Your humble writer has been watching for the news out of the International Low Energy Nuclear Reactions Symposium, ILENRS-12 held at The College of William and Mary Sadler Center early last week. At long last, after years of little available event news we’re getting some interesting bits out.
The process of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) or Cold Fusion or your choice on an array of ideas on what to call it, have required the element palladium as a catalyst, that isn’t consumed, but represents an expensive initial outlay. Current commercial efforts use nickel instead, because it is plentiful and cheap and works almost as well.
The fuel of choice has been “heavy water”, which is non-radioactive and can be recovered from ocean saltwater. Four ounces of heavy water today costs about $50 and contains enough energy when converted to electricity to supply the average American with electricity for a lifetime. The commercial efforts are focused on plain fresh water, some with a hydrogen gas flow, now.
A LENR start is dramatic and unmistakable when it occurs – much more heat is released than any conceivable chemical process could generate. Such heat can be used for industrial processes, space heating or hot water, or it can be converted to electricity.
Today’s remaining problems concern reliability and control.
Whatever it is that makes LENR work, the phenomenon seems to have a mind of its own, and decides when to turn itself on and off. The commercial work that seems closest to a resolution of these problems are holding their cards close to their chests, hoping to be first to enter a huge and lucrative market.
A bit of background is in order because for LENR or cold fusion news isn’t appearing in papers published in major scholarly journals – a point we need to keep in mind. The story – very briefly:
Along with government censorship, which we can expect in proper circumstances, political censorship in an effort to not unduly alarm the public in the mainstream media there’s a wall still up of scientific censorship for LENR. The Internet is putting a foundation out for specialty and niche news, blogs and social networks that are exposing more information.
LENR has occupied a scientific backwater now for 23 years. Demonstrations have been repeated again and again, a great deal of know-how has been acquired and shared over the Internet. Scientists who stuck with it have been vindicated to those who are in the interested in the field.
In 1989, Martin Fleischmann, a scientist at the top of his field, with Stanley Pons told the world they had ran a LENR in a test tube. Within a year scientists from prestigious labs around the world spilled announcements they had tried to duplicate what Fleischmann had reported with no success. The results were un-reproducible. Cold Fusion was to become a joke about junk science.
About a year and a half back an Italian entrepreneur named Andrea Rossi demonstrated a cold fusion boiler, and announced the taking orders for 2012 delivery. The following months have brought a lot of others from the personal labs and quiet private researchers out into view.
Mr. Rossi has made a lot of web traffic and the first thing we see from the Symposium is the estimable Jed Rothwell who operates the prime scientific source for the field, LENR-CANR.ORG, starting a forum thread that became a worthy look at Mr. Rossi from those who know him. With subjective understanding a better objective view of Mr. Rossi and what he has going on is covered in the forum thread.
Before one begins a click through to the thoughts on Mr. Rossi his technology and business acumen lets note a fundamental problem – that government censorship.
So far the patent ability for LENR isn’t coming. The US Patent Office has a backlog of dozens of applications on which it is not acting, demanding cumbersome and expensive on-site demonstrations in addition to the usual paper filings. It’s not much better overseas. This puts the inventors in a very unusual spot. With no intellectual property rights, whatever is offered can simply be taken with poor grounds for compensation.
That plus the prospect that whatever works and is verified will become the top media circus in all of mankind’s history. Whatever we have, as reasoned and responsible as we try to be, what we’re getting from the commercial effort is so clouded, confused and in organizational disarray as to be without credibility.
Still, out in the real world, LENR science is in better shape. Italy, Japan, Israel and Greece are the current world leaders. China is suspected to have a major LENR program. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are quietly pursuing the pot of gold, isolated and in secret, avoiding the heavy hand of the US government, which might be a very good thing when commercial prospects get to market.
But the “news” is in a whole new arena. We won’t be getting papers and studies that can connect to existing technology for a long while. The commercial folks are working in a world more primitive than a “Wild West” situation and every bit as likely to go into a cold war framework or legal battles just as soon as someone seems to be making money.
The stakes are huge. Something dramatic is bound to happen, and a lot of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and academic administrators will be gravely embarrassed – its essentially too late for them already. Yet, they will claim that they were simply surprised, that they could not have seen this coming.
But we aren’t and are looking forward to the future.