This is a critical review of the video linked below. It is not an overall assessment of the video, which is, in many ways, and if properly framed, quite good. It could be better, and hopefully we will create better, more effective, more powerful. We should be running focus groups. What information and activity is actually transformational? How can we know?
We have published a 6-minute video, A Brief Introduction to Cold Fusion. This video explains why we know that cold fusion is a real effect, why it is not yet a practical source of energy, and why it will have many advantages if it can be made practical. The script for this video along with Explanatory Notes and Additional Resources is here.
So I will be looking for three things: why we know, why not yet, and why it will have many advantages. These are, to some extent, optimistic, statements about a complex reality that are possible, but not yet certain. The reality of what is called “cold fusion” — which is a name for what is more neutrally called the “Anomalous Heat Effect,” or the “Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect — is a preponderance of the evidence conclusion, no longer seriously challenged in scientific journals, but the explanation (the mechanism) remains highly controversial. “Fusion” in this, if understood traditionally, is probably impossible, hence the common opinion. But the mechanism, whatever it is, apparently converts deuterium to helium, which is a fusion result, but not necessarily the product of two deuterons being smashed together, which probably does require high temperatures or pressures . . . or some special catalyst, like muons. “Cold fusion,” though requires something else than a catalyst that merely brings deuterons together, because that reaction has known products. Something else is happening.
From the script page:
Script in English (in bold)
Cold fusion is a complex scientific subject with a 25 year history. This video was an attempt to compress a few facts about it into 6 minutes. Naturally, it left out a great deal of information and it oversimplified the topic. However, we hope that it was technically accurate and that it presented some of the important aspects of the research. Here is the voice-over script from the video, followed by some explanatory information and additional resources.
On March 23rd, 1989, two chemists stunned the world when they announced that they had achieved cold fusion in a laboratory. Martin Fleischmann, one of Britain’s leading electrochemists, and his colleague Stanley Pons, then chairman of the University of Utah’s chemistry department, reported that they were able to create a nuclear reaction at room temperature in a test tube.
This is fine for certain contexts. However, this will immediately put off almost anyone with substantial physics education, and people without that education often know people with it, and will ask them. The report was largely an error; that is, they had found a real heat effect, it is now reasonably clear, but their nuclear measurements were incorrect, what they were reporting really didn’t look like “fusion,” and their understanding was also incorrect.
Technical detail: it wasn’t a “test tube,” that’s only slightly better than the “jam jar” dismissal from skeptics. It was an electrolysis apparatus in a Dewar flask.
Since then, cold fusion has been replicated in hundreds of experiments, in dozens of major laboratories – all reporting similar results under similar conditions.
Again, “cold fusion” is a fuzzy idea, not a specific experiment to be replicated. When people started looking for it, reports were all over the map. Until some years later, “negative replications” — often rooted in poor assumptions and doomed to fail — outnumbered the positive; positive “confirmations” — a better term for a general confirmation of some anamalous effect — were rare at first. Those who did confirm (and the few who actually replicated) have said this was the most difficult experiment they had ever done. The conditions were poorly understood, Pons and Fleischmann did not make them clear, if they even knew. It was a mess.
But what is cold fusion, and how do we know it is real?
Two questions. Most physicists will answer the first question in a way that generates strong evidence that “it” is not real. Further, who is “we”? Jed Rothwell and friends? How about the U.S. DoE panel, the nine members out of eighteen who considered the evidence for an anomalous heat effect “conclusive”?
The most conservative definition has “cold fusion” be a popular name for an anomalous heat effect observed under certain conditions, difficult to control reliably, so far.
Cold fusion is a nuclear reaction that generates heat without burning chemical fuel.
That is, it is “anomalous” because expert chemists have concluded that the heat is not coming from a chemical reaction. The panel was less certain about the reaction being “nuclear.” However, that review was hasty and the panel was not necessarily thoroughly informed. There is direct nuclear evidence.
Cold fusion has reached temperatures and power density roughly as high as the core of a nuclear fission power reactor.
This is controversial within the field. Most reports, by far, are at much lower temperatures. As to power density, the reaction appears to be a surface effect, so the actual power density is even higher, but in a very small region, so net power is normally not large, and the claim sounds extravagant, and what really matters is net energy, over time. There are reports that are encouraging, so as will be shown, but they have mostly not been confirmed.
