Casaubon's Book

Will Quantum Fusion Save the Day?

The Astrophysicist, when he has time, will have something to say about his reading of the physics of the material Tom Whipple sums up.

This situation however seems to be changing following a lengthy interview with a fellow out in Berkeley, California by the name of Robert Godes of Brillouin Energy. He has been working in this field for the last ten years and says that he not only has a reliable heat-producing device, but also understands the physics behind it – which he calls the Quantum Fusion Hypothesis. He says that this theory of just how low-energy nuclear reactions work has allowed the development of a device which produces heat immediately and reliably. Most interestingly, Godes says he has shared his insights with scientists at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratories and SRI International, one of the leading US laboratories investigating the phenomenon. He says that both have verified that his theory does indeed work and that they can now produce heat from hydrogen every time they try.

Godes’ hypothesis is interesting for those with even a smattering of physics in their background. First of all, he holds that the heat which is coming from infusing hydrogen into nickel or palladium is not coming from “cold fusion” in the classic sense of the term. It is not a deuterium fusing with deuterium reaction as takes place in the sun or H-bombs and which requires extremely high energies.

What seems to be happening in this new kind of fusion is that when hydrogen is “loaded” into nickel or palladium and subjected to the proper kind of an electromagnetic pulse, the hydrogen nucleus which is a positively charged proton acquires an electron which turns it into a low energy free neutron. Now a low energy free neutron is something very nice to have for it quickly combines with other protons to form deuterium, tritium and finally quadrium. The quadrium only lasts for an instant before undergoing a process called beta decay turning it into helium. This is where Einstein and E = MC2 comes in. The beta decay of quadrium results in a loss of mass which is turned into heat. If all this pans out as claimed, it could be one of the most important secrets of nature that has ever been discovered, for our energy problems are over.

Without the flow caliormetry, it is pretty hard to say whether there’s anything under the smoke and mirrors – and who knows, there may be. At this particular juncture, as I personally understand it (not that my understanding is worth much), atomic mass remains constant when the conditions for changing protons to neutrons exists and decay energy is always smaller, but I’m certainly not the person to evaluate these results.

That said I’m inclined to skepticism – hang around energy issues long enough and you find lots of people saying they can contravene the laws of physics, or invent new ones. What makes this even worthy of consideration is that it comes from Tom Whipple, who is incredibly smart and knows energy issues really well. Still, Whipple seems to be going out of his way to overstate things, perhaps anticipating skepticism.

Eric’s rather dry comment in his first reaction to Whipple’s mention that it is “not yet a theory” was “Ummm…yes, you could say it is definitely not yet a theory.” In fact, it isn’t even in the ballpark of a theory – it is one person’s hypothesis with data that has not been released, no peer reviewed papers on the subject whatsoever, in an application where he is attempting to find commercial funding. No, definitely not a scientific theory, or even in that ballpark. Which doesn’t mean it won’t become one someday.

I admit, though, I find myself thinking of Richard Feynman’s comments on perpetual motion machines. This is not the same thing, of course, but it is a useful cautionary tale to remember:

Mr. Papp talked about how the motor worked, using vague and complicated phrases about radiation, atoms, different levels of energy, quanta, and this and that, all of which made no sense whatsoever, and would never work.

But the rest of what he said was important, for every fraud has to have the right characteristics: Mr. Papp explained that he had tried to sell his engine to the big automobile companies, but they wouldn’t buy it because they were afraid it would put all the big oil companies out of business.

So there was obviously a conspiracy working against Mr. Papp’s marvelous new engine. Then there was a reference to the magazine articles, and an announcement that in a few days the engine was going to be sent to the Stanford Research Laboratory for validation. This proved, of course, that the engine was real. There was also an invitation to prospective investors to get in on this great opportunity to make large amounts of money, because it was very powerful. And there was a certain danger!

There were quite a few wires running from the engine down to where Mr. Papp and the spectators were standing, into a set of instruments used for measurement; these included a variac, a variable transformer with a dial which could put out different voltages. The instruments were, in turn, connected by a cord to an electrical outlet in the side of the building. So it was pretty obvious where the power supply was.

The engine started to go around, and there was a bit of disappointment: the propeller of the fan went around quietly without the noise of an ordinary engine with powerful explosions in the cylinders, and everything- it looked very much like an electric motor.

