Everyone needs energy. And so do the machines they build. There are many ways of producing energy; many will be touched on here, though this is not a comprehensive list: methods such as wind power, hydroelectric power, and geothermal power will not be discussed here.
Fossil fuels are still used in the 24th century, though not anywhere as commonly as they were in the 20th century. Fossil fuels are essentially compressed sunlight; organisms which absorbed sunlight or ate plants die, are buried, and through geological processes, are reduced to concentrated hydrocarbons.
Coal is formed almost exclusively from plants, most usually aquatic plants living in stagnant bogs or swamps. They're covered with mud and dirt, and through the pressure of the overlying layers and mineralization, are transformed first into peat, then into various coals, ranging from brown soft coal, to black hard coal. Caol itself is concentrated carbon, with various impurities based upon its color and formation location. Coal can be refined into 'coke' by heating it in an oxygen poor environment then rapidly cooling it. Coal and coke are used primarily on very primitive worlds and remote frontier colonies as a source of heat for warmth, cooking, smelting metals, and operating external combustion engines.
Petroleum is formed from a variety of organisms, though it is primarily microorganisms which die and deposit on the ocean floor, then get covered by sediment. Over millions of years, heat, pressure and other geological processes serve to concentrate and liquify the constituent chemicals of the organisms, eventually reducing them to concentrated hydrocarbons, also known as crude oil. Crude oil must be pumped form the planet and then further refined; To date, oil is still a valuable commodity, as many chemicals aside from fuel can be gleaned from refining crude oil. However, fuels are still refined from oil, including gasoline, deisel oil, nitrohexane, napthaline and propane. Petroleum based fuels are almost always either in a liquid or gaseous state, making them ideal for internal combustion engines; they are energy dense, pumpable, tankable and stable.
Nuclear power is the most widely used form of energy production in the universe; every star generates its energy via this method. Nuclear power includes all methods of generating energy via manipulating atoms. Most Terran factions use nuclear power as their primary source of energy, and it is used by the Talesians and Wu Jen to suppliment their own versions of energy production. Even the Saurians , Imaja and ancient Tairez use Nuclear power to some extent.
Nuclear Fission is the process of concentrating very heavy, very radioactive elements in what is called a 'critical mass' and splitting the heavy and unstable nuclei with neutron radiation. Fission is usually the first form of nuclear power developed by a race, as it is easier to split already unstable atoms than it is to create new, stable atoms. Fission is also used for weaponry, but here we will concentrate on its uses to create energy.
Solid Core ReactorEdit
Solid core reactors are comprised of rods, pellets or bricks of fissionable material, usually Uranium, Plutonium, Neptunium or Thorium, usually submerged in a cooling fluid, while a 'working fluid' is curculated around them. The most common method for generating power using a solid core reactor is to superheat water, which is then forced through a turbine as steam. The first nuclear reactors a society develops are usually solid core reactors, as they are simple to construct and maintain, and can be very reliable. However, as the fission process generates considerable heat, there is a constant danger of 'meltdown', a failure mode whereupon the fissionable metal melts, destroying the reactor and enabling a rapid runaway reaction, resulting in the reactor becoming an high-pressure bomb.
Liquid Core ReactorEdit
A liquid core reactor runs much hotter than a solid core reactor; the reason being that the fissionable material is already a liquid. While this presents some containment and transportability issues, it does effectively remove the risk of meltdown, and allows the reactor to operate at much higher temperatures, thus generating much more energy than a solid core reactor. However, temperatures must still be monitored, as it is possible to boil the fissionable material, breaching the vessel through vapor pressure.
Gaseous Core ReactorEdit
A gaseous core reactor is the logical endpoint for fission reactors; it is impossible to cause a 'melt down' or similar containment breach due to overheating using a gaseous core reactor. As the fissionable material is already gas, increasing the temperature will not melt nor eveaporate the fuel, allowing the reactor to operate at its maximum possible output levels. Gaseous core reactors are the most efficient of the fission reactors, and can still be found on many starships, especially ships which are not expected to engage in FTL activity; the output of a gaseous fission reactor can rival that of a fusion reactor.
Fusion is the energy source of the universe itself. Every star in every galaxy throughout the universe generates its light and heat via fusion, inspiring most races see fusion as a milestone in their technological development; the point at which energy becomes cheap, plentiful and clean. Fusion power plants are amazing works of engineering, generationg powrful magnetic fields that enable enormous pressures and temperatures to be focused into a tiny area, slamming light elements together with enough force to overcome the repulsive electrostatic force of their nuclei and fuse them into heavier elements, liberating a substantial quantity of energy as a result. The released energy is then absorbed by specialized materials built into the walls of the reaction chamber, converting the captured energy into an electrical charge.
