Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
phavoc
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Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby phavoc » Thu Aug 31, 2017 2:23 pm

Here's an interesting tidbit that might come in handy for some campaigns that like to get down to the specifics, like tracking battery usage on lights when exploring, or how you could find a beacon (or low berth powered) after a few hundred years and it's still capable of operating. Current battery tech is somewhat limited, but this new technology has the possibility of generating power for literally thousands of years. The current catch is that it's low-level power. So while it's not suitable for say energy weapons, it would be possible to power a light source, a beacon, or store enough power to revive a person from an emergency low-berth.

So refs could incorporate this into an adventure setting that doesn't require much hand-wavium.

https://phys.org/news/2016-11-diamond-a ... eries.html
twodsix
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby twodsix » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:32 pm

It reminds me of Foundation, and how Terminus managed to come up with fission reactors smaller than a human thumb.

It's interesting, but the probability is that the power generated is probably too little to do anything truly useful. Power an LED torch maybe, but anything else you'd probably want hundreds to thousands of them.

As a side note, my reading is less 'battery' and more 'generator that can't be turned off'. While this isn't really a disadvantage here, as by the time our generator begins to run low on fuel a normal battery will have lost all of it's charge even if just setting in a rubber casing, it's an interesting note.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby Pyromancer » Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:59 pm

How much better than conventional RTGs are they?
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby Jame Rowe » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:20 pm

twodsix wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:32 pm
It reminds me of Foundation, and how Terminus managed to come up with fission reactors smaller than a human thumb.

It's interesting, but the probability is that the power generated is probably too little to do anything truly useful. Power an LED torch maybe, but anything else you'd probably want hundreds to thousands of them.

As a side note, my reading is less 'battery' and more 'generator that can't be turned off'. While this isn't really a disadvantage here, as by the time our generator begins to run low on fuel a normal battery will have lost all of it's charge even if just setting in a rubber casing, it's an interesting note.
At our current TL, yes, you're right.

In a few TLs? Like somewhere between TL 11 and 13? THEN they'll do the thing. :)
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby twodsix » Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:22 am

Jame Rowe wrote:
Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:20 pm
twodsix wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:32 pm
It reminds me of Foundation, and how Terminus managed to come up with fission reactors smaller than a human thumb.

It's interesting, but the probability is that the power generated is probably too little to do anything truly useful. Power an LED torch maybe, but anything else you'd probably want hundreds to thousands of them.

As a side note, my reading is less 'battery' and more 'generator that can't be turned off'. While this isn't really a disadvantage here, as by the time our generator begins to run low on fuel a normal battery will have lost all of it's charge even if just setting in a rubber casing, it's an interesting note.
At our current TL, yes, you're right.

In a few TLs? Like somewhere between TL 11 and 13? THEN they'll do the thing. :)
That's the thing, going for realism they're unlikely to scale up that much, I wouldn't say one would be running your space kindle. Of course, if we assume we can get them to the size of a five pence coin for several applications you'd just link a load together to get the power you want.

Of course, if what we care about is fun, then let's just assume that these can be scaled up to an arbitrary size, somewhere between computer and laser rifle. This means your ship won't run on them (although after reading Judas Unchained I want to make full sized starships that run off of batteries rather than generators), but for everything else you basically don't need to worry about battery life as it's measured in the years to decades. Note that I'm assuming lifespan will decrease as power output increases, not an entirely unreasonable assumption and the lifespan giving for these current models is far beyond requirements. They still require handwavium

If we assume we can get ones that reliably output say 1V at 1uA I can see thousands being stacked into a box with capacitors and power regulation circuitry, and essentially giving you a self recharging power pack for your laser pistol, 100 shots and then you have to wait a few hours for it to recharge, but that's me going full engineer with the possibly of these working at decent voltages. Ideally you'd want to be outputting at 5V or more, but we can work with 1V. But we're nowhere near that, we're somewhere in the region of 15 Wattseconds per day per gram according to my research (which is tiny, but can in theory be scaled up with more Carbon).

These batteries are putting out a fraction of a Watt, we need several tech levels for a couple to be able to run an LED torch. Assuming we're working with 100g batteries we'll be getting 1500 Joules/day (assuming perfect scaling), or a constant output of about 0.0018 Watts. Now for some applications we will be able to use a metric ton of Carbon, but we've got to increase power by several orders of magnitude (which I'd estimate is several tech levels of development from now) to get to any consumer applications.

Try closer to TL16-20, and remember that any attempt to get a higher power output will reduce your generator's lifespan. What you really want is to do this with a more radioactive element while keeping the same lack of harm to the user, which is possible but I suspect will take more development.

