that turns an electric generator. To say that fusion gives off heat is a severe understatement. :biggrin:

    Now, the thing with fusion is that atoms don't really want to fuse to begin with. That's why it's so hard. The atoms of elements used in fission reactors will eventually decay even if you didn't put them into a reactor. There's no stopping it. All we do is put enough of it into a small enough volume that the neutrons released in the fission events run into other atoms, are absorbed, and then immediately cause that atom to fission as well, causing a chain reaction. That's why a fission reactor is so dangerous. We have to physically put barriers in place to stop the chain reaction from proceeding out of control.

    But the atoms used in fusion don't want to fuse. There is a very strong repulsive force from the nuclei that stops them from getting close enough together to fuse. We have to heat the plasma up to millions of degrees just so that a small fraction of these nuclei have enough kinetic energy to overcome this repulsive force and fuse. This makes it very, very easy to stop the reaction. It's inherently immune to the sort of dangers that fission reactors have to work very hard to prevent, such as criticality accidents and meltdowns.

    That being said, technology is a fickle thing. If the right events happen in the right order, I could easily see a miniaturized fusion reactor overheating. A failure in the coolant system along with a failure in the reactor control system's sensors or something could mean that the reactor still thinks everything is okay while the entire reactor (and the ship its in) is being heated to a temperature hot enough to cook a beryllium pizza. Such a scenario is easily plausible for a fighter that has suffered damage. A single penetrating hit could damage multiple systems, causing a coolant and control system failure, preventing the pilot from ejecting, and disabling any manual control she may have had over the reactor.
     
  10. Apr 28, 2017 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    Why do you need to explain the technology? You don't see Columbo explaining how the internal combustion engine in his Peugeot works. As Stéphane Mallarmé said, "To suggest is to create. To define is to kill." Call them "power cells" and that's that. Give them whatever properties you need.
     
  11. May 2, 2017 #10
    Thanks for the detailed reply, Drakkith. Let me see if I have this right. Cold fusion is supposed to produce heat which can generate electricity by driving a turbine. Doesn't the power conversion dissipate the heat, eliminating the need for a coolant?

    Vanadium, I need only enough explanation in the book to be sure I don't write something totally stupid. For example, I didn't know that cold fusion is generally expected to generate heat to produce power. Power or fuel cells is definitely a possibility, although I'm hoping to use/understand cold fusion.
     
  12. May 2, 2017 #11

    Drakkith

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    It does not. No power generation method is 100% efficient, so there will always be waste heat. Also, let me reiterate that cold fusion is a pipe-dream in real life. You can certainly "invent" it for your story, but regular old fusion (aka hot fusion) is the current method we are trying to get working.
     
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