Unlike most other nuclear reactions, it does not produce dangerous penetrating radiation. Because it consumes hydrogen in a nuclear process, rather than a chemical process, the hydrogen generates millions of times more energy than the best chemical fuels such as gasoline and paraffin.
We don’t know what is actually happening, it’s difficult to study cold fusion, because of the reliability problem. Progress is being made. There is evidence that the original effect does convert deuterium to helium, which is a very energetic reaction, as described. The “millions of times more energy than the best chemical fuels” is correct, if it is per unit mass of the fuel.
Hydrogen fuel is virtually free, and cold fusion devices are small, relatively simple, and inexpensive. They are self-contained, about the size, shape and cost of a NiCad battery. They are nothing like gigantic nuclear power reactors. So the cost of the energy with cold fusion would be low.
Without being clear about it, this gets into speculation. We don’t have a “lab rat,” a “cold fusion device” generating significant energy, reliably. So we don’t know what one will be like. There are reported experimental devices that may be like the description, but they are unconfirmed. We don’t know what processing will be needed to make such devices, and for how long they will work, so we cannot know what the cost will be. As well, we don’t know that ordinary hydrogen will suffice. There are reports of energy release with ordinary hydrogen, but that work is not strongly confirmed yet. (It’s getting there). The energy levels reported are erratic, and not yet high, usually. We don’t know the product from ordinary hydrogen reactions., that is unlike the situation with heavy hydrogen (deuterium), the major product is helium, which is a confirmed result.
What is described seems possible to those working in the field, but “size of a NiCad battery” could be misleading. Maybe. Maybe not.
If researchers can learn to control cold fusion and make it occur on demand, it might become a practical source of energy — providing inexhaustible energy for billions of years. It would also eliminate the threat of global warming because it does not produce carbon dioxide.
Yes. If. And it could. The more energetic fuel is deuterium, and there is plenty of deuterium in the oceans. If hydrogen works, it is truly plentiful, but what is the product? Ed Storms thinks that it would be deuterium, but this is speculation, so far. Yes, there is no reason to think that cold fusion will produce “carbon dioxide,” but it might produce heat pollution, depending on how it’s used. (Solar energy can also produce heat pollution if the collecting structures absorb extra energy that would otherwise be reflected back into space.) As well, the claim of “inexhaustible energy” looks . . . premature. Even if it is actually possible. We have a public relations problem, and it won’t go away by denying it.
Most cold fusion reactors produce low heat – less than a watt – but a few have been much hotter. Here are 124 tests from various laboratories, grouped from high power to low. Only a few produced high power. Most produced less than 20 watts.
Yes. Now, why this variation? Skeptics will point to the file drawer effect or confirmation bias. How far one should go into this in an introductory video is a question, to be sure. What is the goal of the video? Information? Or is it “news you can use”? Use for what?
In 1996, at Toyota’s IMRA research lab in Europe, a series of reactors produced 30 to 100 watts, which was easy to detect. They continued to produce heat for weeks, far longer than any chemical device could.
According to whom? That’s important! These reports were not confirmed. Why not? With such strong results, why wasn’t this broadly accepted and then widely confirmed? As well, Toyota shut that lab down. Why? Power levels can be misleading if net energy is not reported.
In the explanatory notes, Rothwell refers to Roulette et al (1996), a conference paper. I find this paper difficult to understand. The plotted results look like nothing I’ve seen from other cold fusion experiments. I don’t think this paper should be given to newcomers, not without a guide.
The core of the Toyota reactor was about the size of a birthday cake candle. A candle burning at 100 watts uses up all of the fuel in 7 minutes, whereas one of the Toyota devices ran at 100 watts continuously for 30 days. That’s thousands of times longer than the candle. It produced thousands of times more energy than the best chemical fuel.
That sounds great. What might not sound so great is that Roulette et al report on seven experiments. Four produced no excess heat. One only ran at 100 watts, I think. I don’t trust that I understand anything from that paper. The COP for that run was 1.5, which is not impressive. Now, if they had measured helium . . . . we might actually know if that power figure was accurate!
