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Nitrogen Fullerenes - Powerful Chemistry 30

Posted by michael
from the where's-the-kaboom dept.
wildsurf writes "A post in sci.energy points to recent confirmation of the stable existence of N60 , through supercomputer simulation. Large-scale synthesis of this material could form the basis for tremendously powerful rocket fuel. Here is an in-depth article on the subject. What would you do with a few million liters of this stuff?"
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Nitrogen Fullerenes - Powerful Chemistry

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  • "What would you do with a few million liters of this stuff?"

    Make myself one hell of a martini.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Finally I can make the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster I've always dreamed of!
  • by President Chimp Toe (552720) on Friday May 10, 2002 @07:58AM (#3495802)
    What would you do with a few million liters of this stuff?

    Give up smoking and try real hard not to fart.
  • Better Press Release (Score:2, Informative)

    by wsloand (176072)
    Here is a better press release [google.com] than the one listed with the article.
  • Economics (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aburnsio.com (213397) on Friday May 10, 2002 @09:44AM (#3496310)
    The key is not so much whether you can sythesize N60, since this will probably be possible in the future. The key is the economics of such an operation.

    Economics, not pure technology, is what's driving the next generation of space travel. A primary goal of NASA's next generation launch vehicle to replace the shuttle is to bring down costs for moving payload to low-earth orbit. In particular, NASA wants to reduce the current cost of $10,000/kg by an order of magnitude to $1000/kg.

    Making this possible will require technological innovations within economic constraints, such as using kerosene fuel or nuclear engines. If you've been following Mars human exploration plans recently, you'll know that methane engines are one of the most promising plans for synthesizing fuel on Mars. In fact, any long-term Mars mission is likely to require some sort of production of fuel from the Martian surface, and methane can be produced quite readily given an external power source such as a nuclear reactor.

    Sure, N60 may provide a higher thrust/weight ratio, but then again, so does antimatter. Antimatter/matter combustion, in fact, has the highest thrust/weight ratio theoretically possible given current physics. We can even sythesize and store it, unlike N60, so we're ahead of the game there. And yet, you don't see antimatter engines because the costs are even more astronomical than the thrust/weight ratio. To get enough antimatter to launch just one LEO mission could very well bankrupt the world.

    In conclusion, although N60 has promising potential, the future of rocket propulsion is likely to lie with more conventional and cheaper fuels. Hydrocarbons such as methane and kerosene are still the king of fuels.

    • Re:Economics (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mt._Honkey (514673)
      "Antimatter/matter combustion, in fact, has the highest thrust/weight ratio theoretically possible given current physics."

      Given current physics, yes. Just wait a while though, and we'll get Zero Point Energy working. Evidently there may be enough energy in a 1 cm^3 vacuum to boil all the worlds oceans. Much more energy than antimatter, and you don't have to take it with you, as vacuum is rather abundant. I believe that this energy source was featured in 3001: The Final Odyssey.

      Here's something related, the Casimir Effect [rl.ac.uk].
      • Given current physics, yes. Just wait a while though, and we'll get Zero Point Energy working. Evidently there may be enough energy in a 1 cm^3 vacuum to boil all the worlds oceans. Much more energy than antimatter, and you don't have to take it with you, as vacuum is rather abundant.

        The problem with zero-point energy is that it's at the zero point.

        It's not the amount of energy bound within a system that tells you how much you can extract - it's how far above the lowest possible energy state your system is in. You can make a pretty solid argument for vacuum - even boiling with zero-point energy - being at the lowest achievable energy state ("otherwise it would have decayed to a lower state already"). If you can't make vacuum decay to a lower energy state, you can't extract any of the zero-point energy. If you _can_ make it decay, then why hasn't any of the *vast* expanse of vacuum in the universe decayed already? This would be very, very noticeable.

        An analogy would be to look at chemical energy. By classical mechanics, you should be able to draw a near-infinite amount of energy out of a single hydrogen atom, just by moving the electron closer to the nucleus; the Coulomb potential well is infinitely deep (or at least far deeper than electrons normally sit, even if you assume a nucleus with measurable size). But we know that in practice the best you'll get from changing states in a hydrogen atom is about 13.6 eV (arbitrarily-close-to-free outside the potential well to the ground state, at about -13.6 eV).

