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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

COLD FUSION

This Part 4 of my series on fusion:

Cold fusion is a room temperature nuclear reaction concept which had incredible potential for humanity, but has been rejected by mainstream science.   While there are variations (bubble and muon) of the theme, the effort that captured world attention was the announcement by electrochemists Stanley Pons and  Martin Fleischmann on 23March1989 about their tabletop experiment.  They claimed excess heat and production of neutrons and tritium.  This result could not be reliably repeated.  Reaction and condemnation were swift, as eight months later physicists nailed the coffin on what they called pathological science.  I still think this dismissal was premature and the peta-system (relative to ITER, for example) remains hopeful for a breakthrough in the future.  "Something happened," and in my mind, we don't yet know what.


A thought that occurred to me about how fusion might be stimulated at room temperature, and something that definitely should be explored, can be drawn from lightning bolts.  Recent experiments have shown that thunderstorms can generate x-rays, gamma-rays, and, even, anti-matter.  Astrophysicists once thought that only solar flares, black holes and supernovas could sufficiently accelerate electrons.  Well, if something so simple as atmospheric electricity can do so much, it is just a matter of time before someone smart enough can repeatedly accomplish this in a simple laboratory.  Benjamin Franklin, incidentally, might have first initiated this search.


First, how can cold fusion work when the temperatures and pressures are so low?  Well, I can get very mathematical and scientific, but let me just say that the process of electrolysis in a simple beaker using heavy water (deuterium oxide), utilizing a palladium electrode, can "theoretically" overcome nuclear repulsion.  Palladium somehow also provided a special catalytic role in a manner I can't understand.

In a way, I was there at the birth of this hypothesis and reported on those days in Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.  I actually hired an electrochemist to pursue this track:

The university hiring process is time consuming, bureaucratic and tedious.  Many, many months, more than a year, usually, to meet all the requirements.  On April 19, less than a month after this announcement, I hired Bor Yann Liaw, who had just obtained his PhD under Bob Huggins of the Stanford University Materials, Science and Engineering Department, specifically because he had just that special talent to initiate work in the field of cold fusion, and just happened to be visiting Hawaii.

Nearly a quarter century later, Dr. Liaw occupies the office next to mine on the Manoa Campus. Interesting that his son is now a student at Stanford, and two others I recruited, Luis Vega and Steve Masutani, both staff members of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, also have sons attending Stanford.  While Liaw is no longer actively involved with any research on cold fusion, he regularly updates me on the state of the field.

There are three scientific points of view:

  -  Physicists, who deal with fusion at a hundred million degrees Kelvin and pressures a hundred billion times what we face, and deal at terra scales with facilities like the Large Hadron Collider and ITER:  they don't believe and are large thinkers.

  -  Chemists, who can identify with desktop experiments:  they can believe and many of them don't mind developing something of value for humanity.

  -  Engineers:  who like to make things work:  they're willing to believe and feel compelled to doing innovative things to produce useful commodities and services for society.

Returning to the story of cold fusion, the field effectively died, where two Department of Energy (remember, their national laboratories are essentially dominated by physicists) panels, in 1989 and 2004, largely dismissed cold  fusion.  However, the window was left ajar in the more recent review for funding small experiments.  In 2009, the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (of course) hosted several sessions on the concept.  To minimize controversy, they now call it low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR).  Well, nothing much came from this gathering.  But about a year ago, CBS News provided details on the E-Cat, a cold fusion machine in Italy.  Just last month, U.S. News and World Report headlined:  New Burst of Energy Could Bring Cold Fusion to Front Burner.  NASA has filed two patents and is working with Boeing for aircraft applications.  Stay tuned.  For up to date info, check with Cold Fusion Times and  Cold Fusion Now.

All I can say is, back to the Renaissance Project.  Plug-in EV's are not doing well and no one seems interested in my direct methanol fuel cell, so, what about a cold fusion powered car?

Finally, here is a fusion process that works, my sunset tonight:



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Super Typhoon Jelawat, still at 160 MPH, is predicted by Stars and Stripes to weaken and strike Okinawa on Saturday, moving on to Kanto (Osaka/Kyoto):


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