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Say that someone develops a technology that enables you to catalyze/accelerate quantum tunneling within the device, with the purpose of making the kind of quantum tunneling that enables hydrogen fusion in stars occur billions of times more frequently. The result is that you can have a chamber of regular old hydrogen in which enough hydrogen-to-helium fusion is taking place to run a steam turbine or combustion engine (though not enough to serve as a nuke); enabling you to power an entire country off of the water hydrogen you can get out of a bathroom tap.

Apart from making commercial energy effectively unlimited, does this technology, the ability to make quantum tunneling occur thousands/millions/billions/trillions of times more frequently than normal in a desired space, break the laws of physics/break the universe in unexpected or undesirable ways?

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  • $\begingroup$ I suspect it just makes things act like they're really really hot. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2022 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Science based and hard science can't go together, neither can be the only tags of a question. I have taken the liberty of removing the hard science tag, since I don't think anybody has done researches on this topic. Please add other meaningful tags $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 1, 2022 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not knowledgeable enough to post a proper answer, but these are the 2 questions I'd start with: (1) what will all the electrons in the material do when they are all free to cross gaps they can't normally? Create a huge electric charge from nowhere -- that goes where? And (2) what does the rest of the material do while their electrons are off gallivanting? An atom is normally held in tension among the four fundamental forces, and now a strong one is misbehaving. Which other force becomes dominant, and how will it make atoms behave? $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Apr 1, 2022 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ Commercial energy production is in effect unlimited, provided there is somebody who wants to pay for it. If you make a practical nuclear fusion reactor, the cost of energy will be dominated by the amortization costs of the reactor and power plant plus the costs with the workforce. It won't be free, and in fact it won't be all that much cheaper than plain old boring electric power generated by solar panels or wind mills. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 1, 2022 at 18:00

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Apart from making commercial energy effectively unlimited,

It would make fusion easier, but pure protium-protium fusion is moderated by the decay of diprotons into deuterium which is moderated by the weak force. Diprotons are unstable and will rapidly fission back into a pair of protons again, and the decay into deuterium is rare. This is one reason behind the very long lifetimes of hydrogen burning stars (protium fusion is slow) vs the much shorter lifetime of stars which fuse helium and heavier elements (because they don't have to wait for a slow and unlikely decay process).

does this technology... break the laws of physics/break the universe in unexpected or undesirable ways?

If you have a pair of protons, and you magically tunnel them together into a diproton, they'll probably just fission again. They'll fly apart with great rapidity, because the electromagnetic force is strong and they have like charges. There's a lot of energy released in that repulsion. Where'd it come from?

Even if you couldn't induce fusion any faster, if you get more energy from the repulsion than you put into the tunneling, you've created a perpetual motion machine with all the catastrophic thermodynamic badness that implies. If you don't get more energy out than you put in, then I'm not sure you've made fusion any easier for yourself.


On further reflection it occurs to me that if you had a magical way to get nuclei to fuse that didn't give you free energy, it could in fact still be very useful.

Very hot fusion plasmas suffer from Bremsstrahlung cooling where x-rays escaping from the plasma take away a substantial portion of the energy released by fusion. p-B11 fusion is particularly afflicted by this problem. If you could fuse a cold plasma then your fusor could be a lot more efficient, and need fewer bits of awkward tech like x-ray voltaics.

The energy cost of running your magic fusor might bring the Q-factor down, but if more of the energy of the reaction could be captured (because it is in a more convenient form, like fast charged particles) then the actual energy output of the reactor will be higher than for a hot fusor.

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