If we had all of the Sun's energy, would it be economical to transmutate elements?

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  • #1
Simfish
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Like, maybe transmutate certain elements into rare metals that we have a very limited supply of?

By "all of the Sun's" energy, I mean an amount of energy similar to the amount we could collect from solar panels if we covered the Earth with solar panels (obviously that isn't feasible, but we can dramatically increase our surface area by building panels in space). This could go all the way into a Dyson sphere.
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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If we had infinite energy, wouldn't it be easier to dig them out of the ground?
 
  • #3
Simfish
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In most cases, it would be. It's hard to make precise estimates of elemental abundance deep in the crust. But maybe there are more of the rare heavy metals that are deep in there?
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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If we had infinite energy, we could just go get asteroids to mine!
 
  • #5
Ryan_m_b
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It really depends on how efficient the proposed technologies are. You would need a highly sophisticated fusion reactor to transmute atoms, i've no idea how such a thing could be built so as to reliably produce X from Y in economical times and amounts. You wouldnt necessarily need to cover the Earth in solar panels though. If your technology is good enough you could build an automated station (a few times bigger than the ISS) with km worth of solar panels and put it in a much closer orbit to the sun so as to harvest more energy. Abundant elements could be shipped to the facility using a flotilla of tugs using VASIMR engines, these tugs could then bring the rare elements back.

So its theoretically possible if;
- You can build a modified fusion reactor capable of transmuting elements on demand in the right amounts
- You can build an automated station and orbit it close to the sun
- You develop propulsion technologies good enough to get a tug there and back in a few years
- You develop cheap rockets/spaceplanes to go to orbit to deliver the raw materials and collect the rare
- And above all you can do all of that cheaper than simply building a bigger mine or more efficient recycling stations
 
  • #6
sophiecentaur
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You would need a Supernova to produce the heavy elements that we crave. Even in the Sun, they are not being produced. In addition to energy, you need the right conditions of extreme temperature and pressure.
 
  • #7
Ryan_m_b
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You would need a Supernova to produce the heavy elements that we crave. Even in the Sun, they are not being produced. In addition to energy, you need the right conditions of extreme temperature and pressure.
Hmm is that strictly true? any element above iron does not get produced as a product of fusion because it takes more energy than it makes. However our fusion reactor does not need to make energy, we can pump energy in from the solar panels to fuse above iron. This does stretch far into the realms of building a fusion reactor out of unobtainium powered by handwavium and built by magitech
 
  • #8
sophiecentaur
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Hmm is that strictly true? any element above iron does not get produced as a product of fusion because it takes more energy than it makes. However our fusion reactor does not need to make energy, we can pump energy in from the solar panels to fuse above iron. This does stretch far into the realms of building a fusion reactor out of unobtainium powered by handwavium and built by magitech
I thought it was true that only large stars have the conditions to produce the really heavy elements when they go Nova. The small early stars that started life as just H nebulae only contain moderately heavy elements.
 
  • #9
Ryan_m_b
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I thought it was true that only large stars have the conditions to produce the really heavy elements when they go Nova. The small early stars that started life as just H nebulae only contain moderately heavy elements.
I'll have to look it up at some point but I'm pretty sure that anything above iron will not be made in a star until it novas, the energy of the nova causing the creation of all elements above iron (and beneath).

In our hypothetical fusion transmutation machine the energy needed to make a small amount of heavy elements would be far less than a nova. When a sun novas it greats awesome amount of energy and heavy elements, we only want to replicate that on a vastly smaller scale.
 
  • #10
sophiecentaur
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I guess that it would be possible at CERN and elsewhere. They have particles that are energetic enough.

This wiki page is good for a quick catchup.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_evolution" [Broken]
 
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  • #11
Ryan_m_b
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Flicking through good old wiki leads me to wonder if it would be possible to make a transmutation machine (either through fusion or a particle accelerator). The heat needed is on the order of gigakelvins and ridiculously high pressure. It might be possible to create these conditions but I'm not sure if the machine could make elements above iron without degenerating into an explosion. I'm not sure how one would transmute materials without a mini-controllable star.

This isn't my area of expertise at all but if I were to have to put my money where my mouth is I'd guess that some future civilisation could build a transmutation machine but they would really have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for resources, the energy and technology needed suggests that mining anywhere in the solar system shouldnt be a problem for you.
 
  • #12


Rather than get all those solar panels, wouldn't it be more economical to get heat from deep down in the earth and use it to run steam turbines? Also there are solar pannel alternatives that use mirrors focusing the sun's light on pipes that heat water to a boil to power turbines. We can only build so many conventional solar panels before we run out of silicone, or prices go through the roof.
 
  • #13
Ryan_m_b
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Rather than get all those solar panels, wouldn't it be more economical to get heat from deep down in the earth and use it to run steam turbines? Also there are solar pannel alternatives that use mirrors focusing the sun's light on pipes that heat water to a boil to power turbines. We can only build so many conventional solar panels before we run out of silicone, or prices go through the roof.
Or we could just make the silicone on the transmutation station lol.
 
  • #14
sophiecentaur
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Isn't it Silicon? I thought Silicones were solid figures that behave in a daft manner or a form of plastic.
 
  • #15
Ryan_m_b
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Isn't it Silicon? I thought Silicones were solid figures that behave in a daft manner or a form of plastic.
It is silicon, it was trying to make a joke. I failed.
 
  • #17
sophiecentaur
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It is silicon, it was trying to make a joke. I failed.
I don't think the first mention of silicone was a joke tho'. :smile:
 

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