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April 07, 2008


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Cyril R.

The mass vehicle application seems a bit curious.

There will be concerns over safety and proliferation, and whether or not these are rational, it will make mass vehicle applications a non-starter.

Cyril R.

@ Cyril R.
There are plenty of recent peer reviewed articles that question the "consensus".
So what ?

You did not link to a peer reviewed article, rather one that makes a list of articles that are.

Unfortunately for you, none of those links actually disproves the IPCC consensus thesis. They might explain specific variations, or even improve on details, but don't present an alternative thesis on the longer term warming trend.

Even more unfortunate for you: there are several dozen of these dissident articles in your "paper" (it's little more than a list, without comments - makes me wonder about the qualifications of the "author") but there are several thousand that still support the increased GhG effects thesis. That's why there is a consensus.

I'm still waiting for that peer reviewed work that shows a thesis and subsequent models which support the observation better than those currently used by the IPCC.

Cyril R.

Whoops, wrong thread.

George Bruce

I wonder if this could have any application to terrestrial power plants? Could this be used with nuclear waste? Could waste be contained in a system that also produces electricity? Then at least we might have a waste storage system that helps to pay for itself. It is an interesting concept.


Interesting indeed ... Remember though that this is really just a spin on photovolatics. Light _is_ radiation, just at a different wavelength than we usually think about when discussing "radiation." This is PV tuned for a different wavelength.

If they're talking about using this technology on spacecraft, that's probably a sign it will be very expensive for the foreseeable future. I'm guessing the low-level radiation that comes from spent fuel probably isn't strong enough to make it effective, much less economical.


For radioactive materials it is possible to directly capture the energy of the particles as electricity. Simply place the sample as the center electrode of a cylindrical capacitor. If say the material emits 1MEV (million electron volts) alpha partticles than a half million volt potential difference will slow the particles to a stop just as they hit the other electrode. A potential conversion efficiency of 100% is possible (on paper) by this method. I assume these nanomaterials don't work this way, but rather extract the energy of ionization as the high energy particle creates many of these as it loses energy interacting with material. So what we have is another form of nuclear battery. Because of safety considerations it is likely to only be useful for special purpose applications. It wouldn't present a proliferation hazard, but the potential usage of the material in a dirty bomb would present a hazard.


Unless I'm mistaken, the catch to this is that it requires carbon nanotubes.

i.e. a material which costs roughly $1000 per teaspoon.

Bob Wallace

That price may be only a temporary condition. Remember how expensive the first computers and solar panels were.

There's an interesting development for using viruses to assemble nanotube battery anodes. Operates at room temperature and without high pressure conditions.



The only nuclear radiation that is the same as light is Gamma Rays... beta and alpha particles are not light.

Bob Wallace

Some answers please...

1. If this technique is able to extract ~20x more energy from a given amount of fuel does this not mean greatly reducing the amount of waste with which we would have to deal?

Aside from the lesser amount of spent fuel there would also be less 'hot' infrastructure, I'm assuming.

2. Would not this method allow the plants to placed far from urban centers since large amounts of water wouldn't be needed for cooling?

3. Would not the lesser amounts of fuel and potentially remote locates greatly increase the ability to protect from theft?

4. Would not getting turbines, water, etc. out of the equation greatly increase safety from accidental leaks?


@Bob Wallace

1. Yes. Most LWRs run at about 30% fuel->electricity. This technique would improve that to 40-60% (assuming TEC efficiency of 2-3%). A combined cycle approach could take fuel->electrical efficiency to over 70%.

2. Not necessarily. You still need to contain the reaction. Then again most of the water used in a LWR is used in an open cycle steam turbine so... maybe.

3. Not necessarily. If I wanted to protect a nuclear reactor I'd have it in the middle of a city (sans gun control ala Chicago). Another option would be next to an army base (part of the soldier's training would be patrols around the reactor).

4. Not necessarily. You still need some sort of an adjustable moderator to balance the reaction. Then again, you could use natural uranium ala CANDU but that would lower your power densities


Anyone else feeling an application in some sort of nuclear powered submarine? Aircraft Carrier? The military LOVES solid state and expensive.

If 60% fuel->electricity efficiency can be achieved without the use of a turbine it would greatly reduce the amount of area dedicated to storing/burning fuel (or extend the range). Golden.

