Energy generators sourcing energy from Van Allen Belt

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Background of technology, including the basic science foundation

A radiation belt is a zone of energetic charged particles, most of which originate from the solar wind that is captured by and held around a planet by that planet's magnetic field. The Earth has two such belts and sometimes others may be temporarily created. The discovery of the belts is credited to James Van Allen, and as a result the Earth's belts are known as the Van Allen belts. Earth's two main belts extend from an altitude of about 1,000 to 60,000 kilometers above the surface in which region radiation levels vary. Most of the particles that form the belts are thought to come from solar wind and other particles by cosmic rays. By trapping the solar wind, the magnetic field deflects those energetic particles and protects the Earth's atmosphere from destruction.[1]

Russian researcher E. K. Kolesnikov has investigated the theoretical usefulness of using the Van Allen Belts for generating on-board electricity in spacecraft. He considers the feasibility of constructing a high-voltage electric generator (HEG) transforming kinetic energy of particles of the radiation belts into electric power. The maximum specific power of the generator is theoretically evaluated for particular cases of setting it inside the natural radiation belts of the Earth (ERB) and in polar region. It is demonstrated that from the viewpoint of weight parameters, the suggested design of HEG is quite competitive with power sources of low-thrust spacecraft operating on conventional principles[2].

However, the numeric values derived by Kolesnikov show:

  • ~ 3 W/kg theoretical maximum for the region where the proton flux is highest, in the gap between the inner and outer radiation belts
  • one order of magnitude less in the inner electron radiation belt and two orders of magnitude less in the outer electron belt

Whilst this may be competitive for spacecraft, the values seem uneconomically low for terrestrial use. However, in the same paper Kolesnikov estimates that by setting HEG inside the auroral zone, specific power can exceed 100 W/kg.

A power plant providing for power supply of operation of onboard service devices and science and technology instrumentation is one of the main elements of any spacecraft. As of now, designing the power plants transforming the natural energy of space medium into power supply is the most promising line of development of space power engineering. Power sources of this type include first of all various converters of electromagnetic radiation of the Sun (semiconductor photoelectric cells, thermoelectron, thermoionic, and thermoelectric converters). Along with manufacturing the power plants that use the energy of electromagnetic radiation of the Sun, people in our country and abroad make research into development of the concepts of radically new space electric power generators based on utilizing other types of energy available in space medium: energy of the Earth’s magnetic field [3], energy of the solar wind plasma [4], and so on. The radiation belts of the Earth and other celestial bodies belong to the carriers of natural energy density comparable with the energy flux density of the solar electromagnetic radiation. In this paper, a principal feasibility of an electric generator converting kinetic energy of particles of the radiation belts and polar region into electric power is considered. The maximum specific power of the generator is theoretically evaluated for a particular cases of setting it that mentioned above.

Current state of the technology

It appears to be technologically feasible to exert a large measure of control over the loss of energy from the Van Allen radiation belts and plasma sheet or cusp regions, by means of cold plasma injection. Rough calculations indicate that about a kilogram-mole, properly distributed through the outer belt, plasma sheet, and ring current regions, could remove much of the trapped energy in a time scale of a few hours. The most significant quantity in the mechanism proposed is the ratio of the dominant energy in the energetic particles to the magnetic energy per particle, where the latter is controlled by the cold plasma particles.[5]

Primer Field Demonstration

David LaPoint put out a series of videos where he demonstrates the properties of plasma. In a laboratory environment, in a vacuum and using bowl shaped magnets exposed to high voltage.[6] The theory is that every component of matter has a double toroidial (bowl) shaped magnetic field that radiates from it’s core. Even the structures of the universe resemble this pattern. These videos demonstrate the effect and theory very well.[7]

Required inputs for energy generation

The inputs for any energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. [8] The efficiency of the system is represented by the output energy divided by the input energy. In this case the primary source of energy comes from the ambient environment, i.e. the Van Allen Belt. Some might consider this a "free" source of energy in that respect.

However, the systems required to collect energy need to be built and installed; and at a height of several miles[9] that means putting a structure into orbit. Over the lifetime of the system energy will be required to build, install, maintain and decommission the system. Those energy inputs are difficult to quantify at this point in time.

Organizations/researchers working with this technology

  • E. K. Kolesnikov Research Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, St. Petersburg State University, Russia e-mail: kolesnikov_evg@mail.ru
  • A. B. Yakovlev Research Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, St. Petersburg State University, Russia e-mail: andy_yakovlev@rambler.ru
    • Kolesnikov & Yakovlev released a paper titled Harnessing of the power of the solar wind particles captured in the Van Allen belts[10] in 2008.

