Comparing Energy Sources

How does LENR stack up against electrochemical devices, chemical reactions, nuclear fission plants, fusion and renewables? The Ragone Chart (rhymes with Zamboni) is one good way to compare energy sources. It tells us how much energy a source has locked inside it and the rate at which it can be harvested.

Chart Usage

How to Read This Chart

The chart shows how densely energy is stored in an energy source along its vertical axis versus how fast that energy is released along the horizontal axis. Both axes are with respect to mass (not volume). It is a logarithmic chart showing data in powers of ten, not a linear chart, so even small distances on the chart indicate big differences in the data. The best energy sources will be toward the top of the chart because they can provide a lot of energy. For most applications instantaneous energy release (such as in an explosion) is undesirable; energy is needed at specific rates for specific applications. For high power applications energy is needed fast -- energy sources toward the right of the chart can better meet those needs. Energy sources with a slower rate of release, which also has its uses, are found toward the left of the chart.

For chemical sources and storage technologies like batteries and capacitors there is often a range of both energy release rate and energy storage capacity. The chart does not show the full ranges for these technologies; it only shows a single representative point from within that range. In general, most "smearing" will be in the horizontal direction, with specific energy values more narrowly defined. Because the main goal of the chart is to show how LENR technology compares to other energy sources, this single point representation of these ranges is adequate.

The diagonal lines inside the chart are interesting. They represent constant lines of "burn time." If energy source A contains 1 joule per kilogram and provides power at 1 watt per kilogram then a kilogram of that fuel will be consumed in 1 second. The same would hold true for energy source B that contains 10 joules per kilogram (much more than source A!) but provides 10 watts of power per kilogram (also much more than source A). Sources A and B would have the same "burn time" and both lie on the same diagonal line. Moving up and to the left, each burn time line is ten times longer than the one beneath it. High power energy sources with long burn times are generally more useful than low power sources or sources that burn out faster. The time labels on the burn time lines are approximate to make them easier to read.

The Grand Tour

So what does the chart say?

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR)

LENR Calculations

Test Date Device
 Avg. Temp.
(deg K)
Duration
(s)
 Average
Net Power
(W)
Total Net
Energy
(J)
Fuel
(kg)
 Specific
Energy
(J/kg)
 Specific
Power
(W/kg)
Net Energy
6 mo.
(J) 
 Sp. Energy
6 mo.
(J/kg)
 Aug '12 E-Cat HT   776.7  2.333 x 104  1.188 x 103  2.771 x 107 0.02038  1.361 x 109   5.8 x 104 1.848 x 1010  9.072 x 1011
Hyperion   558.1  4.8 x 103  x  0.0034  x 1.415 x 106  7.465 x 1010  2.201 x 1013 
 Dec '12 E-Cat HT   711.5 3.456 x 105  1.674 x 103 5.785 x 108 0.236 2.452 x 109  7.093 x 103  1.004 x 1010  1.103 x 1011
Mar '13  E-Cat HT2  575.5  4.176 x 105  4.46 x 102 1.863 x 108 0.001   1.863 x 1011 4.46 x 105   6.938 x 109 6.938 x 1012 
Mar '14  E-Cat  1620  2.765 x 106  2.107 x 103 5.825 x 109 0.001   5.825 x 1012 2.107 x 106   3.276 x 1010 3.276 x 1013 

Consistency of the LENR Results

One would expect to see a relatively tight band of results for LENR devices in terms of specific energy because that value represents a fundamental property of the fuel (in this case the energy available in the hydrogen-loaded nickel powder charge). Specific power on the other hand could be expected to occupy a wider domain along the horizontal axis because it is in part the result of engineering decisions. What does the chart show?

The Mar '14 and Mar '13 test results for the E-Cat (and the specifications for Defkalion's Hyperion prototype) align quite well. Both the specific energy and the specific power of the 2013 E-Cat HT2 are lower by about a factor of 3. Taking into account though that the E-Cat HT2 testers used a conservative value of 1 g for the mass of active fuel in the Mar '13 test rather than the 0.3 g they actually measured and the factor of 3 difference evaporates. The continued improvement in both the specific power and specific energy of the E-Cat demonstrated in 2014 is evidence of a massive research and development effort now bolstered by Industrial Heat's resources.

The specific energy and power values determined in the Aug '12 E-Cat test of the previous model E-Cat prototype (HT) trail the HT2 and the Hyperion by more than one order of magnitude. Not coincidentally the mass of the active fuel is determined to be at least one order of magnitude higher than used in those two devices. There are two ready explanations then for the discrepancy between the Aug '12 HT model test results and the Mar '13 HT2 model test results. The first is that the later stage prototype makes more efficient use of the fuel due to engineering advances. The second is that the Aug '12 test used a conservative value for the active fuel mass. For example, the tester was unable to accurately measure all of the sealant putty after the test and the part he couldn't measure was lumped into the mass of the active charge. It is impossible to know which explanation is correct, if either, without additional testing and better measurement of the mass of the active charge. Perhaps it is a combination of the two or some other issue.

The specific energy and power values determined in the Dec '12 test of the E-Cat HT are an order of magnitude lower than Aug '12 E-Cat HT test results. On the face of it this should be cause for concern about the quality of the tests or the validity of the devices being tested. Again however, the cause for the discrepancy appears to be in the mass assumed for the active fuel. In the Dec '12 test that mass is determined to be over 200 g (versus about 20 g for the Aug '12 test). The test report indicates that the mass of the two end caps of the fuel charge cylinder could not be separated out and so were included in the mass of the active fuel. While making such conservative assumptions might have suited the testers' purposes of determining that the reactions were unquestionably not chemical in nature, they also had the effect of corrupting the specific energy and power results, which have a strong dependence on the fuel mass.

