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New Aluminum-Ice Rocket Propellant Tested

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the burn-it-up dept.

Space 130

eldavojohn writes "With the problem of moving conventional rocket fuel to the Moon and Mars on their minds, researchers from Purdue and Penn State successfully tested and demonstrated the use of aluminum-ice (ALICE) as fuel. In a paper from last August they outlined how it would work (PDF), and now they know it does. Space.com also has more information on the paper and how nano-scale aluminum functions as a fuel."

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FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270048)

Frosty piss y'all...

Re:FP (0, Troll)

ettlz (639203) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270066)

Frosty piss y'all...

I don't think you should be finding much aluminium in your piss.

ALICE, you say? (-1, Offtopic)

stjobe (78285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270104)

It's dreamy weather we're on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice

- Tom Waits, Alice

In other words (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270128)

Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

We spend so much time arguing with each other here on Slashdot, but when it comes down to it, we're all in this together. We are going to need to secure a future for future generations, so putting an effort into developing non-volatile fuels which can be formulated anywhere is one huge step towards getting off this rock.

Aluminum is plentiful anywhere we intend to go. This could really be the breakthrough that we've been looking for.

In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you.

Re:In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270166)

Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

One of these days, Bad Analogy Guy, one of these days... :)

Re:In other words (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270290)

The ice part is water ice. You need a supply of water.

Re:In other words (4, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270388)

Yep and apparently they've figured out a way to make water from ice.

Man, what science can do these days is amazing!

Re:In other words (0)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271028)

The point is that while Aluminum is plentiful in our solar system, water is not - though there would be enough for most purposes should we need to land and collect. When you get outside of our solar system, the prospect is even grimmer. There is Aluminum almost everywhere you go in the Universe, but water is rare.

Still, one space ship would only need to find a relatively miniscule amount to re-fuel.

Re:In other words (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271172)

Really? Because hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, and oxygen is also pretty close to the top of the list (third most abundant element overall). Comets contain a lot of water ice. Aluminium is on of the three most common elements in the Earth's crust, but it's not nearly as common as hydrogen and oxygen in the universe at large.

Re:In other words (1)

interploy (1387145) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272334)

There is some poetic irony in the fact that one of the most abundant resources in the universe is also one of the last you want to intentionally vent off into space. Oh oxygen, how you tease us with your life-sustaining properties.

Re:In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30272846)

There is some poetic irony in the fact that one of the most abundant resources in the universe is also one of the last you want to intentionally vent off into space. Oh oxygen, how you tease us with your life-sustaining properties.

you sound like jon stewart. insightful at first and then just trying too hard to be funny

Re:In other words (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271840)

Current commercial methods of producing aluminum are energy-intensive processes, work best running continuously rather than start-and-stop, and are not well suited to containment in a vehicle that is not absolutely huge, so I don't think aluminum production facilities will be something that spaceships carry on board. As for water, we have already know water exists on the Moon and on Mars, and on comets throughout the solar system.

If we establish mining and production facilities on nearby bodies with local water supplies and relatively small gravity wells such as the Moon and Mars, we could conceivably build refueling stations in orbit. Facilities on the surface could use a space elevator or launch loop (with less gravity to overcome, current materials and technologies should work) to send fuel payloads up to the orbiting station. With solar and/or nuclear power on the surface to power mining, refining, production, and the launch technology, we could put substantial amounts of fuel in orbit for easy access without having to use substantial amounts of the fuel itself to get it there.

I see this technology as a useful way to shuttle ourselves and moderate amounts of stuff around the solar system. Outside the solar system, the distances and time involved likely wouldn't be a good match for combustion-based propulsion, except perhaps as an initial booster to get moving. Ion propulsion is the way to go through interstellar space.

interstellar space (1)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274042)

Ion propulsion is the way to go through interstellar space.

I think you reach is far exceeding your grasp.
Perhaps you mean interplanetary space?

Re:In other words (0, Offtopic)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270494)

...so he should have quoted something by Bill Haley and the Comets...?

Re:In other words (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272766)

The ice part is water ice. You need a supply of water.

Read it again.

Aluminum is plentiful anywhere we intend to go.

The most likely reason we want to go somewhere long enough term to consider creating new rocket fuel on location will need water (or copious oxygen, hydrogen, and energy) already to support long-term human inhabitants. So, obviously, the limiting factor is just Aluminum, which is also plentiful.

