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« Faster Faster More More | Main | Fundamentally New »

June 25, 2004


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Mike Deering

If you don't like the look of solar panels all over your property, there is another source of clean energy that doesn't get talked about much but should be readily available to everyone after the development of mature nanotechnology, that's geothermal, deep underground steam turbines making electricity.   There's a lot of heat right under our feet just waiting for us to tap.

Brett Bellmore

I've GOT solar panels all over my property; It's just that they're organic, rather low efficiency, and don't deliver their power in any useable form. It seems plausible that you could use nanotechnology to create solar panels which were indistinguishable from plants, aside, of course, from being inedible to wildlife.

Just replacing lawns in this fashion would generate huge amounts of power, as well as eliminating fertilizer runoff, and lawn mowing labor.

Brett Bellmore

Naturally, you'd want to create such "plants" with a highly optimized molecular mill, instead of a general purpose assembler, in order to minimize time to recoup the energy expenditure. But such a mill might be a reasonable general purpose assembler product.

For labor saving purposes, you'd make them mobile, of course, and with all the hardware for power storage and networking. Attach the "lawn mill" to your power panel, program in the limits to the area you want to cover, and it would flood fill that area with little solar power stations, and handle interfacing the power generated to the utility network.

Mor individualized "plants" could be made up of variable assemblages of structural and solar collecting units, (Also manufactured by an optimized mill system.) and assume any shape they were assigned, from a flower bed to a tree.

We'll have solar collectors all over the place, but there's no reason they have to LOOK like solar collectors.

Mike Deering

Brett, that's a great idea!!   Electric Grass     I think people have an easier time relating to nanotechnology with concrete examples rather than reams of abstract generic analysis.   If I make a website of the nanotechnology product catalog of the future, would you contribute ideas, descriptions, stuff, to it?   Some products could be early simpler ones and others could be later more mature examples.   We could divide it into classes or eras. I have lots of ideas for future nanotech products that I have no outlet for.   The first step in product development is describing the idea. We would stick to what is possible, but that is not much of a limitation with mature nanotech.   What do you think?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Even at 250 kWh/kg it would be well worth making solar panels. Diamondoid is so strong that the structure could be a very thin inflated membrane. I'm pretty sure a kilogram could cover quite a few square meters.

But I agree that the first thing to improve in the nanofactory is to build some mills into each production module.

I really like the idea of the nanotech product website. I'll certainly be happy to be a technical consultant, helping you keep the products physically plausible. And we could feature cool products on our blog.

One request: Please resist the temptation to build self-replication into any of the products! And if they're intended to mimic biology in any way, or for any medical use, please make it very explicit that they will *not* replicate. Maybe I'm jumpy on the subject, but I had to read Brett's post twice before I realized that the molecular mills were not built into the grass, and the grass was not intended to grow to fill the lawn.


Brett Bellmore

"If I make a website of the nanotechnology product catalog of the future, would you contribute ideas, descriptions, stuff, to it?"

As a designer in an industrial R&D department, that's treading awfully close to what I do for a living... LOL Sure, why not? It's not like my employer has a nanotech division yet.

BTW, if you're looking for products, you might check out Adam Warren's "Dirty Pair: Run from the Future". "Sim Hell", too; They're graphic novels placed in a future where all life on Earth was wiped out by the "Nanoclysm", everybody is living in space and other planets, decended from the people who were off-world when it happened.


Maybe an addition to Subquestion I:


This is an older (yes, February 2003 is almost insane to call 'older') article about "Controlled Fusion with Nanotechnology - Hydrogen Trap".
The idea behind it is to let the pairs of Hydrogen fuse one after each other, in a controlled way. It would happen in very small, atomically precise fusion chambers which could be arranged in 3D, where the particle exhaust of one layer of chambers would initiate the fusion in the next layer above or below.
The article concludes that quite a few big technical (regarding design of the chamber) and scientific (regarding fusion) hurdles would have to be overcome to make it work safely and reliably, but if they can be overcome, at 20% efficiency of the system he calculates an output of 1.3 MW for a 1 cm^3 engine, which sounds quite impressive to me. What do you think about it?

