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For my current setting, there will be super robots of ludicrous proportions strutting about as though they own the place (which in all honesty they actually do). So, being so nonsensically powerful, they need a suitably nonsensical power-source.

However, I dislike creating green-rocks to use as a fuel, as it tends to get out of hand quickly as I start fleshing out its properties, as such, I was thinking of using something that, at minimum, must be able to exist in our universe.

So, the question is, all limits of current technology aside, what would be the most powerful portable energy source available? Would it be like a miniature sun? My friend had previously suggested something he called a 'Binary Black Hole Generator', the science of which eludes me.

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    $\begingroup$ It would depend on the elements available in your solar system, but you could search in the direction of a Naquadah generator $\endgroup$ – Mast Mar 5 '15 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ Consider batteries instead? Robert Heinlien's idea for "Shipstones" was that its not the generation of power that's difficult, but the transportation. He made a ridiculously high density battery which was easy to ship. Leave it to the Dyson spheres to charge them. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 5 '15 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ For that scenario you need a felinated panificium turbine electrical generator. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 5 '15 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Kind of related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/1315/28 $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '15 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ "Would it be like a miniature sun?" -- FYI, the sun generates about 250 watts per cubic metre at the centre. This is less power per volume than a human, and about the same as a compost heap. That material at the core is really hot and dense, so it has a lot of stored heat energy, but the reason the Sun generates a lot of energy is that there's so much of this material, not because the material has high volumetric power output. So no, for portable power you need something way better than a miniature sun. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Mar 6 '15 at 16:43

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Antimatter

It's kind of insane as a fuel source:

The energy per unit mass (9×1016 J/kg) is about 10 orders of magnitude greater than chemical energies,[54] and about 3 orders of magnitude greater than the nuclear potential energy that can be liberated, today, using nuclear fission (about 200 MeV per fission reaction[55] or 8×1013 J/kg), and about 2 orders of magnitude greater than the best possible results expected from fusion

So 100 times more powerful than the best theoretical fusion reactor on a per-weight basis, good for your own-the-go giant robots. And as a bonus, you get a really rocking self-destruct option.

As was pointed out in the comments, you will likely need to manufacture your antimatter using bulky power generators (fusion, black hole tidal generators, etc), and then use the antimatter as stored energy. It's extremely efficient though on a per-weight basis, so it can last for a long time as a battery.

Alternatively, one of the big physics questions is why there aren't equal amounts of antimatter and matter visible in our universe. So it seems reasonable that you could find massive sources of antimatter somewhere, in which case you can mine it very very carefully.

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    $\begingroup$ It's great, but you should treat it as energy storage, not a source - antimatter would make for extremely powerful and dense fuel, but most likely it would have to be manufactured from energy obtained at some large, fixed and efficient (solar? fusion?) plants, not "mined". $\endgroup$ – Peteris Mar 5 '15 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to point out that at no point do you actually say what you're talking about... So, SOMETHING produces a buttload of power... but we don't know what. $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Mar 5 '15 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ As opposed to other kinds of mining, which have a reputation for being safe and trivial to the point of bordering on the boring. ;) $\endgroup$ – Williham Totland Mar 5 '15 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Peteris One could say that any kind of fuel is actually just storage. Energy don't appears from nowhere, it must be harvested from existing stuff and, if needed, transformed to something else. Think this way: oil is just stored energy, in the form of a black, viscous liquid. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 5 '15 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ See: Total Annihilation Commander A highly specialized kbot unit which uses a matter/anti-matter backpack for power. Also explodes violently on self-destruct, or when out of hit points. $\endgroup$ – wwarriner Mar 6 '15 at 3:08
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If you don't like anti-matter (your first, best option), then you need gravity generators. Suitable gravity generators will allow you to make your own portable suns... I mean fusion generators. On the plus-side, when your gravity generators fail gracefully, you can only have been cooking say, a ton (or three) of hydrogen and vent it out in an explosion which your giant robots (and operator/pilot) have a hope of surviving.

EDIT: and by fail gracefully, I mean when the equipment gets railgunned, lased, or beat-down by other robots.

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  • $\begingroup$ Its not that I don't like gravity generators - its that if I was too quick on the draw to pick an answer I would be shutting down any potential further answers, like this one! $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Mar 5 '15 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ Your edit FTW!! <-- two exclamation points due to the minimum character limit, which this comment makes pointless $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Mar 5 '15 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ What's a gravity generator? -1. $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ @M.Herzkamp Well, "all limits of current science aside", something that manipulates the force of gravity. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Mar 6 '15 at 13:13
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To borrow from one of my answers elsewhere, ZPMs, but with a ready-made explanation, cobbled together conjecturally, and not actually SG universe canon:

A ZPM essentially consists of three parts:

A hull (the thick disc at the end of the ZPM), a mechanism with an interface and power flow controllers (the rest of what we see, including the crystals), and a power source (inside the hull, a wormhole to a pocket universe).