Re:In other words (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270672)

Non volatile? It is extremely volatile, just hard to light. I guess they use a magnesium fuse.

Re:In other words (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270828)

Non volatile? It is extremely volatile, just hard to light.

    It's not hard to light. Just ram it [wikipedia.org] with an aircraft carrier and it will burn fine.

Re:In other words (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271174)

Volatile, particularly when refering to explosive material, means unstable. Nitro-glycerin is volatile, TNT is less so even though they have a similar explosiveness (TNT is made from nitro-glycerin). Volatility has nothing to do with explosiveness, though a lot of extremely volatile substances (like nitro-glycerin) explosive precisely because they are so volatile.

Atoms are absolutely non-volatile, but if you can manage to split one - BOOOOM!!

You essentially said "Hard to light? It is extremely easy to light, just hard to light." That doesn't make any sense.

See the problem? It's very energetic, even explosive, but it isn't volatile.

Re:In other words (2, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271224)

Volatile means that it vaporises easily, not that it burns (although vaporising at room temperature and reacting with oxygen make things easy to burn). Aluminium does not become vapour easily and so is non-volatile. If you mix it with rust and light it with a magnesium flame, it will burn pretty well though...

Re:In other words (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30271000)

In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you.

I love you TOO, man. Please pass the bowl.

Sure, Al is plentiful in the solar system... (1)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272116)

... in the form of aluminum oxides. It is most certainly not plentiful in the form of metallic aluminum, and the oxidized form is, well, already oxidized, and won't be oxidizing again in your propellant unless you reduce it first. Which takes an enormous amount of energy. Which means we're pretty much back to where we started. Not that ALICE is a useless technology, but you'll either need to haul your aluminum with you or make it on site - both of which would have significant problems.

Re:In other words (1)

router (28432) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273162)

Welcome to Costco.

No buffets :-( (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273848)

Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

It's overrated and the lodgings really suck.

ALICE? (5, Funny)

LocutusMIT (10726) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270170)

One of these days, ALICE. Wham! Pow! Straight to the Moon!

Re:ALICE? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270422)

Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?

Re:ALICE? (5, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270516)

You may be too young to remember, but it was acceptable and even funny to beat your wife in the '50's.

Get off my lawn or one of these days...POW! Right in the kisser!

Re:ALICE? (1)

jadavis (473492) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271638)

You missed the joke.

Isn't today, wasn't acceptable back then either (2, Insightful)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272778)

I don't recall the "Straight to the moon!" line as being a laugh line even back in the day.

The whole premise of Ralph Kramden was, "You know that crabby bus driver, I wonder what he is like to his wife and friends?"

Ralph on one hand was supposed to be an object of the viewer's sympathy -- a working class guy barely making ends meet, living in a tiny apartment with his wife, barely any furniture or any other possessions to their name. On the other hand, Ralph was a blowhard, a guy with a chip on his shoulder, a fellow in humble circumstances who thought he was Center of the Universe, and yes, a guy who fought with his wife at times, even threatening domestic battery. That a guy like that even talked liked that was regarded as a "fact of life" back in the day, but it was part of the character portrait that Ralph could be the butt of our jokes, someone who perhaps deserved the laughs and ridicule that came his way.

On the other hand, a seemingly self-effacing mega-celebrity golf pro, suspected for cheating on his wife, leaves the house at 2 AM with his wife in hot pursuit breaking out windows on his truck leading him to crash into a hydrant and then a tree, found unconscious on the grass after being beaten about the head with a golf club, who refuses three times to meet with the cops and give a statement and "lawyers up" to keep his wife out of jail on zero-tolerance domestic battery laws put on the books to protect women from abusive husbands, now that is not funny either. And one does not laugh.

Re:Isn't today, wasn't acceptable back then either (2, Funny)

lennier (44736) | more than 4 years ago | (#30275204)

"now that is not funny either. And one does not laugh."

No, the mental image of (snk) Tiger Woods being whacked with a golf club by his wife is (snurf) most definitely not funny. Not even in abstract.

Sorry, something in my eye. I'll be right back.

Re:ALICE? (1)

BlueShirt (919167) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272808)

You want your rocket back? Call the police!

Re:ALICE? (1)

yoprst (944706) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274598)

Finally, now I understand all those references to "good old times"

Re:ALICE? (3, Informative)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270526)

For those not in on the joke, see very early US television comedy, "The Honeymooners." Its characters were the original inspiration for the cartoon Flintstones, which might give you an indication of the age of this joke.

