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Power Technology Science

Portable Nuclear Battery in the Development Stages 439

Posted by Zonk
from the will-be-nice-if-it-happens dept.
Xight writes "The Santa Fe Reporter has up an article about a portable nuclear reactor, about the size of a hot tub. Despite it's 'small' size the company that is planning to develop the product (Hyperion Power Generation), claims it could power up to 25,000 homes. 'Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn't like to think of its product as a reactor. It's self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn't require a human operator. "In fact, we prefer to call it a 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe," Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says. "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."' If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors."
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Portable Nuclear Battery in the Development Stages

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  • by arivanov (12034) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:30AM (#21476033) Homepage
    I have some clients from the Middle East with a suitable truck. Where can I purchase this thing?
    • Enjoy your visit from Homeland Security dude.

    • *sigh*

      One would have assumed that people from the nation with the biggest arsenal of nukes, would have a clue. Guess not.

      What makes you think any government(USA or otherwise) would *ever* allow any significant quantities of radioactive material to be sold to just any random civilian individuals??? Are you really that retarded?

      First of all, the massive oil cartel that owns the USA government(and George Bush's soul), ensures that any nuclear energy alternative gets associated with things going ka-boom

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:43AM (#21476077) Homepage Journal
    Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn't like to think of its product as a "reactor."

    "In fact, we prefer to call it a 'drive' or a 'battery' or a 'module' in that it's so safe," Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says.


    Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb. "Digital Consumer Enablement," anyone?

    "This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention," Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello says. "Of course, factoring in enough cronyism, corruption and official ignorance and boosterism, it's possible the principals could make some money during the initial stages, before the crows come home to roost."

    Great. Don't even consider the actual design of the thing. Not a word about what, if any problems, it might create -- just dismiss it as "loony" and chalk up anything good anyone says about it to cronyism and corruption.

    Does anyone have any information about the Hyperion reactor that isn't either corporate PR or wacko fearmongering? Because it sounds interesting, and I'd like to learn more about it, but not from either of these folks, thanks.
    • by arlanTLDR (1120447) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:49AM (#21476119)
      Actually, it's fairly typical to rename things so they don't contain "scary" words. Like how Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) became Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Because people don't like things with the words "Nuclear" or "Reactor" anywhere close to them.
      • by mpe (36238)
        Because people don't like things with the words "Nuclear" or "Reactor" anywhere close to them.

        Never mind that "reactor" can also refer to a container where chemical reactions take place. Especially on an industrial scale. As well as being the common term in some parts of the world for a jet engine.
    • by Cecil (37810)
      If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb.

      Yeah, no one would be silly enough to rename "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" (NMR) into "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (MRI) despite referring to the nucleus of the cell not the nucleus of an atom, nevermind anything radioactive.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Chaset (552418)
        Um... the Nuclear in NMR does refer to the nucleus of the atom, at least AFAIK. Where did you read otherwise? In fact, doesn't the thought set off "oh, wait, that can't be right" alarm in your head if you try to think of how a cell nucleus can possibly have magnetic properties?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Xner (96363)
        The nucleus in question when dealing with NMR is most certainly the atomic nucleus.

        You might want to do some basic research before proclaiming your ignorance to the whole wide internet like that.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mmyrfield (1157811)

        Yeah, no one would be silly enough to rename "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" (NMR) into "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (MRI) despite referring to the nucleus of the cell not the nucleus of an atom, nevermind anything radioactive.

        Except it does indeed refer to the nucleus of the atom, not the cell. Specifically it refers to the alteration of the spin of the protons in a material and then the observation of their decay back to equilibrium state with the decay time being unique to different elements (as a very ro

      • by mpe (36238)
        Yeah, no one would be silly enough to rename "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" (NMR) into "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (MRI) despite referring to the nucleus of the cell not the nucleus of an atom, nevermind anything radioactive.

        It does refer to the resonance of atomic nuclii. Mostly hydrogen IIRC, thus "Proton Resonance Imaging" (PRI) would probably be more accurate than MRI.
    • by PaintyThePirate (682047) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:55AM (#21476137) Homepage
      It sounds a lot like the 10MW Toshiba "nuclear battery" [wikipedia.org], which has a pretty good chance of being built [wikipedia.org].

      The engineering is perfectly feasible, it's just a matter of whether or not it is cost effective (it probably is, or will be soon at the rate energy prices are rising), and whether or not people would be willing to live next to a tiny reactor (the real problem). Beyond that, it's just a matter of working through the massive bureaucracy of getting licencing from the NRC.

