A fascinating article appeared recently on CBS news that deserves covering for no other reason than if the technology is even remotely feasible it deserves funding in the best research facilities the country has to offer. The problem is the discovery is an old one, made twenty years ago in fact by two well respected electro-chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons working for the University of Utah. Back in 1989, they reported details of their early findings suggesting a low energy nuclear reaction was occurring at room temperature, opening the potential for almost unlimited zero carbon energy sources. But when other research centers tried to replicate the results they could not reliably achieve the same findings. Initially there was much excitement but the unreliability of the process created considerable controversy added to the failure of anyone to be able to accurately model what was happening at an atomic level.
In broad terms Cold Fusion is described as a low energy nuclear reaction. In a cell with a palladium (some researchers used nickel and achieved similar if still unreliable results) cathode and electrolyte containing heavy water or deuterium (an isotope of water) an electric current is passed through the cell and for periods of up to 2 days excess energy as heat is given off. The problem is the cell can operate for days without the effect happening and then suddenly it starts and later stops again. Broadly supporters believe mass is being turned into energy, and as anyone who has looked at Einstein’s E=Mc2 will realize, a little mass equates to a huge amount of energy.
Although the concept had the potential to create enough power from just a fraction of a gram of palladium to power a laptop for 3 years, in the end the notion of cold fusion became debunked and has largely been discounted by the scientific community ever since.
So if that is the case why has CBS spent good money and journalistic endeavor to review the situation? In an interview with Michael McKubre, an electro-chemist at SRI International, a respected California lab that does extensive work for the government he discusses his own experiments where he has seen energy released in more than 50 cold fusion experiments he’s doing. The SRI is not the only lab still working on the concept. In Israel a company called Energetics Technologies has achieved some of the highest energy gains yet and CBS sent Rob Duncan the vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy to check the research results. His conclusion is he could find nothing wrong with the approach or calculations and although he couldn’t explain what was going on, he concedes further research is appropriate. The US government seems to agree, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, did its own analysis and concluded there is “no doubt that anomalous excess heat is produced in these experiments.” Now the Pentagon is funding more experiments at the naval research lab in Washington, D.C. and at McKubre’s lab in California.
Whether new research with modern technologies will establish what is really happening remains to be seen, but however tenuous current support is in the wider scientific community surely for a nation that can invest billions, for example in sub atomic particle research, funds can be found to at least finally establish what is happening in these reactions. A cordless laptop is just the beginning of the opportunities for endless power sources.