Monday, January 21, 2019

FCC collider tunnel: Will Elon Musk save billions?

On month ago, we laughed about Elon Musk's new Hyperloop science-fiction futuristic mega-invention which turned out to be... a tiny useless road tunnel. Well, to make it more impressive, he has also built car elevators for cars to get there, so that the traffic through the tunnel is even slower than it would otherwise be. That one-mile tunnel of diameter around 4 meters had cost about $10 million.

Elon has bragged that he could save 99% of the expenses which is completely ludicrous because he just bought a boring machine, told his employees to read the instruction manual, and they did exactly what anyone else does with a boring machine. So as long as as the people and utilities and others are paid adequately and one compares tunnels with the same internal equipment, or the lack of it, they will cost almost exactly the same.

Today, as Pablo C. told me, Elon Musk has decided to revolutionize another field, particle physics. Here is the hilarious tweet:

LOL, that's just amazing. Hours after this blog post was written, media reports about the tweet appeared in The Independent, Business Insider, and elsewhere.

In a recent interview, a smart Elon Musk religious disbeliever nicknamed Montana Skeptic has quoted someone else – sorry, I forgot whom – who has said that Elon Musk's comments look intelligent to you before he starts to talk about a field that you understand. Ladies and Gentlemen in particle physics, here you have the opportunity to evaluate the validity of that quote because... Elon Musk has descended from Heaven and visited mortals in particle physics.

The stupidity in his tweet has exceeded my expectations. First of all, he responded to an MIT Technology Review tweet that has talked about the plans to build the FCC collider, a next-generation accelerator in a 100-kilometer tunnel, that would start as an electron-positron collider (just like LEP on steroids) and later be converted to a proton-proton collider (just like the LHC on steroids).

Now, if Elon Musk were willing to sacrifice at least 20 seconds of his heavenly time by reading the first two sentences of the MIT Technology Review popular article that was quoted in the tweet that he responded to, he would have known that no one at CERN is planning a "new LHC tunnel", as Musk wrote, and his response could have been significantly less dumb.

Instead, the LHC (The Large Hadron Collider) is a particular experimental device which has its own particular tunnel (just like Elon Musk has his particular body). If a different tunnel (body) were built, it would be a different entity, just like Larry Elison isn't just "another body of Elon Musk". It wouldn't be the LHC anymore. It would be the FCC. The tunnel of the FCC wouldn't be just new. It would be different – and almost 4 times longer – than the LHC tunnel. If the same tunnel as the LHC tunnel were enough for the next generation of the CERN colliders, CERN could just use the LHC tunnel tunnel itself – the same one – just like when the LEP tunnel was recycled to build the LHC.

I think it's not just a funny terminological typo. Musk must honestly misunderstand that CERN isn't building useless tunnels just for fun – which is what he has done under L.A. so he probably assumes that CERN is as "exuberant" as he is, if I have to avoid the term "idiot". CERN is thinking about a new tunnel because a new tunnel is actually needed for an experiment that would accelerate the protons to a much higher energy. And physicists want a higher energy because they want to probe phenomena in certain conditions that haven't been probed before – and that novelty is needed in scientific research. In his business, if a man wants to be celebrated as a futuristic inventor by his fans of the appropriate intelligence, more precisely the lack of it, it's enough to build the same tunnels as people built 100 years ago. But in particle physics, this kind of exact repetition isn't quite enough for progress.

Fine, we learn that (in July 2018) at the Royal Society, Fabiola Giannoti told him:
Ciao Elon, I've heard that you can build tunnels 100 times cheaper than everyone else. Why don't you build a new collider for us?
And Elon replied "why not, we shall save several billions of dollars". Here we're coming to another aspect of his cluelessness – which has already manifested itself during the L.A. stunt. He clearly doesn't understand that a significant fraction of the costs of real-world tunnels isn't the hole itself but some infrastructure that is placed in the hole, some lightning systems, exits, camera systems, whatever. If you avoid the expenses for this "decoration" of the tunnel, you end up with much lower expenses, indeed.

You know, this "not so subtlety" becomes extremely important in particle physics colliders because their tunnels are not just empty holes. They host some of the strongest magnets in the world. They're superconducting magnets kept at very low temperature – in the case of the LHC, it's 1.9 kelvins. That's colder than 2.7 kelvins, the temperature of the cosmic microwave background in the outer space! So the CERN isn't planning to build some minimalistic cheap holes in the Earth! The superconducting magnets cost something, you know. And each major detector at the LHC costs about one billion dollars, too. Relatively to the devices that are placed in the tunnels, the mere holes are just 10% or at most "two dozens of percent" of the expenses.

What are the costs of the bare tunnel needed for the colliders?

