There’s always been a part of me that’s wanted to believe anything and everything about cold fusion. Maybe it’s the same part that gets all a fluster when I read science fiction as a device that can produce massive amounts of energy from just a small input is pretty much the key to unlocking many of the fanciful technologies contained within those worlds. Unfortunately for that small part of me my inner sceptic has become loud and proud enough that I can’t rationally entertain such ideas any more, no matter how badly I want them to become true. Still that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the field, as I am for nearly any kind of advancement in technology and science.
For the most part you won’t find scientists who work on cold fusion type products calling that due to the massive stigma that’s associated with the field. The term du jour is Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), which is a fancy way of describing the cold fusion process. One of the biggest proponents of LENR is Andrea Rossi an Italian entrepreneur who’s history includes all sorts of alternative energy generation. He seems quite capable of delivering results with his former company Petroldragon actually completing a thermal depolymerization plant that was capable of churning out 20 tons of fuel oil from 100 tons of organic waste. His other endeavour, creating electricity from waste, wasn’t as successful however failing to deliver on promised results. You can then imagine why people have been sceptical of his latest announcements regarding LENR and the possibility that he can build a 1MW plant.
His new device, called the Energy Catalyzer, is an interesting device. For fuel it takes only hydrogen and nickel and by virtue of the process produces copper. Now for an armchair scientist like myself this passes the initial sniff test as if you were, by some means, able to fuse hydrogen and nickel you would in fact get copper. Trouble is fusion processes usually take incredible amounts of energy and the best hot fusion experiments are still struggling to get above parity in terms of energy creation and usage. Still if there’s some as of yet unknown mechanism that can cause fusion to occur then we could be onto a winner here, but that’s not just the only hurdle the E-Cat has to overcome.
Since the beginning of this year Rossi has made several demonstrations of his E-Cat device in various forms. Most of these haven’t been public, shown to only a few invited guests at a time. Some of these guests have been independent scientists and whilst some of them have come away impressed far more have left unconvinced. Indeed reading about the tests it sounds like there are many unresolved concerns, most notably that he refuses to disconnect it from the power source that initiates the reaction (even though it’s supposed to generate power).
It gets even more mysterious when you read some of the latest developments in the 1MW demonstration reactor. Apparently the whole thing was a success but the only people who were allowed to see it were engineers from an undisclosed customer interested in the technology. I can understand an investor being cagey about pursuing this technology (it’d be a nightmare to justify investing in it) but not allowing anyone else to attempt to verify it does raise questions about how legitimate Rossi’s latest operation is.
As you can probably tell from the mixed tone of this article I’m torn between wanting to be optimistic about this technology and the reality of the situation. Sure it’s extremely promising and should it actually work as described we would now have a source of energy that would be nigh on unlimited. However with the cloud of concerns that remain unanswered I can’t bring myself to support the idea. I’ll love to be proven wrong on this however but as the great Carl Sagan said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and as of today I’m just not seeing it.