In the year 2235 scientist discover a new type power that yields more energy than nuclear power and is more destructive than it as well. But what is it? I could make something up but I would like something based in reality.

The energy needs to be able produce large amounts of consumer safe & usable power, like nuclear power plants. But the energy itself is incredibly dangerous, destructive enough to reduce the state of Texas to nothing, the amount of radiation produced does not matter.

closed as too broad by Cort Ammon, Ghanima, Tyrabel, HDE 226868, Monty Wild Oct 23 '15 at 1:47

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    Can you describe more what you need from this energy type? As is, this would be idea generation to try to generate arbitrary sources of energy. How available should the energy be? How do you define "destructive?" Is this energy anyone can use, or do you need the combined efforts of a massive galatic civilization to build it? – Cort Ammon Oct 22 '15 at 21:24
  • How is the question to broad? – DohnJoe Oct 23 '15 at 2:02
  • What needs to be super-destructive? A cell phone battery? Or the power plant itself? Can the cell phones just operate off normal batteries (well, normal for 2235), or do they have to operate off some exotic type of matter? Any kind of localized power would have to be very stable, especially if it's capable of destroying Texas. An antimatter reaction as listed in several answers would work fine for a super-explosive power plant, but it's rather unlikely you'd put it in a motorcycle. – MichaelS Oct 23 '15 at 3:10
  • If the question is to be answered literally, its 'nothing' because if we could name something based in reality, it can't get discovered in 2235. If its something "similar" to reality, I can start from one end of the wikipedia pages on science and move to the other, and at each step of the way define something "similar." Also, before you edited the post, it looked like you wanted a source of power, but from the edit, it looks like you want a way to store power, which is very different. Heinlein's "Shipstone" comes to mind. – Cort Ammon Oct 23 '15 at 3:12
  • @MichaelS I would want the energy to be able produce large amounts of consumer usable power, like nuclear power plants. But the energy itself is incredibly dangerous. – DohnJoe Oct 23 '15 at 4:10
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your best bet for a new type of power is figuring out how to convert mass directly into energy. The only way we know how to do this currently is with antimatter, but then you run into the problem of storing the antimatter. It would be believable that in 200 years' time we figure out a way to convert mass into energy without needing to use antimatter to do it.

So how much better is direct conversion than nuclear power?

According to a random source on the internet the bomb dropped on Hiroshima could have yielded 20 kilotons of explosion per kilogram of uranium if all of the uranium underwent fission.

Using $E=mc^2$, for $m=1kg$ we get $E=8.987*10^{16}J$. A 20 kiloton explosion is $8.368*10^{13}J$. So if you can turn the uranium directly into energy, you get at least 1000 times as much energy out of it.

Seeing how everything that we know about in the universe is made of matter, you'll never1 have to worry about running out of fuel. Also, you can really ruin someone's day if you can suddenly turn even a small section of their spaceship's hull into energy.


If you're willing to go a little bit out on a limb, another possibility would be to make use of parallel universes. The explanation could be that we confirmed that at least some parallel universes exist, but these parallel universes have different rules of physics, making them uninhabitable. In one of these universes, conservation of energy as we know it simply doesn't apply. By expending a tremendous amount of energy, mankind was able to open some sort of connection to that universe. Then, using energy obtained from that other universe, the connection could be maintained indefinitely unless the equipment was destroyed. If you want it to be a potential weapon, you can just say that destabilizing the connection (by destroying the equipment, for instance) can be very bad.

Even though this lets you have unlimited energy, it is not infinite — you can only retrieve energy at a certain rate and opening a larger connection requires more extra energy to maintain than it provides.

One nice thing about this route is that it's still somewhat plausible. The concept of parallel universes is widely known, so you only have to build a little bit on what people understand of them. For example, if your story reads as if someone from 2235 (right before the new power source starts being used) is trying to explain things to someone from our day:

You know the idea of parallel universes? Well, right before the turn of the century, science was able to confirm that they exist! Everyone started getting really excited — we could find some uninhabited parallel Earths and move people there! Earth's overpopulation problem was finally solved, and we wouldn't even have to spend decades or centuries on space ships to get people to their new homes!

But then came the bad news — they weren't like what we had imagined. Nothing was inhabitable. We sent an apple to one, and it just kind of fell apart into dust. We sent another apple to another, and that one melted. Turns out, physics plays a different game there.

One universe though, it was the jackpot. Still can't live there, but it's gonna make life a whole lot easier here — free energy. We've still got the saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch", but we're about to make that wrong. See, over here, energy's gotta be conserved. We've known about that for a long time now. Over there? Energy just pops into existence pretty much everywhere.

All we've gotta do is bring some of that energy over here. And that's what they're about to do. They're opening up the very first FEP (free energy plant) tomorrow. Flip that switch, and we've got free, clean energy flowing in for as long as we want it.

There's only one FEP for now, but they've already started building more. They're saying these new ones are going to give more energy too — they're learning more and more about how to bring the energy over, and they're putting that into the new plants to make them more efficient.

