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Old 21st March 2012, 07:54 PM   #46 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Not always easy to tell, though I've seen some with fission rods in the back of the car.
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Old 21st March 2012, 07:55 PM   #47 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Ow, ow, ow, ow!
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Old 21st March 2012, 07:59 PM   #48 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Confusion, ain't it?
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Old 21st March 2012, 09:12 PM   #49 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

And yet magazines of the late 1940's and 1950's were predicting we would have nuclear powered vehicles of every kind. I think it does serve to underline why electricity is going to be with us for some time yet. The ease with which electricity can be converted into other forms of energy cannot be beaten.
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Old 21st March 2012, 09:53 PM   #50 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

I was happy to note in a recent Top Gear that someone took on James May's (joking?) suggestion to have a turbine to charge the batteries of their electric cars. The idea seemed superb to me when it was first mooted in one of their tom-fooleries intended, I suspect, to prove the unlikelihood of electric cars becoming a widely accepted reality.

Though the new car still uses a petrol-powered dynamo, it also uses solar panels and it occurred to me that, while the car is moving, surely wind-dynamos behind the radiator grill would also be a way to lengthen the battery's usable range of charge.
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Old 21st March 2012, 11:22 PM   #51 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

All right, we know what the advantages of electricity are: Easy to transport, non-polluting (if you ignore electromagnetic fields around pylons, which I do), not complicated to generate, wide range (mechanical, thermal, electronic and electrochemical) of ways of using the energy, acceptably high safety margin, easy to meter and charge for.

So, what are the disadvantages that could make someone look for an alternative?
Difficult to store, requires physical connection for the transport (although the only alternatives to this are a bit worrying, like a maser delivering a few gigawatts following a jet airliner) transmission over large distances inevitably lossy, vulnerable to sunspots and lightning strikes, less than convenient in the damp.

Ok, powering the carriages up our orbital tower might not be its most obvious use, nor in the undersea cities round the thermal vents, but its most obvious failing is in transport. Storing it as chemical energy in batteries is really not an adequate solution, If, perchance, superconductors could be made practical (not unthinkable) it could be stored as a magnetic field, or there may be other esoteric solutions, but as things stand now our best hope for a good storage system is an invertible fuel cell; good old chemical energy. (Pumping water uphill, then letting it run back down when the energy's needed, our present most efficient storage system, mechanical energy, is just not elegant.)

Hmm, the underwater city reminds me of something. When we were trying to make the Kraken sea house habitable in 1970, the principal energy source was compressed air –you can run cars on it (Harrods ran delivery vans), the workshops using pneumatic tools illustrate its versatility, stores well… no, I just can't see a compressed air computer catching on. Taking off, perhaps).

A tank full of charmed quarks? Gluon unstickies? Electricity is so convenient for so many jobs.
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Old 22nd March 2012, 12:17 AM   #52 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

I have been saying for a long time that the person who can come up with a compact, efficient way of storing electricity stands to become seriously rich. It could in many ways be more revolutionary than the transistor. To be fair batteries are getting incredibly good but as Chris says room temperature superconductivity seems to be what is needed and if we make that break through I would expect to see some pretty radical engineering emerging.

On the battery front I saw a thing on the box showing how, in an emergency, a fully charged electric car can be used to power an (average) house for around 2 days. I think it might have been in Norway, and they had produced a 'siwtchable' charger to allow it to do this.
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Old 22nd March 2012, 02:09 AM   #53 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

That house may be kept running for two days, but its range is still very, very poor.









(And yes, I know: the range will probably be using wood as a fuel....)
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Old 23rd March 2012, 08:03 PM   #54 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Quote:
Originally Posted by chrispenycate View Post
... A tank full of charmed quarks? Gluon unstickies? Electricity is so convenient for so many jobs.
May I ask you Crispen, and this completely sincere: in the original 'Star Trek' series, what I liked about it was that the earthlings were always able to identify and knock out the alien power source, it didn't matter how impressive the 'adversary' was, or seemed to be.

But, and I don't know the answer: what really is electricity? It's the flow of something, some electron 'particle' (because it has some (minimal) mass, and a very powerful comparative charge) that flows from what we decide to call negative, to positive and by directing the flow we can create heat, turn motors, generate light (by using the heat to generate light, or by passing it through various gasses in vacuo, or impinge upon various flourescent compounds etc) or with some cleverness, to vibrate membranes to reproduce sound, etc.

It is hugely versatile, as you observe.

But what is it really? It can be completely insulated by a micrometre of fresh air. It's a useful thing to know, that by the use of insulators, it can be directed along conductors, etc.

But what is it? Does anyone out there know?

Is it the primal yin/yang energy? Or is there something more? Some unified energy?

Last edited by RJM Corbet; 23rd March 2012 at 08:14 PM.
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Old 23rd March 2012, 08:35 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Nothing so exotic RJM. The difference between conductors and insulators is that conductors have their highest energy band unfilled - the conduction band. This mean that electrons can easily get kicked to a slightly higher energy state (by the energy of the battery or whatever) and in the process can 'drift' towards the positive applied potential. Insulators have their highest energy band filled and so it would take a much larger 'kick' to push one up to the next band (from the valence band to the conduction band). So a very high voltage can spark through an insulating air gap. It's not quite that simple of course - there are other factors like holes in a semicondictor - that result in anomalies like diamond and graphite. Same material but the former is an insulator and the latter a conductor.

The energy we get from the electricity essentially comes from the energy given up by the electrons as they drop back from the levels the battery's kick lifted them up to. An important rule of quantum physics is that all materials will endeavour to fall to their lowest possible energy state.
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Old 23rd March 2012, 08:39 PM   #56 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Ok, ok. But when you will your hand to move, it moves.

What's that?
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Old 23rd March 2012, 11:45 PM   #57 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Electrical signals from your brain converted to chemical signals that make your muscles contract.

It's not even done by your conscious brain, but delegated to your subconscious. And that delegation to is in electrical signals.
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Old 24th March 2012, 11:03 AM   #58 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

Yes. There's such a thing nowadays as a myoelectric (?) limb. If you've lost a hand, there's an artificial hand that's directly connected to the nerves in your arm, that opens and closes and moves the thumb etc, when you 'think' it to, by electrical nerve impulses from your brain.

Its powered by rechargeable batteries. It obviously doesn't have all the detailed finger movements of a real hand, but it's made up of intricate stems and gears and wheels, all covered by a flesh coloured glove to look completely real. Quite an amazing thing, really: activated by thought.

But still Vertigo, it originates somewhere: the original thought that creates the nerve impulse?
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Old 24th March 2012, 11:08 AM   #59 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

That would be you, one or more of: the reflex you, the subconscious you and the conscious you. (See here.)
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Old 24th March 2012, 01:41 PM   #60 (permalink)
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Re: Beyond Electricity?

As Ursa says and then beyond that it's really down to individual belief. Some believe it's all driven by your soul. I'm afraid I'm a bit more prosaic than that and simply put it down to a very complex system developed by evolution over millions of years to produce an organic entity that is very efficient at survival.
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