Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Energy for free?

New Scientist (02/12/06):

Understanding the swing of things
: "By engineering such variations, Peyrard has shown, you could make heat flow 10 times more easily in one direction than its opposite."! If this can be applied in a real world aplication, surely it would mean rewritting the 2nd law of thermodynamics for starters!

There are multiple ways of extracting useful (work) energy from a temperature difference. Generally a system that does this is called a '
Heat Engine'. Therefore, combining a brand new, state of the art, physics violating heat pump and a thermoelectric generator (using the Seebeck effect) or even a good, old fashioned, Stirling Engine, you can use any heat reservoir (i.e. any matter or radiation with a temperature, i.e. anything!) and extract *all* it's heat (within the operating temperature of this new device) into useful energy.

The article doesn't say anything of the possible uses of a real device (perhaps a conjecture too far considering the massive potential), and as always there are skeptics saying that the 1D computer model of the 'Breather' effect, slowing thermal conduction, is not applicable to the 3D world. Though, carbon nanotubes are practically 1 dimensional creations.

...D'oh!...Hang on, just figured out why my free energy idea is folly: selective resistance to heat flow can no more 'pump' heat, than a diode can pump electicity! (so the answer is a resounding NO...for now) However, you could make digital electronic circuits out of such components that use pure temperature to operate them instead of voltage. Possibly very useful, if components can be realised at a tiny scale.

Also pointed to by this edition is the Pentagon
buying 1 Petaflop (10^15 calculations per second) machines off IBM/Cray, to be built in the next few years. Though they'll probably just be used to calculate simulations of nuclear weapons in excruciating detail (seeing as live tests are frowned upon these days... yes france i'm looking at you! I know Pakistan and India have been naughty too, and North Korea would like us to think the have, but you should know better!), the raw computational power available in such a machine is approximately equivalent to that of all the neurones in a human brain...... which might make for a truely interesting application, if we had more than the fintest clue how the human brain is structured! Hopefully by the time the price of a 1 Petaflop device has fallen from a state budget busting $1/4 Billion to the price of an off the shelf PC (about 2025), we'll have figured out the missing details.

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