It is nearly a quarter of a century now since two electro-chemists at the University of Utah held a press conference to announce that they had discovered a new way of extracting energy from the nucleus of an atom. For a few weeks the announcement of what was then termed “cold fusion” made headlines as scientists rushed to reproduce the experiment and explain the new phenomenon. Unfortunately it turned out that reproducing the experiment was very difficult so that most attempts at reproducing the effect failed – especially those at the bell weather scientific institutions of MIT and Cal Tech. A good dose of scientific jealousy also got involved in the situation.
Anyway, a panel of scientists (who of course knew nothing about the heretofore unknown science) was formed and peremptorily pronounced “cold fusion” a scientific fraud. The U.S. government then ruled the topic unworthy of federal funding and the U.S.patent office refused to grant patents on anything as obviously absurd as a new method of extracting energy from the atom.
The scientists who announced the discovery were sent off in disgrace and the whole field of inquiry was forced to the fringes, spurned by big science, the government and the mainstream media.
Around the world, however, a handful of scientists, some of whom were actually able to reproduce anomalous heat seen in the original experiments and who appreciated the impact that a new source of cheap clean energy would have on civilization, continued to work in the field, write reports and even convene annual conferences to exchange findings. As the years went by progress came slowly. A handful of U.S. government scientific organizations, notably the Navy, NASA, and possibly DARPA, became interested and began to provide limited funding.
Although the physics behind the phenomenon was not, and still is not, satisfactorily understood, a few experimenters reached the point where they could reliably produce small amounts of anomalous heat which seemed to be coming from nuclear reactions.
However, with rare exceptions the media paid almost no attention to what the government and mainstream physics still considered to be fringe science rather than the glimmerings of a new age. So long as the experiments were only small, producing tiny amounts of heat, critics could talk about experimental errors and no real proof the phenomenon was real.
A major change in the story took place about three years ago when an Italian engineer, Andrea Rossi, announced that based on the work of Italian physicists, he had developed a method of producing heat, presumably from nuclear reactions, by loading hydrogen into powdered nickel and adding a still secret catalyst.
Although Rossi held several demonstrations of his heat-generating device for invited scientists and members of the press, the announcement continued to be met with widespread skepticism that the “invention” was nothing but an elaborate scam. This opinion was supported by Rossi’s refusal to release the technical details of what was taking place inside his “reactor” until he could obtain patent protection.
It should be noted that Rossi is not alone in the pursuit of this technology, for dozens of other scientists around the world, many of impeccable stature, are reporting that the phenomenon is real. In the last few years at least three other companies have reported progress and announced their intention of building commercial scale heat-producing devices similar to the ones that have been demonstrated by Rossi.
For many, the lack of any independent verification of the claims of Rossi and others was a show stopper. Rossi took the position that if his devices worked, and produced the claimed amounts of heat, he would be vindicated.
About six months ago Rossi started talking about a panel of independent physicists from European universities that had been given access to his prototypes to conduct tests and verify that the device indeed produced heat and there was no trickery involved.
Earlier this week, the independent scientists, from Italy and Sweden, issued a report concluding that the three devices they tested not only worked but emitted heat at least an order of magnitude more than could come from any known chemical reaction.
The report did not delve into the issue of whether the reaction was of nuclear or some unknown origin. Moreover, the scientists investigating the device were not given access to the details of how the reactor works. They simply reported that it does produce unprecedented amounts of heat and excluded the possibility that this heat was produced by fraud or trickery. More extensive tests will be carried out this summer.
This report is only a beginning for it leaves many questions unanswered. It should, however, eliminate concerns that some sort of mega-fraud is being perpetrated, and confirm that it is indeed possible to produce commercial quantities of heat safely from small, inexpensive devices.
The next step in this saga is for widespread recognition to develop that mankind may not be trapped into burning ever increasing quantities of fossil fuels. How soon this will happen is hard to say for recognition that there is a new technology out there with the potential to solve many problems is close to zero.
Rossi says he has already shipped two working units that produce heat to customers and that they are expected to be installed shortly with some sort of public announcement. Ross, of course, is not the only game in town. Other announcements of commercial devices, which could well be more advanced than those shown by Rossi, are expected soon.
If all goes well, the real question becomes one of how soon this technology can begin to reduce the use of fossil fuels. This is tough to say for there will be numerous factors hindering its use. There are disruptive technology issues for the technology has the potential of replacing the fossil fuel industry, the electric power industry, and others too numerous to mention. There will of course be resistance.
On the other side, virtually unlimited quantities of extremely cheap, pollution free energy is very hard to resist. If the U.S. won’t go for it, I am sure some of our friends in Asia who are already strangling on their own pollution will.