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    The Man Who Fell for Fusion

    Back in the 1980s, no one could replicate Pons and Fleischmann's claims about cold fusion, and the idea of controlled fusion without tremendous costs became a sort of atomic snake oil. ITER's tremendously expensive controlled "hot" fusion is still decades away from practicality, but the hydrogen bomb seems to suffice as proof of concept. Cold fusion has crept back into the news, but not into peer-reviewed discussion. Skeptics attack the few articles published with a fury. Peak Oil guru Tom Whipple is used to doubt, and has followed the issue dispassionately in a handful of articles. His Cold Fusion Update discusses the current claims of Italian entrepreneur Andrea Rossi:

    There have been enough developments in the cold fusion story during the last two weeks to warrant revisiting the subject. For those of you who came in late, cold fusion, also known as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), is a phenomenon in which hydrogen, under proper conditions, is combined with palladium or nickel to produce heat. If the reaction can be developed to the point at which it makes lots of heat safely, then the world will change forever as the ingredients for the process and the costs of the reactor appears to be very inexpensive. The process leaves behind no adverse products such as greenhouse gases, ionizing radiation, radioactive waste or even ash.

    Should the phenomenon prove economically viable, it has the potential of eliminating the need to burn fossil fuels for heat, light, industry, and transportation. In short LENR seems too good to be true and therein is the problem, for there is much skepticism that a new way of energy that has the potential to render all other forms of energy production - oil, coal, gas, wind, solar, biofuels -- obsolete can possibly be real.

    Leaving aside for the moment the sometimes acrimonious debate that is going on between true believers in the phenomenon and the hard-core skeptics and the lack of mainstream media coverage, let's review some recent developments. Last week at a meeting of the UN's World Sustainable Energy Conference in Geneva representatives of the International Society for Condensed Matter Nuclear Science gave presentations on the state of research on the LENR-Cold Fusion phenomenon. In short, numerous scientists from all over the world have conducted experiments in which they observed excess heat coming from combining either palladium or nickel with hydrogen. These reactions have been repeated many times and cross-verified by other labs, so there is now little doubt that the cold fusion or LENR can really take place.

    Further on, Whipple blithely notes that working units would probably emit gamma rays but that Rossi expects Underwriter's Laboratories to certify the e-Cat for home use.

    ... Rossi now hopes to be selling the newly designed 10 Kwh home heating units in the U.S. later this year for $400-$500.

    Apparently Rossi has never read about Dr Bruce David Banner. I have no idea at all if cold fusion is viable, but I can't help but believe that the plutocrats behind the energy utility companies would toss Rossi out of a high window rather than let devices that cost about as much as an Eden Pure heater (as seen on TV!) put them out of business.

    Update: Starts With a Bang, at Science Blogs has two recent articles debunking the Rossi claims :

    Cold Fusion: Is it Possible? Is it Real?

    The Physics of why the e-Cat's Cold Fusion Claims Collapse



    A few points:

    1. It's true that cold fusion is not like the perpetual motion machine or exceeding the speed of light in vacuo, in that there's no reason why it should be considered theoretically impossible.
    2. Most cold fusion research that I've been familiar with has not focused on generating more energy than is put in, but in generating nuclear byproducts in a more manageable environment. My understanding is that there is a lot of promise here.
    3. As for the specific claims here, if you have a nuclear reaction of hydrogen and nickel, you're going to end up with copper. If you have a nuclear reaction of hydrogen and palladium, you'll end up with uranium.
    4. I'll start with that last one first, since it's the most obviously bad. First and most fundamentally, there are no isotopes of palladium that when combined with hydrogen will release energy to form uranium (because the resultant uranium isotope would have a higher rest mass than the sum of its palladium and hydrogen components). Secondly, uranium is radioactive, so the idea of this being a "clean" reaction are questionable, but that doesn't really matter because of the first point.
    5. As for nickel, the most common isotope is 58Ni (atomic mass=57.935343). If you combine that with regular hydrogen 1H (atomic mass=1.007825), you'll end up with 59Cu (atomic mass=58.939498). 59 has a half-life of 81.5 seconds. Not clean. However, if we use 62Ni (atomic mass=61.928345) or 64Ni (atomic mass=63.927966), you do end up with stable 63Cu (atomic mass=62.929598) and 65Cu (atomic mass=64.927790), respectively. Both of these have lower rest masses than the sum of their components, so that meets both criteria, assuming that they're not just making stuff up, which given their statement about palladium…
    In short, I think they're making stuff up, primarily because of the BS about a hydrogen/palladium nuclear reaction, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible that one day someone might figure out a true cold fusion reaction.

    Addendum: as for using 62Ni or 64Ni, they make up 3.6% and 0.9% of the composition of naturally occurring nickel, respectively. So, if that was the plan, first you've got to figure out a way to separate those two isotopes. Otherwise, you'll end up with radioactive copper.

    In retrospect, if he's not completely making this stuff up (the most likely possibility in my opinion), it's possible that the energy he's receiving isn't from fusion, but from the fission of those unstable isotopes I mentioned, along with all of its unwanted radiation.