Reasons why the science and technology has not moved forward

Conservative figures indicate a maximum energy in trapped radiation of 6×1015 joules. Such an energy could be supplied, for example, by 5×106 electrons/m3 with an energy of 40 kev over an effective trapping volume of ×1023 m3(out to approximately 6 earth radii). These electrons would correspond to a flux of 6×1014 electrons/m2 sec[11].

For the case of setting High-voltage electric generator ( HEG) inside the natural radiation belts of the Earth results of our calculation show that the largest values of the HEG specific power are 3.3 Wt/kg. Maximum values of the HEG specific power are smaller than the limiting value by an order of magnitude in the inner electron radiation belt and by two up to orders of magnitude in the outer electron belt. For the case of setting HEG inside the auroral zone results of our calculation show that specific power can exceed 100 W/kg. In its weight characteristics the HEG construction considered above turns out to be quite competitive with the power plants for small spacecraft operating on conventional principles. This is especially true for those special cases when the power supply should provide for electric power generation at the output voltage of tens and hundreds of kilovolts[12].

Side by side with studying the influence of leakage currents through the high-voltage vacuum gap on functioning of HEG, further substantiation of the suggested concept of power supply should include investigations of the problem of maintenance of the stiffness and stability of the generator construction, and calculations of its strength characteristics. In conclusion, we emphasize that the Earth is not a single planet in the solar system with radiation belts. The powerful radiations belts (far exceeding in their particle density the Earth’s radiation belts) have been found in the vicinity of Jupiter. The existence of radiation belts is established for Saturn and Uranus. At the same time, at large distances from the Sun the specific power of conventional electric power sources based on converting the energy of solar electromagnetic radiation into electric power becomes insignificant. Therefore, one cannot exclude that the principle of getting electric power in space considered by us may turn out to be especially efficient in creating electric generators designed for power supply of space probes in the vicinity of giant planets of the solar system[12].

Costs of facilities, production, now and projected future costs with improvements

The costs associated with hardening electronics and launching the heavy shielding required to enable humans and electronics to survive and perform reliably in the radiation environment are a major driver in the high costs and risks of space missions[13].

Intellectual Property surrounding technology

CN 103869372 A[14] Polar current induction method and current inductor thereof "The invention relates to a polar current induction method and a current inductor of the polar current induction method. The polar current induction method comprises the steps that a coil is arranged on a polar region of the earth, the solar wind particles, captured by an earth magnetic field, of solar wind are in a Van Allen radiation belt, the solar wind particles deviate according to the left-hand rule under the action of Lorentz magnetic force, ring currents are generated through the common action of the deviation of the solar wind particles and the motion of the solar wind particles, driven by earth rotation, in the Van Allen radiation belt, the ring currents generate a magnetic field opposite to the direction of the earth magnetic field, a magnetic force line in the coil arranged on the earth polar region is changed, and therefore the coil generates currents. According to the technical scheme, the solar wind can be inducted, monitored and utilized."

DE 10356463 A1[15] Radiation energy converter The present invention relates to a radiant-energy converter for converting ambient energy into electric power. The key developments that primary energy sources are radiation-induced atmospheric processes and coupled with these resonant energies natural environment that are electromagnetic in nature to some extent. Applications are particularly in the area of ​​decentralized renewable energy-(principle of sustainability, climate change, Agenda 21). For this purpose, initially was preceded by an energy consideration for the system sun / earth including ionosphere and Van Allen belts.

US 6166318 A[16] Single absorber layer radiated energyconversion device A radiated energy to electrical energy conversion device and technology is provided where there is a single absorber layer of semiconductor material. The thickness of the absorber layer is much less than had been appreciated as being useful heretofore in the art. Between opposing faces the layer is about 1/2 or less of the carrier diffusion length of the semiconductor material which is about 0.02 to 0.5 micrometers. The thickness of the absorber layer is selected for maximum electrical signal extraction efficiency and may also be selected to accommodate diffusion length damage over time by external radiation. Through the principles of the invention the embodiment provides a radiated energy to electrical energy conversion device that has a useful life of a decade in the radiation intensity of the the type encountered in the Van Allen belt.

US 20080191580 A1[17] Harmonic Energy Exchange Device This invention converts inertial impulses into electric currents. Specifically, it converts impulses created by the impacts of high-energy particles from the Sun and other cosmic sources into the Earth's Magnetosphere and the varying D, E, F1 and F2 layers of its Ionosphere to controlled electric currents. This invention presents a new method of utilizing energy from the Sun and other sources of high energy articles as a virtually, inexhaustible, alternative-energy source for the world. This invention relates to the conversion of impact energies created by the collision of high-speed cosmic particles and electromagnetic radiations with “Earth's Outer Layers” to produce inertial waves in the dielectric Troposphere which are subsequently converted into electricity by this invention. The term “Earth's Outer Layers” refers to: Earth's Magnetosphere, VanAllen Belts, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, and Stratosphere.

