Futuring without extrapolating

If polywell fusion is developed, in what ways will the world change for better or worse? Discuss.

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CharlesKramer
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Futuring without extrapolating

Postby CharlesKramer » Tue Feb 01, 2011 3:51 am

I decided to drastically edit my post, which was unforgivably rambling. :)

However, I will say:

1. The impact of fusion electricity is dependent on cost. Whether fusion electricity will be cheap, even if possible, is (needless to say) very speculative. However, there is a chance fusion electricity will be:

A. very cheap (especially with p-b11 if it yields electrons without requiring heat-->steam-->turbines).

B. very easy to implement quickly (years, not decades).

C. uniquely democratic -- unlike historic energy and resource revolutions, that benefited people in particular regions, fusion power could be built equally cheaply everywhere.

2. Cheap electricity is no substitute for fossil fuels, which are also chemical feedstocks (natural gas and oil are used for chemicals, fertilizer, plastics, drugs -- practically every modern product at some stage of its manufacture, including food). But cheap electricity from fusion will temporarily free up fossil fuels for use as chemicals that otherwise would be burned. Ironically, cheap electricity will help perpetuate fossil fuel powered automobiles (running on natural gas if not gasoline).

3. Cheap electricity would be very disruptive . Among other industries, the following industries would be crushed:

-- coal mining
-- uranium mining
-- turbine building
-- dam building (if fusion is cheaper than hydro)

Other industries would have booms --

-- energy storage (batteries, flywheels, ammonia fuel made by cracking water)

-- possibly other things depending on the fusion method (beryllium for electrodes for dense plasma focus)

-- electricity now use to smelt aluminum might become cheap enough to smelt other metals (my chemistry is lousy, and don't know the details of which metal ores are candidates).

-- and what about Polywell for space travel!

Ahem, I'm rambling again. Energy affects EVERY important issue:

--- national prosperity, income disparity

--- global warming, acid rain (both from coal used to make electricity)

--- war (wars for resources, and the fossil fuels needed to wage war. WWII could not have occurred if not for cheap abundant fossil fuels)

What effects cheap fusion energy will have, and what the secondary and further effects will be, are probably impossible to predict. I think speculating is worthwhile tho....

And I won't *really* be impressed until Polywell is scaled DOWN for automobiles; or down to chip-level fusion for computers.
Last edited by CharlesKramer on Wed Feb 02, 2011 9:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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kunkmiester
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Postby kunkmiester » Tue Feb 01, 2011 4:54 am

Houses will electrify pretty quickly. It will be important for power companies to limit the drop of power prices so that they can upgrade the infrastructure.
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93143
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Postby 93143 » Sat Feb 05, 2011 4:11 am

In theory, you could collect carbon dioxide from the air or water and manufacture synthetic hydrocarbons from it, completely eliminating the need for actual fossil fuels. I believe one of the major reasons no one is doing this is lack of large quantities of cheap energy.

This scheme is carbon-neutral for fuels. It is carbon-negative for chemicals, since they tend to end up sequestered in non-biodegradable form in landfills and whatnot. At least stuff like detergent stays in the biosphere... Plasma torch recycling could ameliorate this effect.

KitemanSA
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Re: Futuring without extrapolating

Postby KitemanSA » Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:33 pm

CharlesKramer wrote:I decided to drastically edit my post, which was unforgivably rambling. :)

...3. Cheap electricity would be very disruptive . Among other industries, the following industries would be crushed:

-- coal mining
-- uranium mining
-- turbine building
-- dam building (if fusion is cheaper than hydro)
First two, maybe, but most turbines are for jet engines and that shouldn't stop. And dams are needed for irrigation and flood control, so that probably won't stop either.

CharlesKramer
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Fusion and atonal music

Postby CharlesKramer » Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:06 am

KitemanSA wrote: First two, maybe, but most turbines are for jet engines and that shouldn't stop. And dams are needed for irrigation and flood control, so that probably won't stop either.

Those are sensible comments, even though there is a magnitude of difference between jet engines (small, super-high temps) and steam turbines for conventional electricity generation. And is there any hope Polywells could be small enough to power a plane (the same way they may power ships)? (Possibly Polywell will only work if scaled up; too bad -- where's my Polywell wrist watch?)

On reflection, I don't stand behind any of my specific predictions. But I think -- if the electricity is as cheap as hoped for, and if the Polywell plants can be built cheaply and quickly, the result will be gigantic change: political (the relative power of nations), economic (the fall of some old industries and rise of new ones). But most intriguingly, there may be huge social change.

That last one -- social -- is the most interesting, and the most speculative. Check out the quote from the 1979 movie "The InLaws" for a funny version of the kind of thing I'm thinking about (below).