Sensitivity to Active Fuel Mass

As discussed above, the specific energy and power results are quite sensitive to the mass of the active fuel (inversely proportional). The measurements of this mass in the tests to date have ranged from 0.3 g to 238 g, yielding a wide range of specific energy and specific power values. The testers have made a number of assumptions in their reports that have made the active fuel mass artificially high and thus their specific energy and power calculations artificially low. Future tests should make a greater effort to accurately determine the upper and lower bounds of the active fuel mass. The LENR device creators could assist this effort by allowing accurate measurements of all the components before and after assembly as well direct measurement of the mass of the actual fuel powder before it is loaded.

Six Month Fuel Charge?

The creators of the E-Cat and Hyperion LENR prototype devices both claim that the fuel charges in the devices last for at least six months before requiring replacement. This is not yet borne out by any public test results. The six month value is used in the chart, taking the device creators' word for it. The "Lugano" test of the E-Cat in 2014 ran for more than one month continuously, improving the situation. Still there is no public confirmation of the six month run-time. Do these devices really produce energy non-stop for 180 days or for not much more than the 32 days (the duration of the longest public test so far)?

LENR Characterization

Adjusting for the conservative mass and energy assumptions in the test reports is a necessarily imprecise but still useful exercise. The adjusted values can help characterize the true potential of LENR energy sources freed from the constraints of the debate over its chemical or nuclear origin and the minimized energy calculations that debate produces.

Test Date  Model  Specific
Power
(W/kg)
Specific
Energy
6 mo.
(J/kg)
 Mass
Adjustment
Factor
 Energy
Adjustment
Factor
Combined
Adjustment
Factor
 Adjusted
Specific
Power
(W/kg)
 Adjusted
Specific
Energy
6 mo.
 Aug '12 E-Cat HT    5.8 x 1044   9.072 x 1011  1.5 2.03.01.74 x 105  2.722 x 1012 
 Dec '12 E-Cat HT    7.093 x 103     1.103 x 1011 20.0 1.2  24.0  1.702 x 105  2.647 x 1012 
 Mar '13 E-Cat HT2      4.46 x 105     6.938 x 1012    3.3 1.1  3.63  1.619 x 10  2.518 x 1013
 Mar '14 E-Cat      2.107 x 106     3.276 x 1013    1.0 1.0  1.0  2.107 x 10  3.276 x 1013
Hyperion   1.415 x 106   2.201 x 1013    x x  x

The adjusted results show the two E-Cat HT model specific energy and power values in agreement and the more advanced E-Cat "HotCat" models tested in 2013 and 2014 in rough agreement (along with the Hyperion specs). There is about a one order of magnitude difference between the two groups. It's unclear whether this is due to testing artifacts or reflects an evolution in the efficiency of the prototype devices. There is evident progress in engineering in the 2014 model of the E-Cat; it is smaller and designed to more efficiently transfer heat. So assuming the latter, LENR devices can be roughly characterized as:
~8.3 GWh/kg @ ~2 MW/kg

Wow! For one kilogram of LENR fuel you can get two megawatts of thermal power, and more than 8 gigawatt hours of thermal energy before it burns out after about six months. That is a very compact, energetic and long lasting fuel that would revolutionize the energy industry: a new and better "fire" that rivals fissile materials without the associated problems and high cost.

For reference, the average U.S. home uses under 12 MWh electrical energy over the course of a year. Assuming a conversion efficiency of thermal power to electric power of 30%, one kilogram of LENR powder could provide energy for 6 months to more than 200 houses!

One final observation about LENR based on this characterization. It is not "a little better" than chemical energy sources. It is radically better than chemical sources and squarely in competition with fission and fusion sources as can be seen on the Ragone chart. That the LENR data points wind up in the "nuclear neighborhood" -- once adjusted for fuel exhaustion and conservative assumptions -- and not in the no-man's land between nuclear and chemical, is a strong indication that the underlying processes in Low Energy Nuclear Reaction devices are indeed nuclear.

Nuclear Fission Calculations

The chart includes a few points representative of the specific energy and specific power of materials used in nuclear fission. The values for uranium and plutonium are known. A composite value is also included for operational fission reactors in the U.S. based on actual energy produced and fuel consumed. The composite specific energy and power are lower than the theoretical values of the raw materials due to preprocessing of the fuels and other engineering realities.

Renewable Energy Sources

Typically, renewable energy sources like solar and wind for which characteristics other than mass dominate, are not included on a Ragone chart. Nevertheless, one can get a feel for how they compare to other energy sources by making some convenient assumptions.

Solar

In the case of a solar panel, if the weight of the solar panel is considered to be the weight of "fuel" and it has an effective lifespan of 100 years, its data point would wind up toward the upper left (not very powerful but very long lasting).

Wind

Air can be considered to be the "fuel" and its kinetic energy and mass used for the calculations. Wind doesn't pack as much power or energy as other sources with respect to mass, but is still useful because there is an endless supply.

Chart Usage

An image of the Ragone chart may be downloaded and used in other sites or publications and may be used for any purpose -- public, private or commercial. The only requirement is the image must retain the Creative Commons tag that identifies LENR For the Win as the source of the image.


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