Calling this a core will create a picture that isn’t like the actual experiments. This would be the electrolytic cathode, believed to be the source of the heat, and even skeptics like Kirk Shanahan will point to the cathode as the site of heat generation (but suspecting that it is chemistry, combined with error in measuring heat. Under some circumstances, a small systematic error could create the appearance of high energy production. What this boils down to, for someone not able to assess the reality behind the experiments themselves, is impressions about the skill and knowledge and accuracy of those making the measurements, For an unconfirmed report, and to be widely accepted, independent confirmation is needed. What is being reported here has not been independently confirmed, and the work did not continue.
So, if the tests were so promising, and were able to achieve such high power density and run so long . . . Why hasn’t cold fusion become a practical source of energy?
The answer given is misleading. Were those tests “promising”? There is a lost performative. “Promising” is not a fact, it’s an opinion. According to whom? The reputation of Toyota is called upon to make this look very positive. But who decided to shut that operation down? Who decided not to follow u?. Why did others not replicate these results?
Because cold fusion reactions can only be replicated under rare conditions that are difficult to achieve, even for experts.
There was no pause between the question and “Because.”The script reader was very good, generally, professional, but that was an error.
The conditions won’t be rare when we know how to create them. We don’t. We have inklings, clues. This does not explain why the IMRA work was shut down, why it did not create reliable designs for anyone to investigate. The way that work is reported in the video makes it seem that they were able to create reliability, but were they?
There are answers to these questions, I’m confident, but not that we know them with certainty.
It’s like making a soufflé. If you forget to put the egg whites in the soufflé – even if you set the right temperature and do everything else correctly – you get no soufflé. But when the right conditions are achieved, the reaction always turns on.
This is facile. Yes, obviously, there are necessary conditions. But notice:
SRI International and the Italian Agency for New Technology were able to get all of the critical factors just right – and achieve the cold fusion reaction in several tests.
Several tests? Out of how many? And how do we know what the “cold fusion reaction” is? Mostly, in some tests, very little energy is created. In very few, it seems to be more. This does not explain why such promising results, as claimed above, were unconfirmed. Surely they knew what they did! This technology, I estimate, if developed, could be worth a trillion dollars per year. So what stopped this?
It is not difficult for an expert to reach a ratio of hydrogen atoms to palladium atoms of about 60%. This takes a few days. But it isn’t high enough to trigger a cold fusion effect. You have to go higher, and the higher you go, the harder it gets. But with the right kind of metal and good techniques, the amount of hydrogen in the metal gradually rises. When it reaches 90 atoms, and other conditions are met – bingo – the cold fusion reaction turns on.
Yes, “other conditions.” None of this is well-understood.
That would be “90 atom percent,” not “atoms,” as a rough lower limit. But it’s known how to create that density, and, as well, codeposition is reported as starting up immediately, within minutes (likely, if this is real, from creating loaded material on the surface of the cathode, ab initio.) As well, there is evidence that 90% is not actually necessary for the reaction to continue, but rather high loading modifies the material to create “nuclear active environment.” Storms posits very small cracks on the surface. Hagelstein is looking at a material with “superabundant vacancies.” We don’t know. But the basic question of why we don’t know yet, has not been answered. “It’s difficult” is not an answer. They did it in France, allegedly. Did they?
This graph shows an exponential increase in power when the ratio of hydrogen atoms to palladium atoms exceeded 90%. A Toyota lab also saw the exponential increase above 90%.
Hundreds of other researchers have seen the same effect.
That is, a similar result. However, calorimetry error could correlate with loading. The material behaves differently above 60-70% loading. I’m not confident in the statement. Where is the review paper?
Another factor that makes the cold fusion effect turn on is electrical current density. The higher it gets, the more intense the cold fusion reaction becomes – when there is a reaction, that is.
I would expect calorimetry error to also correlate with current density. Yes, I know the experiments, and I personally consider that unlikely. But this is circumstantial evidence, and there is far better, more direct evidence, which is not mentioned in this video, even though it is easy to understand.
If there is no reaction in the first place, because, for example, the ratio of hydrogen to palladium doesn’t get above 90%, raising the current does no good.
Yes. That’s evidence of some kind of reality. It’s irrelevant to gas-loaded experiments, where there is no current.
We’ve learned a lot since the Fleischmann and Pons announcement in 1989 – and we know what now must be done. But knowing how to do something doesn’t make it easy.
That’s an odd argument. What, does it require heavy lifting? The real problem could be that unobtainium is needed. But then we would not know how to do the thing.