I'm feelin' a DARPA project here...

kelly Gizowski

Seems like a great solution... I'm a bit confused, what exactly is "thermoelectric materials" ? Does that actually mean that with the same amount of nuclear material, you can extract 20x MORE electricity? The wording is a little hazy to me.

It seems a little TOO good to be true. If it is true, we would only have to mine 1/20 the uranium, making nuclear actually a much more environmentally friendly option. the plants should be much smaller, even located miles below ground to eliminate the possibility of a leak...

Like I said, sounds TOO good.


Thermoelectric materials convert a temperature differences into electricity. They are currently rather expensive and inefficient, but they can be small and simple, requiring virtually no maintenance, which is why they are used in Space exploration, but not by electric power utility companies on Earth. They can run off of any heat source, whether radioactive decay, or even body heat. But radioactive decay is has a very high energy to weight ratio, so it's used in Space.

If 20x sounds too good to be true, maybe it is. The "up to" 20x is only based on theoretical calculations. The article didn't say what kinds of efficiencies they are actually getting right now.


I have trouble believing this stuff is economical for anything other than very specialized sources. Also many types of radiation don't penetrate very far, alpha particles a few millimeters of air, beta and gamma -and neutrons further, but maybe it isn't feasible to get the nanoconverter close enough to the source in a reactor. In any case it is almost certainly expensive per watt.

Thomas Marihart

Sounds a bit like a rehash of the old betavoltaic accelerated nuclear decay batteries.

Trouble was the radiation to electricity conversion material couldn't handle the prolonged 'process' without degrading and exposing the 'fuel' source...

That...and cost...from what I recall.

Cyril R.

It wouldn't present a proliferation hazard, but the potential usage of the material in a dirty bomb would present a hazard.

It's the same thing. The concept of proliferation contains both the spread of fissile as well as non-fissile material, as long as the latter is (strongly) radioactive.

Whether or not this is a rational concern from an engineering perspective won't matter, it's the perceived risk that makes the civil transportation application a no-no.

Cyril R.

The article didn't say what kinds of efficiencies they are actually getting right now.

One of the commentators mentioned 2-3 percent.

Bob Wallace

"Whether or not this is a rational concern from an engineering perspective won't matter, it's the perceived risk that makes the civil transportation application a no-no."

That's correct, but you have to put in a NIMBY perspective.

There are lots of anti-nuke people here on the west coast who aren't getting very worked up over possible new plants in Florida, Mississippi, and other places far away.

To the extent that small size and lack of a cooling water supply would allow this sort of installation to be far from any of our backyards it seems, to me, that this has a much better chance passing the political hurdle.

The idea of sticking some of these in remote, deep, played out mines would remove a lot of opposition. It largely takes away the security/stolen dirties and escaping water/gas problem.

I would seem to leave the last problem of ultimate waste disposal, but perhaps much less than existing technology.

With each problem solved some of the opposition melts away.

(Notice I said "a lot" and "some", not "all". But at some point one passes a tipping point....)


Clee: The article didn't say what kinds of efficiencies they are actually getting right now.

Cyril R: One of the commentators mentioned 2-3 percent.

Yes, 2-3% efficiency is what the thermoelectric (coolers) typically get, and as the commenter said, 20x that would be 40%-60%. It's the efficiency of this new radiation-to-electricity nanomaterial I'm saying the New Scientist article does not give actual numbers for. I would be extremely surprised if they get 40% efficiency today.

Harvey D

Could one use part of old mines to house hundreds large nuke batteries and another nearby underground areas to store used fuel?

Above ground used fuel transportation + storage would be more or less solved.

With a few thousands old mines around, could our future nuke power stations be mostly (or all) underground?

It could a better use than growing Federal government produced very poor quality 'pot' for medical applications.


Good point about alpha particles not penetrating very far. This very well might be all theoretical work as the material has to actually be in contact with decaying uranium (read: high heat).

Doubtful that such a material could even handle the heat.

Conductivity and temperature are inverse to each other. There will be significant losses to internal resistance.

Assuming that a nuclear engineer from Los Alamos is smart enough to think of these issues, and is still pursuing the concept, I'd say there's a chance it could be real.

There's a lot of appeal in solid state if they can pull it off.


I think because of the fact that is technology is emerging and unfamiliar at present, it sounds dangerous and scary. If shown to be viable, however, it could be great.

roofing in york pa

if it requires carbon nanotubes is it feasable yet? Either way this nano technology is going to change everything. I think in the next 25 years our world is going to look really different because of nano.

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