Cold Fusion in 2012

Ben Goertzel Interviews Brad Arnold on the Evidence for Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions

 

“Over 2 decades with over 100 experiments worldwide indicate LENR is real, much greater than chemical…” — Dennis M. Bushnell, Chief Scientist, NASA Langley Research Center

“Energy density many orders of magnitude over chemical.” — Michael A. Nelson, NASA

I remember being thrilled, back in the 1980s, to read about Fleischmann and Pons’ results regarding apparent cold fusion in a palladium-deuterium-heavy water system. Their work attracted wide media attention; and then, when their results proved difficult to replicate reliably, this also received wide attention, and resulted in the whole concept of cold fusion being dismissed as bunk by the bulk of the scientific community.

However, anyone who knows the history of science, knows that just because something is dismissed as bunk by the vast bulk of prestigious scientists, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. Cold fusion research existed well before Pons and Fleischmann; and since these two researchers attracted so much attention to the field, a host of other researchers around the world have conducted further experiments in the area, which is now generally referred to as LENR or Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions. Pons and Fleischmann also did not abandon their research, in spite of the negative attention it ultimately received, and instead relocated from the US to Europe where they were more easily able to obtain ongoing research funding.

LENR is indeed more difficult to reliably replicate than many other reactions in chemistry and physics, but over the last couple decades the LENR research community has come to a relatively strong understanding about why this is (e.g. in some cases the phenomena involved can depend sensitively on small impurities in the required materials). A series of increasingly impressive experiments by a variety of researchers has made the blanket rejection of LENR results by the majority of scientific journals, appear increasingly unwise and unscientific. If you’re interested in the history of LENR research, I’d strongly recommend the book “Excess Heat” by Charles Beaudette.

A solid theoretical understanding of how LENR works is still lacking, but plausible directions of research do exist in this regard. Careful study makes it quite clear that currently known physics does not rule LENR out — it only appears to do so, if one accepts various crude approximations commonly made in physics calculations, as if they were an exact depiction of reality. It is quite plausible that LENR is allowed by the underlying equations of nuclear physics, but not by the crude approximations we typically use to apply physics to macroscopic substances at room temperature. It’s worth remembering that we can’t even explicitly solve the equations of quantum physics as applied to a helium atom, let alone the equations of the Standard Model of unified strong, electromagnetic and weak forced applied to palladium and deuterium under the conditions involved in apparent LENR reactions.

My own reading of the numerous papers published on LENR over the years has convinced me there’s almost surely something very interesting going on there. So, I invited LENR advocate Brad Arnold to interview with me for H+ Magazine, on the topic of the evidence for LENR…

Ben:
There’s a lot of skepticism out there about LENR, obviously. But you’re convinced it’s a real phenomenon. I tend to agree with you actually, based on what I’ve read. But I’m wondering, what specifically makes you so confident?

Brad:
This phenomenon (LENR) has been confirmed in hundreds of published scientific papers, as is shown by this document titled “Tally of Cold Fusion Papers“.  This gives readers a sense of the scale, variety, and sources of the material available about this subject. It gives some indication of how much has been published on cold fusion, and where they were published.

Of special note is a PowerPoint presentation by George Miley of the University of Illinois, who has successfully replicated the LENR “cold fusion” reaction.

Ben:
Is there some particular recent work on LENR that excites you especially?

Brad:

In the ebook Secrets of E-Cat, author Mario Menichella says: “the modern history of cold fusion begins with the premature announcement made in the United States by the two electrochemical Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, who in 1989 convened a press conference…there were numerous attempts to replicate (their) result, but for some years had little success, so that soon the question of cold fusion was labeled by the media and mainstream science as a hoax.”

Menichella continues, “The probably better experimental work…carried out in Siena since the early Nineties, by a group of physicists composted by Sergio Focardi (University of Bologna), Francesco Piantelli (University of Siena), Roberto Habel (University of Cagliari), but it did not lead to a system capable of generating useful amount of excess energy for normal industrial or domestic applications. In Siena, in fact, the three scientists – using hydrogen and nickel as the two only ingredients of the reaction, plus an appropriate amount of heat supplied to the system – managed to get out a double thermal energy than the electrical energy provided in input.”

Ben:
Can you explain “E-cat” a little more explicitly, for our readers who may not be familiar with it?