Re:ALICE? (1)

KalAl (1391649) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271586)

It's genuinely surprising to me that someone hasn't heard that catchphrase. And I'm wayyy too young to have watched the show.

Re:ALICE? (1)

Ucklak (755284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271830)

You're probably old enough to remember when Six million dollars could rebuild a man and we had the technology to do it.
It just gets me when I see electrolytic capacitors being shoved into a leg and it's all of a sudden, bionic.

Re:ALICE? (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270548)

Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?

it's a reference to her restaurant and the 8x10 glossy photographs that were part of the investigation as to who belted her to the moon.. you know ..

"You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant .."

(Wham! Pow! Straight to the moon)

Re:ALICE? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270866)

Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?

      One of Umbrella Corporation's secret projects. And I wouldn't mess with her...

Re:ALICE? (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271414)

Ralph Kramden's wife.

Re:ALICE? (4, Funny)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271432)

Alice is a friend of Bob's who wants to send a message to Mary but without Susie intercepting it.

Re:ALICE? (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273858)

No, it's not Mary and Susie you're worried about.

Bob and Alice want to exchange information without Carol and Ted pulling an MiTM attack on them. That's why it was referred to back in the 60's as "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064100/ [imdb.com]
Carol and Ted are in the middle, and would prefer not to have direct, confidential exchange between Bob and Alice.

Whooooooooosh!!

Re:ALICE? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30274988)

Alice is a friend of Bob's who wants to send a message to Mary but without Susie intercepting it.

I thought it was Trudy, not susie?

Re:ALICE? (1)

IndigoDarkwolf (752210) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270472)

Wow! I never realized the first astronauts were so fat.

They're using ALICE? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270312)

Where are they going, Wonderland?

Reading comprehension. (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270328)

I thought that said "Aluminium Rice Rocket", and I wondered why it was posted to /.

Re:Reading comprehension. (3, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270366)

Hmm. One _could_ make solid fuel with rice flour and potassium chlorate or a similar oxidizer...

Re:Reading comprehension. (3, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270748)

Hmm. One _could_ make solid fuel with rice flour and potassium chlorate or a similar oxidizer...

      Hell, you can turn a grain silo into a rocket with just one match...

Re:Reading comprehension. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30272622)

I can't wait to see that Mythbusters!

Been there, done that (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274004)

I can't wait to see that Mythbusters!

This [wikipedia.org] is pretty close to that, exploding a suspension of a flammable dust in air.

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 4 years ago | (#30275220)

I think I saw that episode of MacGyver!

Re:Reading comprehension. (2, Funny)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270974)

Hmm. One _could_ make solid fuel with rice flour and potassium chlorate or a similar oxidizer...

Wow, I knew McGyver posted under an alias on /. ;)

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271162)

You mean you never made potassium chlorate and sugar rockets? Just fill an empty CO2 cartridge with the mixture and ignite it with a hot wire. Hint: don't mix the fuel with or in anything rusty.

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271368)

Nope, but now I get the idea; it's basically the same as black powder: carbon/sugar/starch plus oxidizer. Pray tell, what happens exactly with the metal oxide? Will the mixture ignite on contact?

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272016)

Burning Iron Oxide+Reactive= Thermite. Gets you a nice flame at around the boiling point of the reactive and some nasty sunburn if that temperature point is hot enough.

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273174)

Doh! You're right, only that the fuel would not be Al or Mg but sugar; I wonder if it works as well like that.

Hey, that was in a McGyver episode! - early seasons. He fashions a thermal lance with rust from a paint can and aluminium filings ;)

Re:Reading comprehension. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271456)

Hayabusa runs Linux?

Old news, but not to /. (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270330)

MIT Technology Review is a little late here. This was covered by numerous sources back in October. Surprisingly, I can't find it in the /. archives; so, it may not be a dupe.

Re:Old news, but not to /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270462)

Well, wherever I read it back in October had the same lame jokes. And, sadly, I laughed at them then too.

Re:Old news, but not to /. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270482)

The paper describing the theory was released in August. The actual live test of the theory occurred last week, thus the MIT Technology Review article is timely. Your name is appropriate it seems.

"Enhance"? (2, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270338)

> The oxygen and hydrogen in water molecules enhance the combustion of the
> aluminum.

"Enhance"? Um, the water _is_ the oxidizer.