Mr. Papp pulled the plug from the wall, and the fan propeller continued to turn. ‘You see, this cord has nothing to do with the engine; it’s only supplying power to the instruments,’ he said. Well, that was easy. He’s got a storage battery inside the engine. ‘Do you mind if I hold the plug?’ I asked? ‘Not at all,’ replied Mr. Papp, and he handed it to me.

It wasn’t very long before he asked me to give me back the plug. ‘I’d like to hold it a little longer,’ I said, figuring that if I stalled around enough, the damn thing would stop.

Pretty soon Mr. Papp was frantic, so I (Richard Feynman) gave him back the plug and he plugged it back into the wall. A few moments later there was a big explosion:

I’m not claiming this is a scam at all, or that if it is, it is an intentional scam like the one above. What I would say is that there is a reason why most devices that seem unlikely are, and skepticism is the appropriate human response. We have yet to see a high-EROEI device that didn’t come with significant unintended consequences – if this was one, it would be the VERY FIRST in human history.

While I’m going to wait for the astrophysicist to comment on the physics, I do think I might add something is with the hyperbolic bits of this essay, such as when Whipple says “our energy problems are over!” Because even if this were true, the above statement represents a non-sequitur in its most literal sense – something that does not follow from the previous statement. I don’t blame Whipple for going there, but because so many people do, I think it is worth unpacking why this is not necessarily true.

So let us imagine that in fact, such a limitless source of energy does exist. Does it actually solve all our energy problems? Because this is a real and interesting and important question – and one many people believe to be the case. In fact, I would argue that the reason we need to talk about this is that the assumption that something being possible solves the problem is incredibly pervasive even among well educated people who ought to know better.

Last year I had the pleasure of spending an hour talking with (some might say grilling ;-)) my Congressman, Paul Tonko, about energy and fuel issues. At one point in our rather lively discussion, Tonko talked about ethanol and its returns. I argued that he was overstating the returns – and realized shortly that he was conflating cellulosic and algae ethanol with corn ethanol production – and speaking about AS THOUGH those latter two things were already real and widely available. When I called him on that, Tonko agreed that neither one of those were ready for prime time, but rejected the idea we should speak only about the technology as it stands now, because, of course, the fact that we know we can make ethanol on a very small scale from these things means it will inevitably become a near-term factor. In fact, it is nothing of the sort – neither one is fully ready for prime time or at all cost competetive, so when we speak about ethanol as an energy source RIGHT NOW we are talking almost entirely about food (Corn, mostly in the US) going to produce gas, and that’s so far neither scalable or without consequences.

I mention this not to pick on Paul Tonko who I think is awfully smart and an extremely congressman, but to point out how universally we believe that technology IN AND OF ITSELF is right there to save us simply by existing. That is, because things exist, we tend to assume that economic, social and technological barriers will magically be overcome. And yet, that’s not true – we’ve known, for example, how to use hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism for a very, very long time, and yet the once much-touted “hydrogen economy” has never become even remotely real, because of technical and economic issues. Technical feasibility, despite our desires and assumptions, does not translate into “make it so.” We often assume it does, but that isn’t factually correct, as I wrote in this essay:

One of the hardest concepts for many Americans to absorb is this – that technical feasibility rests on a complex bed of other feasibilities and never stands alone. Thus, simply observing that it is technically possible to, say, create zero impact cities or to run our cars on corn waste does not usefully tell us whether we are going to do so or not. This historical reality stands in stark contrast to the perceptions that many of us have, which is that technology operates as a kind of vending machine into which one puts quarters and gets inevitable results.

For example, it has been technically possible to eliminate most causes of death in childhood for the world’s poor for thirty to forty years, and periodically the UN and other agencies explain how this might technically come about. But without other base elements of feasibility – a real commitment to saving impoverished children worldwide – it turns out that it is technically infeasible.

The same, of course, is true of addressing climate change and peak energy – it was wholly technically feasible for us to begin transitioning to a renewable energy economy in the 1970s, and had we done so, both issues would be vastly more manageable and comparatively minor concerns. It is still technically feasible, although enormously difficult, that we could drop industrial emissions dramatically or reduce our fossil fuel consumption. It is not, however, economically or politically feasible that we do so, as evidenced by the fact that we’re not, despite emergent consequences.

We are in the habit of forgetting the basis of will, energy and money that technical capacities rest on – we assume that because an outcome is desirable, it is therefore likely. But low infant mortality is eminently desirable, something I suspect most of us can agree on – and there are no major technical barriers.