ZPMs derive their energy from subspace, and freeing this energy is an electronuclear reaction, involving no physical components to speak of.

Recharging a ZPM is a much more involved process: The process of recharging or creating a ZPM involves creating or finding a pocket universe and placing a link to it within the ZPM hull.

Wormholes are of course pure science fiction, but creating a wormhole to a pocket universe over which unstructured energy can flow is not beyond the realm of the explainable.

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    $\begingroup$ Came here to suggest this. Also, the gravity gun in half life, starfox Arwings, and I believe some Tal Shiar ships use it too in Star Trek (though not sure on that one) $\endgroup$ – evandentremont Mar 5 '15 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ The question asked for energy sources which exist in our universe, did it not? -1. $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ @M.Herzkamp: The practical power source is the end point of the wormhole to the pocket universe, which as a matter of definition must exist in our universe. $\endgroup$ – Williham Totland Mar 6 '15 at 9:27
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Two main ideas, already mentioned, but none properly laid out and joined as far as I'm concerned:

Zero point energy

The universe and all that there is within it float like a thin microscopic layer of foam on the surface of a very, very calm and very, very deep ocean we refer to as the vacuum. In its own steady state the vacuum generates particle-antiparticle pairs at ALL energy levels. If a way can be devised to interfere with the pairing, virtually limitless energy can be extracted from it...

Which brings us to the next point:

Microblackholes

Microblackholes with a few million tons mass and a radius of about $10^{-18}$ meters are the perfect tool to separate the particle pairs frothing about in the vacuum. The event horizon is the perfect separator tool, pulling one particle into the hole, and thus making its pair real. The real particle draws energy from the black hole and radiates out, in a process called Hawking Radiation. The Hawking radiation intensity is inversely related to the mass of the black hole, to smaller holes radiate much more powerfully than larger ones. Therefore, a billion ton black hole will output something like $10^{18}$ Watts and require an input of 18kg of matter per second to prevent evaporative explosion. To give you a sense of scale, that's about 1,000,000 times humankind's current power production capability.

This might be a bit high for your mastodont robots, but I doubt that they can handle the power output of even smaller black holes.

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    $\begingroup$ We don't know yet, what exactly happens to microscopic black holes, since all our theories break down at that limit. However, you would definitely need to "feed" the microscopic black hole, lest it disperses and you lose it (and probably the robot it was powering). $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ There might be an issue when the black hole falls through metal like it was air and then continues falling through the ground to the center of the planet... $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 6 '15 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel, The robot overlords obviously use electromagnetic containment for the singularity. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 6 '15 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Fair enough, how much to power an electromagnet that can hold a few million tons in place? :) $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 6 '15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel, dunno, but i guess less than $10^{18}$ watts per second. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 6 '15 at 18:16
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So I remember a story with a submarine that was powered off a big flywheel, and every once and a while they'd have to power up the engine to spin the flywheel back up.

Lots of other people have mentioned black holes as a way to generate power using gravity or whatever, but what if you just used the frame dragging effect of a spinning micro black hole for it's kinetic energy as a flywheel that never needs to be spun, or at least as a way to keep a normal sized flywheel spun up.

Edit: the flywheel would also act like a gyroscope which would give the robots a bit of stability in regards to walking.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wind-up robots - nice! $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 6 '15 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ There's a name for that: Penrose Process :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_process The robots would be very heavy, though, and it would be difficult for them to accelerate their black holes at all. $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ @M.Herzkamp Well, there are lots of other reasons why using a black hole would be a really bad idea, like if it gets loose the planet could have issues. Antimatter, fusion, ZPE are all better ways to do it, but a giant steampunk clockwork robot powered by the spinning of a black hole is just cool :) And to be fair, he didn't say how big the robots were. They could be big enough and have enough mass that a really really small black hole wouldn't be a problem. Thanks for the info on the Penrose Process, cool to know my idea could work at least. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 6 '15 at 14:53
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Antimatter-assisted pulse-fusion generators.

A sub critical mass of fusion fuel is injected with a minute quantity of antimatter to stimulate fusion reactions. It results in a very compact fusion generator which - with suitable magnetic containment fields - has the added benefit of looking like a miniature star without the gravitational effects.