        The ground state (-13.6 eV) is as far as you can send an electron down into the potential well, even though the well is a lot deeper than -13.6 eV.

        Similarly, by the fact that the vacuum near us hasn't decayed, you can make a pretty strong argument for the observed state of vacuum being the lowest reachable state.
        • That's a reasonable argument, though of course inconclusive -- it could be possible, just really really unlikely without some sort of artificial interference, some set of circumstances that simply doesn't occur throughout all of nature. Or it isn't as noticeable as you'd think.

          All of this talk really reminds me of ice-9 from Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. We just need to find the right way to stack those cannon balls.

        • Similarly, by the fact that the vacuum near us hasn't decayed, you can make a pretty strong argument for the observed state of vacuum being the lowest reachable state.

          Stephen Baxter's novel Manifold: Space toys with the idea that the vacuum is at a metastable level. The book ends with the release of the vacuum to its actual ground state.

          I finished it feeling profoundly depressed.

          • I think that was Manifold: Time
            • I think that was Manifold: Time

              Could be. I thought Time was about the undying japanese woman and the crystal flowers...or is it the same book and the other one is about something else entirely?

              Bah, my memory is like a sludgy swamp: everything in there decays to the same undifferenciated matter. The point is, I didn't like either book much, compared to Vacuum Diagrams. Don't get me wrong: both Manifolds are very good, very dark and depressing; but Vacuum Diagrams is more poetic, I guess is the word.

              I gave up my hopes for science fiction a long time ago, anyway. It's all oh-so-marketable now. Seeing that Rowlands woman winning the Hugo last year was a sad sign-o'-the-times.

        • As I understood it, the potential of zero-point energy does not lie within the extraction of the energy itself. The most promising aspect, actually, would be if we were to somehow "shield" a nucleus from this energy. Theory states that it would cause the nucleus to implode upon itself, and produce a blast that would make the H-bomb look like a firecracker.
          • As I understood it, the potential of zero-point energy does not lie within the extraction of the energy itself. The most promising aspect, actually, would be if we were to somehow "shield" a nucleus from this energy. Theory states that it would cause the nucleus to implode upon itself, and produce a blast that would make the H-bomb look like a firecracker.

            Any scheme that extracts energy from zero-point effects, either directly or indirectly, is vulnerable to the argument I made; the possibility is what matters, as opposed to the precise mechanism.

            If I understand correctly, by "shield" you mean "remove the effects of within a volume". A nucleus isn't much affected by what happens outside it. _Within_ the nucleus, the seething sea of virtual particles play a large part in keeping the nucleons bound together, but a) removing the virtual particles would cause the nucleus to fly apart, not implode, b) removing virtual particles is just a way of saying "magically cause no forces to apply", as at least the first three fundamental forces are transmitted by virtual particles, and c) good luck magically causing the fundamental forces not to apply. If we can do this, then getting free energy will be the least of the effects we could produce :).

            I remain skeptical.
      • by Bohnanza (523456)
        "Similarly, by the fact that the vacuum near us hasn't decayed"

        My old Hoover is just about falling apart.
    • Another factor which may halt the adoption of this chemical as a fuel propellant is the pollution involved. Oxidizing pure nitrogen is bound to get you a lot of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) and other related pollutants. While this might be useful for small explosives, the output from launching a space shuttle off of this fuel might be too much for NASA to consider using even if it does become cheaper than current fuels one day.

      On the other hand, the infrequency of launches may be such that the overall emission these pollutants compared to that of traffic in a large city may be negligible. Someone with a better grasp on the exact orders of magnitude here would have to tell you.
  • ... that Microsoft would have a whole new kind of 'product activation' to worry about.
  • According to Google, I'm not the first person to come up with the word Buckybomb.
  • Can someone explain to me why someone would use use two backwards apostraphes at the beginning, and two sets of double-quotes at the end of a quotation ``like this'' ''? I've seen similar things to this all over usenet.
  • I already made two buckyballs of paper, C60. Now I have to make a new one for N60. I can't believe this... ;-)
    Doing this C60 gave me the second best work in a science fair which was worth R$ 50 (around US$ 25 at that time)... I received the money and was robbed on the same day... hmm, bad fortune.
  • N60 SuperMario

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