I’m willing to concede that if this does work as described, we are probably looking at an incredibly high EROEI. If it turns out as claimed that heat and water are the only outputs (and not any of those neutrons or beta radiation), that the casing materials are not consumed and it turns out to be fairly easy to build them, the research gets published, verified and duplicated rapidly and production gets started on multiple fronts, and we have time and resources to get the kinks out, find the funding, run the demo plants, see how the long term unintended consequences if any shake out, the retrofit our entire society, I can totally hang up my hat on peak oil and turn to writing about other stuff – I’m assuming I’ll write cute stories about my kids and post pictures of cats like most folks on the web. And hey, that’ll give me loads more time for my garden.

By any chance did you notice the chain of things that are necessary to getting from an article about a hypothesis on which we have no data to “hey, I’m going to put some shrimp on the quantum fusion-powered barbie tonight!” There were quite a few of them, weren’t there? Now it is taken as a given in our larger culture that those are trivialities can be erased by something we call “innovation” and “market forces” – which we really translate as “our ability to make all this stuff happen.” Unfortunately, when we look back at the history of technology, what we find is that innovation alone, market forces alone don’t work all that well in many cases. Sometimes they do – the amazing cases are pretty easy to spot. But neither is it that difficult to spot examples of things that we could technically do, that would have been an awesomely great idea, but that didn’t happen, despite ingenuity and resources.

Even if all of the ducks that need to be in a row to make this happen are there, we need to remember two other things. The first one is that solving our energy problems may not solve our other fundamental problems. I know Tom Whipple understands the distinction, but it would be an easy mistake for a reader to translate “energy problems” to mean “problems.” For example, if climate is as sensitive as some scientists suggest, the time frame for development of this technology may not be sufficient to have it come online before we’ve crossed critical climate tipping points.

Now having all the energy we want and no limits on its use would certainly help us mitigate an extreme climate disaster, but there’s really no evidence that it would be ENOUGH.

It would be great if, for example, we could run air-conditioners 24/7 without worrying for billions of people as the planet heat up, or afford to medivac in people with free electric emergency vehicles, but a planet eating up 1/5 or more of its economic resources annually in disaster mitigation is still going to be a planet in crisis. The same is true with our agricultural and other ecological crises – more energy can help in some measure. But it would be a huge mistake to believe that energy alone is sufficient. Add in a considerable time frame to get from 0-60, and it behooves us to be cautious even if we think this would work. Collapsed societies historically have a hard time bringing major new technologies on line – this resource would have to come into play at the right moment – and the last possible moment to do so get closer all the time.

In fact, most collapsed societies have collapsed WITH the means to avoid collapse within their technical grasp, as Jared Diamond so eloquently describes in _Collapse_ – most of them could have planted more trees, or not drawn down their resources so rapidly. They had all the tools in place to prevent a disaster – and didn’t. One can easily make a compelling case that we too have needed no technologies that we did not have at any point in this process – had we started shifting to renewable energies earlier in the game, as was proposed in the 1970s, we too could avoid crisis. Technologies themselves are not saviors. This is hard to remember, but critical – technology is great, but it always has unintended consequences, and in the end, usually doesn’t make or break societies.

It would be wise to remember this bit from the 30 year Update of The Limits to Growth:

“The most common criticisms of the original World3 model were that it underestimated the power of technology and that it did not represent adequately the adaptive resilience of the free market. It is true that we did not include in the original World3 model technological progress at rates that would automatically solve all problems associated with exponential growth in the human ecological footprint….[But] in several scenarios we test accelerated technological advance and possible future technical leaps beyond these ‘normal’ improvements. What if materials are almost entirely recycled? What if land yield doubles again and yet again? What if emissions are reduced at 4% per year over the coming century?

