Friday and Saturday, January 14th and 15th of 2011 seem to be a threshold for energy production. Sergio Focardi and Andrea Rossi at the University of Bologna demonstrated and conducted a news conference about their “cold fusion”, or Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) or as they suggest it be called, a “catalyst reaction” energy uprating device. Time will tell to whom goes the technology domain, be it physics or chemistry or even a new field drawing on both. (The link to the Journal Of Nuclear Physics Blog has three videos of the press conference – everyone speaking Italian – if English translations appear please advise.)
Perhaps the greatest significance is the team has started the patent process and have licensee agreements completed in both the EU and USA. This seems to be fully real. Moreover, the expectations of the team are to have commercial designs due out within a year with device production for sale or use in 2 to 3 years.
The device relies on the ability of nickel to absorb hydrogen that while doing so releases heat, significant amounts in fact, the power needed to run the device is rating at 400 watt hours per hour to produce 15,000 watt hours per hour – from a lab bench experimental device. In lay terms the drive is about 4 one hundred watt lamps for 150 one hundred watt lamps of production – a 37.5 fold gain – quite a fine rate of return.
Brian Wang at Nextbigfuture.com figures the cost for electricity and heat, after the heat is converted to mechanical energy and on to electrical energy, to be “below 1 cent/kWh, in case of electric power made by means of a Carnot cycle, and below 1 cent/4,000 M J in case of thermal power production for heating purposes.” Even if Mr. Wang widely misses the mark, this is stunningly cheap energy.
The device starts with a tripping of a switch and shuts down just as simply. The product other than power is a weak burst of gamma radiation when powered off. The consumables are the nickel and hydrogen and the device has an additive package for the fueling or reaction that is proprietary, which should be available when the patent is granted.
The simple explanation from an earlier technical paper (pdf link) is the hydrogen atom of one proton and electron enter the nickel where the electron leaves the hydrogen to join the nickel’s electron array. The hydrogen proton then is freed to join the nickel where it converts the nickel up one element to copper, a fusion that releases heat, in an unstable isotope because a corresponding neutron is missing. The proof comes with the team’s examination of the nickel material after use – the copper is plainly there – found using an atomic microscope at the University of Bologna.
It seems the amount of raw materials; hydrogen and nickel go quite along way in the uprating of energy. In the analysis to measure the difference of mass the team has to use the charge for months, because what’s consumed in a day is in the order of picograms.
The estimate now for material to production is to make 10 kWh/h from about 0.1 g of Ni and 0.01 g of H. A little hydrogen goes a very long way.
Other interesting facts, the device has operated continuously for as long as two years. The team is working on megawatt rated designs. The cause of the weak gamma burst on a shutdown is not understood. The team offers a request for others to ponder that matter and contribute to the technology.
Cold fusion or catalytic energy uprating is certainly coming to a peak of interest. Steam was explored by the Greeks centuries ago with tabletop spinning devices while the physics took centuries to catch up with observations and the application of steam engines. These kinds of things are the amazing facts that press irresistibly on science to explore, test, understand and explain. There is no natural law that states functions of nature must first be explained before being utilized.
Questions remain, the foremost being the used nickel laced with the copper isotope. How stabile is the nickel-copper compound and what use can be made of it? It will be some time before enough material is available for experimentation. Nickel with a copper alloy might be quite desirable or problematic.
Another question is the energy cost to produce the feed fuel, producing nickel, hydrogen and the additive package. A 37+ to one return allows for a lot of investment and waste disposal, but getting to the numbers will need to be completed.
Italy must be very proud of their team. Whether the technology proves to be “cold fusion” or a “catalyst reaction” isn’t so important as the steady, repeatable demonstration is now at hand. For researchers worldwide the tribulations of cold fusion are evaporating like freon on a hot plate. Its also simple enough now that mass media could explain it without completely confusing the matter.
The Italians have also started setting a benchmark on new technology costs. Whether other ideas on catalyst reactions, cold fusion, or hot fusion, the price to sell energy will have a benchmark and a very low one just to start. This has to unnerve investors and producers across the board on electrical power generation.
One last matter to consider – a question asked about the scale for home sized units. While wholly speculative, the early estimate is about furnace sized. Note that heat would be direct for warm air and water use with only a conversion step for electrical generation. Price, and it looks to be at this moment little other than greed to make the price very high for only heat, should be quite low.
There is also the matter of if or how the Italian effort crosses with the BlackLight effort. Let’s hope that if they do, no legal proceeding will hold the competitors at a stop. But does it work outside of the inventor’s province? Time will tell.
The University of Bologna and all of Italy must be intensely glad of the native technology if the media can grasp the significance and amplify the spread of the news. It’s also could be a huge embarrassment for those denigrating the early efforts such as those of Fleschmann and Pons.
This writer suspects that a widely dispersed major exploratory effort will spring up for finding every possible element or chemical saturation that could release energy. It’s not over yet; it’s just getting started.