Fusion could dramatically increase energy per-capita which will affect philosophy, music, and skirt length in ways impossible to fathom with certainty. Yes, skirt length -- skirts tend to rise with prosperity and sink with economic depressions -- which probably proves nothing except that developments that impact energy affect everything else in profound ways.

Prepare for fusion -- stock up on Bell Bottoms!

- Charles

====================
FROM THE 1979 movie "The Inlaws"

[Peter Falk character] "What do you think will happen when they run off this dough... [causing massive inflation with counterfeit money] ...and there's trillions of extra dollars, francs and marks floating around? You've got a collapse of confidence in the currency. People are gonna panic. There's gonna be gold riots, atonal music... political chaos, mass suicide. Right? It's Germany before Hitler."

[Of course fusion would be the opposite -- instead of inflation, sudden dramatically cheaper energy would lead to DEflation. This wouldn't necessarily be bad for the economy -- electricity dependent devices previously too expensive to use might become economic and worth buying. There would be a huge incentive to electrify many devices previously run on fossil fuels.

Ironically, the result might be to curtail conservation efforts -- incandescent lightbulbs instead of LEDs

ALSO fusion energy isn't just potentially cheaper, but (correct me if I'm wrong) it would also be more "dense" -- more power from a smaller generating plant. That might

... But I am becoming specific again. :)
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Giorgio
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Re: Futuring without extrapolating

Postby Giorgio » Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:18 am

CharlesKramer wrote:3. Cheap electricity would be very disruptive . Among other industries, the following industries would be crushed:

-- coal mining
-- uranium mining
-- turbine building
-- dam building (if fusion is cheaper than hydro)

Other industries would have booms --


Don't forget Chemical Industry.
There is a plethora of simpler/greener manufacturing processes that are not used today due to the uneconomical energetic cost involved.

CharlesKramer
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Re: Futuring without extrapolating

Postby CharlesKramer » Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:18 am

Giorgio wrote:Don't forget Chemical Industry.
There is a plethora of simpler/greener manufacturing processes that are not used today due to the uneconomical energetic cost involved.

I don't know how to evaluate it.

For example, the short term consequence of cheap fusion electricity might be to lower the price of oil and natural gas and coal. At least 2 of those (coal and natural gas) would be freed up from making electricity. The price of oil would be constrained to the extent natural gas could substitute for it (as a transportation fuel, and to a lesser extent as an industrial feedstock).

Ironically, cheap fusion electricity by lowering the price of fossil fuels might maintain our dependence on them.

But I doubt if there are any true substitutes for oil, gas and coal as industrial feedstocks. Many of the claimed substitutes are illusions -- for example, ethanol depends on growing crops using fossil fuels for fertilizer, insecticides and farm machinery. I've heard about research for plant-based plastics, but they appear to be at a very early stage of research -- not ready for mass production, and without certainty they ever will be ready.

Fossil fuels represent millions of years of energy gathering -- the stored energy of millions of years of sun, and pressure from the earth. Anything truly renewable can't match it because it's only present in real time -- in any given year, the most we could capture is the energy from a year's worth of sun. Solar panels on the roof of an electric car generate barely enough electricity to run the radio or a fan. They could improve efficiency 10x and still be fundamentally ornamental.

I suppose if fusion energy really is 1/10th the price (or whatever) of fossil fuel energy, it might facilitate cracking water into hydrogen (or, in accordance with a plan by the late Matthew Simmons, into ammonia). Without something like that the "hydrogen economy" is likely a fantasy.

CBK
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93143
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Postby 93143 » Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:49 pm

*cough*:
93143 wrote:In theory, you could collect carbon dioxide from the air or water and manufacture synthetic hydrocarbons from it, completely eliminating the need for actual fossil fuels. I believe one of the major reasons no one is doing this is lack of large quantities of cheap energy.


It's probably worth pointing out that with fusion power as an input to this type of process, the availability of energy is decoupled from the sun. So you could make as much as you wanted, with the only restrictions being industrial practicality and the boron supply. (And the planet's thermal budget; this process will have inefficiencies. But that's not likely to be a major issue...)

CharlesKramer
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The effect of cheap fusion electricity on Velveta production

Postby CharlesKramer » Tue Feb 08, 2011 6:24 pm

93143 wrote:*cough*:
93143 wrote:In theory, you could collect carbon dioxide from the air or water and manufacture synthetic hydrocarbons from it, completely eliminating the need for actual fossil fuels. I believe one of the major reasons no one is doing this is lack of large quantities of cheap energy.


It's probably worth pointing out that with fusion power as an input to this type of process, the availability of energy is decoupled from the sun. So you could make as much as you wanted, with the only restrictions being industrial practicality and the boron supply. (And the planet's thermal budget; this process will have inefficiencies. But that's not likely to be a major issue...)