Even with such assumptions, the model world tends to overshoot its limits. Even with the most effective technologies and the greatest economic resilience that we believe is possible, if these are the only changes, the model tends to generate scenarios of collapse.” (TLTG:TTYU p. 204-5)

Whether this discovery turns out to be true or false, the question of whether it or anything else can “save” us in the sense most people would like to be saved – let us go on as we have been – is dependent on a number of variables that go beyond “can we build it.” At a minimum, it seems wise not to put too many eggs in any basket, for it is perfectly possible to imagine us with a solution at our fingertips that is still out of our functional reach.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 barath
    April 30, 2012

    I’ve also been wondering what’s up with Tom Whipple’s posts lately, since he’s been really focusing a lot of attention on it. His usual balanced approach seems to have disappeared on this topic, and it’s partly what inspired me to write a little speculative take a few weeks back on what might happen if we did in fact have such a high-EROEI fusion device:

    contraposition.org/blog/2012/03/20/if-only-we-had-free-energy/

    I think the main point is that a) taking an invention from a lab and producing reliable, safe, and cheap energy from it can take a long time (years if not decades) and b) institutions and infrastructure change slowly, so it’s not clear that a fusion invention will avert the problems already underway due to peak oil and climate change.

  2. #2 Bernie Koppenhofer
    April 30, 2012

    “when we look back at the history of technology, what we find is that innovation alone, market forces alone don’t work all that well in many cases. Sometimes they do – the amazing cases are pretty easy to spot” Looking at those “amazing cases” you find they all include amazing increases in productivity. Does LENR fit the “amazing” classification? I think it does.

  3. #3 Greenpa
    April 30, 2012

    “not to pick on Paul Tonko who I think is awfully smart and an extremely congressman,”
    :-) Interesting Freudienne, perhaps? And will Tonko properly appreciate being touted as an Extremely Congressman?

    Hey, could be. We’ve certainly got plenty of Extremely Uncongresspersons out there these days.

  4. #4 Brad K.
    April 30, 2012

    “we are probably looking at an incredibly high EROEI. “

    Two issues I have — one is, I am unconvinced the EROEI need by all that high. I mean, you do have to provide the hydrogen — produce, store, and apply in your heat device. I didn’t see what the tolerance for impurities is. What impact do expected, and unexpected, impurities have on the energy produced, and on exotic by-products?

    The output of commercial nuclear fission is pretty respectable — and diminished by the high energy demands of operating the power plant, plus the safety devices and procedures.

    My other issue is one you bring up. Building a power plant to turn burning coal or natural gas into electricity takes many years of planning, of licensing (after licensing rules, regulations, and laws are enacted), of producing and assembling materials and skilled craftspeople to build the power plant. As the energy source name contains the word “nuclear”, you have to expect the court delays and public relations issues that make building a nuclear power plant a 20 year effort today.

    If anyone thinks that converting an existing or recently closed power plant would save anything – factor in the years to dismantle the existing plant.

    Then there is my old scrap metal plaint. The cost in energy to produce metal is likely about the same as it ever was. But the economic cost of that energy and the labor associated with production and fabrication, those are orders of magnitude more expensive than they have been. Put another way — could we afford to build a replacement power industry based on this quantum fusion transformation (if it works) with the energy, money, and mineral resources available today?

    WWII saw a major transform of America in a brutally short period. That was an America with a lot of people physically capable and experienced at hard work. Today’s version of the younger generations that won WWII, can’t find work, don’t have the experience of hardship or hard physical labor and dealing with tough, tangible problems. The cost of failure was brutal and plain to Americans, during WWII. The cost of failure today looks like another application for public aid.

    I watched a part of Lethal Weapon (the first one) the other day. Notice the satchel-like “portable phone” Rigg’s partner uses on the overpass. Look how long it took for CB radios in the 1970s to become the Smart Phones of today. And cell phones, unlike a new power source, didn’t have to overcome opposition by entrenched industries, labor unions, or the persistent problems of health impacts from the silly power lines through neighborhoods and homes.

    If this energy source is useful — let us see one in a car driving a steam turbine for electricity generation. Let us see it power a de-salination plant, a railroad train, an ocean-going freighter. Heating a college campus during a cold winter.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    April 30, 2012

    I count four collisions that have to happen for this process to operate as described:
    p + e- -> n + ν
    p + n -> 2H
    2H + n -> 3H
    3H + n -> 4H
    followed by a beta decay
    4H -> 4He + e- + antiν
    where ν represents a neutrino.

    The first collision and the beta decay are plausible. What I don’t see is how you get the other three collisions to happen while conserving both energy and momentum (and have them happen before the neutrons decay via n -> p + e- + antiν). I don’t see any evidence of intentional fraud, but the underlying physics is, as Pauli put it, not even wrong. In stars, the way you get deuterium is via p + p -> 2H + e+ + ν.

    That’s in addition to the implementation issues discussed in the post.

