Clueless in Geneva

Hello scientists! I’m thrilled that you’re capturing and studying antimatter, but you really need to watch what you say or you wind up sounding stupid.

Hangst downplayed speculation that antimatter might someday be harnessed as a source of energy, or to create a powerful weapon, an idea popularized in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “Angels and Demons.”

“It would take longer than the age of the universe to make one gram of antimatter,” he said, calling the process “a losing proposition because it takes much more energy to make antimatter than you get out of it.”

Claims like that are almost always wrong. What is impossible today is expensive tomorrow and common place next week.

Besides, when was “taking more energy to produce than you get out of it” ever an issue for the military?

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4 Responses to Clueless in Geneva

  1. Joe Huffman says:

    If you run all the numbers on entire energy balance analysis it always takes more energy to produce that you get out of it. The most obvious examples I can think of are the flywheel and coal/oil fired electricity (you put more coal/oil BTUs in that you get out in Joules of electricity). But it also applies to gasoline (if you include the energy costs of the formation of the oil as it went into the ground). It’s about putting the energy into a different, more usable form.

    One gram of anti-matter is equal to 9 x 1013 Joules. My back of the envelope calculations indicate that would supply a typical house electrical needs for nearly 300 years. Or if you want to think of it in nuclear bomb terms that is comparable to a 20 kiloton bomb (the same as the Nagasaki bomb). For comparison purposes note the mass of a post 1982 U.S. penny is 2.5 grams.

    Imagine an anti-matter plant resides in a crater near one of the poles on planet Mercury (temperature of about (−183 C). It is solar powered via a heat engine that boils some liquid (maybe ammonia or carbon dioxide) and super heats the gas via a collector that is visible to the sun (temperature of about 400 C) and cools the gas back into a liquid via thermal radiation into space and extracts energy in the process. Shipping the energy back to earth (or refueling your warp drive starship) via a few kilograms of anti-matter might be the most practical method of energy transfer even if the conversion process is inefficient.

  2. Joe Huffman says:

    Edits needed…

    “on entire energy balance” -> “in an entire energy balance”

    “9 x 1013 Joules” -> “9 x 10^13 Joules” (I orginally had HTML superscript tabs but those were apparently ignored)

  3. Kristopher says:

    Simple entropy. Someone has to pay the bill at some point in time to concentrate energy. This also includes oil reserves in the ground.

    What antimatter is good for is being compact and light for the energy released. Which means it makes a great weapon, and a great rocket fuel.

  4. Kristopher says:

    One hopes Hangst will be as honest as Lord Kelvin, who publicly apologized for his snarky comments about the Earth being not possibly older than 17,000 years, the very day he saw the energy yield figures for Uranium fission, thus proving that a power source capable of keeping the sun lit for millions of years could exist.

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