You probably haven’t noticed, but over the past year a few individuals and companies announced a breakthrough in energy technology so wildly fantastic that many believe it to be a scam (for good reason I would say). I personally believe in the truth of this breakthrough, I’ll explain why, but not before a little discussion of what has been supposedly discovered and why people don’t believe it.
Cold fusion is this idea of producing energy through fusion, which powers the sun and hydrogen bombs. The problem is that, unlike with fission, in the past decades we have not found a way to produce a fusion reaction without the immense heat generated by a nuclear explosion, and so we have been stuck with dangerous fission nuclear power plants which can meltdown and have radioactive products and byproducts. There have been some very expensive attempts at a hot fusion reaction, but to contain such a reaction would require an immense magnetic field, some crazy lasers, and billions of dollars per reactor.
Back in 1989 a couple of research scientists in Utah claimed they produced energy from a cold fusion reaction. They got a lot of press, and then no one could reproduce their results, so everyone assumed it was a scam. Since then scientific journals have stopped accepting articles on cold fusion, the US patent office has stopped accepting cold fusion patents, and scientists generally consider it a pseudoscience. This is somewhat understandable considering the immense amount of claims concerning cold fusion which have amounted to nothing.
So why have there been so many bogus claims in this field? What draws people to fabricate results and make lofty promises, even lie about this technology? And what makes it so hard to believe anyway? The answer is simply that by today’s standards, it’s too good to be true. We live in a pessimistic world where the more energy we use the more we destroy the world, the more we eat, the more we starve others. People have this impression that we are faced with insurmountable energy problems, that pollution and global warming will inevitably kill everything, and that we’ve doomed ourselves. This kind of technology offers energy at such a low cost that within 20 years the united states will not rely on the electrical grid, and houses even in third world countries will be able to afford home heaters and generators for little initial cost and negligible fuel cost. There would be no fossil fuel emissions, no pollution, just beautiful, abundant energy. Furthermore, desalination could take place on a huge scale, with the capability of boiling and transporting massive amounts of water, we may actually be able to solve our freshwater shortage problem. Naturally with so much to offer there is a great opportunity for exaggerated claims and scams. In addition to actual exaggerations and scams, pessimism is a psychologically stable position to hold; no one wants to get their hopes up, especially this much. Skepticism is also a scientific necessity, especially considering the history of this technology.
But I still believe that a breakthrough has occurred, and let me describe why. This guy Andrea Rossi claims he has invented what he calls an Energy Catalyzer, or E-Cat. The reaction is not technically cold fusion, it’s called a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, or LENR, and involves a kind of nuclear reaction between hydrogen and Nickel, forming copper. Rossi has demonstrated this to several customers who were satisfied enough with the technology to buy some 1 MW reactors worth millions of dollars, however no independent scientist has verified that the reactor is what Rossi claims. This is quite suspicious, and Rossi claims that all “independent” scientists he’s seen have been from competitors. Indeed, Rossi does have competitors, other companies claiming they’ve developed a similar technology which is more refined than Rossi’s E-Cat. The fact that other companies are claiming the same thing either indicates that multiple companies and individuals are in on possibly the biggest scam I will ever witness, or there is something actually going on here. Anyway, supposedly one of Rossi’s customers is the US military, and he might be talking with Home Depot about home heating units for this year in the US. A few respected scientists at NASA have endorsed the technology, noting that LENR reactions have been demonstrated hundreds of times.
Part of what seems to be making people nervous is that if what Rossi says is true, he is going through very unscientific avenues to announce and distribute this technology. Rossi himself is more of an engineer than a scientist, he says he doesn’t really understand how the reaction works, he’s just made it work by finding a good catalyst. Instead of letting scientists pick it apart, Rossi is just going to prove it works by selling it. A competing company, Defkalion, is likewise pursuing patents that would qualify their nuclear technology as a home heating device, not a fusion reactor. Scientists probably are upset that a discover like this could be unveiled through capitalist means rather than scientific ones, but considering the unwillingness of journals to publish Rossi’s work I can understand the direction he and others are taking. I even heard of a luxury boat company claiming they had cold fusion boats for sale: certainly not the humanity-saving image that many would like to be associated with this technology.
We’ll just have to wait and see how this all unfolds this year. I’m willing to bet that people are going to become much more aware of this development soon. I hope that this is the beginning of technological advances which reverse the prevailing pessimism today.
As a quick note, I titled this post “free energy” to draw attention to the phrase which is pretty meaningless. Already we are able to do the work of 100 men for three dollars a gallon of gas. Energy is pretty much free now, and while it will be vastly cheaper soon, it will always cost something.
update: as per the suggestion of a commenter I will include some links for further information
the wikipedia article, for what it’s worth
the official e-cat site
PESN is a fun site because the writers seem to be pretty radical in their beliefs in energy technology. they also have a business relationship with Rossi, whatever that means, and are very very strongly in favor of him.
this is a blog about the exciting new technology. his optimism and imagination reminds me of myself. he has a few posts about why there’s little reason to doubt this.
beyond that, I’m sure google can help you, and I know Forbes has written a few articles on it.
Posted on January 15, 2012, in Technological Singularity and tagged cold fusion, Ecat, energy, free energy, nuclear power plants, pessimistic world, Rossi, scam, us patent office. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.