I'm not a chemist, but...

Hydrocarbons require hydrogen and carbon. With cheap fusion electricity and sea water you can get as much hydrogen as you want. HOWEVER:

1. Where's the carbon supposed to come from?

2. With hydrogen and carbon you could -- in theory, anyway -- make petroleum, natural gas, sugar, lots of stuff. (Maybe some products would require a pinch of sulfur or whatever). But I don't know how economical that kind of chemistry is, even if hydrogen became plentiful.

Which is why I mentioned ammonia (H and Nitrogen, no carbon needed).

The bigger point is -- cheap electricity does not solve all problems. I don't see how it substitutes easily for hydrocarbons as industrial feedstocks (the raw material for drugs, insecticide, plastic, and possibly Velveta).

- Charles
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CBK
Blog: http://www.provideocoalition.com/ckramer

Nik
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Shipping and wingy thingies...

Postby Nik » Tue Feb 08, 2011 6:50 pm

Okay, 'bunker' oil is cheap by comparison with car gasoline and truck diesel, but it is still costly and dirty, and causes a lot of pollution.

A bulk carrier could have the tonnage to spare for a polywell, and no risk of nuclear contamination if sunk or hijacked...

A container ship might even have a quad-40'-container sized polywell module retrofitted. Losing four bottom 'spots' would be outweighed by fuel savings...

Uh, I don't think existing nuclear naval ships are likely to be retrofitted -- Cutting that huge hole in ship to get at the hot zone would probably outweigh savings. New craft may depend on the electric propulsion issues: Commercial Pod drives have had several unfortunate failures...

I can envisage Boeing, Airbus and Antonov going head-to-head for the first airborne polywell. Okay, it may simply drive an auxiliary turboprop, but that would be a start. Airbus have not been afraid to modify designs --eg 'Beluga' Transporter-- and their new A400M almost lends itself to experimentation...

The otherwise outrageous power requirements of a large Ekranoplan might suit a polywell core...

Moving up a bit, very big hovercraft would seem to suit polywell power. Okay, assuming a quad-40' module again, that would just about fill an LCAC. Well, that would do as proof of concept. Then cut one in four and s-t-r-e-t-c-h it. Now you can have load-space all around the c/g polywell core and can set some ocean speed records...

( Don't laugh: UK operators stretched their SRN English Channel car-ferry fleet to improve capacity and sea-worthiness. I once rode a pre-stretch model in bad weather: The trip was memorable for low-flying trolley-dollies as the SRN lolloped across the half-exposed Goodwin Sands... )

93143
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Re: The effect of cheap fusion electricity on Velveta produc

Postby 93143 » Tue Feb 08, 2011 9:46 pm

CharlesKramer wrote:1. Where's the carbon supposed to come from?


93143 wrote:carbon dioxide from the air or water


I suppose efficient extraction is a bit of a technical challenge, but if that's the major barrier...

Nik
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agrochemicals

Postby Nik » Tue Feb 08, 2011 11:31 pm

If you're growing crops for ethanol fuel, that's a premium process and competes with food crops.

If you're growing for carbon feedstock and adding energy via hydrogen and polywell power --via electric or direct as microwaves-- then, IIRC, the numbers are favourable...

IIRC, it takes coppicing, which may be done mechanically and uses 'poor' ground unsuitable for foodstuffs. Further, because the system is 'cut and come again', the root systems are not disturbed and the ground is secured against run-off erosion. Presumably, nitrogen-fixing alder varieties could be included, plus a quorum of standard trees for biodiversity and long-term hard-wood.

KitemanSA
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Postby KitemanSA » Wed Feb 09, 2011 1:29 am

The south pole gets ALMOST cold enough to freeze CO2 out of the atmosphere. If we really need carbon, we could put a Polywell down there to do a bit of compress/cool/decompress/freeze for dry ice!

DeltaV
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Postby DeltaV » Wed Feb 09, 2011 3:07 am

That would speed up global cooling. Maybe lead to CO2 snow.

KitemanSA
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Postby KitemanSA » Wed Feb 09, 2011 7:46 am

DeltaV wrote:That would speed up global cooling. Maybe lead to CO2 snow.
Only inside the machine where it is wanted; unless you postulate that all the CO2 is removed from the entire volume of the atmosphere over the pole and the IR is no longer blocked.

The pole WOULD get colder than the freezing point of CO2 but the atmosphere is opaque in those wavelengths so below a certain temerature, no more heat will radiate. You need to compress, radiate/convect at a higher temperature, then de-compress to freeze out the CO2.


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