Re:"Enhance"? (1)

Deth_Master (598324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270468)

I'm not certain that's correct. Aluminum will burn http://www.g2mil.com/aluminum.htm [g2mil.com]
So you've got ice there also, and when it vaporizes, it's adding more oxygen and hydrogen to the fire, thus keeping it burning, since in space, you don't have enough of those.

Re:"Enhance"? (3, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270654)

> ...more oxygen...

There is no oxygen present except for that in the water molecules.

Re:"Enhance"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30270876)

No, in that case aluminum reacts with atmospheric oxygen, rockets generally don't use anything in the atmosphere (and you can't use atomospheric anything if it needs to run in space). Things going to space will always carry their own oxygen, usually in the form of liquid O2 (main engine on the space shuttle) or solid KNO3, ammonium perchlorate or similar. Very few things will react without an oxidizer and be useful for a rocket (they also tend to spontanously combust), H2O2 is one of the few that is actually used for rockets, usually silver is used as a catalyst but it is not required for the rocket to work.

Re:"Enhance"? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271156)

Aluminum will not burn without an oxidizer. In fact, nothing will burn without an oxidizer. There are a few compounds that can be their own oxidizers, but since aluminum is an element it is not one of these.

Frosty... (0)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270424)

... propulsion?

Thermite + Water Vapor = BOOM (4, Informative)

Azarael (896715) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270492)

For a neat visual presentation of the physics they're relying on, Mythbusters did an experiment on the explosive power of thermite powder and water vapor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnHR4cMXiyM [youtube.com] .

Re:Thermite + Water Vapor = BOOM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30271056)

a neat visual presentation

a.k.a. a cool explosion

Amuminum Ice (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270506)

Isn't ice just the frozen liquid. Therefore, don't they just have to keep the aluminum from melting? Should be pretty easy, with the melting point around 1200F. I think you can buy pretty good frozen aluminum (renolds wrap?).

Re:Amuminum Ice (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270836)

the water acts as a stable oxidizer - freezing it makes it into more of a manageable past than a liquid

Re:Amuminum Ice (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271016)

Note the hyphen which can be used as a compound modifier. It's Aluminum-Ice fuel, as in, Aluminum and Ice.

Not as in crystallized solid Aluminum.

Government Lies (1)

bbbaldie (935205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270568)

Everybody know aluminum doesn't burn. Neither does water. Sheesh. ;-)

Its seeing things like this .. (5, Informative)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270596)

that highlight the safety instructions I've had at Aluminium plants. You never, ever, ever drop anything like used aluminium cans into the feed that is headed for melt shop as any bit of liquid still in the can will cause a rather powerful explosion

Re:Its seeing things like this .. (5, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274220)

You never, ever, ever drop anything like used aluminium cans into the feed that is headed for melt shop as any bit of liquid still in the can will cause a rather powerful explosion

It's also a known rule that you use sand, never water, to extinguish a fire where molten aluminum is present.

However, the biggest danger from dropping aluminum cans in the melt is from the steam expansion, not from burning aluminum. Having *any* humidity at all where molten metal runs, any metal, not just aluminum, will produce large quantities of steam, which will expand explosively throwing molten metal all around.

I know this from personal experience, when I was about twelve years old I was burned while melting lead to make fishing weights. I dropped the mold in water to cool it and the next time I poured metal in it I got a spray of molten lead right in my face. Lucky me, none of it hit my eyes.

There is (3, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30270704)

A better article on the engine here [inventube.com] .

      However I don't get how TFA considers this fuel as "environmentally friendly". Firstly one of the byproducts is aluminum hydroxide which, apart from helping us with our stomach ulcers, may be linked to brain disease - but I don't really care about that - the amount generated from a few rocket launches won't kill us all. But I argue that aluminum is not a naturally occurring substance - it has to be manufactured, and aluminum manufacture is the most energy intensive process around. So don't come to me with "environmentally friendly rocket fuel" when god knows how many tonnes of CO2 were dumped in the atmosphere to make the energy to refine that bauxite.

      Still, if it works, it's better than "other" fuels that have extreme storage or environmental implications. Good for them.

Re:There is (2, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271266)

Rocket fuel = concentrated energy.

However you get that energy, you can have rocket fuels that are nasty pollutants or rocket fuels that are not, and rocket fuels that produce exhaust that is a nasty pollutant or not. Hydrogen + oxygen = water is probably the best, but some of the solid fuel rockets are nasty. Both the reactants and the products are a little more toxic than "may be linked to brain disease [but we drink it anyway]."