Brett Bellmore

I don't think indeterminancy at that level permits fine enough control over the reaction. Remember, you're building structures on the molecular level, to control reactions on the nuclear level, about 10 to the 6th times smaller. Like trying to play pool using the Empire State building for a cue, and expecting to call your shots.

OTOH, I'm not entirely convinced that there's nothing to cold fusion...


MNT is not necessary to induce a fusion but for building the atomically precise fusion chamber, in which the fusion occurs and for 'nano-plumbing', as the author calls it, to provide the fusion fuel, assemble & connect the chambers etc.
There still is a laser (or a photon emitted by the fusion, respectively) that initiates the fusion, so it is just conventional hot fusion as practiced today, just on the minimal possible scale. The process, according to the article, does not need high pressures because of the chamber´s design, which forces the molecules together because they simply have nowhere else to go.

The whole idea of 'nanofusion' appeals to me probably because it sounds very much like going from bulk technology to nanotechnology. Instead of fusing great herds of fusion fuel atoms, the process is reduced to fusing single atoms for improved control and efficiency. The chambers, like manipulators in a nanofactory, are massively parallelized to get large output.

Brett Bellmore

It's an appealing idea, alright; It's just that what I know about fusion suggests that it's not a physically realizable appealing idea.

Not all impacts between deuterons, for instance, result in fusion. Darned few of them, actually. Most are just rebounds. Then there are the spallation impacts, where De + De = De + H + N, and a net loss of energy. Finally, there are two equally probable fusion reactions, generating He3 and a neutron, and He4. And a gamma ray energetic enough to break any chemical bond, and raise a non-negligable volume of material to unreasonably high temperatures.

And in all these cases, the direction the reaction products leave the reaction site is, aside from a bias due to any net momentum the fuel might have had, unpredictable. I believe the precise control over position and orientation of the nuclii that would be needed to control the outgoing trajectories is prohibited by the uncertainty principle. After all, essentially you're forming a VERY unstable isotope, which undergoes radioactive decay after a very short, but unpredictable, period.

The key to hot fusion, is enabling the impacts to occur over and over without the activation energy being lost. The plasma has to be isolated very well from anything cooler than it, so that the energy has nowhere to go. Your chamber would thermally equalize with the fuel on a very short timeframe, almost certainly dissipating that non-negligable activation energy before anything had happened.

If cold fusion really works, (And there are certainly experiments which suggest it might.) it's by an entirely different mechanism, as yet unknown. But maybe one nanotech could aid.

Mike Deering


I've made a preliminary Nanofactory Products Catalog. The only item in it thus far is Brett's Electric Grass. I cut and pasted the description Brett posted to this blog which wasn't written as a catalog product entry so it may have some room for improvement. Of course all suggestions or contributions are welcome. Chris Phoenix as the technical consultant has complete editorial authority, anything he wants added, changed or deleted, I will take care of. Everyone, help me replace the Blah blah items with product descriptions.

Mike Treder, CRN

Nice beginning, Mike!

Two suggestions: 1) you might want to use this nanofactory illustration instead of what you have there now; 2) the catalog page should clearly state that the products currently are only conceptual.

As long as it's plain that this is speculative, and as long as all products pass Chris Phoenix's technical plausibility test, we would probably link to the catalog from our main CRN website, and certainly give it a prominent mention in the blog.

Mike Deering



Mike, any other suggestions for improvements are very welcome.

Jim Logajan

Just a couple quick comments on the "Controlled Fusion with Nanotechnology - Hydrogen Trap" article:

The author doesn't seem to know the basics of nuclear fusion. The fusing of protons involves the weak force, so the probability of a fusion event is so low that, for example, the p + p -> d reaction has never been observed in the lab. It's cross section is incredibly small. Fusing 4 protons into helium would have an even smaller cross section. There are many other problems with the article, including math (i.e. he gives the ionization energy of hydrogen as 13.6 MeV rather than the correct ~13.6 eV - similar problems with magnitudes occur elsewhere in the article) and conceptual problems. It should be disregarded - it wouldn't surprise me if the author had no more than first year college level physics.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

On fusion: Brett, the uncertainty principle doesn't just prevent controlling the output particle trajectories; it greatly reduces the number of successful fusion attempts. I did a calculation once, assuming that momentum*velocity uncertainty is minimized just 1 nm away from the collision point, and comparing the drift to the nuclear cross section; the probability of fusion is so low that IIRC you'd have to recover 99.??% of the energy from the unfused nuclei that bounced off each other in random directions, just to break even...