Brad:
That means E-Catalyst, as you know…. Let me explain…

LENR is a proven scientific phenomena, but the excess energy from this exothermic reaction was not large enough or normal industrial or domestic applications. In comes Andrea Rossi, the e-cat fusion developer, an Italian inventor who has a Masters Degree in Engineering from Milan University. To quote a biographical article on Rossi,

“In 2007, Andrea Rossi arrived at the very critical point in his research and concentrated his time on his invention. He also hired Sergio Focardi, a physicist from the University of Bologna who is an acknowledged expert in field. The physicists’ work on nickel hydrogen reactions proved to be invaluable…In 2009, Mr. Rossi introduced to the public a process and a device called the E-Catalyst. This is a revolutionary process in energy production and is also called low energy nuclear reactions. It could be a breakthrough invention since it can solve some of the energy problems of our planet.”

I recommend watching the video contained in this article titled “Nobel laureate touts E-Cat cold fusion“.  Dr. Brian Josephson, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics stars in the video, whose stated purpose is to wake up the media to the E-Cat story, which has not been widely reported on in the mainstream media of the English-speaking world.

Also, here is a article titled “The New Breed of Energy Catalyzers: Ready for Commercialization?”, which contains a relatively current survey of all the companies that are trying to bring LENR to commercialization, including Rossi’s.   And see also my own article The Emergence of LENR and it’s Predictable Effect on the Economy, on the overall economic implications LENR will have when it’s fully refined, commercialized and rolled out.

Ben:
Yes, the commercial potential is obvious — at least in the long term. But right now LENR is still in the research phase, right?

Brad:
Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) using nickel and hydrogen is a clean, very very cheap, new energy technology, based on highly abundant resources. Yes, it’s still in the early stage of development. But potentially, it could be the silver bullet for our current continual energy crisis.

In November of 2009 The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published Defense Analysis Report DIA 8-0911-003 titled “Technological Forecast: Worldwide Research on Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Increasing and Gaining Acceptance“. The paper gives a rundown of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction work being done around the world. Among other things it notes: “DIA assesses with high confidence that if LENR can produce nuclear-origin energy at room temperatures, this disruptive technology could revolutionize energy production and storage, since nuclear reactions release millions of times more energy per unit mass than do any known chemical fuel.”

Here is a detailed description of a LENR generator and formula that was producing energy over unity. In the March of 1994 US government contract F33615-93-C-2326 titled NASCENT HYDROGEN: AN ENERGY SOURCE, Anomalous heat was measured from a reaction of atomic hydrogen in contact with potassium carbonate on a nickel surface.

Ben:
Lots of interesting stuff to read, to be sure…

Brad:
Yes, there’s a large scientific literature which has been unjustly ignored by the scientific mainstream. And obviously the subject of LENR — a clean, very very cheap, and super abundant energy technology — is too deep to comprehensively cover in this limited space. Using only nickel and hydrogen, both very abundant and cheap, in a LENR exothermic reaction, could be a source of almost unlimited energy for humanity, with a cost close to nothing, and no environmental pollution. Hopefully the limited evidence for LENR cited above will go part of the way toward convincing an open minded reader of the validity of this too good to be true energy technology.

Ben:

Hmmm.  About Rossi, whom you mention above — as you must know, some people consider him a fraud or a scammer.   What’s your reaction to these allegations?   Bear in mind, I think the overall evidence for LENR is pretty strong, so whether or not one particular research result is legit doesn’t seem that critical to me.  One thing that happens, once something is cast outside the gates of mainstream science, is that it tends to attract all sorts of undesirable people and organizations….  I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with Rossi, just pointing out why that possibility seems generally plausible to me…

Brad:
I personally think that Rossi is legitimate, but it is understandable that some other people tend to think that Rossi is fraudulent (although they tend to go quite a bit farther than they ought to).  As Rossi himself said at his first news conference/public demonstration over a year ago: ‘The time for words is over, and only successful commercialization will prove legitimacy.’

Remember, there are enough other NiH (Nickel / Hydrogen) results which suggest a LENR reaction.  As his claim that he is getting heat from Ni + H is no longer extraordinary, Rossi’s claim is much less extraordinary. He is now only claiming that he has optimized a phenomenon that is known to science.

