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Champagne Bubbles the Key to More Efficient Energy Production

Dec 22, 2014 11:13 AM EST

It seems that champagne isn't just for celebratory toasts, but is also important when it comes to the world's future energy needs. The mechanics behind uncorking a bottle of champagne may hold the key to developing more efficient energy-producing plants, according to new research.

When a champagne bottle is opened pressure builds up and causes the liquid to spray out, as anyone who's ever celebrated New Year's knows. Then, in a process known as "Ostwald ripening" - named for the scientist who discovered it in 1896 - more energetic larger bubbles attract molecules from smaller ones and grow even bigger.

So how is this related to power plants? Well, this same phenomenon can be seen inside a powering-generating turbine. The majority of power stations use boilers for converting the water to steam to drive these turbines, however the details of this process is complex and largely remains a mystery.

But now researchers from the University of Tokyo, Kyusyu University, and the private research institute known as RIKEN have used the most powerful computer network in Japan to simulate the formation of bubbles, resulting in a breakthrough in the understanding Ostwald ripening.

The researchers' findings are described in the Journal of Chemical Physics.

To get to the bottom of this, they conducted an experiment in which a group of virtual atoms were assigned starting speeds and then studied to see how they move, utilizing Newton's law of motion to track their positions over time.

"A huge number of molecules, however, are necessary to simulate bubbles - on the order of 10,000 are required to express a bubble," researcher Hiroshi Watanabe explained in a statement. "So we needed at least this many to investigate hundreds of millions of molecules - a feat not possible on a single computer."

In fact, using RIKEN's K computer - the most powerful system in Japan with 4,000 processors - the researchers simulated an incredible 700 million particles and followed them through a million time steps.

Researchers were pleasantly surprised to find that a classical theory developed in the 1960's, used to explain how bubbles form in foams, metallic alloys and even freezing ice cream, works just as well when it comes to describing gas bubbles in liquids - something that previous studies had failed to confirm.

By better understanding the behavior of bubbles, scientists may be able to design more efficient power stations.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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