Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mining the Moon: Helium 3 to solve Earth's Energy Problems?


A potential gas source found on the moon's surface could hold the key to meeting future energy demands as the earth's fossil fuels dry up in the coming decades, scientists say.

Mineral samples from the moon contain abundant quantities of helium-3, a variant of the gas used in lasers and refrigerators.

"When compared to the earth the moon has a tremendous amount of helium-3," Lawrence Taylor, a director of the US Planetary Geosciences Institute, said.

"When helium-3 combines with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) the fusion reaction proceeds at a very high temperature and it can produce awesome amounts of energy.

"Just 25 tonnes of helium, which can be transported on a space shuttle, is enough to provide electricity for the US for one full year."

Helium-3 is deposited on the lunar surface by solar winds and would have to be extracted from moon soil and rocks.

To extract helium-3 gas the rocks have to be heated above 800 degrees Celsius.

Dr Taylor says 200 million tonnes of lunar soil would produce one tonne of helium.

Only 10 kilograms of helium-3 are available on earth.

Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam has told the International Conference on Exploration and Utilisation of the Moon that the barren planet held about 1 million tonnes of helium-3.

"The moon contains 10 times more energy in the form of helium-3 than all the fossil fuels on the earth," Mr Kalam said.

However, Dr Taylor says that the reactor technology for converting helium-3 to energy is still in its infancy and could take years to develop.

"The problem is that there is not yet an efficient type of reactor to process helium-3," he said.

"It is currently being done mostly as a laboratory experiment. Right now at the rate which it (research) is proceeding it will take another 30 years."

Other scientists say that the reactor would be safe in terms of radioactive elements and could be built right in the heart of any city.

"Potentially there are large reservoirs of helium-3 on the moon," DJ Lawrence, a planetary scientist at the US Los Alamos National Laboratory, said.

"Just doing reconnaissance where the minerals are and to find out where helium-3 likes to hang out is the first step, so when the reactor technology gets to work we are ready and have precise information.

"It really could be used as a future fuel and is safe. It is not all science fiction.

"There are visionaries out there and now the question arises where the funds come from. If people get on board to do it there is no doubt it could be done."

Dr Taylor echoed Dr Lawrence's views, adding that there are no funds available for funding non-petroleum energy projects in the United States.

He warns of the exhaustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas on earth.

"By 2050 the whole world will have a major problem. We need to be thinking ahead," Mr Taylor said.

"Right now we are not thinking ahead enough. Some of us are. But then the people who make the decisions and put money on the projects are not. They think only about the next elections.

"If we set our hearts on the moon and have the money to do it, then we do it pretty fast.

"However, it could be done well within 10 years if the sources of finance are generated to get this (reactor) going."


3 Comments:

Blogger DarkSyde said...

James many thanks for slogging through my long disjointed Midwinter's Nightmare and taking the time to leave us with some of your thoughts.
Merry Christmas!
~DS~

10:15 am, December 24, 2004  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

A D-He3 reactor would still have many D-D reactions, which yield He3 + n.  To get an aneutronic thermonuclear reactor you need a fuel mix like boron-11 + protium (reacts to 3 He4).

All of this is academic.  To fuse D and He3, you'd need considerably higher temperatures than to fuse deuterium and tritium (twice as much charge on the He3 nucleus).  If we can't get breakeven with D+T, no amount of He3 fuel is going to give us a fusion-based economy.

8:41 am, December 25, 2004  
Blogger Marpass said...

I see the diagrams of how to obtain He3 from the moon studying the papers of
University of Wisconsin.The design of mining machine to do this process
that go to the moon, extract He3,
come back to earth and in the middle of the way process the he3.
The methodology” BIA”, a matrix of all problems that the machine
could have in the way to the moon and in the way to earth.
The Impact found simple problems that could have the machine in the way
To the moon, and criticals problems, always is high. The times, for develop
the mining machine. The last matter will be work in Bio-fuels-Diesel,
it could be good for the future analyses of how to process He3 fuels.
I work and develop since years a methodology of Risk Space Management
using standards 4360 AUS-NZ ,NIST -800-30 and in the end i am working
with ISO 31000, and 31010.

Thank you very much

4:34 pm, September 11, 2008  

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