Why hasn’t nuclear fusion been possible on earth yet?


Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax, Sat with Richard P. Feynman, 1961-63. I know a *little* about Physics.
[At this point there are 46 upvotes]

A2A. It is possible, and high school kids make it happen in their garage. I’m on my iPhone now, but you could google “Farnsworth fusor.” “Hydrogen bombs” use fusion for the extremely high energy release.

The most common way for fusion to happen, and almost all the natural fusion, requires very high temperatures, which means high collision velocities so that atomic nuclei can have enough energy to approach against the natural nuclear repulsion. We can create that energy for a relatively small number of nuclei with high voltage acceleration, which is what those garage fusors do. The bombs use the high temperature of a fission bomb to do it.

For commercial power generation, the problem is not making fusion happen. The problem is on maintaining the temperature. How do you confine something that is at a temperature of millions of degrees? A hydrogen bomb doesn’t have this problem. Gravity confines the fuel in stars. The reaction rate in stars is low, but the stars are very large! If the core is not hot enough, it collapses, which heats it, until the fusion rate is high enough for the heat or radiation to resist the collapse. If it is too hot, the heat causes the star to expand. So it can “burn” for billions of years.

To use this on earth, various approaches are being attempted. All are difficult.

There is also two other known or suspected forms of fusion, popularly called “cold fusion.”

First, Muon-Catalyzed fusion is real (and was predicted by theory), but is often not mentioned because it is probably impractical for energy generation. Second, the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect and similar claimed effects. The FPHE is real, evidence accumulated, including direct evidence that it is nuclear in nature, but it is not understood, and is, so far, difficult to control, not because of the confinement problem, for cold fusion apparently only occurs in condensed matter, but because the material conditions that apparently catalyze it are poorly understood, and experimental results are not yet reliable — in the sense of being able to reliable generate heat. What is reliable and confirmed is the ratio of heat to helium generated.

I cannot predict when the FPHE will be sufficiently understood. At this point, more basic research is needed. It is not impossible that a practical application will be found before the mechanism of the effect is understood, but understanding may make the engineering of the apparently necessary nanostructures a bit easier.

It is possible that new physics will be found in the study of cold fusion, but I rather doubt it. Rather, the quantum field theory analysis of solid state structures is a horrific math problem, extraordinarily complex. I don’t expect to see basic nuclear theory overturned.

The comments on this post at this point (May 12, 2018)

Joel Reid
May 9 · 4 upvotes
Cold fusion has been shown to not be fusion at all and is instead a byproduct of poor instrumentation and material choice and preperation.

Fusion electrical generation is also a problem as a lot of the issue is that to gather the energy out of a fusion core requires you to gather the neutrons and electromagnetic waves that are coming off the plasma… something that is not very efficient.

Currently fusion is not possible in garage systems as those small systems are actually also a result of poor material and laboratory perpetration and maintenance, often not measuring the correct things, or not taking a source of contamination or matter capture into account.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 9
{{citation needed}}. “Has been shown” would properly be a product of controlled experiment, right? This opinion is popular, but is not based on careful review of sources. That confident assertion stating a rumor into fact, is not supported by both U.S. DoE reviews (1989 and 2004), nor by peer-reviewed reviews of the field in mainstream journals. See Storms (Naturwissenschaften, 2010), McKubre (Current Science, 2015) and Lomax (Current Science, 2015).
The question was not about “electrical generation,” but about the possibility of fusion. Any consideration of problems for practical applications would belong as answers to a different question.
Fusion is routinely accomplished by amateurs, see Fusor – Wikipedia, and see also Neutron generator – Wikipedia. However, not every claim of fusion is fusion, for sure. The Fleischmann-Pons experiment was very difficult, replication failure was routine, and recent claims by Andrea Rossi were almost certainly fraud. However, as Storms wrote, “evidence accumulated,” and as I wrote, direct evidence that the anomalous heat effect was nuclear in nature through correlated helium (not merely detected) was found in 1991, and widely confirmed.
(There is also muon-catalyzed fusion, which is cold and certainly accepted. FP cold fusion likely involves some other — unknown — form of catalysis.)

Joel Reid
May 16
I thin you may have to do your research into the actual causes of why cold fusion experiments failed. Here is a good book on numerous cons and failures in the nuclear world.

Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder: A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science: James Mahaffey: 9781681774213: Amazon.com: Books

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 17
Scientific experiments do not fail. They produce results, and if conditions and results are accurately reported, they become part of the experimental background of science.

Joel, I don’t need another popular book, repeating the very old story of what Huizenga called Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century, but, of course, if you want to send it to me, I’d read it and comment on it, crediting you. I have all the major works on cold fusion, and many minor, including the “skeptical” ones: Huizenga (both editions), Taubes’ Bad Science, Park’s Voodoo Science, and there is substantial coverage in At the Fringes of Science, Friedlander.

From the Amazon review of Mahaffey: “He explains why we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear aircraft and why cold fusion doesn’t exist.”

I know why, as to the first part, having studied nuclear physics for over 60 years, but I’d be very interested in why, as to the second, especially given that it is completely obvious that some form of cold fusion exists. My guess would be that he’s ignorant of the basic experimental evidence, as to what has been confirmed, most are who carry on with they believed (with some reason!) over a quarter century ago (and he says he was involved in that fiasco).

My guess, again, would be that he has no idea of what “cold fusion” is, of what was and is actually claimed, but is merely regurgitating very old opinions and reactions. Of course, I could be wrong.

