Getting high efficiencies means that you don't have to sift through the reaction product and separate what you wanted—not a small challenge when you're sorting billions of particles with nanometer dimensions. The relatively low temperatures—750K in this case—also make for cheaper production and, even though platinum is expensive.
What are the best breakthroughs that could be here soon ?
Cheap, full strength, industrial quantities of carbon nanotubes.
Full strength carbon nanotubes have been made and irradiation has been found to repair some defects.
MIT and Darpa appear close to making carbon nanotubes that are one meter long.
Currently only a few hundred tons of carbon nanotubes are produced in factories. Current plans are to get to a few thousands of tons in the 2012-2015 timeframe. Some breakthroughs could allow the expected volume of carbon fiber 100,000/year tons in 2015 to be producing carbon nanotubes. The world produces over one billion tons per year of steel and 2.5 billion tons of concrete. For carbon nanotubes to be used as a major part of all cars, planes and space vehicles, the production level needs to get up to 10 to 100 million tons/year. The production level can be less than steel and concrete because carbon nanotubes are stronger and lighter so less would be needed. Also for many applications the carbon nanotubes can just add strength or improve characteristics of plastic.
Cheap and plentiful Graphene
Graphene is another material that could contribute to revolutionizing the properties of what is built.
Graphene and carbon nanotube electronics
Carbon nanotubes could enable optical computing.
Hybrid optical and electronic computing is also making breakthroughs
Onchip photonic communications is one of the keys to enabling energy efficient exaflop and zettaflop computers that are one million times faster than the best existing supercomputers.
6 zettaflops is the limit of a 5 MW supercomputer based on a planned beyond CMOS architecture. 6 petaflops if the limit of an advanced 5W mobile system.
Specialized computers can bring 100 to 1000 times better performance years sooner.
New architectures and approaches could lead to a breakthrough in three dimensional molecular computing.
Adiabatic quantum computers could see commercialization and performance breakthroughs this year and in 2009 from Dwave Systems.
The Dwave systems quantum computer design currently cannot run Grover's search algorithm better than classical computers. Breakthroughs with improved versions of quantum computers (refinement of Dwave systems or trapped ion quantum computers or other versions) or improved algorithms could enable superior quantum computer performance.
A Quantum computer system with vastly superior performance could be leveraged to created automatic programming systems. Such a system would use a declarative language that allows us to program by specifying only what a solution looks like, with automatic conversion to some canonical solver language that uses the superior quantum computer speed to generate solutions.
Time to Small Cost to Achieve Large scale chance
Concept Description Scale net energy Net Energy after small success Funded?
Bussard IEC Fusion 3-5 years $200 million 90% Y, $2m
My intro to Bussard fusion and update on prototype work
Recent test results could be announced in one to two months and seem likely to be positive and could
lead to a 100 MW positive energy system as a next step.
As noted above the ideal situation is to scale the system to a commercializable prototype in 3 years.
Success would mean radically improved space propulsion.
This one of ten other radical improvements in space travel and access which are possible in the near term.
Plasma Focus 6 years $1M+ Sales X-scan 80% Y, $1.9m
Focus fusion website
Focus fusion US patent application
Working on a funded experiment with Chile 2006-2010
Tri-alpha Energy aka 8 years $75 million 60% Y, $50m
Colliding Beam fusion aka
Field Reversed Configuration
My review of the academic research before the funded stealth project
General Fusion aka 3-6 years $10-30 million 60% Y, $2m
Magnetized target fusion
Steam generated shock wave into spinning liquid metal
Potential Great [Peak oil crushing] but Less than Fusion Energy Breakthroughs
Factory mass produced uranium hydride reactors that burn uranium at 10-12 time higher efficiency.
China could also factory mass produce high temperature reactors
MIT and Westinghouse should commercialize a 50% power uprate of existing nuclear reactors.
Various types of algae and microbe biofuel production
Genetically engineered seaweed for biofuels and extraction of uranium from seawater.
Stem Cell Breakthroughs
Stem cells seem likely to enable unlimited disease free blood supply and could enable radical life extension and regeneration.
Radical Life Extension
Various aspects of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and related work for life extension are making progress such rejuvenation of organs and cells, vaccines against Alzheimers, cancer cures and caloric restriction mimicking medicine.
Human cognitive, performance enhancement and intelligence amplification
Genetic engineering breakthroughs could radically increase cognition, health, longevity and physical performance.
If the whole population's IQ by just 3 points, you would reduce poverty by 25%, you would reduce welfare recipiency by 18%, the number of males in jail by 25%, the number of parentless children by 20%. If that trend held, then an increase of 9 points, would be 95% reduction of poverty, 64% reduction in welfare, 95% reduction in males in jail and 73% reduction in parentless children. Source: Nick Bostrom's Converging Cognitive Enhancement article refers to Herrnstein and Murray 1994 paper "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life" Note: There is controversy surrounding the bell curve conclusions, because intelligence is controversial/political and social conclusions are controversial/political. Therefore, it is sometimes better to focus on whether economic or individual or group productivity is increased by some actions or not.
People have estimated that an increase of 1 IQ point leads to a nearly 2% increase in income, and for the US economy, an increase per IQ point across the population, results in a $250 billion increase in GDP. A 10 point increase would be 21% increase in income or 2.8 trillion increase based on current GDP. Worldwide this would be a 12 trillion dollar increase. A 40 point across the board IQ increase would be 48% higher GDP and an 80 point increase would be a 120% increase.
IQs have appeared to be rising at 3 points per decade through the 20th century. The causes were believed to be better health, nutrition and education.
Breakthroughs in education/training and cognitive enhancement could enable a magnification of the effect by ten times even without invasive procedures.
Craig Venter has discussed the possibility of increasing cognitive faculties by ten times using genetic engineering. Genetic engineering, stem cells, mind machine interfaces, virtual reality training and other high potential cognitive enhancement might enable such radical leaps in capability.
Vernor Vinge's ideas around intelligence amplification are discussed at the New York Times They are find more productive ways for humans to collaborate and for humans to be helped by computers.
Rapid progress with genome sequencing and dna synthesis and synthetic biology are setting the stage for radical genetic engineering advances
A breakthrough in artificial general intelligence would also enable such an intelligence explosion.
DARPA 3 billion program of human enhancement also could cure obesity and provide the elderly with youthful vigor.
Getting Technological Development Organized
There are technologies that are underdeveloped but feasible which be brought together to create radical transformation of technological capabilities as discussed in a concept called a "mundane singularity".
Molecular nanotechnology, diamondoid nanotech, nanofactories and nanomedicine
The long awaited funding of diamondoid mechanosynthesis could finally lead to breakthroughs in molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology is already progressing with fastly improving self assembly capabilities and various types of DNA nanotechnology
Controversial 2009 Possibility is Blacklight Power
Based on the claimed performance, a 100 MW Blacklight Power system would fit in 5 cubic meters and could be powered for a year with 130 tons of fuel (hydrino water).