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US grid power transmission via plasma

  1. Jan 29, 2010 #1

    taylaron

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    I'm doing some classic research into the possibility of replacing copper core power transmission lines in the United States power grid with tubes designed to contain low temperature plasma.
    The idea is that one would be able to transmit power more efficiently and effectively in plasma opposed to using copper. I assume a dielectric tube and some gas would be cheaper than the copper needed to run the power lines.
    Could one take an airtight dielectric tube, fill it with Neon or another noble gas, ionize it and transmit power relatively efficiently and remain cost effective? Also, the conduction would need to be sustainable for long periods of time. Also, the dielectric should not melt in these conditions, correct?
    However, I am concerned about the loss of energy due to the emission and absorption of light in the tube. Additionally, a great deal of power would be needed to initially ionize the tubes to become conductive. This power is similar to the energy required to overcome the energy barrier before a bolt of lightning strikes. Once the ionization is made, electricity should flow freely, correct?
    I expect there to be something ridiculously impractical with this concept since it isn’t being done… (To my knowledge)

    -Tay
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2010 #2
    Well for one I would imagine these tubes have to be made of some strong material, but also flexible enough to move through winds etc. Then you have the gas which needs to be at a certain pressure so the whole thing has to be perfectly sealed, one hole would probably cause multiple failures.

    Really don't see it being more economical than copper cables.
     
  4. Jan 30, 2010 #3

    berkeman

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    Fun question. Have you done some investigation into the relevant equations and tried some back-of-the-envelope calculations?
     
  5. Jan 30, 2010 #4

    taylaron

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    Still working on that Berkeman.
     
  6. Jan 30, 2010 #5
    How would fault detection and protection work (for plasma)?
     

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  7. Jan 30, 2010 #6

    taylaron

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    I can't do any price calculations reliably because of the unknown materials.
    Regarding failures, I expect the tube be constructed of several layers of a sealed dielectric laminate with embedded structural reinforcements surrounding the perimeter along the long axis. The dielectric would need to be some sort of semi-flexible polymer. I expect punctures to all the layers after slicing through the axial reinforcements would be difficult.
    Yes, a constant plasma pressure would need to be maintained, but one would think that would be easy with the structural reinforcements existing.

    Fault detection could be done by allowing a gap between two of the outer laminate layers and inserting a dector to sense the presence of a plasma (or Neon at this point) when the layers beneath it have ruptured.

    My knowledge of plasma is limited, so please correct me if necessary.
    *If the diameter of the tube encasing the plasma is enlarged (excluding the laminate and reinforcements), would the larger cross section allow for more power to be transmitted opposed to a smaller diameter?
     

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  8. Jan 30, 2010 #7

    taylaron

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    I have one question that might nuke this whole concept;
    If I want to transmit 5x as much power that current long distance transmission line carries currently, will that much electricity inherently heat the plasma to an absurd degree? High enough to make thermal losses uncompetitive against copper core wires? Or can that much electricity be transmitted with a low temperature plasma?
    My calculus skills are very limited and I don't know how to crunch the numbers here. I apologize.
    Thank you for your input.

    -Taylaron
     
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