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I assume utilizing habitats floating high in the Venus atmosphere as described by Geoffrey Landis. So weight, size etc is a constraint, and we will not be operating at the surface with the crushing pressure and heat. More like around 50 km above surface.

Given say 1 ton of material. We could use that to make solar cells and batteries to store it's electricity.

My alternative idea was to produce methane and feed this to a methane fuel cell like the Redox fuel cell which weights 450 kilo and generates 25kW of electricity. Assume one gets hydrogen from the sulfuric acid clouds and suck CO2 straight out of the air to generate methane using the Sabatier reaction. Hydrogen could be made with say the Hybrid sulfur cycle.

These chemical reactions will require high temperature and I assuming we can get most of that heat directly from the Venus atmosphere. I am speculating that one can use heat pumps to take in say CO2 at 200 degrees and turn it into 800 degrees celsius required for the Hybrid sulfur cycle.

The details don't need to be like this. It is just to give an example of how I speculate one could generate electricity and at the same time have a way of storing power in the form of methane rather than using batteries which are heavy.

But I am no chemical engineer so I have no idea how feasible this is or if this would just be very inefficient compared to plain old solar cells with batteries.

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    $\begingroup$ To get energy from heat, you need it to flow - in other words, having a high temperature does you no good unless you have a cold temperature somewhere. That would be the sticking point on Venus. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 27 '15 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble: If you're extracting energy as a heat engine, yes, but if you're using it as a catalyst for favorable chemical reactions with a high activation energy, that's another story. For that matter, using endothermic chemical reactions as your heat sink is not (in principle) out of the question either, although offhand I'm not sure which ones would be most practical. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Aug 27 '15 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanTuggy I was responding to the OP's "Heat Pumps" remark. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 28 '15 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble: A heat pump is just a generalized refrigerator, and consumes power in order to achieve some desired temperature. Since the OP mentioned the temperature "required" for a chemical reaction, it seems they're aware that this isn't for generating energy. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Aug 28 '15 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, and refrigerators have to reject the heat they collect from the cooled volume to a region that is cooler than their "radiators". $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 28 '15 at 3:34
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My hunch here is that there is something wrong with the heatpump idea.

Solar powered heat pump

Heat pumps usually have a maximum coefficient of performance of about 4 - for every 1J of electricity, they can transfer 4J of heat. Solar panels usually have an efficiency of about 25%, for every 1J of sunlight, they can generate 0.25J of electricity. So for solar powered heat pumps, for every 1J of sunlight, you could get 1J of heat. I'm sure the problem is obvious - you could skip the solar panels and heat pump and just use concentrated sunlight to generate the heat.

Nuclear powered heat pump

The other viable energy source is nuclear, but a nuclear reactor already generates ample waste heat. I believe nuclear reactors are usually somewhere between 33% and 50% efficiency, so for every 1J of electricity, you get 1-2J of waste heat. That is low grade heat, and we want high grade heat here, so extracting high grade heat from the reactor will lower it's electrical output, but reduced efficiency is also what would happen if you take the reactor into to lower, hotter altitudes, the problem is cooling the reactor:

The bigger the temperature difference between the internal heat source and the external environment where the surplus heat is dumped, the more efficient is the process in achieving mechanical work – in this case, turning a generator. Hence the desirability of having a high temperature internally and a low temperature in the external environment.

The take home is you would be much better off designing the reactor to run at 50km, and extracting high grade heat directly from the reactor, this would dramatically simplify the setup, and probably still result in higher efficiency.

Other problems

I think there are also other grounds on which this idea doesn't work, for one, the vertical altitude difference is about 10-12km, it is going to take energy to make that trip, for example it might involve compressing a lifting gas to cause the airship to descend. The problem is, that while heat pumps become more efficient with a hotter heat source, it wouldn't be clear that the energy expended in descending and then ascending 10-12km, wouldn't have been better spent just running a heat pump at an altitude of 50km.

The clincher is that if you are above the sulfuric cloud layer you get ample solar power during the day but if you are below the clouds you need to rely on either a nuclear reactor (already covered) or stored energy. But at least half the point of generating methane is as a means of energy storage, using stored energy to create more stored energy does not sound terribly efficient.

TL;DR

You're either going to have a nuclear reactor, which already provides ample high grade heat, or you're going to be using solar power and will be wanting to perform energy storage where energy is abundant above the cloud layer, which incidentally also provides an abundant source of high grade heat in the form of concentrated sunlight.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the input. Without knowing more I don't like the nuclear option as there is no easy means of re-supply of uranium or plutonium on Venus. There is also a practical issue. Produced Methane could be used to fuel separate airships, planes or whatever. You can't split a nuclear reactor into multiple engines. With respect to heat pumps. Weight and size is a limiting factor. Efficiency is of little concern if the most efficient solution doesn't scale in size or is too heavy or big. I think that aspects needs to be addressed as $\endgroup$ – Adam Smith Aug 31 '15 at 14:51

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