I could write a lengthy paper on Rossi and the case for why he is legitimate, but frankly I’d be trying to combat ideology (i.e. the ideology of scarcity and skepticism), and that’s a difficult thing.

Ben:
Yes, I understand your points.  And I haven’t done enough research into the matter to have a strong view on Rossi’s results personally.  I’m generally skeptical of bold claims associated with in-development commercial products — but I’m also generally skeptical of righteous-sounding “skeptical” types who get a thrill from debunking others, as I’ve found they sometimes go overboard due to their addiction to this thrill..

Brad:
Aso, Defkalion looks like they are coming out with a working LENR generator this summer, and Brillouin is saying they could come out with a LENR boiler in a year, so it isn’t necessary to even bring Rossi’s name into a discussion of LENR if the controversy is unbearable.  The Rossi thing has become quite a Strawman Argument, where people who don’t even “know” that LENR is a proven scientific phenomena throw away the whole LENR baby with the bathwater because of a conceptual bias using Rossi as the rationale.

Ben:
I’ll certainly be curious to see what Defkalion and Brillouin come up with, as well as Rossi….!

Just a couple more questions for you, if I may. Firstly, I’m wondering how you got involved with LENR in the first place? What caused it to grab your attention?

Brad:
LENR is a silver bullet energy technology. I was following the work of Dr Mills of BlackLight Power, and up popped a public demonstration and press conference Andrea Rossi held in January of last year. Wow, I’ve been following it ever since.

Ben:
Yeah, quite understandable, it’s exciting stuff….   So just one more question. Given the obviously exciting potential of LENR, if the evidence is as strong as you suggest, why do you think the scientific community is so skeptical of LENR? Just because of the fallout after the initial difficulty of replicating Pons and Fleischmann’s work?

Brad:
I think the reason LENR has met with such resistance in the scientific community is that things have changed since Einstein published his paper describing his Theory of Relativity. Nowadays, Einstein would never have got his papers published – the scientific community is just too ossified, with people protecting their turf. It is said the hot fusion people at MIT torpedoed Pons and Fleischmann because their work threatened their project. They even held a party when P & F ‘s so called cold fusion work was discredited!

Ben:
On the whole, I think the scientific community is more open-minded and reasonable than nearly any other part of human society. But still it’s not perfect — scientists are just people, and are susceptible to human social dynamics and emotional biases, to be sure. (And this includes both LENR researchers and those who dismiss LENR, obviously.)

Brad:

So … compound these emotional biases with the lack of a well known and widely accepted scientific theory for why LENR works (there is a hilarious cartoon of a caveman, with the caption: no theory, no fire), and you get a bottleneck for the acceptance of LENR, despite the clear scientific proof of the phenomena.

Ben:

Hmmm….  Of course, whether we have a good theory explaining a phenomenon or not, shouldn’t affect our acknowledgement of the empirical results regarding that phenomenon.   However, I guess the lack of a good theory of LENR has had some implications regarding the difficulty (not to say impossibility, though) of reliable repeated experimentation in LENR research.  When a science is early-stage, it’s sometimes hard to know what factors need to be controlled in order to get repeated experiments to work reliably.  This is a problem that is most likely to happen when one has an inadequate theoretical understanding (which everyone acknowledges is the case for LENR).  This point is covered in Excess Heat pretty well, I think.

Anyway I have found the recent evidence for LENR certainly interesting and encouraging — and I hope you’re right about the near-term commercial prospects as well as the underlying scientific reality of the phenomenon. You’ve provided enough good links in your answers to my questions that the interested reader can effectively dig in and form their own opinion. Thanks a lot for the interview!

9 Comments

  1. Under “scientific skepticism”, Wikipedia says, “extraordinary claims would require extraordinary evidence”.

    In terms of Rossi, convoluted fraud involving lots of parties is the least likely. So are multiple groups of science observers too stupid to recognize an obvious fraud. Also, there are enough other NiH results which suggest a LENR reaction. As his claim that he is getting heat from Ni + H is no longer extraordinary, Rossi’s claim is much less extraordinary. He is now only claiming that he has optimized a phenomenon that is known to science.

    OTH, Defkalion and Brillouin are both very close to successful commercialization too, so to some extent limiting discussion only to LENR and Rossi is a straw-man argument. Obviously, LENR is a proven scientific phenomena – it is just a matter of optimizing it for successful commercialization.

