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The Oil Drum

The Oil Drum

The Oil Drum seeks to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impacts on the future of humanity, as well as serve as a…

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Cold Fusion: Have we Just Taken a Giant Step Forwards to Abundant Clean Energy?

Back in 1989, during the craze of the “cold fusion” announcement by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, a colleague of mine told me about the theory he had developed. It was based on quantum mechanics, he said, and it would explain everything that had been observed in cold fusion on the basis of an adjustable parameter.

Alas, in the real universe parameters cannot be adjusted at will as in the memory of a computer. Cold fusion proved elusive; I myself spent some months at that time with a home-made contraption that should have produced it; looking for the helium atoms that should have been created. I found none and I was not the only one who was disappointed. At that time, practically everyone who had a physics or chemistry lab available tried. But nobody could reproduce the claims about fusion taking place in an electrochemical cell, not even the authors of the claims themselves. So, the idea of cold fusion died out rapidly; surviving mostly in the dreams of crackpots and conspiracy theorists. A few serious scientists kept working on it; there were more claims scattered over the years and a whole new term “LENR” (low energy nuclear reactions) was coined to describe the field. However, after more than 20 years it seems clear that it is not possible to obtain useful energy by cramming deuterium atoms into palladium, as Fleischmann and Pons had tried to do.

So, it would seem that cold fusion as a way of producing energy is something made of the same stuff dreams are made of. That was my conclusion after having worked on it and the reason of my initial reaction of total disbelief when I first heard of the claims of having attained just that dream by two Italian researchers, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi. Yet, in physics there are no absolutes: everything known can be disproved and, in the end, it is the experimental reality that counts. So, I noted that Rossi and Focardi, unlike Pons and Fleischmann, seem to be able to reproduce their result according to several reports that appear reliable. Then, a friend and colleague of mine went to visit Focardi. My friend is not an easily duped person and he went there ready to debunk the hoax. He came back rather perplexed, saying something like, “well, there may be something in this story.”

So, what is happening? Have we really made a giant step forward in our quest for a clean and abundant form of energy? Nuclear fusion, after all, is a common physical reality – it can be made to occur in the laboratory in a variety of ways and not just with the giant machine of the “ITER” project which attempts to reproduce the reaction that takes place in the sun. Another kind of fusion is well known and almost commercial: it is the version where a nucleus of boron and one of hydrogen react to form a carbon nucleus in a high energy plasma. This system goes under the name of “plasma focus” fusion. It could be used to generate soft x-rays, or neutrons when deuterium is used in the place of hydrogen. But can it be used to generate energy? Some people claim that it can; but surely it has to be difficult because the technology was invented in the 1960s and so far no energy producing prototype seems to be around.

Still, the “plasma focus” technology may be the prototype of a different class of fusion machines which don't try to fuse hydrogen isotopes together. They, rather, try to fuse protons (hydrogen nuclei) with heavier nuclei. Boron is the choice in plasma focus, but there are other possibilities. What Rossi and Focardi have claimed is that they have been able to fuse a proton with a nickel nucleus. It is a reaction that could, indeed, produce large amounts of energy. The problem with this idea is that there is a tremendous electrostatic barrier that prevents the positively charged proton from entering the positively charged nickel (or other) nucleus. Overcoming these electrostatic barriers in a practical device, usually, requires the use of high energy plasmas which need much more energy to be created and sustained than it can be obtained from fusion. Yet, if it were possible to reduce this potential using some kind of “nuclear catalyst,” then one could tap fusion as an energy source. It can be done and it has been done using exotic particles known as “muons,” which act as catalysts, indeed. It is an extremely complicated process which takes a lot of energy to create and maintain. Yet, at least it shows that “nuclear catalysis” is possible.

This is what Rossi and Focardi have claimed to have been able to do with their device that they called “Energy Catalyser”. They don't claim to be using muons but, somehow, they claim to have been able to activate and maintain the nuclear reaction of hydrogen with nickel by providing much less energy than the reaction then generates. They claim that the EROEI of the device could be around 30 or even larger.