      The notion of having a completely unmanned reactor seems like a recipe for disaster though. The Toshiba plan of keeping a few people nearby to ensure security and to monitor the supposedly fail safe systems seems safer.
    • by bmgoau (801508) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:07AM (#21476217) Homepage
      This device is not a reactor, even though it uses nuclear power.

      This thing is called a "Radioisotope thermoelectric generator".

      It is nothing new, they were used on the Voyager spacecraft.

      They can be much smaller or larger than a bathtub, as the article says.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dr. Spork (142693)
        I don't think this is true. It is a reactor, it just doesn't have the standard control rods and moderator in the way that conventional big reactors do. The fissile uranium is in crystals that are homogenously distributed through some sort of a moderator solution, but that's all I could work out from tfa. I'd like to hear more. As others have commented though, there is a lot more spin than info in the tfa. Still it should be clear that the thing is indeed a reactor based on a self-sustaining fission of urani
    • by pla (258480)
      Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor.

      You could say the same (possibly more accurately) about a AA battery. The key difference here, this one uses spoooooooky nook-yuh-ler thingamabobs, so people automatically put their fingers in their ears and go "LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU LA NUKULAR LA LA".



      but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb.

      We need energy, period. Until we perfect fusion, fission looks like the best we have.

      That said, fission has something of a bad reputation,
    • by rilister (316428)
      "Uh, yeah, except it is a reactor. If they want to emphasize how safe it is, that's great, but renaming products to get rid of words people don't like is just dumb."

      um, remember "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance"?

      "In its early years MRI was referred to as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), but the word nuclear has been associated with ionizing radiation exposure, which is not used in an MRI, so to prevent patients from making a negative association between MRI and ionizing radiation, the word has been alm
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:44AM (#21476087) Journal
    "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."

    Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.

    But on a side note, am I the only one who thought of Asimov's Foundation series, when the Foundationers had nuclear reactors the size of walnuts??? [everything2.com]

    Seriously, though I remember something similar made in Japan that would power a remote city in Alaska for 30 years without pollution. [adn.com]

    Yay! Go Nukular!
    • by transwarp (900569) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:01AM (#21476171)

      "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it." Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.
      I figured that she meant the battery and was still using the metaphor, and the article's author assumed she was talking about the reactor and put it in brackets. At least, I'd rather believe a reporter made that mistake than the spokesperson for a nuclear power company.
    • How is this thing going to dissipate its waste heat?

      Put it in a bathtub?
    • by thsths (31372)
      > "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."

      > Uh huh... Nuclear reactions are not chemical in nature... spokesperson without a clue.

      Exactly. The main difference is of course that if you do open an AA battery by mistake, nothing bad happens. The more recent designs aren't even chemically toxic, so there is really nothing to worry about. Whereas when you open the "nuclear battery", you are
  • Actually I think it's pretty interesting, and forward thinking - what about having something like this to power always-on equipment? Eg data centres etc in major tech hubs?

    The first thing I thought of though was straight out of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (which I'm reading atm) - atomic slugs powering random pieces of equipment all over the place... North Central Positronics anyone?

    (And yeah, terrorism and those issues really suck ass, I hate that ideas like this are inherently a security risk not by
    • by pipatron (966506)
      You need an UPS anyway, since most outages probably happens when some clueless construction worker manage to dig through the cable to the building. Unless of course you have a datacenter that consumes 27MW. That would be nice.
  • Chemical Thing (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by ShakaUVM (157947)
    Anyone else find this quote troubling: "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it."'

    A chemical reaction is not a nuclear reaction. I think that any company that doesn't understand this difference shouldn't really be in the business of making portable nuclear reactors.