(Although looking into it, they are so much like the Foundation miniature nuclear generators it's funny, we just need a version that runs on uranium and we've got the real version.)
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby Pyromancer » Sat Sep 02, 2017 1:13 pm

twodsix wrote:
Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:22 am
If we assume we can get ones that reliably output say 1V at 1uA I can see thousands being stacked into a box with capacitors and power regulation circuitry, and essentially giving you a self recharging power pack for your laser pistol, 100 shots and then you have to wait a few hours for it to recharge, but that's me going full engineer with the possibly of these working at decent voltages. Ideally you'd want to be outputting at 5V or more, but we can work with 1V. But we're nowhere near that, we're somewhere in the region of 15 Wattseconds per day per gram according to my research (which is tiny, but can in theory be scaled up with more Carbon).
Wattseconds per day per gram is a TERRIBLE unit. Converting your number, it's 173 mW/kg. Modern RTGs produce around 2 to 5 W/kg.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby twodsix » Sat Sep 02, 2017 1:41 pm

Pyromancer wrote:
Sat Sep 02, 2017 1:13 pm
twodsix wrote:
Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:22 am
If we assume we can get ones that reliably output say 1V at 1uA I can see thousands being stacked into a box with capacitors and power regulation circuitry, and essentially giving you a self recharging power pack for your laser pistol, 100 shots and then you have to wait a few hours for it to recharge, but that's me going full engineer with the possibly of these working at decent voltages. Ideally you'd want to be outputting at 5V or more, but we can work with 1V. But we're nowhere near that, we're somewhere in the region of 15 Wattseconds per day per gram according to my research (which is tiny, but can in theory be scaled up with more Carbon).
Wattseconds per day per gram is a TERRIBLE unit. Converting your number, it's 173 mW/kg. Modern RTGs produce around 2 to 5 W/kg.
Yeah, I did roughly work that out later in the post, using 100g rather than a kilo, and we're assuming that this scales linearly (which I'm suspicious about). Even at that point we're looking at fifteen times the weight for the same power. I was more using the terrible unit to make a point, but I get yours.

I guess I was off on my assumptions by an order of magnitude or two, but honestly even with several tech levels I don't see this as that viable without using a more radioactive substance.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby steve98052 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:59 pm

It sounds to me like an RTG that runs on longer lived isotopes, and is encapsulated in diamond to make it safe for non-space use.

For Traveller long-term power, use an RTG with the isotope selected for the intended application. Or use its upgrade technology, the NPU (nuclear power unit), which is described in some versions of Traveller.

An RTG in a nuclear damper box (classic Mercenary), and you have an RTG with variable power output. Maybe that's exactly what an NPU is; I haven't seen a definition.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby phavoc » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:13 am

The idea here is to offer long term power supplies for basic items. Energy weapons would need so many of these it would be silly. Regular power sources aren't going to be replaced.

However now you can justify explanations for simple things, or like reasons for beacons that are a hundred years old. Like the Nostomo being vector ed to that ancient wreck.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby Pyromancer » Sun Sep 03, 2017 4:38 am

phavoc wrote:
Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:13 am
The idea here is to offer long term power supplies for basic items. Energy weapons would need so many of these it would be silly. Regular power sources aren't going to be replaced.

However now you can justify explanations for simple things, or like reasons for beacons that are a hundred years old. Like the Nostomo being vector ed to that ancient wreck.
RTGs, solar panels, peltier elements on a geothermal heat source, ...
Long term low power supply is a problem solved quite some time ago. Some new fancy kind of radioisotope battery is nice, but not a game changer.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby phavoc » Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:35 pm

With the exception of RTG, none of those work everywhere a battery would. Plus a battery has no moving parts, and diamond covered ones means they are less likely to become damaged through normal activity.

P- 238, the preferred material for US RTG powered space devices, has a half life of about 90 years. The rover curiosity on Mars is powered by an RTG. But it's power output will be slashed by 20% after around 10 years. Which isn't a problem since the initial mission was only supposed to be 2yrs long.

The batteries mentioned here, using carbon 14, are much longer lasting. Plus you have the added benefit of not needing to use plutonium.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby steve98052 » Mon Sep 04, 2017 5:54 pm

phavoc wrote:
Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:35 pm
With the exception of RTG, none of those work everywhere a battery would. . . .
Actually, an RTG has an environmental requirement: it needs plenty of room for radiating surfaces, or some sort of conductive or convective heat sink.
Plus you have the added benefit of not needing to use plutonium.
That's not a major issue. Although plutonium is toxic as a metal, its main hazard is the radioactivity. If you spent most of your time inside the field of a Traveller nuclear damper, and could avoid the radioactivity, the metal toxicity could be detected. My guess, based on the periodic table, is that it would be similar to samarium -- but little is known about its toxicity either.

