As the New Year beckons with a host of possibilities for British energy, here at ELN we thought it was time to throw in a curve ball. So take an Interstellar-style trip into the far-flung future of power with part-time black hole enthusiast Richard Vibert. Enjoy!
Black holes have been my fascination for many years.The immense energy they hold and the weird yet wonderful scenarios that are possible within their boundaries, led to me pursuing them academically for several years. I was always interested in finding out if we could extract this energy and use it here on Earth. And it turns out, theoretically, it is possible.
Stars are constantly rotating and when they collapse into black holes, this rotation remains. A large portion of a black hole’s energy is in the form of rotational energy and perhaps we can convert this energy into something meaningful (just like how a wind turbine converts rotational energy into electrical power)? Well, our energy industry is always evolving and one day perhaps we can take these enormous leaps to new energy sources using the extraordinary physics behind black holes.
When something as dense as a black hole rotates, it begins to drag space around with it, creating a region where nothing is able to remain stationary and is forced to follow the rotation of the black hole. This region is called the ergosphere – ergo being the Greek word for work. It wasn’t long till people become inquisitive of this region.
In 1971, Roger Penrose theorised an idea where energy can be extracted from a black hole – the Penrose Process . In his deeply insightful and marvellous work, Penrose proposed that particles can travel into a rotating black hole and emerge with more energy, therefore having extracted energy from the black hole! I won’t go into the intricate physics of this now (contact me if you want to hear more!) but some weird and wonderful things can happen inside black holes which are unique to their fascinating features.
Although this was and still is equations on a piece of paper, confined to the bizarre world of mathematical physics, there is nothing yet to say this isn’t possible here in the real-world. It is believed by many physicists that one day we’ll find a way to take on black holes and “steal” some of their energy. But the question of whether this is possible, remains open.
Richard Vibert is M2M Business Development Manager, responsible for the distribution of Jersey Telecom’s Managed Metering Connectivity for smart meters.
 R. Penrose and R. M. Floyd, “Extraction of Rotational Energy from a Black Hole,” Nature Physical Science 229, 177 (1971)