  6. #6 daedalus2u
    April 30, 2012

    The problem with that idea is that when a neutron decays (half life of 12 minutes), it releases an electron with 782,500 electron volts of energy.

    To reverse that decay process, those 782,500 electron volts need to be supplied.

    Chemical bonds in a lattice only hold a few eV of energy.

    Everything I have seen on the various LENR is consistent with all positive effects being due to measurement error, sloppy technique and in some cases fraud.

  7. #7 David Marjanović
    April 30, 2012

    I share the skepticism of comments 5 and 6 and will apply the Holtz Mantra: wait for the paper… wait for the paper… wait for the paper… W4tP for short.

    What’s the binding energy of hydrogen to palladium? Is it enough to explain the heat?

  8. #8 Thomas Huld
    April 30, 2012

    Just to pile on the scepticism of the previous comments: the proposed mechanism seems very odd. Even if you do somehow manage to produce neutrons, the neutron absorption cross section of deuterium is extremely small, some 10000 times smaller than for nickel(*). So out of every 10000 neutrons generated, 9999 would be absorbed by the nickel for every tritium nucleus made. And that is just one of the steps. A quick look at some neutron absorption values for palladium gives similar results (maybe a few times smaller).

    (*) This is the reason some nuclear reactors use heavy water for moderator/coolant (water with deuterium instead of normal hydrogen). Because the deuterium does not absorb neutrons, there are more neutrons available to maintain the fission chain reaction.

  9. #9 David
    April 30, 2012

    Ask questions to the Brillouin!
    http://lenrforum.eu/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=196

  10. #10 Stephen B.
    April 30, 2012

    Unless I missed it, nothing was said in Tom’s report about measuring a helium gain either.

  11. #11 Broken Link
    April 30, 2012

    “Godes says he has shared his insights with scientists at. . . SRI International, one of the leading US laboratories investigating the phenomenon.”

    Heh. Would that be Mike McKubre, who has hitched his wagon to the cold fusion hypothesis, and is by no means a neutral observer?

  12. #12 Bruce Berry
    April 30, 2012

    Practically limitless power would kind of run into other limits, as “Do the Math” shows in an entertaining way –
    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/
    “Do the Math” is a real treat for people interested in energy, etc

  13. #13 Stephen Heyer
    May 1, 2012

    Actually, if you want to keep up with all things weird, Free Energy and LENR/Cold Fusion I would suggest http://peswiki.com .

    There are about 4 groups/firms currently claiming to be on top of LENR and to have commercial products months, just months away!!! From what I can gather two or three may, I repeat may, have interesting prototypes ready some time this year, but even going on what they say getting them to work reliably and uncontrollably (let alone safely) is perhaps years away.

    Still, just showing that it could be done would change a lot of things.

    By the way, about all even the developers have claimed that their devices will be able to produce is hot water with perhaps steam hot and dry enough for powerhouse turbines some time later. Mind you, near free hot water would be very handy, even lessen energy use in colder parts of the world.

    So even if claims that sometime in the future they will have boilers that can be retrofitted to current coal fired powerhouses turns out to be true, that is hardly a solution to our transport and agricultural fuel needs. Mind you, it would still be huge, retrofitting just the boilers should be something we can do even in the midst of a semi-collapse.

  14. #14 RogerB
    May 1, 2012

    It is posisble that Quantum Fusion may operate at a very different energy density (energy per m3 of reactor) from conventional fusion. However, we must bear in mind that conventional fusion operates at an uneconomically low energy density. The sun operates at about 300W/m3, compared with more like 300kW/m3 for a conventional boiler or reactor. With such a low energy density the cost of materials required for construction would limit its application to a few niche markets.

  15. #15 Neil Craig
    May 1, 2012

    The range od results from all over the world showing LENR is to extensive to credibly deny that something is ha[ppening. W£hether that means anybody is close to producing extensive reliable power is another matter. However it isn’t necessary since we can already produce virtually uinlimited reliable, cheap supply of electricty from nuclear and have been able to do so for decades. Shale gas appears similar.

    The problem is entirely political as can particularly be seen with shale gas. If an LENR system came online the Luddites would be out there desperately campaigning against it. If they had no other excuse they would invoke the precautionary principle that nothing new should ever be done until after it has been done for several generations and proven, in the opinion of these Luddites, to be entirely safe.

    “If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it…”—Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute.