Besides, most aluminum plants are located near some cheap source of energy specifically because aluminum requires so much electricity to refine. The really cheap sources of lots of energy tend to be hydroelectric, not fossil fuel. Boeing isn't based in Seattle because they like the weather.

Re:There is (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271460)

Oh I acknowledge that. All rocket fuels are expensive to make, store and ship. This one looks reasonably (and relatively) cheap. However the "environmentally friendly" comment in TFA is what I didn't like. It's like saying "environmentally friendly cigarettes". Rocket fuel (of any type) does not qualify for the "environmentally friendly" label, even if this is the "friendliest" one...

Re:There is (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271806)

By that argument you could say that no human activity is environmentally friendly.

Take the rocket fuel H2 + O2 = H20. The reactants and products all exist in the environment and the reaction itself occurs within the cells of almost every living thing on the planet (if not all living things). Yet you say it's not environmentally friendly? Why not? Because of the energy needed to produce the H2 and O2 in the first place? The term "environmentally friendly" becomes absolutely meaningless if you interpret it so rigorously. Go ahead, find ANYTHING that doesn't require some energy to produce. Rocket fuel is actually pretty efficient at what it does (rockets are engineered so that as much of the energy as possible goes into accomplishing the goal) and in this case, as I mentioned, much of the energy to produce the fuel likely comes from renewable, "clean" energy sources like hydro.

Besides, carbon dioxide, despite the hype, isn't the one and only pollutant we can produce. A bit of aluminum oxide is certainly more environmentally friendly than the drop-anything-dead-on-contact compounds used in some current rocket fuels.

Re:There is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30272550)

Hydroelectricity is a pretty horrific form of energy production, if you factor in loss of biodiversity and habitat (think salmon migration and loss of the waste assimilative capacity of plants and bogs, nutrient cycling decreased to basically atmospheric deposition within an aquifer, rather than complex cycling through a forested environment), entrainment of silts and organic matter that would usually make it downstream and enrich the downstream ecosystem, and the seasonal cyclic flushing that any stream or river requires for maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. Hydroelectric is definitely renewable, definitely has no "point source" pollution; but it is by no means environmentally friendly. Solar for direct energy input, coupled with cyclic, solar-fueled hydrolysis and storage in a hydrogen fuel cell (as opposed to chemical batteries) is probably a better way to go to power this kind of fuel production. If you're not sure how that works, I think you might need to go back to school.

Re:There is (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273208)

So... if we got rid of all the people, the Earth would be a nice place to raise a family?

Re:There is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30271984)

Oh I acknowledge that. All rocket fuels are expensive to make, store and ship. This one looks reasonably (and relatively) cheap. However the "environmentally friendly" comment in TFA is what I didn't like. It's like saying "environmentally friendly cigarettes". Rocket fuel (of any type) does not qualify for the "environmentally friendly" label, even if this is the "friendliest" one...

Bah, who needs the environment when we have cheap rocket fuel to spread everyone out?

Now, if only the moon didn't have such bad lag online....

Re:There is (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274652)

Oh I acknowledge that. All rocket fuels are expensive to make, store and ship. This one looks reasonably (and relatively) cheap. However the "environmentally friendly" comment in TFA is what I didn't like. It's like saying "environmentally friendly cigarettes". Rocket fuel (of any type) does not qualify for the "environmentally friendly" label, even if this is the "friendliest" one...

That's what you get with life. Just look at Mars. Perfectly nice and beautiful environment. Compare to Earth: covered with various forms of nasty organic slime, hardly any unpolluted barren surface anywhere. And don't get me started with Earth's atmosphere, now that's a particularly nasty mix, full of poisons such as O2 and even O3, all released by life.

And now rocket fuels. This does not bode well for our solar system!

Re:There is (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271822)

But I argue that aluminum is not a naturally occurring substance...

Then I'd argue you're a moron. Aluminum is what is commonly known as a basic element. It's not a compound of anything, it isn't created in a lab, it's dug up out of the earth.

Now, I'll agree with your point that getting it into a useable form requires processing, but so do algae pellets, bio fuel, orange juice and that nice, tasty steak. You seem to be implying that there is no such thing as a naturally occurring substance, which is obviously false.