If you want to introduce Handwavium - you can replace the antimatter with beams of focused muons.

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Induced proton decay.

A lot of grand unified theories require that spontaneous proton decay be possible. In that, a proton decays into a positron and (indirectly) gamma rays. Since most matter is electrically neutral, the positron should find an electron pretty soon, and we'll get more gamma rays. That leaves the neutrons, which, without protons (or a lot of gravity, like in a neutron star), will also decay into protons, electrons, and neutrinos. You zap the remaining matter with your proton decayinator and take over the tri-state area do the whole thing over again until you need to put some more matter in your reactor.

Causing proton decay on demand is something that, as far as I know, we don't know how to do. It might be able to be catalyed with magnetic monopoles... Which have the added bonus that that may even exist.

It would basically be matter-to-energy (and some neutrinos) conversion, albeit at a rate somewhat limited by the rate of free neutron decay, free neutrons having a half life of a little less than 15 minutes. So the power of anti-matter without having to have anti-matter... But also without even close to as firm a basis in science.

It's science fiction, but of a type which just might be possible someday. A little bit more solid than "green rocks."

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    $\begingroup$ Since neutrons are stable in compound nuclei, I would expect protons to be more stable in compounds as well. so most likely, your best fuel would be pure hydrogen, so you would not have any neutrons around afterwards. $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:42
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Black holes top my list of insane energy producers.

Then the magical robots have a gravity-to-energy converter. Gravity isn't an issue because the converter basically consumes it during the conversion process.

Robots powered by micro-singularities would be awesome!

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    $\begingroup$ Black holes by themselves don't generate energy. How do you see this working to power the robot? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 5 '15 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a physicist? No. The OP stated ...all limits of current science aside... In which case its magic and the OP can do what all writers do when it comes to magic - make something up. $\endgroup$ – Sam Axe Mar 5 '15 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ Sideefect on black holes - lots of gravity! The robots would crash down to a bulk of junk. But i like the idea when the gravity is turned off... oh wait than the Black hole would be a hole with no special atributes. $\endgroup$ – Fulli Mar 5 '15 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ The Romulans and Hirogen did something like that, although I'm not sure how scientifically based they really are. $\endgroup$ – Mast Mar 5 '15 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ there will be super robots of ludicrous proportions strutting about is not hard science. I would argue that the question is mis-tagged. $\endgroup$ – Sam Axe Mar 5 '15 at 10:44
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Vacuum energy generator like the Zero point module from the StarGate series, though that might be a bit like your "green rocks" power source.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you expand on this a little more? What are the properties of such a power source? What are its limitations? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '15 at 21:10
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If we can create wormholes, why not just attach the inbound opening to the heart a sun and the outbound end to a shielded containment which is surrounded by whatever energy gathering/converting equipment usually goes into a fusion generator. That will give you an unending supply of energy without the burden of carrying any fuel around with you.

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  • $\begingroup$ The influx of power, even if the wormhole was minuscle, would vaporize life on earth. In less than a second. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 5 '15 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ ...which is exactly why they don't let me play with worm holes anymore! :( $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 5 '15 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Thales Pereira: No, it won't. The surface of the sun is about 5000 Kelvin hot. That would make it difficult to handle, yes. But it pales in contrast to the 2 Billion degrees of Kelvin recorded in a lab once: livescience.com/… $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ @M.Herzkamp I'm assuming that, by 'heart of the sun', he meant somewhere inside the core of out star. Those temperatures would be unbelivably high! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 6 '15 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Thales Pereira: Ah, yes. I missed that part. However, thermodynamics would prevent a momentary destruction of earth. The hydrogen plasma, once released, would cool down rapidly, depositing thermal energy in its surroundings. If the wormhole was maintained long enough, earth might get destroyed eventually. The main problem for containment would be the extremely high pressure, which would necessitate tremendous electromagnetic magnetic fields for containment. $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 6 '15 at 9:51
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A compact hot-fusion power unit seems quite reasonable to me. Safer and perhaps more practical (and closer to the present in development) than an anti-matter reactor.

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You might want to consider aneutronic fusion, probably proton-boron fusion.

Major advantage for a robot is, negligible neutron radiation, thus avoiding need for heavy shielding (which would also become radioactive over time and might need to be replaced every so often). Another major advantage is promise of direct production of electricity, making it much simpler to actually power the robot with this. So with future technologies, this would be both plausible and convenient.

