For those of us who have been following the “cold fusion” story there have been a number of interesting developments in the last few months which are worth passing on. If you missed all the excitement 23 years ago when the story of cold fusion began, the general idea is that when one loads hydrogen into certain metals and applies heat or electro-magnetic pulses, the hydrogen changes into helium releasing large amounts of heat and little else. There is so much heat coming from these reactions that it can only be nuclear.
Nuclear energy of the E=MC2 variety has been around for 70 years. All one has to do is to look at a picture of a hydrogen bomb test to grasp the idea that converting a small amount of hydrogen into energy via Einstein’s famous formula can produce really serious amounts of energy. Converting hydrogen into helium can theoretically produce on the order of 10 million times as much energy as ordinary combustion of a similar amount of material. It is the prospect of so much cheap and clean energy that has kept a handful of scientists plugging away at developing this phenomenon for the last two decades.
When cold fusion first surfaced at the University of Utah 23 years ago, many laboratories rushed to duplicate the reaction without much success. Twenty years and thousands of experiments later, we know that making such heat on demand was more difficult than it seemed so fiddling around in a laboratory for a few weeks, even a good one at Cal Tech or MIT, was not sufficient to duplicate the effect. This led to a problem which continues to this day. As you may be aware, the US and other governments have been spending billions of dollars each year on trying to produce controlled “hot fusion” with large, complicated devices that squeeze hydrogen into fusing into helium by overcoming the “coulomb barrier” or the natural repulsion of two hydrogen atoms. Despite decades of failure to make significant progress with hot fusion, many university physics departments, parts of the US Government, and many leading American physicists continue to administer or receive large grants to study “hot fusion.” Many had, and still have, serious conflicts of interest when it comes to pronouncing whether the competing “cold fusion” process was for real.
To shorten a long, complicated, and not very pretty story, much of the American scientific community pronounced “cold fusion” as junk science over the objections of the few scientists who were actually seeing anomalous heat. To this day the major scientific journals and magazines, wire services, and the vast majority of the mainstream media continue to ignore developments in the field. To make matters worse, the US patent office refuses to patent any new development in the field until the US Energy Department gives the phenomenon its blessing.
For over 20 years now, however, work to develop cold fusion has perked along well below the radar screens of the media and the majority of even well-informed citizens with nearly all reporting and discussion confined to obscure corners of the web. Even developments that would seem to be major advances in any other field have had no coverage. However, this is about to change.
In recent years, a few skeptical observers have come to admit that experimental scientists may be seeing ill-explained heat being created in their laboratory experiments, but it was only in very small amounts. These critics said, “Don’t bother us with a couple of degrees increase in the temperature of a beaker; come back when you are ready to replace OPEC.” While this is not going to happen right away, the idea no longer seems that far fetched.
In the last few months a number of conferences and international meetings took place at which scientists from around the world gathered to report on their progress as they conducted cold fusion experiments. Several of these meetings included actual demonstrations of cold fusion taking place. The upshot is that cold fusion is now moving out of the laboratories where it has been hidden for the last 20 years and into commercial development. There are at least six groups working on developing a commercial heat-producing products and perhaps many more we do not know about.
The Italian entrepreneur Rossi recently said his device has been certified as safe and he is ready to start delivering hydrogen powered heat-making devices this year. Rossi recently released details on preliminary tests, verified by outsiders, of an experimental device the size of a thermos bottle that glows at 1000o C. The field of commercial cold fusion devices, however, is still at the “Kitty Hawk” stage of development and it is likely to be at least several years before large numbers of devices make it to the market – however, the first is expected to be installed within the next few months.
The disturbing aspect for many is that most of this progress is being made outside of the purview of the scientific establishment which has yet to pronounce the whole phenomenon as valid physics. Indeed the actual science behind the heat producing nuclear reaction is still a matter of debate although many theories abound. The answer, of course, to those who remain skeptical is that there are simply too many respected scientists, universities, laboratories, and corporations that have been exposed to the technology, know that heat is being produced, and are actively working to advance the field.
The University of Missouri has set up a new institute to conduct research into the physics of the phenomenon and SRI, one of the country’s foremost scientific research establishments, has recently signed a contract to build a prototype of a “cold fusion” furnace to produce electric power. All this says the phenomenon is now well beyond the stage of “scam,” “fraud,” or “junk science,” and should be taken seriously by those concerned about the future of energy, global warming, and civilization as a whole.
Tom Whipple is a retired government analyst and has been following the peak oil issue for several years.