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In the universe of my story, the Earth is ridden with metahumans with uncanny powers that do all sorts of different things. Of course, to do all this, they would require a tremendous amount of energy, greater than anything the human body can produce alone. So that got me thinking of what their energy source could be.

Obviously, we all know solar panels are able to convert ultraviolet rays from the sun into electrical energy, but because the level of radiation (and therefore energy) dissipates the further away the rays are from the sun, we can only collect an incredibly small portion of the sun's energy for a solar panel.

But what if we cut out the middle man? What if there was some device that could directly harness the energy straight from the sun itself via quantum tunneling perhaps? Scientists have actually done something similar. https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/physicists-leverage-quantum-tunneling-to-collect-energy-from-earths-heat. As you can see from the article here, they say that the waves of the infrared radiation from the sun are miniscule and only last for less than a second. But what if there was a device precise and fast enough to catch these waves?

So basically what I'm asking is what could be the plausible science behind this sort of thing for the world I'm building?

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  • $\begingroup$ Undetstood. Let me edit real quick. $\endgroup$ – Strivs Apr 18 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Much better thanks. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Apr 18 at 15:55
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Actual quantum researcher here$^1$. You're misinterpreting your source article.

All the group did was build a tiny antenna that oscillates very quickly due to a quantum tunneling effect, and as such, resonates with light waves that are in that frequency range. Nobody is tunneling any energy directly out of the sun - the tunneling is all happening within a nano-scale device. Quantum tunneling only happens on small scales. The probability of a quantum tunneling event decreases exponentially with distance, so you should never ever expect to be able to quantum-tunnel anything all the way from the sun to the Earth.

So with that in mind, can you harvest waste IR energy like the researchers did, say with a biological version of their antenna, to produce high-energy superpowers? I'd argue no. The harvested waste heat would have to be surrounding the body, and unless you're standing in a lava flow, there's not enough heat there to produce jets of fire or whatever. Or at least not at an exciting rate. Maybe if you had a way to store the energy over time, you could shoot one fireball a week or something.

There are no sources of energy known to science that can be produced at a human scale and output that much energy, unless I guess each of these metahumans has a tiny black hole inside them. My recommendation is to use an energy source not currently known to science.

You don't really need to explain it - you could have scientists study it for years and still be unable to explain where the energy is coming from. That seems like the most plausible route to me, and it won't make actual scientists roll their eyes at your writing.

But if you must come up with an explanation, make it one that doesn't involve any known physics. Maybe the energy is leaking out of a parallel universe, or they're somehow teleporting energy directly from the center of the Earth (or the sun, if you want to stick to your original energy-directly-from-the-sun idea). Just don't call it quantum tunneling, and don't treat it like something that we could understand without radically changing what we know about the universe.


$^1$: okay, fine, a quantum materials grad student. Good enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your input. I had thought of the alternate universe energy source but saw it as kinda handwavy since so many other superpowered beings use it (Flash, X-Men psionics, magic users, etc). However, you're right. It's probably better to just not go too in depth about it and leave it to the reader's imagination. With that being said though, I want my story to follow the law of conservation of energy consistently. Hence why I don't want the energy to just come from nowhere. I'm also thinking this device on the metahumans could have a failsafe on the energy they absorb so they don't die. $\endgroup$ – Strivs Apr 19 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, if you require conservation of energy, then the energy has to come from somewhere. And that begs the question "how is the energy getting from point A to point B?" At that point you have to shrug your shoulders or invent some unobtanium. So the way I see it, you might as well shrug your shoulders a bit earlier-on and save yourself the hassle of trying to bluff technobabble. $\endgroup$ – Gilad M Apr 19 at 22:58
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DISCLAIMER:

I'm not a scientist, so take everything here with a grain of salt.

Answer

If you want to collect the IR energy leftover from solar radiation, quantum tunnelling would be a great way to go. However, this takes care only of "waste" light and not the entire light of the star.

As for a device capturing the energy of the sun, I would suggest a Dyson megastructure, such as a Dyson swarm. Kurzgesagt did a great video on this a while back. Essentially, one builds large mirrors (on the scale of 1 sq km) and sets them in orbit around the Sun. This reflects light onto collectors, which beam the light energy to Earth (maybe in laser form, so less energy is lost.)

A cheaper solution would be to build a black hole bomb (again, Kurzgesagt did a video on this.) Build a giant spherical mirror around a black hole and fire electromagnetic into it. After complicated physics, you get higher energy light waves than you put in. The downside is, it'll run out after a very long time because you're using the black hole's rotational energy to do this.

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