Furthermore, aluminum is extremely recyclable, and can be recovered with only 5% of the energy costs of the initial refinement. The more aluminum we refine the more we have available for recycling, so while it is extremely expensive, the total energy cost of aluminum does not go up linearly with our aluminum consumption. Also, one of the primary goals of the industry is reducing the cost of refinement, which is directly related to the energy consumption and environmental impact.

So yeah, aluminum is costly monetarily and environmentally on the front end, but it has a very long back end re-useability that makes it much much cheaper in the long run.

Re:There is (1)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272414)

Before I start on this, I do want to acknowledge that in my book labels like "environmentally friendly" are by nature relative, and if this is less harmful than the current alternatives that do the same thing then I don't have a problem with the label myself. But I do have a problem with the parent post...

"Then I'd argue you're a moron. Aluminum is what is commonly known as a basic element. It's not a compound of anything, it isn't created in a lab, it's dug up out of the earth."

I, in turn, will argue that you're a hair-splitting pedant who can't bother with reading comprehension once he's decided to disagree with someone.

Yeah, when I read the first sentence of GP's post, I had a similar "WTF are you talking about" reaction. Then I read the rest of it and said, "ah, the point is about the energy cost of refining aluminum".

"getting it into a useable form requires processing, but so do algae pellets, bio fuel, orange juice and that nice, tasty steak"

So there's no such thing as a matter of degree in your world? If everything takes some energy to refine, then it doesn't matter how much energy it takes to refine something? Interesting.

"You seem to be implying that there is no such thing as a naturally occurring substance, which is obviously false."

No, he seems to be saying that algae pellets, bio fuel, orange juice, and steak are not naturally occuring substances. Show we where to find any of those thigns in nature.

(And no, I do not consider a cow a steak. If you place one on your plate you will quickly understand why.)

"Furthermore, aluminum is extremely recyclable"

Which is fine when we're talking about aluminum cans; maybe airframes... whatever. I'm not so sure you can reclaim aluminum that's been used as rocket propellant, though I'd be happy to look over a citation that says otherwise if you can provide one. I'd also like to know how pure recycled aluminum from other applications is, and whether it would in fact be possible to use recycled aluminum in this process.

If, as I assume, this is an end-of-life application for aluminum, then every pound used in this way should be accounted as a pound that has to be refined from scratch even if the input might have been recycled previously.

"Also, one of the primary goals of the industry is reducing the cost of refinement, which is directly related to the energy consumption and environmental impact."

It's nice to have goals. Seems to me GP was talking about current-state.

Re:There is (1)

bperkins (12056) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271926)

> aluminum hydroxide which, apart from helping us with our stomach ulcers, may be linked to brain disease

Are you talking the Alzheimer's link? I thought that that was found to be a non causal link quite some time ago.

Here's a link that pretty much flat out says it's not an issue:
  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp [alz.org]

There are a lot of websites that talk about it as being a problem, but they all seem a little woo woo.

One of these days ALICE (0, Redundant)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271008)

Bang! Zoom! To the moon.

Let's add some afterburners! (2, Interesting)

sabre86 (730704) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271092)

It looks like the exhaust products should include a fair amount of hydrogen gas. If so, you could add a liquid oxygen tank, inject LOX upstream of the nozzle and burn the hydrogen that's freed up to produce even more thrust, and more importantly, a higher specific impulse. You might even be able to use it to create bimodal rockets that use the ALICE fuel for high thrust early in a launch and switch to pure H2/O2 later for the higher efficiency.

Re:Let's add some afterburners! (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271240)

> If so, you could add a liquid oxygen tank, inject LOX upstream of the nozzle
> and burn the hydrogen that's freed up to produce even more thrust, and more
> importantly, a higher specific impulse.

True, but that gives you an engine with all the complexity of liquid fuel and all the limitations of solid.

Re:Let's add some afterburners! (1)

sabre86 (730704) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271640)

Yeah, that's definitely a risk. My hope is that might be lighter than two dedicated engines. Also, you might be able to run the ALICE fuel as a suspension and treat it as liquid fuel. Three pumps and one nozzle could be a big win on the lightness front. I admit the complexity risk is offputting, though. Also, you might want to use the quote tags when quoting. (You might not, it's up to you.)

Re:Let's add some afterburners! (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272364)

Or perhaps we could add some peroxides to the ice, to adjust the stoichiometry of the fuel mix? Or maybe add a turbopump to inject some air into the combustion chamber, during the atmospheric portion of the flight?

