How could champagne bubbles help fulfill the world’s growing energy needs? Well, Japanese scientists have found a way. Using the most powerful computer in Japan, researchers have discovered how the physics of champagne bubbles could enable engineers to design more efficient propellers or power stations. Findings of the study were published in The Journal of Chemical Physics.

Champagne Bubbles Could Help Fulfill World's Energy Needs

Uncorking a bottle of champagne

When you uncork a bottle of champagne, pressure of its liquid is abruptly removed. As a result, bubbles form and quickly begin the process of “coarsening.” It’s a process in which more energetic, larger bubbles grow even bigger by attracting molecules from the smaller ones. This nonequilibrium phenomenon is called the “Ostwald ripening,” named after the scientist who discovered it in 1896.

How can it improve the efficiency of power plants? When the heated water is converted into steam to drive a power plant’s electricity-producing turbines, bubbles that form can reduce the efficiency of the conversion, scientists found. Most power stations use boilers to convert the water to steam. But until now, it has been difficult to understand how bubbles form inside the boiler. It was almost impossible to calculate the rate of bubble formation in the superheated setting of a power plant.

Scientists simulated 700 million molecules

Scientists from the Kyusyu University, University of Tokyo and RIKEN successfully simulated bubble nucleation from the molecular level using the power of K, the most powerful supercomputer in Japan. In this simulation, researchers put some virtual molecules in a box, assigned them initial velocities and studied how they move, using Newton’s law of motion to the position of virtual molecules over time.

A large number of molecules are required to simulate bubbles. More precisely, over 10,000 molecules are necessary to express one bubble. Scientists simulated a staggering 700 million molecules, studying their collective motions through a million time steps. Scientists said it was the first simulation to study multi-bubble nuclei without relying on artificial conditions.

Understanding the behavior of such bubbles could help engineers design more efficient power stations.