    I'm sure people here will have any number of criticisms to the idea of a portable nuclear reactor, but it's actually a very old con
    • by dasunt (249686)
      I think they know the difference. Specifically the difference between "chemical" (which doesn't scare the public as badly) and "radioactive fission" (which scares the bejebus out of the public). :p
  • The sentence "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy" doesn't parse. Does it produce 27 megawatts for 1 ns? It seems most people are good at making distinctions between speed and distance. Why is power vs. energy so hard?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Neo Quietus (1102313)
      Watts is joules per second, so saying "it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy" means that if you totaled up all the energy released in a single second by this reactor it would total to 27 megajoules. The sentence parses fine as is: it simply means that this thing produces 27 megajoules a second, forever. As a more concrete example (with smaller numbers) saying that a lightbulb "will consume 60 watts of electrical energy" is just another way of saying "it's a 60 watt bulb."
    • by bmgoau (801508)
      A watt is the number of joules per second. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt [wikipedia.org]
    • by Jesrad (716567)
      Wow, your attempt at mocking technical speak turned awfully bad. Power is measured in Watts. Energy in Joules. The reactor is 27 MW, that is 27 MJ per second (for a duration of five years, according to the article, but I would think an istope generator like this one would have a declining power rate over time). You're the one confusing energy and power here.
    • by gijoel (628142) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:57AM (#21476439)
      Yeah, but in fairness to them it can do the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. That's not something your everyday reactor can do.
  • Fakey McFake (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
    Jeez, what an obvious fake. This is yet another one of those pie-in-the-sky flying car type projects. Some guy just has an idea and he's trolling for investors with more money than brains. No idea why Slashdot helps these types.
    • What was your first clue, the fact that the power cable coming out would have to be half the diameter of the device to power 25,000 homes? I don't care if you can fit a fusion reactor in a match box you still have to have a means of transfering the power in a practical form. That's one dense source of power 27 megawatts from a hot tub sized reactor. I'll believe a flying car first.
      • by kmac06 (608921)
        Although the summary of the article is unclear, TFA indicates that this thing only generates the heat. You still need a water source and turbine (or something else that can convert heat to electricity). So no power cable is necessary (on their end).
      • Re:Fakey McFake (Score:5, Informative)

        by PaintyThePirate (682047) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:44AM (#21476381) Homepage

        What was your first clue, the fact that the power cable coming out would have to be half the diameter of the device to power 25,000 homes?
        Leave the electrical engineering [wikipedia.org] to the electrical engineers. You also missed the crucial fact that electricity does not come out of a reactor, heat does. To get electricity, you have to use the heat on some fluid to drive a turbine. The turbine obviously would not be inside this "washing machine".

        It is also pretty apparent that you've never seen a nuclear reactor. A reactor itself is pretty small compared to the overall size of a plant. It's the cooling loops, turbines, myriad of control and power equipment, and containment structure that take up space.
    • Yes, it is well known by those who know it well that LANL are just a front enabling the government to pump billions of dollars into the development of pyramid schemes and penis enlargers. From there the money flows through Steve Jackson to Area 51 and off-planet. This also explains why it took so long for US money to be updated to modern standards: the aliens, having supertechnology, can easily defeat human anti-forgery techniques, but they are blind to green light. Thus, by keeping the bills perfectly gree
  • Despite it's 'small' size the company that is planning to develop the product (Hyperion Power Generation), claims it could power up to 25,000 homes.

    Why don't they make one that's much smaller and could power a single home, then sell them to homeowners. I'd love to live off the grid and have my power not dependent on a system of under-maintained wires.

    If you can get 25,000 homes off a hot-tub sized unit, how about one the size of my electric meter box for one family? Remove electric meter, hook up reactor "b

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      because selling nuclear devices to individuals invokes all sorts of bad juju from the NRC and the DoHS
      • by SeaFox (739806)
        Isn't there a program where small portable nuclear reactors ( larger than a hot tub) are placed in poor/3rd world regions (think sub-Saharan Africa) to provide power in areas there. I seem to remember those being billed as sealed "black-box style" units that didn't require maintenance, either. I see no difference to this as far as risks go.
  • So the hot-tub sized device cranks out many MW of thermal power. How big is the turbine/generator set that makes this into electricity? Not much point in just half a system.
  • Error in summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by svunt (916464) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:06AM (#21476209) Homepage Journal
    I'm pretty sure the person editing this made a big cockup when they changed "Like you don't open a double-A battery, you just plug it in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don't ever open it or mess with it." The "it" obviously refers to the Double-A battery, and whoever edited the copy got it wrong.
  • by ToApeiron (811767) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:16AM (#21476255)
    Portable nuclear batteries? Rad!!! Oh, wait...
  • This is wierd (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:17AM (#21476259) Homepage

    Wierd. First, it's not a "nuclear battery". Those have been around since the 1950s, and they typically have quite modest power output, from a few watts to a few hundred watts. They're just some radioactive material decaying at its normal rate; they don't use a chain reaction. If this thing is supposed to produce 27MW, it has to be a real nuclear reactor.