    You know this is how the abnti-scientific Luuddites feel and it is simply dishonest to pretend tthat LENR or anything else could ever be acceptable to totalitarian fanatics like you.

  16. #16 Stephen B.
    May 1, 2012

    So far it sounds like the energy densities and temperatures are rather ho-hum. We already get rather ho-hum energy densities from thermal solar and that’s a non-polluting, “free” energy source too, though only available for a fraction of a 24 hour day.

    Neil,

    Of course the point you make about people fearing the consequences of an abundant, clean energy source is quite correct, but to pretend that there wouldn’t be such negative consequences is rather naive.

    By the way, do you ever get tired of name calling? (“Totalitarian fanatics” is quite a reach.) I don’t suppose you ever win any arguments or convince anybody in any discussions with such inanities. It’s never worked for me anyhow.

  17. #17 Sharon Astyk
    May 1, 2012

    Greenpa, I should change that, but I think I like it that way. I was thinking to write “extremely good congressman as they go” but this does it even better by accident ;-).

    Brad, from looking at what’s on their site, it doesn’t look like you actually need that MUCH hydrogen – certainly not on the scale that you would need to produce for a “hydrogen economy.”

    Bruce, I LOVE “Do the Math!”

    The difficult is that “coming out any time, independently verified by famous lab without anyone actually seeing the verification, proto-type in process, cloak and dagger stuff because the energy companies wouldn’t want this to exist…” is precisely the typical profile for a scam. It might be legitimate, but you can see the parallels perfectly in the Feynman piece.

    Sharon

  18. #18 Brian M
    May 1, 2012

    I’m never really sure what scares me more, the idea that there is no cheap-clean-limitless replacement for fossil fuels, or that there might be.

    Ignoring my confusion about how this process takes place within the constraints of the 2nd Law (and the really breathtaking rewrite of physics/science if those constraints do not, in fact, exist), I cannot escape the specter of human nature. What would we do if we discovered a cheap-clean-unlimited supply of energy? How would we behave? Can we really know?

    Well, yes, I think we can. Once before in our history have we discovered an energy source that was considered to be essentially limitless and cheap… fossil fuels, particularly oil. What happened in that case? Well, our population exploded, along with pollution, destruction of nature, over-consumption of virtually all natural resources, etc. I see little or no evidence that things would be different the next go round, except that we are now much, much closer to the ultimate, practical limits to growth on a finite sphere.

    So, while part of me hopes the skepticism is proven unfounded, another part of me genuinely worries about whether we humans are sufficiently wise to be trusted with such knowledge. Personally, I suspect not.

  19. #19 Jack Richardson
    May 1, 2012

    There have been a lot of devices over the last few decades, not just cold fusion, that have claimed mysterious energy release in excess of that input. All of them have shared a couple of elements – big lumps of copper, and very high voltage electricity. If the high voltage electron flow were acting as a defacto accelrator, and colliding beta particles with copper nuclei, perhaps they are converting a proton in the copper into a neutron (thus forming zinc), with an energy release as heat in the form of an excited nucleus. Has anyone ever looked for zinc being produced in one of these?

  20. #20 Ben
    May 1, 2012

    The “debunking” of cold fusion, aka LENR, aka quantum fusion, was largely based on scientific fraud committed at MIT in 1989. This is the allegation of the head of MIT’s science information office at the time, the late Dr. Eugene Mallove. He alleges this fraud was perpetrated to ensure that MIT continued to receive tens of millions of dollars for its thermonuclear fusion program (“hot fusion”). The report containing this allegation is quite long but the documentation to support the charge is extensive and well worth the read.

    MIT and Cold Fusion: A Special Report

  21. #21 nate
    May 1, 2012

    Helium is listed as the final a product of the reaction. If this is true then this is exchanging water for helium which is then lost to the atmosphere and outer space

  22. #22 Jockaira
    May 1, 2012

    To Nate #21: This should not be a source for worry as implied by your use of the word “lost”. The Earth’s oceans contain about 310 million cubic miles of water. Assuming this hypothetical energy generation scheme would use water at a rate (total guess) of a million tons per year, my calculations (shaky at best) say that water should last about 1.5 million years.

    Sometime during those 1.5 million years, at least a few people will have the brains to outfit companies to extract water from asteroids and such.