Downside is, this isn't really that insane, if that is a hard requirement for you.

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The writer A.E. van Vogt used "adeledicnander" and something else... I recall the phrase “electron psycology” in a couple stories. In a mash-up novel, one super power source wasn't enough and a better one, upgrade put off, would have avoided running out an a dramatic moment.

In the first story of the Greatship collection, a very tiny speck of something was a power source and considered a hazard to have on board.

I think a suitable thing can be assumed and not explained, other than to acknowledge that you do know the normal rules; have characters remark how it provides more power than normal mass-energy would allow, via techobabble. Wormholes: it (the fuel cell) is bigger on the inside! Or tied to a supplier that delivers power and bills you. Or something hazardous like tunneling to a lower vacuum state (Greg Egan) or exchanging material with another universe (Isaac Asimov).

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Stirred spin-foams

In loop-quantum-gravity, space-time is a superposition of spin foams. It is thus readily available all around us. What the robots have done is to stack these superpositions so as to store energy locally. Their batteries do not exhibit a strong gravitation field like ordinary warping of space-time would result in, nor does the foam represent matter composed of elementary particles. The robots can however produce both by orchestrating the collapse of the spin-foam superpositions.

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Atmospheric Bussard Ramjet

The Bussard Ramjet scoops up interplanetary gas and uses it as (fusion) fuel and as propellant.

A planetary atmosphere has way more gas that you can use this way! Just suck in air and burn it.

While most of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen, it's easier to find information on oxygen fusion, since it's part of the stellar evolution. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen-burning_process the fusion of 2 oxygen atoms produces about 16 MeV of energy. If we take 1 mole of oxygen (16 g) that would give 6 * 10^23 * 0.5 * 16 * 10^6 * 1.6 * 10^(-19) = 768 * 10^9 Joules, or about 200 MWh of energy.

If the reactor design is robust enough, the robot could suck in anything containing elements lighter than iron (atomic number 26) and use it as fusion fuel. Water and biological matter would certainly work. About 50% by mass of Earth's crust is oxygen, so there would be no shortage of fuel even if restricted to oxygen.

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Antigravity Device

Any matter passing through a perfect antigravity field would instantly have it frame of reference set to an inertial frame of zero. I mean, the instant matter is no longer affected by gravitational fields towing it along, it would come to rest.

Then the fun starts. The matter that came to rest would come out of the antigravity field with RELATIVE speeds of the universe at that point.

Atmospheric particle (air) would be accelerated to the 1) speed of the Earth's rotation, 2) speed the Earth goes around the Sun, 3) speed the Sun goes around the Galaxy, 4) speed that the Galaxy moves through the Universe.

The energy provided would come from the antigravity device's slowing of the expansion of the Universe and all other motions.

If it were a small enough field it would appear to GLOW at the edges. Air was accelerated to huge speeds in the field and then hit and ionized air particles just outside of the antigravity field.

I think this concept is in an Asimov story.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you're describing the short story The Billiard Ball. The mechanism described in the story is that particles inside the field become massless, and so move at the speed of light when they are in (and exit) the field. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Mar 5 '15 at 20:37
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Reactor-battery using elements from the fabled Island of Stability

The "Island of Stability" is a hypothetical collection of very heavy atoms, which are believed to be stable. They are heavier than say plutonium, yet not radioactive. A small speck of this material can be bombarded with neutrons or gamma rays so as to be rendered unstable and then quickly decay into the familiar plutonium and other transuranium elements, providing power. The amount of inherently radioactive material is however much smaller than what you'd find in an ordinary reactor. Electricity could be produced via a small thermoelectric generator that fits inside a robot.

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Free Neutron Decay- it happens and produce 0.783MeV every 881s . It just leaves the difficulty of gathering large number of numbers of neutrons and isolating them and then gathering the energy from the electron and protons (and neutrino) produced and simultaneously avoiding them stabilising the neutrons.

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$$ E=mc^2 $$

Perhaps I missed it with all the answers above but the simplest and most powerful answer is direct mass conversion. It is the ideal energy source against which all others are compared. Converting matter into pure energy is equivalent to matter/anti-matter annihilation except you don't need to produce the anti-matter to begin with.

The question I had when reading your post was, do you want it to have a flaw - something which can be exploited to conquer the robots. Or, to create drama by having a shortage of the resource?

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If you don't want to go too "science-fictiony", you could always use something like a Liquid Thorium SMR. They are relatively compact and remarkably resilient for a nuclear reactor.

For more information, check out:

Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor

Kirk Sorensen's TEDx Talk

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