Ability to be scaled

The energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. For this technology to be scaled up consideration needs to be given to the logistics of scaling up of the input energy and/or input materials, and to the environmental impact arising from pollutants, waste, and land use.

In the short-term scaling up the required infrastructure by a series of land based rocket launches might impede the rate at which it can be scaled up, as this is costly and limits the mass and volume of material that can economically be sent into orbit. Rocket launches on a massive scale might have a significant impact in terms of pollutants.

An innovative alternative to this traditional approach could be useful; such as the 3D printing of low mass structures in Earth orbit, and/or low mass unfolding origami type structures.

In the longer-term it is anticipated that space based construction projects will take place in Earth orbit, perhaps with material shipped in from asteroids or the Moon, thus removing the energy expenditure and costs associated with launching materials from Earth. Waiting for this scenario might be too late though.

It is not clear what the impact on land use would be. How would the energy be collected on Earth?

Environmental impact

Analysis of the precipitation of energetic electrons from the Van Allen radiation belts into the upper atmosphere as a result of radiation belt remediation using a constellation of 25 100- km long electrostatic tether systems indicates that the precipitated flux is enhanced by a factor of less than two at the beginning of the remediation process, and will drop to natural levels within about two months. The anticipated secondary effects of this precipitation, including upper atmospheric NOx enhancement and high-frequency disruptions, will be short-lived and mild, less than a small solar flare event[18].

Energetic particles with energies greater than about 1 MeV pose a severe threat to spacecraft systems. These energetic particles will steadily degrade electronics, optics, solar panels, and other critical systems by breaking chemical bonds, disrupting crystalline and molecular structures, and by causing localized charge effects. Higher energy particles can cause singleevent disruptions or damage to electronics. Spacecraft systems operating in Earth orbit must be hardened to withstand this radiation environment, and typically their electronics must be designed with several layers of redundancy, incurring significant expense and additional mass. Moreover, because microprocessors with very small feature sizes are more susceptible to damage and single-event upsets, space systems typically cannot take advantage of the newest, highestperformance electronics, and instead must rely upon older technologies with larger feature sizes and significantly lower performance. The radiation particles also pose a significant threat to personnel and other biological systems in Earth orbit. As they pass through tissue, they can deposit their energy by ionizing water and proteins, causing cellular damage, modifying DNA, RNA, and proteins in ways that can lead to cancers, immune system disorders, and other maladies. Protecting personnel in space from energetic particles in the MeV range requires a great deal of extra mass for shielding; a 1996 NRC study concluded that the shielding mass required to protect astronauts during a Mars expedition could add $10B to $30B to the cost of the mission[19]. The presence of the Van Allen belts requires that manned and unmanned spacecraft traveling to the Moon, Mars, or anywhere above LEO must make the transit through the altitude regions affected by the belts as rapidly as possible to avoid disastrous damage to people, solar panels, and electronics. As a result, many advanced transportation concepts, such as solar electric tugs, [18] solar thermal rockets, and other high-specific impulse systems, which could otherwise greatly reduce the total costs of transporting people and payload to the Moon and other planets, are currently not viable options for the Earth-escape portion of manned missions.[13]

The long-term environmental impact of a prospective energy technology should be considered and compared with alternative technologies. One way to do this is to use a Sustainability Scale [20] The environmental impact would be very dependent on the actual solution adopted.

In the short-term scaling up the required infrastructure by a series of land based rocket launches on a massive scale might have a significant impact in terms of pollutants. So innovative alternatives for deployment might be better.

It is not clear what the impact on land use would be. How would the energy be collected on Earth?

If such a technology were invented and shown to be feasible then we would have to be careful to ensure it did not have a detrimental impact on the environment. For example, would a protective role of the Van Allen Belt be damaged; would that expose us to high levels of harmful radiation? Long term monitoring might be required to ensure that the process did not have a detrimental impact.

Risks associated with a prize in this space

Risks are associated with all radical innovations, and that can be due to several factors. A good technology might not succeed in the marketplace due to poor marketing and promotion. The perceived safety and environmental impact of a technology is also important to successful adoption. [21] [22] [23] Poor implementation of a technology can also prevent successful adoption of a good technology. These are risks that come into effect after the awarding of an energy technology prize, but perhaps the associated challenge can provide post award support to ensure that these risks are reduced. No doubt the XPRIZE team has some useful contacts in the space industry, for example. In addition, of course, there can be risks associated with the technical efficacy of the technology itself, and the logistics surrounding its development, operation and decommissioning.