    Trading helium for water is probably a pretty good deal as we will soon be experiencing an absolute dearth of the element earthside without stringent conservation and the developement of new sources or techniques of helium mining.

    Like many others here, I am also skeptical this energy system will work as advertised. It sounds way too much like “pie in the sky”. I’m not holding my breath.

  23. #23 James Singmaster, III, Ph. D.
    May 2, 2012

    If you release energy trapped in atoms, where does it go except to increase heat energy eventually in the environment to cause more warming. Once it becomes heat energy that energy just has to pile up in the environment. Can any one claim that the energy released will some how leave our earth biosphere and not add to CC.
    Where we are missing the boat is in our mishandling of organic wastes, especially biowastes. Biowastes are an already harvested biofuel supply system that will be forever available. But our mishandling of them is allowing germs, toxics and drugs in them chances to escape to cause health dangers such as we have seen over the past few years with E. coli, listeria and salmonella and with EPA’s putting limits on several hormones showing up in some drinking water. A process called pyrolysis could reverse CC while destroying those hazards, as I have pointed out in numerous comments to NYTimes Dotearth and Green Blogs, to NRDC’s Switchboard blog and to Yale’s E-360 blog site.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, Environmental Chemist, Ret., Fremont, CA

  24. #24 Darrell
    May 2, 2012

    Re: Stephen Heyer “hardly a solution to our transport and agricultural fuel needs”

    Boiler-produced electricity can power electrified transportation – battery-electric cars and catenary-supplied railroads – and don’t forget steam-powered locomotives and ships. If this technology works.

  25. #25 Rade
    May 2, 2012

    The disconnect between something being technically feasible and practically available brings to mind an analogy from history. Toward the end of WWII Nazi Germany was in the process of developing, and had in many cases deployed, advanced weaponry that was technologically superior to anything the allies possessed (V2 rockets, jet fighters and bombers, the first assault rifle, and their work towards atomic weapons for example). Despite the technological advantage of these weapons, due to the lack of strategical materials to build them, along with the destruction of the industrial and transportation infrastructures to produce them on a large scale, these technological advances did not turn the tide of the war for the Germans.
    A similar case could be made that our financial, industrial, and transportation infrastructures are in no shape to handle a massive transformation to a new source of energy, regardless of whether it works or not.

  26. #26 Kate
    May 2, 2012

    Even if it were possible (and I can’t find anything that indicates it is), unlimited, cheap, clean energy is not going to solve all our problems. With more energy we’d have more people, more need for all the other limited resources, ever expanding enroachment on habitat, continued extinction of species, and people would continue to use that energy for evil not for good- building ever more dangerous weaponry and instruments of destruction, pain and control. No- the best thing that could possibly happen is for us to run out of cheap, easy energy. Its a blessing in disguise.

  27. #27 Neil Bates
    May 2, 2012

    Anyone remember “light element fission”? Yeah, the curve of *average* binding energy has a peak at Fe isotopes, but that’s just an average. It is possible to find suitable light elements that can produce energy in fission, I think some Li and B etc. It was worked on, not very successful, anyone around who can tell us more?

  28. #28 Bellona
    May 3, 2012

    işte böyle fusion will quantum konulardan bir bilgiler başarıl bir makale olmuş. bu durumlarda yapılacak şey tebirki etmekten ibarettir. burda bellona mobilyadan geçene ayaldığım koltuğunda rahitım düşkün bir şeklide sizin bloğunuzu takip ediyor. soçk başarılı çalışımara imza attığın için qoantomes hakler kaytı demet sizde save olarak ifade ediyoho isterek bir durumda olsa konuhus güzel hoşçakalın kendinize iyi bakın.

  29. #29 NC
    May 3, 2012

    Steophen B I am not trying to convince you, I am trying to convince any reader with an open mind, by winning the argument. By winning I mean putting up factual arguments which are so clearly unanswerable that opponents have to descend to ad homs or censorship.

    If you personally were open to persuasion by reason you would have been far more critical of all the other “sciencebogs” sites which had to resort to these tactics than of my comparatively mild criticism of the “environmental” movement. And indeed equally critical of everybody in the movement who has been equally critical of Big Business, devil wiorshipping scientists and the rest. In fact you were not only so hypocritical as not to denounce far worse than what you now claim to be horrified by, but you eagerly joined in.

