October 24, 2012

Nextbigfuture overview of emerging energy technology

The biggest potential wildcards are LENR (aka cold fusion) commercial maybe in 3 years, small hot fusion projects could do something (commercial maybe in 8 years).

Relatively straightforward and certain are small modular fission and new annular fission fuel cylinders (not rods). The annular fuel is quite certain to head to commercialization in South Korea and Lightbridge a small US company. Those should boostv (uprate) existing reactors in the 2020-2030 deployment timeframe by 20% and then again by another 20% in the decade after.

Small modular reactors - China is building a 200 MWe pebble bed reactor. Conservative design. Should be able to factory mass produce in 2 years. Modular large reactors are building in 4-5 years in China and South Korea. Other places have slower construction processes. There are other small modular reactor projects. Commercial successes will be China, South Korea, Russia and then India. The US projects are interesting but the emerging countries are growing power needs by 5-10% per year. They will favor their own national projects. US and Europe are virtually stagnant building power generation. Cheap natural gas in the United States will blunt any emerging energy generation construction for 15 years.

There are thorium projects but tough to see rapid commercial success. China and India will push it some, but there will only be a few reactors in the 2018-2025 timeframe.

Kite wind power could get going. Would be big improvement over turbines.

Space based solar could have things come together for it. Spacex getting a reusable rocket that lowers space costs by 100 times. Using space based mirrors at relatively low orbits and reflecting light onto large ground based solar farms at night. It would even out generation on the ground facilities.

A constellation of 12 or more mirror satellites is proposed in a polar sun synchronous orbit at an altitude of approximately 1000 km above the earth.

Each mirror satellite in the constellation has a diameter of approximately 10 km and each terrestrial solar electric field site has a similar diameter and can produce approximately 5 GW per terrestrial site. Assuming that approximately 50 terrestrial solar electric field sites are evening distributed in sunny locations near cities around the world, this system can produce more affordable solar electric power during the day and further into the morning and evening hours. The typical operating hours for a terrestrial solar electric field site can thus be extended from approximately 8 hours per day by 50% to approximately 12 hours per day. Assuming a cost of electricity of 10 cents per kWh and a projected launch cost to orbit of $1500 per kg for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the cost of this mirror constellation system should be recovered in approximately 2.7 years from the additional solar electricity sales. The proposed system is cheaper because it does not convert to electricity. It is only mirrors that shown on ground based solar farms at night

10 km diameter satellite mirror array shown with 1 km mirror elements to simplify the drawing. Smaller mirror elements can be used such as the 0.5 km mirror elements proposed for the ISC Space Power Satellite. Even smaller mirrors can be used with more mirror elements then required. The optimum mirror size would require more detailed design study.

LENR- Cold fusion details

The optimistic scenario is 1% of all power by 2020. Need to China to copy something that works and scale out factories rapidly.

Rossi is not reliable, yet his claims if true have him in the lead and things would then be commercial next year.

More reliable are Brillouin Energy (in Berkeley) who have shown 200%+ co-efficient of power. Double what they put in at a few hundred watts.

They are in a program with SRI to get that up to 300%+. Once you are at 300%+ then you can start electricity and heat generation. Converting electricity to heat at the temperatures they are at mean that you would only get back to just over 100%.

Defkalion Energy is also in the mix.
Celani and others are also moving up to 200% and getting up to the 100 watt level.

At the 200-300% level and efficiency and costs they are looking at the boiler market. It is a cost thing to break through. Why take a risk on something so different ? Would you replace your hot water heater in your house ? It already works with natural gas, you would have to rip the old one out and then put the funky low energy nuclear reactor device in. They tell you it is safe...but would you be an earlier adopter ? How much price and other advantages would you need to make the switch ? Same thing for owners of industrial boilers. Benefits and superiority of performance must be huge for buyers to take the risk.

Hot Fusion

There are several alternative hot fusion possibilities.

Muon fusion (Star Scientific - Australia has big claims but no firm timetable, Japan and US programs have been at 40% energy return - less than what is put in for decades)

The big near term possibility is John Slough. He has a NASA funded nuclear fusion for space propulsion. But it could get to 1.6 times energy within a few months. He also has Helion Energy for commercial scale designs based on similar principles.

EMC2 (IEC fusion) and Lawrenceville Plasma (dense plasma focus) are taking longer to work out technical issues. Would be surprised to see anything commercial by 2020. Still even in the 2020 that would be huge.

Tri-alpha energy is another nuclear fusion project and they have shifted to an approach that is similar to Helion Energy. They are operating in stealth mode.

General Fusion in Canada - has a nuclear piston engine kind of approach. could have relatively smooth development and then could have commercial power at large scale. 100MWe.

Small hot fusion even if successful would take quite a while to scale to have big impact.

So-so (barely commercial systems that are quite a bit more expensive than coal - like solar power costs now) hot fusion usually can generate neutrons to allow for hybriding with fission to burn fission waste.

No program right now but high frequency lasers (NASA Chapman) looks like it could ride rapidly improving lasers to generate nuclear fusion. I like it is a dark horse for the 2020s.

Energy Efficiency

More efficiency potential big impact (energy usage - Buildings 40%, transportation 30%, industry 30%)

Broad Group of China - can be built - factor mass produced skyscrapers, use a lot less material and leading edge energy efficiency (less power to heat etc...) Likely more impact than any but some kind of rapid home run new power generation.

Superconductors - will get scaled to grid scale by 2020, have some help. Potential for room temperature and wider deployment but 2020-2030 to get scaling worked out. Potential for a lot better magnets which would help the hot fusion projects.

Really good superconductors could also enable antimatter traps and antimatter harvesting. Not so much for energy generation but for breakthrough space propulsion.

Thermoelectrics should get deployed to boost efficiency in the 5-20% range.

Making cars more efficient (70 to 100 million new cars per year, 1 billion cars and trucks now, 2 billion in 10 years) takes a long time.

Ships can be made more efficient faster (5000 commercial ships)

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