Most fusion used by the races of NeoSpace is hydrogen fusion. This poses a problem though, as hydrogen is the least dense and most volumous of the elements. Carrying enough gaseous hydrogen to do anything interesting is nearly impossible due to the volume needed in fuel tanks. To circumvent this issue, most fuel used aboard starships is in the form of liquid metallic hydrogen, encased within a fullerine of Carbon-60, enabling the fuel to be tanked, pumped and made stable and dense enough to be useful.
Antimatter reactors are on the bleeding edge of power generation and offers clean, efficent reactors with no radioactive bi-product waste. They offer the potential for higher power yields and more consistant power draws and the ability to use just about any raw element for fuel. Antimatter reactors work by colliding particles of matter and antimatter inside of a specialized reactor chamber. The mutual annihilation of the opposing particles results in a burst of gamma rays which are in turn absorbed by an energy field that surrounds the inner walls of the chamber, converting the gamma rays into a massive electrical charge.
Antimatter is terrifically rare in this universe. There are no natural sources of it, therefore it must be created. There are two known methods for creating antimatter: the first being a particle accelerator, where energy is converted directly into antiparticles. This method creates only miniscule quantities of antiparticles, and so it requires a great deal of effort to generate enough antimatter to even be considered for use as a fuel. It also requires more energy to create the antimatter than what one can expect to get out of it, so it is hardly worth the effort.
The second method of creating antimatter was discovered as a byproduct of research into hyperspace travel. It was found that when particles of matter penetrated a layer of hyperspace energy, under the right conditions, the matter would be disassembled down to its subatomic level and reassemble with the particles' spin "flipped". The matter had been rebuilt into antimatter. This property of hyperspace was subsequently exploited in the development of advanced warp drives that utilized nacelles. Matter was injected into a nacelle while it was generating a warp field; the interaction with the hyperspacial energy caused the matter to "flip" into antimatter and subsequently annihilate additional particles of matter that were introduced into the nacelle, reuslting in a boost in power that gives nacelles an advantage over inboard hyperdrives. Talesian scientists took this a step further, and injected extra quantities of matter into the active nacelles and siphoned off the surplus antimatter, which could in turn be stored and used in their antimatter torpedoes.
In more recent years, Talesian scientists have further refined this second method of creating antimatter so that modified warp drive can create a stationary portal into hyperspace and allow the "flipping" of matter into antimatter without the station having to be in hyperspace. As a result such stations can create huge quantities of antimatter, requiring less energy than what can be produced in a matter/antimatter reaction. At this point it finally became viable as a source of starship fuel.
Antimatter reactors have two big disadvantages: one the sheer size of a single antimatter reactor. Unlike Fusion reactors which can be miniaturized to fit inside single man fighters, the smallest anti-matter reactor spans several floors and requires a large engineering crew to maintain. A large part of this bulk is because the matter and antimatter must be annihilated in tightly controlled streams to assure that the maximum efficiency in annihilation; simply dumping matter and antimatter into a chamber will result in some annihilation, and the resulting discharge of energy scattering the particles so far apart that the reaction will stop. A desired 100% annihilation rate required ensuring that the opposing particles strike each other precisely and that the resulting energy released is efficiently harvested. This requires even more complex and finely tuned equipment than what goes into most fusion reactors. This limits their use to capital sized starships and starbases.
The second disadvantage is the danger involved with an antimatter reactor. Fusion technology has been refined to a point where meltdowns are unheard of, while accidents with antimatter reactors are still fairly common, and can be very devastating. If the Anti-matter containment field within the antimatter storage chamber fails, a chain reaction of anti-matter and matter results within the reactor, and whatever is unfortunate enough to be attached to the reactor; the result of which usually results in nearly complete destruction of said ship. A desperate gambit of a Talesian commander is to initate a self destruct; which simply lowers the antimatter containment field and turns the ship into a huge anti-matter bomb.
As of right now, only the Talesians have refined stable anti-matter reactors and have them in wide useage among their capital military fleet. Even so, most of these reactors still need a secondary Fusion reactor to give the inital kick and provide auxiliry power to sustain the antimatter containment field and other vital functions of the ship such as computers in the case of failure of the main anti-matter reactor.
Selvens view anti-matter as too unstable, though they are well aware of the technology. Humans have just recently started to experiment with creating prototype antimatter reactors aboard research vessels and stations; but have still not refined the technology enough where it is widely avaiable as it is within the military of the Talesian Star Republic.