Monday, April 7, 2008

Cold Fusions refuses to die

Cold fusion

Unlike other so called "free energy" technologies, cold fusion refuses to die. The elite media have succeeded in burying other promising innovations, but this one keeps coming back from the grave. And the saga of its development tells us a great deal about the sad state of what passes for science in the world today. To understand what this is all about, we need to take a look at nuclear power in the broad sense. Nuclear power plants today use atomic fission to produce heat to boil water into steam to turn turbines connected to dynamos that produce electricity. The usual fuel is uranium, a heavy element whose nuclei, struck by neutrons, fission into lighter elements and, in the process, release some of what physicists call their "binding energy." Natural uranium is composed mainly of two isotopes, chemically the same, but with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. By far the most common is U-238, which can be fissioned, but does not release more free neutrons, so it cannot, by itself, sustain a chain reaction. Mixed in is a small amount of U-235, which does release neutrons. To produce enough power to be really useful, the uranium must be enriched by separating out some of the U-238, which is then called depleted uranium, and has other uses. Left behind is a mixture with a higher percentage of U-235, and this is the reactor fuel. To make a bomb, it would have to be enriched a great deal more. Although technically more difficult, it is also possible to build breeder reactors that convert U-238 into plutonium, which will sustain a chain reaction, or they can be designed to convert the element thorium into the fissionable uranium isotope U-233.

Physicists have known for a long time that it is possible to release binding energy by fusing light nuclei into heavier ones, although it requires an immense amount of heat and pressure to do it. The Sun fuses ordinary hydrogen into helium, but this reaction releases energy at a very slow rate. The deuterium and tritium isotopes of hydrogen are used in the hydrogen bomb, and release energy at an acceptable rate. Beginning in the early nineteen fifties, a heavily funded effort began to develop controlled hydrogen fusion reactors for power, using electromagnetic confinement with powerful fields, or inertial confinement with high energy lasers. After over two generations and billions of tax dollars, the geniuses involved in this lucrative career have failed to make a reaction last longer than a fraction of a second or produce more than a tiny fraction of the energy they have to put into it. There has been time for the grand children of the original researchers to be working on the project, and some of them admit that it may be another fifty years before they even pass the break even point and produce more energy than they consume. Of course, even that would not mean that it was an economical energy source.

For complex theoretical reasons, some physicists have long suspected that it might be possible to achieve a fusion reaction at vastly lower temperatures, if deuterium nuclei were absorbed and trapped between the atoms of certain metals, but it was believed that very little energy could be produced this way. In 1927 a Swedish scientist named J. Tandberg claimed to have made helium from ordinary hydrogen, using palladium electrodes, but was unable to prove it.

Then, in 1989 (nineteen years ago) two lowly chemists at the University of Utah, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, claimed that they were doing an electrolysis of heavy water using palladium electrodes, and that the reaction produced excess heat energy. Now heavy water is deuterium oxide; ordinary hydrogen has a nucleus consisting of one proton; deuterium has a proton and a neutron; and tritium has a proton and two neutrons. Unable to find any other source for the excess energy, they attributed it to cold fusion. Bear in mind that measuring the energy (in this case, electricity) going into a small container in a laboratory and the energy coming out is a relatively simple and well understood procedure, and any scientists worth his salt will test and retest, average results, and make every effort to rule out experimental errors.

Predictably, they were immediately attacked, especially by the hot fusion researchers, whose profitable careers and reputations were on the line. The reaction allegedly produced far more excess energy than cold fusion could, in theory, produce. In addition, while it might seem that two deuterium nuclei (one proton and one neutron each) could happily fuse into one helium nucleus (two neutrons and two protons), theoretical models for cold fusion indicated that there would also be some tritium and some free neutrons, which Fleischmann and Pons did not detect. In addition, the energy should be released as high energy gamma rays, which were not present.

So the attacks were not entirely without justification. But they went far beyond reason, degenerating into personal attacks by mainstream scientists who seemed to feel that, if they could not understand something, it could not exist. This is arrogance and narrow mimdedness that has no place in true science. Researchers at MIT attacked them, and Dr. Koonin of Caltech and Dr. Douglas R.O. Morrison of CERN accused Fleischmann and Pons of incompetence and delusion. The attacks were so virulent, that Dr. Eugene Mallove accused MIT of a fraudulent attack to protect their own hot fusion research, and Nobel Laureate Julian Schwinger accused the debunkers of scientific censorship.

Yet, largely ignored by the controlled elite media, the results were being duplicated elsewhere. Researchers at Texas A&M detected excess heat energy, as did a team at Georgia Tech, although the latter had some doubts. In July, 1989, Dr. Oriani at the University of Minnesota claimed excess energy production. By 1991 ninety two different research groups stated that they had produced excess energy, and some, but not all, reported the production of helium or tritium, or neutrons. Some of these teams, used a gas discharge system rather than an electrolysis system. In 2002 a US Navy laboratory claimed to have produced excess energy with cold fusion, and this was duplicated by the US Department of Energy in 2004. Most recently, a team at Stanford Research Institute, using the electrolysis method coupled with a low energy laser, produced thirty times as much energy as they put into the reaction.

There are really several issues here. Given the state of our economy and our dependence on foreign oil, we have essentally wasted nearly twenty years on a promising technology that, had it been adequately supported early on, might by now have developed into an economical energy source. The narrow mindedness (and, perhaps, dishonesty) of some scientists has been revealed. And this whole saga seems to point at some problem with our basic understanding of physics. For cold fusion may not be fusion at all, but some other process. This should make us wonder about some of the other energy systems allegedly developed in recent years, and perhaps claims of gravity control as well. This could, if the elites allow it (don't hold your breath), lead to an entire host of new technologies and a massive rethinking of basic physics.

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