There are a lot of aspects to such a solution, and they all need to work well for this to provide a satisfactory solution.

If such a technology were invented and shown to be feasible then we would have to be careful to ensure it did not have a detrimental impact on the environment. For example, would a protective role of the Van Allen Belt be damaged; would that expose us to high levels of harmful radiation?

Positive energy tests to evaluate this technology

This is especially crucial for technologies that are as yet untested, or have not yet generated large amounts of verifiable performance data. What conditions would need to be met for this technology to be considered unequivocally “verified” or “validated”?

The inputs and outputs for any energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. The efficiency of the system is represented by the output energy divided by the input energy. Note that all energy inputs should be accounted for. In this case the primary source of energy comes from the ambient environment, i.e. the ionosphere. Some might consider this a "free" source of energy in that respect.

However, the systems required to collect energy need to be built and installed; and at a height of several miles that probably means putting a structure into orbit. Over the lifetime of the system, energy will be required to build, install, maintain and decommission the system. Those energy inputs are difficult to quantify at this point in time, and hence the net output energy is difficult to quantify too.

A Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope integrated little experiment on board a CubeSat, in a low Earth orbit, demonstrated that there exist sub-MeV electrons in the inner belt. [24]

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment (RBSPICE) [25] measures ion energies over a range of values.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Allen_radiation_belt
  2. Harnessing of the power of the solar wind particles captured in the Van Allen belts E. K. Kolesnikov
  3. Vignoli, M., Miller, W., Matteoni, M. “Power Generation with Electrodynamic Tethers”. Tethers in Space: Proc.Int. Conf., Arlington, Va, September 17–19, 1986 San Diego, 1987, pp. 473–481.
  4. Bolonkln, A. “Space Electric Generator, Run by Solar Wind”. World Space Congr.: 43rd Congr. Int. Astronaut. Fed. (IAF) and 29th Plen. Meet. Comm. Space Res. COSPAR, 28 Aug.–5 Sept., 1992, Washington, DC pp. 182–183.
  5. Harnessing the Energy in the Radiation Belts TEIL BRICE National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. 20550
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EPlyiW-xGI
  7. http://revolution-green.com/what-are-primer-fields/
  8. Bostock A. (2017). System Representation, Energy Wiki
  9. Van Allen Radiation Belt, Wikipedia
  10. https://www.esa.int/gsp/ACT/doc/EVENTS/InnovativeSystemWorkshop2/ACT-ART-Bridge2Space-Yakovlev.pdf
  11. Maximum total energy of the Van Allen radiation belt Authors A. J. Dessler, E. H. Vestine
  12. 12.0 12.1 Harnessing of the power of the solar wind particles captured in the Van Allen belts E. K. Kolesnikov
  13. 13.0 13.1 REDUCTION OF TRAPPED ENERGETIC PARTICLE FLUXES IN EARTH AND JOVIAN RADIATION BELTS Robert Hoyt, Michele Cash
  14. https://www.google.com/patents/CN103869372A
  15. https://www.google.com/patents/DE10356463A1
  16. https://www.google.com/patents/US6166318
  17. https://www.google.com/patents/US20080191580
  18. 18.0 18.1 Fitzgerald, A. “The Effect of Solar Array Degradation in Orbit-Raising with Electric Propulsion,” AIAA Paper IEPC-93-207, 23rd International Electric Propulsion Conference, Sept. 1993.
  19. Florida Today Space Online, Dec 18, 1996.
  20. Bostock A. (2017). Sustainability Scale, Innovation Future Specialist, (UK).
  21. Slovic and Weber (2013). Perception of Risk Posed by Extreme Events, Regulation of Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste (2nd edition) (Applegate, Gabba, Laitos, and Sachs, Editors), Foundation Press, Forthcoming
  22. Michael Siegrist, Heinz Gutscher & Timothy C. Earle (2006). Perception of risk: the influence of general trust, and general confidence, Journal of Risk Research: Volume 8, 2005 - Issue 2
  23. Linda Steg and Inge Sievers (2016). Cultural Theory and Individual Perceptions of Environmental Risks, Environment and Behavior: Vol 32, Issue 2, pp. 250 - 269, First published date: July-26-2016
  24. Li et al (2015), Upper limit on the inner radiation belt MeV electron intensity J Geophys Res Space Phys. 2015 Feb; 120(2): 1215–1228.
  25. Mitchell et al (2012), Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment (RBSPICE) Space Sci Rev