    And it is. Here's the patent application [uspto.gov], out of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The basic idea is this: "This present invention achieves control by utilizing the properties of a fissile metal hydride as a self-contained nuclear fuel and neutron energy moderator. If the physical size, fissile metal content and enrichment are appropriately selected, the metal will absorb ambient hydrogen, which moderates the neutron energies so that nuclear fission criticality is achieved. The temperature will then be increased by the fission reactions until the dissociation pressure of the hydrogen for that temperature is greater than the ambient pressure of the hydrogen, at which point the hydrogen dissociates from the hydride and the source becomes sub-critical." So that's the way it self-regulates. It's supposed to operate at a constant temperature; if you remove heat with a working fluid, it produces more heat; if you don't, it stabilizes at its normal operating temperature. It's a uranium reactor, using 5% enriched uranium. Runs at 350C to 800C. Uses heat pipes to get the heat out to a working fluid, probably water, used to make steam and drive a turbine.

    It's not clear if this is a workable design. There's no prototype. But it's at least plausible. It's not a totally new idea; the TRIGA [ga.com] reactors are self-regulating in a somewhat similar fashion.

    The "Los Alamos Study Group" that made critical comments has nothing to do with Los Alamos National Laboratories. Their director "worked as a transportation planner, natural foods manufacturing entrepreneur, high school teacher, hazardous waste investigator, and contaminant hydrologist." [lasg.org]

  • by WoTG (610710) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:19AM (#21476277) Homepage Journal
    There is literally a 1 page website setup for the company at HyperionPowerGeneration.com.

    "Invented at Los Alamos: Patent Pending".

    Uh huh. I'm totally looking forward to placing my order.

    BTW: I see no mention of hot-tub sizes on the website... though, I didn't read too carefully. They claim to be about 30% cheaper than current liquid moderated reactors.
  • The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. It's shaped like a sake cup, filled with a uranium hydride core and surrounded by a hydrogen atmosphere. Encase it in concrete, truck it to a site, bury it underground, hook it up to a steam turbine and, voila, one would generate enough electricity to power a 25,000-home community for at least five years

    A-Recent-Robert-Zemeckis-Film Cluster of those sounds ideally suited for a post apocalyptic bunker. You name it: Alpha Complex, Vault 13, Dr. Strangelove's wet dream [filmsite.org]:

    Strangelove: I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy...heh, heh...(He rolls his wheelchair forward into the light) at the bottom of ah...some of our deeper mineshafts. Radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep, and in a matter of weeks, sufficient improve

  • Damn thing had a pink bunny beating a bass drum on the side!!!???
  • It's nothing more than a nuclear pile. Where's the invention? Inject water around mass of uranium, produces steam=power. It's a neighborhood uranium based nuke plant. The concept has been around in one form or another for decades just no one was stupid enough to build a bunch of them and scatter them across the country. It's hard enough to keep track of nuclear material as it is.
  • So now you do not have to smuggle a nuclear bomb in a vending machine. Instead, just detonate a small conventional explosive next to this bath tub and you will probably render all 27000 homes powered by this thing unlivable. You can even set a second charge to fashion a kind of thermobaric bomb that detonates hydrogen from the reactor to ensure proper dispersal of radioactive waste.
  • How is it safe? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:40AM (#21476365) Homepage Journal
    There were nice plans of a pretty safe reactor: a core that is too subcritical to sustain the reaction by itself, plus a mirror shield lowered around it, reflecting neutrons back into the core, increasing their density to sustain the reaction. How deep the shield is lowered decides upon how much power is drawn, raising it stops the reaction, and if raising mechanism was to fail for any reason, the first thing to melt would be said shield (made from material of melting temperature much lower than the core), stopping the reaction by ceasing to reflect neutrons back into the core.

    In case of this thing, if the turbine stops, if the coolant circuit goes empty for any reason, I can't see how this could be stopped if it starts melting.
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday November 26, 2007 @03:45AM (#21476389)
    Research into the unusual properties of uranium hydride has been going on for a long time. (In fact, one application that was investigated was tritium extraction.) For the people still banging on about batteries who didn't read TFA, this idea is exactly like a battery in that energy is extracted on demand, i.e. simply removing heat from the device cools it down, which causes the hydrogen to reform the hydride, which makes the reactor critical, which produces more heat. It is the overall packaging concept, nothing to do with chemical versus nuclear. The Toshiba packaged reactor design was ingenious, but depended on mechanical systems and, having much more thermal capacity and a slower reaction time, was very dependent on coolant circulation. This design is an on-demand heat source.