    • Shouldn’t we assume that the big players, like NASA, Mitsubishi and Toyota should be a lot closer to developing a device that works commercially?

  2. Steven Krivit has written extensively on the E-Cat and Rossi at newenergytimes.com The picture he paints of Rossi is not flattering. Check it out…

  3. “Good news is, LENR can be called a mainstream subject now, unless there is some “science pope” somewhere who needs to declare it such.”

    Science doesn’t have pope it has peer review.

    Also being in the mainstream of science doesn’t make it true, evidence does.

    But future will tell, right now there’s no demonstrator that has proven concept.

    Good luck and work hard!

  4. Jumping in to any pseudo-science bandwagon will be death of the transhumanist movement.

    Individuals however should have their opinions as the movement isn’t politically homogeneous anyway.

    There’s a risk that h+ movement gathers people that are overly optimistic about technology but cant differentiate science from pseudo-science. Then the real and feasible transhumanistic technologies will not enter in to the markets. movement sit around waiting something miraculous and unreal to happen though some real applications could be ready to implement.

    This is risk I’m afraid is going to happen to the movement as I listen transhumanist talking and writing in overall. This point is not that much about your article about LENR.

    There’s lot of sweet talk and bold visions but way too little crude feasibility and affordability studies of potential medical and recreational technologies. Most of the real studies in the field are made by medical professionals and bio-scientist not transhumanist them selves.

    Even on the philosophical aspects movement is not creating and discovering. Its echochamber for Kurtzweil and couple of other more famous theorist.

    What I find discouraging is that though the movement exists there’s no political party build around it nor have any political party taken transhumanism for one of their values.

    We do exist but in the shadows of both scientific progress and political reality. That’s not good if you ask me.


    • Very sober, and proper guardedness there Kimi.

      The essence of science is that no one trusts scientific claims, extravagant or otherwise, until:

      1. There is produced a cogent and rational scientific theory to plausibly explain a stated phenomenon;

      2. There is produced a significant body of data to support the claims of the phenomenon.

      3. This data has been rigorously subjected to critical analysis (like the 5* Sigma criterion of the LHC), & that it passes Occam’s Razor, Falsifiability, etc

      4. These results can be reliably reproduced by any person, anywhere, anytime, given the required experimental conditions.

      No credence will be given to people claiming special powers, or special knowledge, like the Yuri GELLAR of old.

      As far as we observers can tell, no LENR claims have passed ANY of these 4 required evaluations.

    • Sorry Kimi, but as the interviewer in this interview you’re critiquing, I don’t buy your critique ;p

      I think my work on AGI and life extension bioinformatics are genuine, worthwhile science — they may or may not ultimately yield a great contribution, but that’s how science goes. And I think my variant of transhumanist philosophy (see my “A Cosmist Manifesto”) is far from an “echo chamber for Kurzweil.”

      In addition to original AGI/longevity science & philosophy, I’m also interested in exploring everything else happening in the world — part of which is talking to people involved with other kinds of research, which occasionally results in a conversation written up for H+ magazine as an interview.

      This brief interview doesn’t give a lot of technical details about LENR, but it’s an *online* interview and it gives a lot of links for readers to follow up if they wish, to form their own opinions. If you’re really curious about LENR, and willing to suspend disbelief on the matter long enough to read a book, I’d suggest you start with the book “Excess Heat” I mention near the start of the article — and then dig into the more recent literature from there. At very least, I think this exercise will convince you LENR is not obvious bunk, unlike what some folks would have you believe.

  5. Good news is, LENR can be called a mainstream subject now, unless there is some “science pope” somewhere who needs to declare it such.

    Big names like NASA, CERN, Mitsubishi, Toyota and a large group of scientists and engineers are actively involved in this field.

    It just happened that Rossi and Defkalion managed to draw attention with their claims of commercial production of LENR reactors. There are another 5-6 “competitors” cos. with such claims.

    LENR @ CERN. All important links and presentations are here:

    Overview of Theoretical and Experimental Progress in Low Energy Nuclear Reactions

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/03/overview-of-theoretical-and.html

    I’m very happy that Ben has taken a step to introduce this to H+ guys. With an unlimited energy source, singularity becomes a concrete possibility.

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