If you Google search for these keywords, you will find various sources. Let me pick a bit random 2014 paper so that I get the data from a similarly random place as a Twitter user probably would. On the page 2/10 of the PDF file, you will find out that in the 2014 U.S. dollars (some kind of conversion), one meter of the 3-meter-diameter tunnel costs about $5,000 in the Texan conditions of the SSC (Superconducting Supercollider, Ronald Reagan's project canceled during Bill Clinton's years) and $20,000 in the Alpine rock conditions of CERN (LEP costs from the 1980s increased by the inflation factor of 1.5 or so).

The LHC tunnel has the length of 27,000 meters which translates to $540 million according to the Alpine prices. The FCC tunnel would have the length of 100,000 meters which would translate to $500 million assuming the Texan geology and prices or to $2 billion in the Alpine conditions. Let's generously consider the greatest number among these, $2 billion.

If Elon Musk saves "several billion Euros" and if this phrase means "at least two billion Euros", he will build the tunnel at least for free! And if "several billion" means more than "two billion", then he will build the tunnel and pay billions of Euros to CERN on top of it. Which is exactly what he should do. ;-)

Now, the MIT Technology Review article lists a higher price of the FCC tunnel than what we estimated based on the past tunnels, namely €5 billion (the lepton and later hadron collider would add €4 and €15 billion). The increase may be partly due to using future, less valuable Euros, partly due to a selective higher inflation in the boring industry. But even with this number, it's implausible that Musk's company would save "several billions" because that would mean a saving of 50% or so.

Needless to say, in reality, he can't even save 20% of the costs because Boring Co. is doing almost the same thing as every other boring company. At most, with some adjustments, he could save several hundreds of millions of Euros, but the saving of "billions of Euros" is just a ludicrous statement showing his absolute cluelessness not only in particle physics but also in the boring industry. But even if the competition's costs were €5 billion and his would be €2-3 billion because of some miraculous savings or lower profit margins, I would find it irresponsible for CERN to assign this important project to such an inexperienced boring company, a company led by a man with such a rich track record of broken promises who can't distinguish the LHC and the FCC – and a company that can so easily go out of business. On the other hand, CERN could use the Musk-can-bore argument to push the real builders' price down – but I doubt it would make much impact.

Incidentally, one may look at the prices of the bare tunnels quoted in the arXiv paper and compare the numbers to Musk's statements about the cost of tunnels bored by his competitors. The tunnels with the 3-meter diameter are closer to what he built in L.A. The length was 1,800 meters or so. With the Texan, SSC-like costs of $5,000 per meter in the current money, the cost is $9 million. In the Alpine conditions, it would be four times as expensive, about $36 million.

Because the L.A. geology is arguably closer to Texas, the SSC's boring company would have built his tunnel for $9 million, almost exactly matching Musk's announced cost of $10 million. There is obviously nothing substantial (let alone "99% discounts") that he could have contributed to the construction of tunnels – so he hasn't contributed anything to the construction of tunnels.

Too many people have been turned into complete idiots by decades of anti-scientific propaganda about global warming Armageddons and saviors who save the Earth or the Universe by some totally inconsequential ritual. So they will buy literally any piece of šit, e.g. Elon Musk's claims about his revolutionary construction of tunnels.

Bonus: How much global warming was averted by Tesla

Let me just calculate another number encoding the absolute detachment of Musk's fans from reality. Because of Tesla, he's often painted as a top savior of the Earth who protects it from global warming. How much global warming has been avoided by Tesla cars?

Let's generously assume that all the recently observed warming – by 0.02 °C a year (and I overstated the number because I am generous again) – is due to the man-made CO2 emissions. Let's generously assume that Tesla cars make no CO2 emissions during the production – which is untrue – and that the electricity going to the Tesla cars makes no CO2 emissions either – even though most of it is produced in coal power plants that make about as much emissions as combustion engines.

Tesla has produced about 500,000 cars in its history so far. The total number of cars in the world is about 1.2 billion. I generously used a lower 2014 number by which I overstated Tesla's fraction as 0.5/1,200 = 1/2,400. So 1/2,400 of the cars were made "emissionless", with all my ludicrously generous exaggeration of Tesla's impact.

In 15 years, the global warming would be some 0.3 °C using the rate above, about 20% of it is due to cars, so it's 0.06 °C, and assuming all the cars mentioned above remain active for the same 15 years, Tesla's reduction of the global mean temperature would therefore be 0.06 °C/2,400 = 0.000025 °C. Twenty-five microkelvins.

Even if our beloved planet were threatened by that warming above, and it's not, Elon Musk has prevented twenty-five fudging microkelvins of that warming – and that is a vast overestimate because of all the generosity above. In what system of numbers may such a negative infinitesimal contribution be called "salvation of the planet"? A significant change would have to be at least five orders of magnitude larger. All those people who praise Musk because of "global warming", can't you realize how incredibly moronic you sound?

Just to be sure, the answer to this question obviously is that they don't realize anything. Under Musk's moronic tweet, there are some further responses and quite unsurprisingly, they mostly come from Musk's followers. So we learn that either the colliders are dangerous because they will devour the Earth, or they are Musk's Hyperloop with passengers who happen to be particles. Very clever, indeed.

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