# Could a more convenient form of energy transfer/storage than electricity be possible?

I was thinking about the progress that has been made in terms of energy usage for e.g. transport purposes and noticed how the prominent source of energy had changed over time: first muscle power, then wind & water power, then steam power, then diesel power, then nuclear power.

Similarly the method of transporting the energy has also changed, first being conveyed directly, then mechanically and then electrically.

As is widely known, electricity is a highly practical medium for storing, transmitting and transforming energy.

Would it be possible, from a physical point of view, to have something better than electricity in the (perhaps ever-distant) future for these means?

Perhaps something using quantum mechanics?

Edit: With better I mean any improvement in miniturisation, power transfer, efficiency and flexibility that would not be possible using electricity.

• Electricity is not a good storage for energy, oil and coal are both superior in that standard because they are denser. Jan 17, 2019 at 22:45
• I sure hope so. However, set your expectations appropriately. Anyone with a realistic answer should be running to the patent office, not answering the question.
– JBH
Jan 17, 2019 at 22:53
• @Bewilderer Those are things that contain potential energy. You still need to extract that energy.. into what form is the question. Using chemical reaction such as burning, we can extract some energy from it through the form of heat. Then we can use that heat to do something else, perhaps heat up water to steam? With steam, we can convert its energy to something mechanical, like a turbine, which then generates electricity. All those steps, and the end goal is electricity because it's so easy to manipulate to do something else. That's the question - is there a better "electricity?" Jan 17, 2019 at 23:02
• You're either mistaking or conflating energy sources or their extraction methods ("wind & water power") for energy types ("electricity"), it makes working out what you think you're asking difficult, possibly impossible, the question as currently worded might actually be meaningless. Jan 18, 2019 at 1:43
• Electricity is NOT a good way to store energy. Grid electricity essentially CAN'T be stored. (For EEs, neglecting things like reactance.) Storing useful amounts of electricity requires e.g. lots of complicated battery chemistry - and then the energy is stored as chemical energy, not electricity. The only way I can think of to store actual electricity is a supercapacitor: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercapacitor Jan 18, 2019 at 4:53

To answer this, it's probably best to look at why electricity is so versatile, and once again I go back to 1861 and the Maxwell equations.

Prior to Maxwell, we knew about electricity but it wasn't useful to us, and certainly wasn't versatile. What Maxwell did was essentially integrate magnetism and electricity. In so doing, we found that with a specific set up, we could;

1) Generate energy by turning an axle, and
2) Turn an axle by applying electricity.

What we use electricity for today is far more versatile than that even because we learned how to convert that same electricity to light and heat as well, but when you get right down to it these two factors are what triggered the interest and investment in electrical power because we already knew how to harness steam, wind and water to turn axles, and now we could use the output to do a LOT more than just mill wheat. When you open them up, most electrical appliances that are not lamps or applied heaters like toasters and frypans use a small electrical motor somewhere to make an axle spin.

Blenders, vacuum cleaners, engravers, drills, washing machines and even electric cars all work because we can apply this transmitted and stored energy to generate angular momentum.

Now that we've covered that, what's more efficient and versatile? Well, right now in mathematics we're already integrating weak interaction with electromagnetic force. We have no idea how that will allow us to generate, transmit and store energy in the future, let alone the integration of Strong nuclear force or even Gravity.

Right now, the biggest challenge we have is Gravity. It's so exotic compared to the other 3 fundamental forces, so it's not the kind of thing that we can easily get around. But, if we had a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) that integrated all 4 fundamental forces, just like Maxwell took that number down from 5, who knows what control over energy we may have?

The short answer to your question is therefore that yes, there is probably a more efficient and versatile energy solution out there, but like all things we won't be able to engineer it until we understand the theoretical physics that makes it possible to do so.

Further, the moral of your question is never argue with the state as to the practicality of funding theoretical science in the universities; it's from such work that the theories are created that allow the engineers to do the practical work that would be impossible otherwise. Before the Engineers know how something can be done, the scientists have to know why something can be done.

• +1 for GUT, as in to "gut classical physics." I love it!
– JBH
Jan 17, 2019 at 23:35

Electricity's convenience is not without challenge. For your average user like myself, electricity is indeed king. But that's only because I live in the domain where it works well. But it's not the best at everything.

Cars rely on gasoline because its energy density is very important. We do have electric cars, and they're getting better, but we still rely on gasoline to do our dirty work.

Electricty isn't always the most powerful form of transportation. Consider the TI class supertankers, transporting 3 million barrels of oil in a trip. If you run the numbers on those tankers, they can deliver roughly 27GW of energy across the Atlantic, based on how long it takes to make that 3700mi journey. The most capable HVDC powerline that has been created tops out at 12GW over 1900mi. They also can't run such power lines under the ocean very easily, so even then there's little comparison. If you need to move energy, ships are the way to do it.

Lots of our satelites rely on solar power. However, many craft we have sent into space have to go where there's not much sun. For them, the nuclear power of a Radio Thermal Generator is the one and only way to meet their power needs.

So all you need to do is create an environment where electricity is no longer the most ideal approach. You mention quantum mechanics. In general, the answer is "no, you can't use QM to transmit power." Our rules generally prevent clever quantum tricks that actually transmit energy. But who knows what sort of odd situations might arise in the next few hundred years as our science gets closer to the reality of the universe.

That s kind of already the case when you talk about nuclear power plants (fission energy) .

Electricity is just the medium used to transfer energy but the source is fission. So weak and strong force is already used over electromagnetic force as a source of energy.

The next step is fusion power plants.