To the point, if you have carbon-14 concentrated enough to use it as an energy source, its radioactivity is definitely hazardous, even though carbon itself is biologically inert in pure forms, and necessary in compounds.
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby phavoc » Tue Sep 05, 2017 1:35 am

steve98052 wrote:
Mon Sep 04, 2017 5:54 pm
Plus you have the added benefit of not needing to use plutonium.
That's not a major issue. Although plutonium is toxic as a metal, its main hazard is the radioactivity. If you spent most of your time inside the field of a Traveller nuclear damper, and could avoid the radioactivity, the metal toxicity could be detected. My guess, based on the periodic table, is that it would be similar to samarium -- but little is known about its toxicity either.

To the point, if you have carbon-14 concentrated enough to use it as an energy source, its radioactivity is definitely hazardous, even though carbon itself is biologically inert in pure forms, and necessary in compounds.
Plutonium is extremely toxic as a metal, and also highly radioactive. Not to mention it's a fissionable material. Any of those three make it unlikely to use in more than very specialized applications in a civilian setting. The advantage of the carbon-14 would be it's not any of the above with plutonium. Plus, encased in synthetic diamond, it's relatively safe from accidental exposure. Today there are many industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials... so anything you can do to minimize something as deadly as plutonium getting out there should be considered a good thing.

The problem with a Carbon-14 battery is that it's output is relatively small. So one would either make a larger battery to generate the necessary standard power levels needed, or you would need to daisy chain multiple small ones in a circuit.

“An alkaline AA battery weighs about 20g, has an energy density of storage rating of 700J/g, and [uses] up this energy if operated continuously for about 24 hours,” Scott said. “A diamond beta-battery containing 1g of C14 will deliver 15J per day, and will continue to produce this level of output for 5,730 years — so its total energy storage rating is 2.7 TeraJ.” (read: million million Joules.)"
~ source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech ... an-energy/
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Re: Look Ma, no batteries needed!

Postby steve98052 » Fri Sep 08, 2017 7:25 pm

I did a lot of research on plutonium toxicity, and found no mention anywhere about its chemical toxicity. Most elements that aren't required by living organisms are toxic to them (exceptions include bismuth, tin, and possibly some lanthanides; research is thin on lanthanides), and most necessary elements are toxic in excess. So, it's reasonable to assume that plutonium is also chemically toxic (even if there's no evidence either way about its lanthanide analog, samarium). But the evidence isn't there

The main reason there's no evidence of chemical toxicity is that plutonium's radiological toxicity is large enough to overwhelm any potential chemical toxicity. Short of very large studies that test the least radiologically hazardous isotope against a radiologically similar isotope of an element that's known to be chemically benign, it's impossible to measure. I can't think of a practical use for such information, so I can't imagine anyone doing such a study.

The radiological hazards of different isotopes vary. Pu-238, favored for RTGs, is highly radioactive, both through spontaneous fission (which makes it a contaminant in weapons, increasing the chance of a fizzle, though it can be used in nuclear weapons initiators) and alpha decay. Pu-239 is fissile, and thus useful for reactors and weapons, and long-lived (relative to human lifespans). Pu-240 is moderately long-lived, and although it decays mainly through alpha decay it decays through spontaneous fission enough to be a fizzle contaminant in nuclear weapons; normal reactor operations produce enough of it that special reactor procedures are necessary to produce weapons grade Pu-239. Pu-241 is fissile, even more than Pu-239, but because of its shorter half-life (and scarcity through easy production methods) it's not practical for weapons. Pu-242 is long-lived and not fissile; it's a low-grade by-product of nuclear reactors. Pu-244 is the longest-lived isotope, and the shortest-lived nuclide found on Earth that has been there since Earth's formation; it's produced in supernovae and in traces by nuclear explosions.

Getting back to hazard, because all isotopes that exist in meaningful quantity decay through a mix of fission and alpha decay, their radiological hazard is approximately the inverse of half-life. Thus Pu-238 is the most dangerous, but only occurs in RTGs. Pu-240 is the next most dangerous, and common in non-fresh reactor fuel. Pu-239 is third, and found in reactor fuel, weapons, and weapons fallout. The rest are minor hazards because of lower occurrence, lower radioactivity, or both.

In terms of biological hazard, plutonium is fairly low risk ingested, because of extremely low uptake. It's high risk inhaled, but its overall risk is lower than numerous other radiological hazards, notably cesium-137, iodine-131, and strontium-90.

Compared to a carbon-14 RTG, a plutonium-238 RTG is more dangerous because of the higher level of radioactivity -- but that's mitigated by the larger amount of C-14 needed to produce the same amount of power. As a major part of life, C-14 is much more absorbed, but a C-14 RTG would only spill its C-14 into the environment as CO and CO2, which don't persist in lungs.

So on balance, a C-14 RTG would be safer.

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