If you also want to kick back a little, let me recommend the 11th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, now playing at Next Big Future. Watch Dan Yurman take a hatchet to the latest New York Times hatchet job on nuclear, while I comment on an editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer and Rod Adams discusses nuclear proliferation and why it can't happen with used power-reactor fuel. Only one location has all these features, and it's the Carnival!
Summer in Maine: High Temperature Materials Conference
I went to Maine, specifically to Colby College for the High Temperature Materials, Processes and Diagnostics Gordon Conference. The picture in the upper left is the picnic area near the pond, where the Thursday night picnic was held. (More about the conference at the end of the post, for those who are interested.)
A Gordon Conference is a heady atmosphere of scientific excitement and cooperation. I would go just for that, in all honesty. The difference between a Gordon Conference and a local hearing about Vermont Yankee--it's as if these events take place on two different planets.
I don't just go for the atmosphere, however. I worked toward my Ph.D. in high temperature chemistry and geochemistry, and part of my working life was also spent in that world. To me, the problems of energy are materials problems.
Basically, the two problems are:
- Thermodynamics, specifically the Carnot Cycle constraints
- Materials, specifically the fact that metals melt
That kind of sums it up. These are huge issues. These issues are reality.
Push and Pull
The Carnot cycle controls the theoretical efficiency of heat engines. It pushes us to operate at higher temperatures, because it mandates that if you get more efficiency from a heat engine when you run the hot part of the cycle to a higher temperature.
The problem is that only a few materials can maintain integrity at high temperatures, and even these materials have their temperature limits. Conference presentations cannot be reported (see note below about Gordon Conference philosophy). However, I did find a good website about gas turbines materials development. This site describes some of the aspects of developing and using high temperature materials.
At lower temperatures, you have more choices. The availability of many well-characterized materials for low temperature construction pulls engineers to design processes at lower temperatures, giving up some thermodynamic efficiency for flexibility of design and ease of operation.
At the conference, I showed a poster (poster session) about some aspects of development of the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. Just for fun, I include a video on this subject. This video is a ten-minute remix of three one-hour talks. Sit back and enjoy!
It's summer, after all.
Gordon Conference Background (if you are interested)
The Gordon Conferences are very specialized meetings for researchers in a specific field. They are small and they are set up for free exchange of information. People cannot quote your Gordon Conference material later, and no hard copies are handed out. This encourages suggestions, discussion, and the willingness for scientists to go out on a limb and float new ideas to their peers.
Conference sessions are held in the morning and the evening, with free time in the afternoons for hikes, swimming, and scientific discussion. Gordon conferences are deliberately international in scope. Scientists from at least twelve countries were present at the conference I attended.