There’s a great Audi ad where Spiderman goes to a science fair.
When he and his friend Ned arrive, they realize they are up against some very serious competition.
A simple electric motor they built might not be worth the judges’ time, so they decided to enlist the help of Agent Thomas to borrow the largest ever electric motor found inside. and the black Audi e-tron GT sports car.
Peter and Ned then present the electric motor inside the car to the judges and they impress them enough to win second place.
Why second place? First place went to a talented duo who made a starter power bank for the Arc Reactor from two potatoes. Genius!
It’s this ingenuity I see at Audi that inspires me to write about concepts like this at the intersection of science fiction and science communication.
For a fusion energy source to work, there must be an outside energy source that somehow initiates the fusion process.
The current world record for controlled fusion power is held by the European tokamak JET. In 1997, JET produced 16 MW of fusion power from 24 MW of heating power injected into the fusion plasma.
The amount of fusion energy a tokamak is able to produce is directly correlated to the number of fusion reactions taking place in its core. Scientists know that the larger the vessel, the greater the volume of the plasma…and therefore the greater the potential for fusion energy.
With ten times the plasma volume of the largest machine in operation today, the Tokamak ITER will be a unique experimental tool, capable of longer plasmas and better confinement. The machine was designed specifically to: Use 50 MW of injected heat output and will produce 500 MW, exactly ten times the amount needed to trigger the reaction inside.
In the commercial, two potatoes start a Stark reactor. I suspect the winning duo contacted Stark Industries before asking if they could experiment on the earlier reactor prototypes.
While it’s unclear how the Arc Reactor works at this point, one could always start theorizing and then weed out the least likely candidates.
Henry Reich, the creator of Minute Physics made an interesting video on examining the possibility of cold fusion with a special hydrogen compound.
Instead of the electron orbiting the nucleus, a special device would turn that into a muon, a negatively charged particle with about 207 times the mass of an electron.
Because these negatively charged particles are heavier, their orbit around the nucleus is closer to the center.
This means that those atoms with muons are about 200 times smaller and their nuclei are 200 times closer to each other, making them more likely to fuse together.
But if room temperature nuclear fusion exists, why aren’t we using it to power modern civilization?
The thing is… Muons don’t live very long. After about two microseconds, the muons decay into electrons and neutrinos.
This turns out to be of little importance in facilitating merging because merging is fast. But this means that the muons would have to be created near the reactor if they were to be used.
Sounds like something Tony Stark could do! A muon compartment for the Stark Reactor.
But the problem is that to create a muon it takes 5 Giga Electron Volts, while only 2.7 Giga Electron Volts are generated. This means that muon-facilitated fusion is a net consumer of energy.
A potential solution for this would be to figure out how to create muons for less energy.
Agreed! So the Stark reactor either uses muon-induced fusion with advanced muon-generating compartments, or it uses a different technology.
I will come back to this topic as I learn more about potential solutions for affordable fusion power.
Thanks for the reading!