So, have we found the magic trick to get abundant and clean energy? Could people go back to speak of electric power “too cheap to meter” as in the heyday of nuclear energy? Perhaps, but it is too early to tell. There are several details that just don't click together in Rossi and Focardi's claims (see, e.g., the article by Kjell Aleklett cited below). If we have to reconcile the energy catalyser concept with what we know of nuclear physics, we have to think of some truly exotic phenomenon that takes place in the reaction chamber. In physics, the experiment reigns, but the possibility of the experimental error is always present. That's why no claim can be considered as validated until the relative experiment is independently reproduced. That will take some time, you can't do physics in a hurry, but in the end we will know.

Some references on the “Energy Catalyser”

Kjell Aleklett's article. http://aleklett.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/rossi-energy-catalyst-a-big-hoa...

Wikipedia has a good page on the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Catalyzer

By. Euan Mearns

Source: The Oil Drum

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    I feel so bad that our government has let us down again - it appears that the Rossi E-Cat is going to fly under the radar, and the highly disruptive nature of this revolutionary cheap clean and abundant energy production technology is going to be ignored by the people that are supposed to protect us.I wonder what will happen when 100 trillion dollars in energy infrastructure is rendered rapidly obsolete. I bet the value of those energy assets will collapse, bring with it the world economy.
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    One day the Media who are meant to inform the people will rebel from their establishment censors and report this world changing event.
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    Fuse Hydrogen and Nickle?Have you looked at the binding energy curve?
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    The binding energy curve tells binding energy per proton. This is useful if fusing two atoms with same number of protons. In Ni + H fusion the binding energy increases by the amount needed to drag one proton out of Ni+1 nucleus.
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    I suggest that the author of this piece reviews some background research relating to Rossi and specifically one of his (deceased) advisors on this website :http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread669188/pg10(specifically the first comment on the page). regards
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    This is serious and REAL and the US government has been working on it for 10 years. Andrea Rossi has given three demonstrations so far including with professors from Bologna University and the Swedish skeptics society and the Chairman of the Swedish Physics Union. This is an directory of Rossi efforts http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Andrea_A._Rossi_Cold_Fusion_Generator. This is a link to the LENR site where detailed information about cold fusion efforts is available. www.lenr-canr.org/News... The US Naval Research lab has been working on this with positive results for over 10 years and has confirmed it existence. Rossi has announced a 1MW Cold Fusion facility to be opened in Greece this Oct. This will change the economics of the world lifting many people out of poverty and it will also threaten many vested interests. http://pesn.com/2011/05/17/9501827_Ampenergo_Amps_Up_Rossis_Energy_Catalyzer_in_America/
  • Anonymous on May 23 2011 said:
    I hope author is aware this experiment has been reproduced, in a smaller 1/20 liter size by the (Swedish?) Skeptics Society. The inventors oversaw the process but their hands did not touch the experiment at any stage. That sounds to this reader like third party reproduction. The 1/20 liter model produced greater results than the larger model by volume.
  • Anonymous on May 24 2011 said:
    Quoting M. Simon:Fuse Hydrogen and Nickle?Have you looked at the binding energy curve?Well if you spelled "nickle" correctly then your credibility would be a bit higher. Chances are you found that little phrase in the web and quoted it here just to sound smart.So at the risk of sounding optimistic, why don't we just wait and see. Evidentlly he's going online in October.This is why we buy lottery tickets, just might win.
  • Anonymous on May 24 2011 said:
    It's about time the press started covering this story - it's been around for long enough.
  • Anonymous on May 24 2011 said:
    Message in response to comment #7 by Kevin 2011-05-23 21:40 The skeptic society referred to is the Swedish Society for the Public Promotion of Scientific Method (VoF, for short). The Swedish Society for the Public Promotion of Scientific Method has not commented on Rossi's device. (Essen was not the chairman at the time of the experiment.).Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible, to reduce biased interpretations of results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them.
  • Anonymous on May 27 2011 said:
    We do not have a full understanding of how electricity works, never have, yet we use it all the time. Tesla was fully aware of quantum effects and these guys are learning. This "zero point" science and many others have been around a long time and have been suppressed by "the government". Do any of you really understand the long range restructing that would need to take place upon releasing a zero point energy source on the world? Not to mention the short term. Millions of investors ruined, markets collapse, financial systems fail, etc. etc. etc. Lions and tigers and bears, all dead, oh my. Think the housing market was bad, lol.
  • Anonymous on May 30 2011 said:
    OOOh the Swedish Skeptics Society ! Where does this concept that all scientists are the same and they can give competent opinions from all fields of science come from? Nobody thinks that people trained in humanities can give professional opinion of everything related to liberal arts. Hanno Essén is a docent of theoretical physics, whose main research and teaching subjects seems to be classical mechanics. A student with one summer in laboratory doing calorimetry and instrumentation would be more competent to supervise Rossi experiments. If Rossi wanted to end the debate, he could send the device to professional laboratory, and they could tell within 24 hours if it is real or not, without opening it, so Rossi could write a contract to protect his secrets. But for some reason he prefers to do the tests with people who don't really have proper specialization and are already so old that they are unlikely to learn quickly so that they won't become too competent...
  • Anonymous on May 30 2011 said:
    Scams can still be skillfully presented to people with the highest credentials (such as former DOD staff). SNIFFEX and the ADE-651, both sham "bomb detectors" (actually dowsing rods) that didn't do anything. The companies briefly convinced the military that they worked. (They sold millions of dollars worth to the US and Iraqi militaries.) How? (a) being all mysterious and proprietary about the underlying mechanism(b) staging convincing-looking demonstrations that lacked key scientific controlsIn other words, the same thing Rossi is doing.In the field of physics, we have: Podkletnov gravity shielding. The Shawyer "EMDrive". Whatever Mark Goldes is calling his contraption today ("Chava Energy" apparently). The Biefield-Brown effect. All got lots of attention, and a burst of government funding, but turned out to be various mixtures of fraud and incompetence. I think Tom Bearden managed to leech some grant money for his free-energy device
  • Anonymous on May 30 2011 said:
    ...Rossi's latest claims include 90 or so Ecat devices already operating in various parts of the world, but claims conspiricy as the media is no reporting anything about them. To finally prove to the media Dr. Rossi has now decided to make a 1MW plant supplying a factory because he knows that even a lot of E-Cats, cannot win the conspiracy of the academic world against cold fusion reality. Sounds like someone's been reading too much mad-scientist steampunk fiction. "They're laughing now, but they won't be laughing when my minions unleash the GIGA-E-CAT in my secret volcano lair! Mwa ha ha!" How about the boring alternative: hand out unencumbered e-cats to competent experimenters, who would quickly turn the "effect" (if there were one) from mystery-shrouded crackpottery into normal physics? Remember that the gold standard of science is "the effect can be reproduced and studied by anyone". Not, if I recall correctly, "We built one TOO BIG TO BE IGNORED."
  • Anonymous on June 21 2011 said:
    This e-cat technology looks legitimate (but not yet proven) to me. As far as I know, Mr. Rossi does not yet have a patent which may be explained by the fact that he is not yet able to explain the underlying phenomenon. I have some idea of the type of Nickel he uses and the process does not seem to "pull" a proton from the Nickel but rather it binds the Hydrogen nucleus ( a proton) to the Nickel. I am clueless about the catalyst which everybody talks about but which I have seen no reference to by Rossi. Can anybody tell me where this reference comes from?
  • Anonymous on November 03 2011 said:
    [quote name=""]I feel so bad that our government has let us down again - it appears that the Rossi E-Cat is going to fly under the radar, and the highly disruptive nature of this revolutionary cheap clean and abundant energy production technology is going to be ignored by the people that are supposed to protect us.I wonder what will happen when 100 trillion dollars in energy infrastructure is rendered rapidly obsolete. I bet the value of those energy assets will collapse, bring with it the world economy.[/quote]Presuming this isn't a hoax of course... Forward progress on proven technology shouldn't be halted because some random research group *may* have found a better alternative. Any current infrastructure can be removed or changed to fit some future purpose. It will be YEARS if not DECADES before this is useful. This engine only generates heat so far and only a handful of test have been made.

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