    For me, the sad thing about alternative energy is the way that all the technologies compete instead of cooperating. Different parts of the world demand different approaches and different mixes. For instance, as a thermal generator this reactor could usefully complement thermal solar arrays, so that (simplifying) the array heats the fluid in the day and the reactor heats it at night. A conventional nuclear reactor would not work like that because it has to be too big, i.e. it is out of scale compared to the solar source. If the waste heat could be used for area heating, it would work well in far Northern latitudes where heating demand is greater than power demand.

    I can't help but think that this is one case where serious joined up thinking is required. If the US Government can spend 0.6% of the Federal budget on NASA, which is speculative research, isn't it worth spending 0.6% on safe alternative nuclear reactors rather than driving up the price of corn? Rather than try and substitute oil with uneconomic ethanol, why not try to substitute oil used for heating with heat from nuclear sources? The effect would be the same. A policy that oil should only be used for transportation, and that vehicle efficiency should be progressively increased, would reduce dependence on the Middle East just as quickly, or quicker, than pork barrel farm ethanol projects, and would have more long term sustainability.

  • I highly doubt they are going to sell these to power "25,000" homes. It's more likely they will be purchased by city governments, military, or large corporations that require continuous power. Just imagine if instead of having to install a massive diesel generator you could just have your critical systems powered continuously from this nuclear device and still have the grid power available if you need it.
  • Ok, so these first, well designed from top notch materials, ones are fairly safe.

    What happens when companies start mass-producing these, ala lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries. How much more dense is the stored power in these if something cheap breaks and decides to let it out...

    So, can I take one on a plane? :P
  • This sounds like a terribly inefficient and wasteful use of nuclear fuel; there are far more efficient nuclear reactors.
    • Your average nuclear reactor is not exactly portable. This sort of device, if it's all that it's claimed to be, is just that, and that is its strength.

      Imagine how useful this sort of thing could be, in remote areas where there aren't power grids to tap into, helping emergency services in disaster recovery zones, etc, etc.

      No, you wouldn't use it to power conventional homes in convential situations but you could use it to do a whole bunch of things that would otherwise be more difficult, or perhaps even impos
  • by Minstrel Boy (787690) <kevin_stevens@hotmail.com> on Monday November 26, 2007 @04:39AM (#21476599)
    It keeps glowing and glowing and glowing and glowing...

    KeS
  • ..or trains. Since sometimes they crash and spill the contents all over the place.

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Monday November 26, 2007 @05:03AM (#21476727) Homepage
    Localized power generation is definitely the way to go for power generation - along with things like portable pebble bed reactors [mit.edu] for higher capacity installations.

    No need for big power grids, along with all the inefficiencies and expense they entail.

    Only one problem: It has the word "nuclear" in its name so it'll never be accepted by the ignorant hippies, the cold-war-contitioned public or the politicians. Even though coal power is much worse on all levels (but the hippies can hold a lump of coal and feel how natural it is...)

    It could be used in places like India or China to prevent them from destroying the planet via fossil fuels. I for one sincerely hope it is. China is already messing about with pebble bed reactors, this is the next logical step for them to reduce their dependence on oil.

  • by roedeer (127491) on Monday November 26, 2007 @05:49AM (#21476941)
    ... it will have a warning label on it saying:
    "May explode if disposed of in fire"

    Although, I suppose whether it's a warning label or a usage guide depends on your political views.
  • by r_jensen11 (598210) on Monday November 26, 2007 @09:06AM (#21478361)
    If it's like a AA battery, does that mean that it, too, will explode if you leave it outside in the winter? God I love living in Minnesota....
  • by prod-you (940679) on Monday November 26, 2007 @09:53AM (#21478875)
    It's vapourizeware.
  • Possibilities (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jgoemat (565882) on Monday November 26, 2007 @02:03PM (#21482323)

    First, I doubt this would get into widespread use, it would instantly generate high return targets for terrorists. Dig one up and blow it up and you would spread the radioactive uranium across a wide area and into the atmosphere.

    It might be useful at the south pole research stations. Currently they operate on generators running off JP-8 jet fuel I believe and produce 1 megawatt of electricity. With 27 megawatts of thermal output, you could get a lot more electrical output and keep more of an area warm. This leads to another place where it may be useful, as a power plant and heat source for a lunar or martian base.

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