    Nate #21 thank you for providing proof of what I said
    “If an LENR system came online the Luddites would be out there desperately campaigning against it. If they had no other excuse they would invoke the precautionary principle that nothing new should ever be done until after it has been done for several generations and proven, in the opinion of these Luddites, to be entirely safe.

    You know this is how the anti-scientific Luddites feel and it is simply dishonest to pretend tthat LENR or anything else could ever be acceptable to totalitarian fanatics like you.”

    Anybody who knows anything about fusion knows that we could run the entire planet for billions of years without turning enough hydrogen into heliom to change the atmosphere by a trillionth. That anybody would make such a stupid argument proves the desperation to produce Luddite scare stories no matter how many millionfold they are from reality. Had anybody on the “environmental” side been even remotely interested in factual debate they could not have failed to correct such idiocy, but obviously they don’t.

  30. #30 Mark N.
    May 3, 2012

    Increased consumption of energy would be the likely result if a fusion technofix breakthrough does occur, ala Jevon’s paradox. Just what the world needs, eh?

  31. #31 Jon Gilbert
    May 3, 2012

    Just one thing wrong with your blog post: “unpacking” is what one does when one gets home from a trip. You meant to say, “explaining.” Please don’t make me explain why unpacking means that. I hate what is becoming of the English language, as it is being assaulted in the “space war” by academics and the “ground war” by idiots. How about going to space, then unpacking? That’s what I would call deconstruction in the academic space.

  32. #32 Stephen B.
    May 3, 2012

    @NC,

    Sharon’s is the only Scieneblogs column I ever read. I cannot “denounce” what I haven’t read, therefore I cannot be hypocritical over any of what you say. (By the way, that would be more name calling and labeling on your part.)

    Life is so busy I sometimes can barely manage to keep up as it is, so you’ll excuse me if I don’t fully parse Scienceblogs.com.

    As for Nate’s comments, you act, NC (Neil, I am assuming), that we Luddites are trying to keep it a secret that we think that unlimited free energy is something we think will go badly. Far from it. I am quite open about my position on the subject. As Nate so well put it, there is a lot to dislike about the idea.

    Let there be no mistake, I think there is something to be said for Ludditism here and there.

  33. #33 daedalus2u
    May 3, 2012

    Ah yes, the old “lets commit fraud to save a few million in grant funding while stifling human growth and allowing CO2 from fossil fuels to raise sea level by at least 7 meters and cause trillions in damage (and flood the MIT campus)” conspiracy.

    There is no good data that excess heat from what is claimed to be LENR is anything other than error due to sloppy work. Whenever experiments are well done, there is no excess heat. Excess heat only shows up when experimental technique is sloppy.

    Instrumentation is very cheap now. There is no excuse for using only a handful of crude measurements, but that is all that LENR proponents have to offer. If they have something, why don’t they show us that they have something by doing measurements that are sufficiently accurate and precise to exclude the null result?

  34. #34 NC
    May 6, 2012

    Well Stephen B somebody using the exact same name has commented in opposition to me on other of the “scienceblogs”.

    I am pleased you are now so open in your support of Luddism.

    I don’t know if youn or your namesake have noticed that the Luddite’s arguments against shale gas, or any of the rest of the technological progress they oppose, rarely invoke this adulation of poverty and medievalism and instead pretend there are, or under the “precautionary principle” argue conceivably might be, technical problems. EG shale gas coming out of taps, catastrophic global warming, peak everything next year, the new ice age, DDT killing all the birds, acid rain killing forests, ozone disappearance & all the other frauds.

    I would have absolutely no objection to any of these pseudo environmentalists debating their real agenda honestly. I trust youn will agree that anybody who puts forward false scare stories to gain power is scum beneath contempt and that anybody on their side who goes along with such false arguments is personally beneath contempt. I look forward to you to you shortly dissociating yourself from your beneath contempt allies. When you have done so it will be possible to say that there is a not wholly dishonest member of the pseudo environmental movement. Hopefully there will be a second soon.

  35. #35 Paul
    May 9, 2012

    Fusion, as a field, seems to attract an inordinate number of cranks and frauds. One should be extra careful of any unbelievable claims coming from it, just for this reason.

    Why fusion attracts so much scum is an interesting question. I suspect it’s because of the potential money to be made, and because even conventional approaches are tainted with dishonesty about the real prospects for their practical application.

  36. #36 NC
    May 11, 2012

    “One should be extra careful of any unbelievable claims”

    Wise words indeed

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