1. Well, not for a really long time, at least.

  • That sounds interesting, but can you provided a method of doing so? – DohnJoe Oct 22 '15 at 22:56
  • @user2888833 The webcomic Schlock Mercenary uses this as the energy source for spaceships. The reactors are called "annihilation plants" with no attempt to explain how exactly they work. You're going to have to handwave it away at some point, so just pick a mechanism and don't worry about explaining the details. – Rob Watts Oct 23 '15 at 1:48
  • This idea was the basis of the classic Issac Asimov story, The Gods Themselves. – user243 Oct 24 '15 at 20:40
  • @JonofAllTrades I still haven't read that one, but based on the summary I found on Wikipedia I agree - my second idea is basically the same as the one in that story. – Rob Watts Oct 25 '15 at 2:44

Couldn't you just use the old tried and true antimatter approach?

  • Meets the destructiveness criterion if you get enough of it together
  • But the amount of energy is directly proportional to the amount of antimatter you annihilate, so it could still work to power cars, airplanes, trains, etc.
  • While it could theoretically power phones and such, if it's already being generated at a power plant, you don't really need to change electricity. Just make it be antimatter explosions that generate the electricity rather than nuclear energy.
  • We already can make small amounts of antimatter, it's just that the cost to create it vastly outweighs the gain we would get from annihilating it, so that gives you a paragraph of technobabble to explain how we've learned to efficiently blah blah blah.
  • Could you give more information on antimatter? – DohnJoe Oct 22 '15 at 22:56
  • Antimatter is basically normal matter but with various properties flipped - protons with negative charge, electrons with positive charge, etc. When a particle and its antiparticle (a proton and an antiproton, an electron and a positron, etc) collide they release energy in the form of gamma rays - but it's almost pure energy conversion, not lost to heat or friction or anything like that. However, it's currently the most expensive stuff on Earth when it comes to producing it, so it would take a big breakthrough to get it cheaply in large quantities. – John Robinson Oct 22 '15 at 23:05
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    @user2888833 You could also do an Internet search for "what is antimatter"... – Frostfyre Oct 22 '15 at 23:16

Antimatter is the one that comes quickly to mind (yes, like in Star Trek). As opposed to the puny amount of matter converted to energy in nuclear, in antimatter annihilations 100% of the matter is converted to energy, hence much more energy produced per gram of matter. When harnessed this would mean high yield for generators, but also immense destructive ability for weapons.

If you're unsure of what it is, the energy derived from antimatter comes from the collision and subsequent annihilation of a particle with its anti-particle (such an electron and a positron).

Since we already know the ultimate answer is antimatter the real question is how do we get it? Making it in particle accelerators is amazingly inefficient (output isn't measured in kilograms or ounces but individual antiprotons).

The best answer so far seems to be to "harvest" antiprotons in the magnetosphere around Earth, or perhaps better yet, in deep space. The energy cost of getting to Jupiter can be easily recovered by the energy released by the antiprotons being harvested. NextBigFuture has posted on this idea:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/02/a-lot-of-antimatter-and-scooping-up.html http://nextbigfuture.com/2006/01/other-tech-antimatter-harvesting.html

and Centauri Dreams:

http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1569

Given the amazing energy release of antimatter-matter reactions (and the fact that antimatter reactions unfold even faster than nuclear reactions), the best place to utilize the antimatter harvested in space is in space. Harvesting antimatter and then trying to bring it down from orbit is just asking for trouble.

After factoring the fact that a proton - antiproton reaction results in many different types of particles (mostly pions and kaons) and about 1/3 of these hold a neutral charge - it means that the reaction loses at least 1/3 of the reaction energy to waste heat. Meaning matter - antimatter may convert up to 2/3 of its fuel mass into energy.

While it is true that many fusion reactions lose substantial portions of their energy to liberated neutrons, there are a few aneutonic reactions that limit the amount of this energy loss. Fusion reactions may convert as much as 0.8% of its fuel mass into useful energy.

Fission reactions are less efficient and can only turn less than 0.2% of its rest mass into useful energy - much of it as heat.

There is a method of generating energy far more efficiently than any of these - extracting rotational energy from a black hole:

https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/20813/how-would-a-black-hole-power-plant-work

In the example provided above, they're using the black hole essentially like a giant battery. It's continued use would eventually use up all the available rotational energy.

Alternatively, dropping mass into a black hole releases almost as much potential energy as the rest mass of the object.

Anti-matter is pretty wonderful. It converts to 100% energy when it meets with normal matter -- e=mcc. I have no idea how you'd manufacture it, store it safely (magnetism?), or release its power gradually. Maybe that's the scientific breakthrough!

  • Could you give more information on antimatter? – DohnJoe Oct 22 '15 at 22:56
  • I only know the basics of it: When it touches ordinary matter they both convert into pure energy. The Wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter will tell you a lot more than I could! – BrettFromLA Oct 23 '15 at 17:19

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