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The a recent blog I highlighted the unique role of fossil fuels in a transition from one energy sustainable society to another future potential society. I constructed the metaphor of this current transition as launching a rocket into orbit. The topic of what might have happened if oil never formed was addressed later. What could have happened if the properties of unusual particles were just slightly different leading to energy resources cleaner and less expensive than oil?
What if it were easier to generate energy from water by fusion?
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Just generating some catalyst that promotes fusion of the hydrogen nuclei in the water would radically change the energy landscape. The energy generated would deliver inexpensive energy enough to solve many problems such as the desalination of water, the refrigeration and processing of food to reduce spoilage in undeveloped countries, and replace the dependence on fossil fuels.
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For example, a thumb full of water would give the same energy as a 15 gallon car gas tank. The key is to push the two hydrogen nuclei close enough together to overcome the barrier due to their positive charges.
There is a catalyst that will promote fusion for about reactions before decaying or being removed from the catalyst role by capture. These catalyst come free in cosmic rays and about 1 per second pass through the palm of your hand. However, the number of these cosmic rays is too small to support large energy generation so new artificial means of production are needed.
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Also the decay and capture rate are insufficient to make up for the energy used to make them this way. The muon catalysts act as heavy electrons which bring the two nucleus closer together in a hydrogen molecule. This leads to a higher chance that fusion occurs before the muon catalyst naturally decays. It has a relatively short life with a mean lifetime of about 2 microseconds, i. The attempt is to get around 1,, catalyzed fusions per muon within this lifetime. Before looking deeper into this energy possibility and how it might have changed history if the properties of these catalysis were a slight bit different, the other fusion energy strategies will be described along with their challenges.
Fusion has been attempted in many ways. One way is just to shoot one H nuclide towards another at sufficient speed using a small 15 cm accelerator. The problem with this method is that most of the accelerated hydrogen nuclei do not react but just lose their energy in striking the metal target.
Muon catalysed fusion-fission reactor driven by a recirculating beam
Therefore, this is not energy efficient but the device is useful in producing a controlled pulse of neutrons, which helps measure underground properties in oil exploration for decades. Another way to force the H together is to heat them up but keep the pressure high so that some might have enough energy to overcome the barrier. The sun does this at its center but it takes the pressure of the weight of the sun 1,, times the mass of Earth to accomplish this.
This is also how a thermonuclear H bomb works. It takes a uranium nuclear explosion to heat and pressurize the hydrogen enough to fuse. However, the energy released by the uranium and the hydrogen bomb are difficult to control and extract energy. There have been other attempts to create fusion, using magnetic fields to contain or pinch hot plasmas, focus many lasers, accelerate the hydrogen in a spherical cage, or manipulate matter to encourage yet unidentified quantum states LENR.
Hopes faded due to the large number of negative replications, the withdrawal of many positive replications, the discovery of flaws and sources of experimental error in the original experiment, and finally the discovery that Fleischmann and Pons had not actually detected nuclear reaction byproducts.
By late , most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead, and cold fusion subsequently gained a reputation as pathological science. Support within the then-present funding system did not occur.
A small community of researchers continues to investigate cold fusion, now often preferring the designation low-energy nuclear reactions LENR. Since cold fusion articles are rarely published in peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals, they do not attract the level of scrutiny expected for science. It is one of the few known ways of catalyzing nuclear fusion reactions. Muons are unstable subatomic particles.
They are similar to electrons , but are about times more massive. If a muon replaces one of the electrons in a hydrogen molecule , the nuclei are consequently drawn times closer together than in a normal molecule. When the nuclei are this close together, the probability of nuclear fusion is greatly increased, to the point where a significant number of fusion events can happen at room temperature. Current techniques for creating large numbers of muons require large amounts of energy, larger than the amounts produced by the catalyzed nuclear fusion reactions.
This prevents it from becoming a practical power source. So, these two factors, of muons being too expensive to make and then sticking too easily to alpha particles, limit muon-catalyzed fusion to a laboratory curiosity.