E = Energy
m = Mass
c = Speed of light
Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation tells us how mass and energy are intertwined, and his formula allows us to calculate the amount of energy present in matter.
And, since the speed of light is pretty freaking big,1 it becomes clear how small amounts of mass hold so much energy.
To put into perspective how much energy we cannot access, here is a pretty table constructed by Max Tegmark in his awesome book, Life 3.0:
|Digesting candy bar2||0.00000001%|
|Burning coal 3||0.00000003%|
|Burning gasoline 4||0.00000005%|
|Fission of uranium-235 5||0.08%|
|Using Dyson sphere until Sun dies 6||0.08%|
|Fusion of hydrogen to helium 7||0.7%|
|Spinning black hole engine 8||29%|
|Dyson sphere around quasar 9||42%|
|Black hole evaporation 11||90%|
So what about converting energy into matter? Is there a way we can do this?
The most promising method appears to be smashing photons together in a photon collider.
The Large Hadron Collider is known for smashing protons, which creates energy, which is converted into particles. The new particles are then examined by smart people to figure out the answer to life, the universe, and everything.12
However, the technology to track stray photons that go around the collider after the initial proton collision does not exist yet. The stray photons may hit each other, creating more matter.
But, before we get too out-of-hand, we already know how energy inefficient we are, but how efficiently are we making energy with existing methods?
Power plant efficiency is based on how much useful electricity is outputted in a certain length of time along with how much energy it takes to make the electricity.
The table below shows the maximum theoretical efficiency of various power plants:
We figure out the maximum theoretical efficiency using the Rankine cycle, which is the operating cycle of all power plants (usually water converting into steam to spin turbines)13
In my theoretical example power plant, water lays in a condenser, enters a boiler, and slowly heats up until it becomes steam, which will spin a turbine-generator. The steam will then be condensed and sent back into the boiler to repeat the cycle.
Power plants operate on this basic design, which is to use energy to spin a turbine. Nuclear power plants are great for this because nuclear fusion is more efficient than burning coal or gas.
Of course, this means that hydroelectric and tidal power plants have even fewer needs (and are more efficient) because they use existing flowing water’s energy without the whole water-steam-whatever thing other power plants use.
Make more nuclear power plants until we get a sphalerizer.