Re:Let's add some afterburners! (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272850)

Yes, you get a higher specific impulse and thrust that way... But you also increase the weight and complexity of your vehicle, and add considerable ground handling and operational problems and costs. (It's expensive to manufacture and handle Oxygen Clean hardware, even more so when you're handling cryogenic oxygen.)

Powdered Aluminium as a fuel? (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 4 years ago | (#30271402)

Wish those pesky scientists had thought of this earlier, we could have retired the B52s and had mach 3 bombers decades ago.

Nano-scale aluminum (1)

Eukariote (881204) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272046)

Nano-scale aluminum can have quite useful and interesting applications. See for example here [bentham-open.org] .

Previous Cool Motors And Stuff (2, Insightful)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30272454)

http://www.wickmanspacecraft.com/wspcnews.html [wickmanspacecraft.com]

John Wickman has been working on aluminum/oxidizer (LOX, not ice) motors since the 80s. His are intended to run on lunar soil.

Also in the can, a jet engine that runs on Martian atmosphere. Development from Oberth's original ammonium nitrate motors as an alternative to ammonium perchlorate.

Now working on NASA's SHARP re-entry vehicle. He's also one of the few pros that teach his craft at the amateur level and consult out to rocketers who want to carry out major projects.

"Rocket scientist" used to be a compliment. That fell away as they numbered into the tens of thousands and each did a tiny piece of engineering. This guy earns that title all over again.

Re:Previous Cool Motors And Stuff (1)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273030)

This guy shows some serious thinking outside the Air(78% nitrogen: 20% oxygen etc)
box in which we usually think. Unless we find some off-world oxy-synthetic critters
it's really a CO2 universe out there.

So for extra credit, how could we make thrusters using only materials
available on Europa, on Titan, on Ganyamede, or on Deimos?

No thanx, a fuel that explodes at room temp (1)

h.ross.perot (1050420) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273164)

This technology only makes sense in a cold environment; Like the moon or the asteroid belt. Now; time to find Bauxite on the moon or asteroids. (ION drives are sounding better at this point, yes?)

*Aluminum* Ice? (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30273802)

Is it transparent?

I don't get how this is going to help (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 4 years ago | (#30274294)

How's a telekinetic, zombie-ass kicking clone going to help you get into orbit?

Isp and Exhaust Velocity (4, Informative)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 4 years ago | (#30275310)

Assuming a 2 to 3 Al to H2O molar ratio, it looks like the exhaust velocity is about 900 m/s so the Isp is about 90s.

If that's right, that sucks compared to normal mixtures.

Of course, if you're lifting off the moon or asteroids, it may be ok.  Mars?  Probably not.

Computing case 1
Fixed enthalpy-pressure equilibrium - adiabatic flame temperature

Propellant composition
Code  Name                                mol    Mass (g)  Composition
34    ALUMINUM (PURE CRYSTALINE)          2.0000 53.9631   1AL
976   WATER                               3.0000 54.0458   2H  1O
Density :  1.458 g/cm^3
3 different elements
AL H  O
Total mass:  108.008918 g
Enthalpy  : -7944.26 kJ/kg

24 possible gazeous species
8 possible condensed species

                       CHAMBER
Pressure (atm)   :     340.230
Temperature (K)  :    3166.569
H (kJ/kg)        :   -7944.256
U (kJ/kg)        :   -8685.762
G (kJ/kg)        :  -33443.801
S (kJ/(kg)(K)    :       8.053
M (g/mol)        :      35.507
(dLnV/dLnP)t     :    -1.00584
(dLnV/dLnT)p     :     1.13099
Cp (kJ/(kg)(K))  :     3.30500
Cv (kJ/(kg)(K))  :     3.00720
Cp/Cv            :     1.09903
Gamma            :     1.09264
Vson (m/s)       :   900.11114

Molar fractions

AL                   6.0290e-004
ALH                  9.2486e-004
ALH2                 2.8353e-005
ALH3                 2.1470e-005
ALO                  2.4478e-005
ALOH                 5.6133e-003
AL(OH)2              3.4527e-005
AL(OH)3              3.1024e-006
AL2                  1.4157e-006
AL2O                 1.3669e-003
AL2O2                1.1545e-005
H                    1.0276e-002
HALO                 2.7342e-006
HALO2                3.5370e-007
H2                   7.2954e-001
H2O                  7.8723e-003
O                    3.5048e-007
OH                   4.1466e-005
Condensed species
AL2O3(L)             2.4364e-001
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