by Josh Mitteldorf
July 6, 2012
THE WAR AGAINST COLD FUSION
PHILADELPHIA, Pa., July 6, 2012 -- You won't be surprised to hear about government censorship, but scientific censorship is newer to me, and perhaps I wouldn't have believed how devastatingly effective it can be, in the face of stunning experimental results and tantalizing technological possibility. I attended a conference this week at the College of William & Mary - the July 1-3 International Symposium on Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions - that opened my eyes.
Dismissed by mainstream scientists, denied funding and space in the scientific journals, cold fusion has occupied a scientific backwater for 23 years. Meanwhile, demonstrations have been repeated again and again, a great deal of know-how has been acquired and shared over the internet. The scientists who stuck with it have been vindicated, and once again people are saying that a solution to the global crises of pollution and climate change may be within our sights.
Cold fusion is a concept that was announced with fanfare in 1989 by a world-class electrochemist - not a household name, perhaps, but a scientist at the top of his field. Fusion energy is the power source of the sun and the thermonuclear bomb.
Tens of billions of dollars have been spent searching for ways to "tame the hydrogen bomb" for "cheap, limitless energy". Huge machines with giant superconducting magnets and dozens of the most powerful lasers on earth have been tried. That approach has never even lit a light bulb.
But in 1989, Martin Fleischmann told the world he had done it in a test tube. The world's energy problems were over.
Six months later, at a press conference, scientists from prestigious labs around the world lined up to announce they had tried to duplicate what Fleischmann had reported with no success. The results were un-reproducible. Cold fusion was dead, and the very word was to become a joke about junk science.
Along with the vast majority of scientists, I gave up on Cold fusion and moved on. 22 years passed. Imagine my surprise when I read last year that an Italian entrepreneur had demonstrated a cold fusion boiler, and was taking orders for 2012 delivery.
What a bizarre situation!
For a physicist, there are good, sound reasons to doubt the possibility of cold fusion. It is well-known that two atoms of heavy hydrogen can come together to form a helium atom, and release 5 million times more energy than if that hydrogen had been burned in a chemical fire.
But this can only happen if "the pump is primed'. An enormous activation energy must be supplied. The goal is to get the two hydrogen nuclei close enough to merge, but each of them has a positive charge, and like charges repel. In order to overcome the electrical repulsion - the Coulumb barrier - between the protons, you need 4 million volts, or a temperature as hot as the center of the sun. This can't happen in a test tube.
No physicist would say it's impossible, however. fOUR million volts sounds like a lot of energy, but it's actually much less energy than it takes to blink an eye. The energy is plentiful enough at room temperature, but the problem is to concentrate it all in one pair of atoms.
Left to its own devices, energy will spontaneously spread itself out - that's what the science of thermodynamics is all about. To concentrate an eyelash worth of energy in just two atoms is therefore unexpected and unusual. But things like this have been known to happen, and a few times before they've taken physicists by surprise.
Quantum mechanics plays tricks on our expectations. A laser can concentrate energy, as billions of light particles all march together in lock step. Superconductivity is another example of what's called a "bulk quantum effect'. Under extraordinary circumstances, quantum mechanics can leap forth from the tiny world of the atom and hit us in the face with deeply unexpected, human-scale effects that we can see and touch.
This is the reason that a physicist would say "Show me!" rather than "No way!" Cold fusion could possibly be another such bulk quantum effect, unexpected but not in violation of any basic physical law.
If you're not a conspiracy buff, it sounds like a plausible explanation for the oblivion in which cold fusion has languished: First, it was so improbable theoretically. Then it could not be reproduced. No wonder scientists thought that they had better things to do than to follow the newest claims and results concerning cold fusion.
This is where the political story begins to take over the scientific story. At the conference, this weekend, I heard one story after another about censorship and suppression - all whispered between conference presentations.
The blackout at mainstream journals, combined with similar prohibitions at professional meetings and funding blocks at every turn have crippled the professional communications process on which science depends.
At the LENR meeting this week, the field was clearly in disarray, with some scientists proposing experiments that had been done decades ago, and others continuing to promote long-discredited ideas. The cumulative effect had been devastating. Communications had been effectively disrupted, and progress impeded.
Elsewhere in the world, cold fusion science is in better shape. Italy, Japan, India, Israel and Greece are the world leaders. China is rumored to have a major cold fusion program. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are pursuing the pot of gold, isolated and in secret, defying the heavy hand of the US government.
Cold fusion uses as its fuel "heavy water', which is non-radioactive and can be refined from ordinary sea water. A half glass of heavy water costs about $50 currently, and it contains enough energy (after conversion to electricity) to supply the average American with electricity for a lifetime.
Some versions of the process require the element palladium as a catalyst, which does not get used up, but represents an expensive initial outlay. The commercial versions use nickel instead, because it is plentiful and cheap and works almost as well.
The onset of cold fusion is dramatic and unmistakable when it occurs. Much more heat is released than any conceivable chemical process could generate. The heat can be used for industrial processes , space heating or hot water, or it can be converted to electricity. The remaining problems concern reliability and control.
Whatever it is that makes it work, the cold fusion process seems to have a mind of its own, and decides when to turn itself on and off. Companies that seem closest to a resolution of these problems were not in attendance at this week's meeting - they're holding their cards close to their chests, hoping to be first to enter a huge and lucrative market.
A Greek company, Defkalion Energy, is licensing its technology, looking for manufacturing partners throughout Europe and Asia. An Italian company claims to have a million orders in hand, and rumor has it that the first units have already been delivered to the U.S. Dept of Defense.
I predict something dramatic is going to happen, and a lot of politicians and bureaucrats will have egg on their faces. They will claim that they were simply surprised, that they could not have seen this coming. "We are working as hard as we can to re-assert America's leadership in the energy field," they would like to be able to say.
It may happen this year.
For those of us whose eyes are open to the enormity of the earth's man-made ills, we have been pushing ahead on blind faith for decades. Gaia, as the ancients called the Earth, is in the throes of full ecosystem collapse, on a time-scale unknown in its 4 billion year history.
Mankind is getting his act together, with advancing democracy (the US may be an exception), with spreading sustainable technologies, with micro-miniaturization, with expanding respect for human rights and biodiversity (especially outside the US). But none of this is happening nearly fast enough to save our planet from an inconceivable holocaust. Cold fusion could give us the extra decades that we need to bring these revolutions to frution. Cold fusion could turn our faith into a tangible hope for Mother Earth.
E-Cat blog: http://www.e-catworld.com/
Defkalion Energy, a Greek company that claims to be close to commercialization: http://www.defkalion-energy.com/
Library of scientific papers: http://lenr-canr.org/
Forbes Magazine article: http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml
CBS News "60 Minutes" segment (2009):
Hour-long introduction and history from Stanford Research Institute (SRI): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtweR_qGHEc
Josh Mitteldorf was educated as an astrophysicist, and has branched out from there to mathematical modeling in a variety of areas. He has taught mathematics, statistics, and physics at several universities. He is an avid amateur pianist, and father of two adopted Chinese girls. This year, his affiliation is with the University of Arizona, where he studies the evolution of aging.
Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from OpEdNews with the gracious permission of the author and OpEdNews.com, where Josh Mitteldorf is Senior Editor.