No, we don’t know what must be done, not adequately. We know some things that sometimes work.
We have to learn more. With enough research, scientists may learn to control cold fusion and make it safe, reliable and cost effective. But it’s going to take thousands of hours of research, and millions of dollars of high-precision equipment. Basic research is expensive.
That is not exactly false, but misses a great deal. There is research that can be done that is not expensive, if there are people willing to work on it without being paid, or without being paid high salaries. The best work in the field was done by Melvin Miles, in 1991 and later. He did not need “millions of dollars of high-precision equipment.” He needed access to a lab willing to do helium analysis, provided with samples. To run a few experiments, one does not need to buy that kind of equipment.
If measurement technology is not available, why not? Answering that would take us closer to the reality of why cold fusion has not been developed adequately.
There are reports of tritium production, never correlated with heat. Confirming this could use commercial tritium analysis, it’s not cheap, but not terribly expensive, either. Can funding be obtained? If not, why not? Mostly, my sense, there are few well-designed proposals. I don’t see good proposals languishing for lack of funding. I see a dearth of good proposals! And that’s agreed among some of the top researchers in the field.
However, if this pans out, it will reduce the cost of energy worldwide to practically zero, saving several billion dollars per day.
Again, we don’t know that. It may be possible, to be sure.
This might happen as quickly as microcomputers replaced mainframe computers, or the speed at which the Internet expanded after 1990. It can happen quickly because it requires no distribution infrastructure and it calls for only a few changes to most core technology.
Again, this is building a sand castle without knowing when and where the tide will come in.
In other words, a cold fusion-powered car would not need a gas station because you could run it for a year with a spoonful of fuel, costing a few cents. But that is information for another video, another day.
It seems possible, but we are nowhere near this. Well-known claims from Andrea Rossi were almost certainly fraudulent. The “fuel” described would have to be light hydrogen, and we don’t know if practical light hydrogen reactors are possible. If heavy hydrogen (deuterium) is required, I have a kilogram of heavy water in my kitchen cabinet, it cost me $600. What fuel is being described? The real cost could be the catalyst, how long does it work? Will it need to be replaced and reprocessed? If it is being used for high energy output, it’s wildly optimistic to think that it will take a licking and keep on ticking!
To learn more about the potentially groundbreaking research surrounding cold fusion, please visit LENR.org. Thank you.
No actual link given. However, entering lenr.org in my browser gives me the home page for lenr-canr.org. Commonly, videos will refer to a link “below.” That reference is missing, but there is, in fact, text below, with a link:
A six-minute introduction to cold fusion (the Fleischmann-Pons effect). The script and Explanatory Notes and Additional Resources are here: http://lenr-canr.org/wordpress/?page_… This video explains why we know that cold fusion is a real effect, why it is not yet a practical source of energy, and why it will have many advantages if it can be made practical. For more information, please see http://lenr-canr.org
In that, a more neutral name for “cold fusion” was given. That explanation belonged at the beginning of the video. Over-enthusiastic promotion of “cold fusion” can backfire. It’s actually an unknown nuclear reaction, and the direct evidence that the FP Heat Effect is nuclear is not mentioned in the video. Hence it’s likely to turn off people with a knowledge of physics. And if someone has no knowledge of physics and believes the video, and then argues with someone with knowledge, they will be slaughtered, so to speak.
Hence I support being very clear about what we actually know and how we know it, and distinguishing this from possibility.
The video and the comment should invite participation and support, not merely offer “information.” How can we interest people in becoming involved, and then invite them in such a way that they accept and connect? I don’t see that the video actually explains what the comment claims.
In any case, the video comment should link to a specific followup page, so that click-through can be measured, and, as well, so that the page can be specific for a new audience, presenting options. Possibilities:
- subscription to a mailing list
- donation to Cold Fusion Now, as a political organization to support cold fusion.
- Other donation/subscription/purchase opportunities. T-shirts? (Cold Fusion Now).
- links to cold fusion resources, especially with organized access.
- an on-line cold fusion course to cover the basics … and continuing into details.
- how about a lecture tour?
- political action possibilities?
- There is no Who in the video, as to living personalities important in the field. That can be remedied in the follow-up page, perhaps with links to Ruby’s interviews.
Next, I will suggest a landing page.