    So in other words your opinion is that this proposed fusion process is not worth a plug nickel?


    In looking into this further, I realized that the press release was perhaps oversimplifying things (this is unfortunately all too common). The palladium and nickel act more as catalysts than as reagents. Supposedly, these catalysts "compress" the deuterium (2H) so that it can more easily fuse with itself to form 4He. As Genghis points out below, there are good reasons to be skeptical of this.

    However, muon catalyzed cold fusion has been demonstrated, with the drawback being that it requires more energy than it generates. (That doesn't make it useless, it just means it's not useful for generating energy.)

    Yes, I found that this piece was quickly picked up at eCat News, and a commenter there wrote, "In Pd-D, the main reaction is usually reported to be D+D->He4" - D being deuterium. That would explain why no one was wearing shielding against gamma rays.

    I'm tempted to do a piece attacking zombies just to see who reposts it.

    As long as most folks think LENR (aka Cold Fusion) is a fantasy the Energy Folks hopefully won't pay attention to it until its too late...  Much like the candlestick makers.  In the age of the internet it may already be too late... the LENR cat is crawling out of the Bag.  The naysayers remind me of that Propaganda guy from Saddam Huessein's regime saying that the Baghdad was completely secure.. while bombs were dropping in the background. Its amazing watching the psychology of  this... what happens when there is a monumental shift in our capabilities....

    "the LENR cat is crawling out of the Bag"

    Nice choice of idiom

    Exactly... well stated Becktemba!

    Donal, there's a reason the phenomenon hasn't been peer reviewed and barely makes it into the mainstream press, and it's not because oil companies are quashing the news.

    Simply put, Rossi has no credibility, and his demonstrations have not been very convincing.

    That's not to say that the LENR phenomenon doesn't exist or that it cannot be commercialized, but I don't plan to get excited until credible scientists endorse it as a breakthrough or people start actually using it to heat their homes.

    Some more on the recent hullabaloo about NASA's interest:

    Cold Fusion has been the subject of hundreds of successful experiments beginning with the reproduction of the Pons & Fleishmann experiment at Stanford University by Robert Huggins and his material science group 6 months after the Utah work surfaced. The Stanford success was the subject of a paper in Fusion Technology, a refereed journal. See for excellent coverage of the field.

    The Rossi work may ultimately be proven not to be a nuclear reaction at all. See Page 10 at Cheap Green on the Aesop Institute website for a non-nuclear Nickel Hydrogen system that ran for more than a year with 8 times the input energy as output. See the Abstract there of the Final Report covering a USAF SBIR Contract to Thermacore in 1994.

    The Introduction to the Aesop website outlines a little recognized mortal threat from a solar storm which has the capability of causing meltdowns at hundreds of nuclear plants worldwide.

    Decentralized cost-competitive renewable energy must become an urgent priority asap. The Rossi work, with all his personal limitations, has caused many to begin to pat attention to Black Swans, highly improbable energy innovations with huge implications.

    That may prove to improve the odds of human survival on planet earth.

    The Pons & Fleischmann (& Hawkins) experiment very likely failed to properly calibrate their measuring devices. Later groups who thought they had recreated it (including one at my alma mater, Georgia Tech, where I was at the time this paper was published), later retracted their claims after realizing that they, too, had made experimental errors.

    As I said above, one day we might figure out how to do cold fusion. I see no evidence that it's happened yet, though, and plenty of evidence to suggest that Rossi et al. are mistaken.

    "Back in the 1980s, no one could replicate Pons and Fleischmann's claims about cold fusion,"


    What?  Yes, there were people who did.  NASA for one.

    It is wondrous strange that someone who went to jail for one scientific scam can decades later find people (including some scientists) prepared to argue that "maybe he got it right this time." Thanks for linking to the excellent Starts With a Bang posts.

    Cold fusion has been reproduced thousands of times in hundreds of major laboratories. These replications are described in mainstream, peer-reviewed journal papers. I have copied 1,200 of these papers from the library at Los Alamos. I suggest you review this literature before commenting on the research. See:


    Does this reporting cause cognitive dissonance?  Skepticism is always healthy.  Cynicism, not so much.  There's a reason why Tom Whipple is a veteran energy reporter.

    My link can't get past the spam filter.  So, there is an article poast 1/18/2012 at by Bian Westenhaus that is germane to this subject.  When the UL and DARPA and NASA are involved, perhaps more than cynicism is warranted?  Just saying.  You of course will judge.  It's under the energy section.  Title: "Is Rossi Looking at Mass Production of the E-CAT?"


    I respect Tom Whipple's reporting, but AFAIK he hasn't examined or explained Rossi's PetrolDragon experience—his arrests, imprisonment, etc. Supporters present this as persecution, opponents smell a fraud.

    Westenhaus' article notes that NASA has not mentioned Rossi or the E-Cat by name.

    Sending something to Underwriters Labs is vastly different than UL being involved.

    Do the Math has an informative post on not very cold Nuclear Fusion.

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