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Hope you don't mind, Brett, I'll rewrite the Electric Grass entry:

Want to go off-grid without an ugly "Solar Brown" house? Electric Grass is for you! Pest-free and hygienic, Electric Grass looks just like the real thing (specify Bermuda, Fescue, or Bluegrass). Grass is soft, safe for children, and UL Listed. With SellBack option, your lawn can work for you!

Trace area(s) to be covered on a high-quality aerial photograph (see our FlySpy product), and your nanofac will create a custom-fitted sun-collecting lawn in just minutes! Place the package as directed, connect a garden hose for ballast/inflation, and watch it unfold. (Typical payback time is 1 month assuming all power is used or sold. Tax incentives may be available for this product.)

ChargePort: Just park on the grass, and never pay for your car's electricity again! $3/month licensing fee for ChargePort technology until patent expires in 2029.

SellBack: Put your lawn to work for you! Converts lawn output into grid-ready electricity. (In most areas, a licensed electrician must make the connection to the electric grid. Electric grid not available in all areas. Some grids are now over-supplied and may not buy all available power. Buy early and lock in your contract!)

Electric Grass weighs 100 grams per square meter. Estimated manufacturing costs: Model One nanofactory, $2.00 per square meter; Model Four, $0.40 per square meter. Licensing cost: one-time fee of $5.00 per square meter.

See also our award winning SolarSaver product: just what you need to store solar energy for dependable round-the-clock power.

Brett Bellmore

Actually, I'd kind of pictured the individual collecters marching into their assigned locations by walking on their "roots", (Which they then plug into each other to wire up the panel.) like trifids. As for a licensed electrician, probably not; Your the lawn mill could be smart enough to handle simple hookups itself, and phone an electrician to control the hookup process when in doubt. Be a VERY complicated job that required a human electrician to show up on the site.

Like the "Primer" in "Diamond Age", a lot of products could supliment very limited AI, by knowing when to contact a human to solve the problem that was stumpping them, possibly in a fashion transparent to the user.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Note the electrician is required only in most areas. The thing is quite capable of hooking itself up. But building codes haven't been changed yet...

As to walking, that could be done with much difficulty. Easier would be for square-foot panels to inchworm their way across the ground. Easiest is just to put down a brick and let it unfold. No reason to put in amazingly advanced robotics for a one-time use.


Brett Bellmore

Hexapodal walking isn't exactly what I'd call "amazingly advanced robotics". The individual collectors wouldn't have to be any smarter than an army ant.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Hexapodal walking over very rough terrain, while navigating, is pretty difficult. The Mars rovers can barely navigate themselves a few feet, and they only have wheels. Perhaps a roboticist can comment on how hard it'd be to implement an army ant... but I'd be surprised if we could do it at all today.


Mike Deering


I am hoping to get people other than myself to come up with product ideas, so the page is more collaborative. I would like to see as many different names as possible on the website. I could run in and fill it up with all the basic ideas that have been floating around the nanotech community for years like Drexler's Smart Paint, but I want this to be the latest thinking on truly innovative product ideas, not merely the compilation of what has already been published elsewhere.

I would like the website to eventually evolve into an actual distribution point for actual nanofactory product files, not just speculations. In the coming age of artificial general intelligence it may be sufficient to merely specify the product characteristics to generate new product design files. This website could be the beginning of that process. An early position on the Nanotech Product Catalog may be the start of a productive and profitable future.

Send me your ideas. I'll work with you to get them ironed out into coherent product descriptions, and get your name on the entry. Think big! Express your creativity! Use your imagination!

Brett Bellmore

I'm under the distinct impression that it's not so much that the Mars rovers can't navigate more than a few feet at a time, as that Nasa can't afford to run even the slightest risk of losing a several hundred million dollar investment because it gets high-centered on a rock. But I'll agree that the little plantlets being autonomously mobile isn't necessary, as such, it would just be a nifty feature.

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