Quit Living in the Cellar

I want my fellow Utahns and the rest of the world to stop living in the cellar and move into the penthouse. Please take a look at the graph below and I will explain. (Graph was adapted from Balsara and Newman.)

Specific Energy Density GraphAt the left side of the graph is the cellar where we are currently living – fossil fuels and lots of Tesla talk about batteries. The graph is on a log-log scale; both axes are logarithmic.  That means that each division (line) going from left to right and from top to bottom is 10 times more that the previous one.

Also, the graph plots theoretical specific energy density versus what is actually delivered in practical, every day use. Thus, all of the things shown on the graph are to the left of the dotted line, which represents the case where the practical is equal to the theoretical, which never happens in reality.

Let’s consider gasoline, which I like and have no intention of giving up. It has a practical energy density of 3,870 Watt-hours per kilogram, which is considerably more than lithium-ion batteries at 250 Watt-hours per kilogram. This is the reason that 12 gallons of gasoline in a four-door car will take you about 350-400 miles in air conditioned comfort, while an electric car may take you 100 miles or far less if you use the AC.

Next, take a moment and follow the dotted line to the right. You will see two data points at the top right; plutonium  decay (Pu-238), and nuclear fission.  These are points that I added to the graph, since Balsara and Newman never mention nuclear energy in their paper. (Why?)

Pu-238 decay powers spacecraft that have gone to the outer planets and beyond, where solar panels are useless, because they are so far from the sun.

(This technology has been used in spacecraft such as Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini–Huygens and New Horizons, and in other devices, such as the Mars Science Laboratory, for long-term nuclear power generation.)

The photo below shows a pellet of plutonium 238 that glows red hot due to the self-heat it generates as it radioactively decays. (Don’t worry, the alpha particles that are characteristic of its decay can be stopped by a sheet of paper, but you might want to use something that doesn’t burn. You can stand next to thermoelectric generators made for satellites with this wonderful element, without risk.)

plutonium_238_pelletNuclear fission, the point farthest to the right on the graph, with a mind-boggling theoretical specific energy density of 24,500,000,000 Watt-hours per kilogram, is the penthouse I am inviting you all to enjoy.

The specific energy density of nuclear fission is 2.7 million times more dense than gasoline and 63.6 million times more dense than lithium ion batteries. This would also be a good point to mention that batteries do not produce energy of themselves. They have to be charged by electricity produced by oil, coal, solar, wind, hydro, or nuclear.

Because of the incredible amount of energy locked in the nuclei of certain elements (thorium, uranium, and plutonium) as shown by the graph, very little material is needed to provide vast amounts of energy for all of us. As I have mentioned before, there is enough of those elements to provide all of humanity with abundant, safe, clean energy.

I compare that energy abundance to leaving the cellar and moving to the penthouse!

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