Bripuk Smith
May 11
Fusion between deuterium and tritium, both isotopes of hydrogen, has been achieved at JET in the UK in a Torus but this technology will not be available to be used to generate electricity until DEMO which is the generation after ITER.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 12
Yes. DT fusion has long been “achieved,” but net power generation (when all inputs to the facility are considered, is still far off. It is conceivable that DEMO will meet this standard.

Joel Reid
May 15
I was not debating whether it had been achieved in a torus, only whether the energy can be retrieved at a viable rate, something that is indeed yet to be done.
Several other projects around the world are attempting other methods of generating fusion to achieve more efficient energy capture systems

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 17
You are debating, Joel, a different question that what I answered. The question here was about “possible,” not about “practical.” Would you like to know more about the actual experimental record, as well as the standing of “cold fusion” in mainstream scientific journals?

Those were “recommended” comments. I had assumed that “all” — an option — would actually show “all.” Nope. The Quora interface can be weird. It appears to matter if the first comment is upvoted, but this is not automatic, because once I saw this, I upvoted those below. No change yet. I’ll discuss this below.

Fred McGalliard
May 8
Cold Fusion seems to be an anomalous result of a complex electrochemical process. The expectations that actual fusion might be taking place appear to have been pretty much ruled out. Quite a few years ago now there was a lot of work on this and a lot of very stubborn folk finally had to give up.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 9
What is “actual fusion”? The evidence is that what is called the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect or Anomalous Heat Effect is accompanied by correlated helium (4He) production.

Precise measurements are difficult, but the correlation is clear, and the ratio is estimated (Storms, 2010) as 25 +/- 5 MeV/4He. The theoretical value for deuterium conversion to helium is 23.8 Mev/4He.

Cold fusion research continues. The work that I suggested as appropriate for some years, eventually publishing the proposal in 2015, replication of the measurement of the correlation with increased precision, is under way in Texas, where Texas Tech received a $6 million grant for that basic work, matched with Texas state funding.

The heat effect reported by Fleischmann and Pons was never “ruled out.” What was ruled out was ordinary d-d fusion, which produces copious neutrons and tritium. That was actually obvious from the beginning, and F&P claimed, not d-d fusion, but an “unknown nuclear reaction,” because the levels reported were very low, and the original neutron report was error. Tritium has been widely reported, but at levels a million times down from helium. (whereas half the reactions with ordinary d-d fusion would generate a fast neutron, and half would generate tritium).

Fred McGalliard
May 9
I am aware of some of this info but I stopped following because the “widely reported” never became a repeatable and measured result. Because every time the experimental process was cleaned up or modified to separate test error from positive results the results vanished. Because the creation of He4 and or other results was never higher than noise and never yielded the amount of energy needed to run a water heater. And while the process itself, whatever it is, deserves some continued study (High temperature superconductivity was very hard to replicate initially so I do not even now give it a 0, and the reason for this odd electrochemical/crystal behavior should be understood on it’s own terms) I have not yet seen any great light suggesting we have a winner. This has been attacked by a lot of very good minds over a lot of years now with scads of funding. I have not seen one independently replicable result that could only be explained by fusion at a readily detectable level.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 10
Lots of people think that way, but I wrote my paper to make the point that there is a repeatable and measured and confirmed result. Not the absolute amount of heat, but the ratio between heat and helium. The creation of helium has been far above noise.

The amount of energy is not relevant. You can make a lot of energy by scaling up, but the problem is that the effect is not under good control, and a certain percentage of experiments make a lot of energy! They are small, so, no, not water-heater level, but definitely substantial. Problem is, if you scale up, the experiment can become dangerous. So the serious work is done at a modest scale, enough heat to measure with sufficient precision.

Helium is expensive to measure (and takes substantial expertise), but it’s been done, and measurement precision is adequate for the purpose, the larger problem has been capturing all the helium to get a clean ratio. In some work, helium levels have risen well above ambient.

Perhaps you would review and comment on my paper. I was very careful, and the peer reviewer began with standard skeptical rejection. So I rewrote the paper to address his specific concerns. I do know how to write! He ended up helping write the conclusions. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/…

Fred McGalliard
May 10
Hey, good to see you working on this in a serious way. It is way harder to move from a quick “I think” letter to a well referenced and reviewed paper. I honor your effort.

The proof that folk can reliably obtain helium production rates commensurate with the measured heat generated from presumed fusions and not chemical “side effects” seemed to me to be very irregularly claimed and often disproved for unclear reasons. So the first question I would want answered is just how we got from what I remember to a predictable result.

Second, the amount of energy is way relevant. BECAUSE. This rate and total number of fusions is either directly a function of the energy generated, or the energy from an obscure chemical process is obscuring the fact fusion is not taking place. The problem so far is that if fusion is taking place we cannot accumulate enough total energy in/out to prove that the long slow electrolysis is not in fact creating the chemical reaction that appears to be sudden and dramatic and confuses the result.

I have done helium leak checks, so I am not sure what you mean that it is hard to test for. Anyway, if one cell is hard to do, build 100 cells and run the water heater (figuratively speaking) so signal way over noise.

And I do apologize that I cannot really do a serious review of your paper at the moment. I will do a quick scan though since you were kind enough to point to it. I did really love the discussion till it seemed to be a dead end.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
May 10
Fred, all your questions have ready answers. The fusion is not happening from a “chemical process,” probably. What is actually happening is not understood, but we do understand some of the conditions. The electrolysis has two effects: it generates deuterium gas from heavy water, and palladium is normally hungry for deuterium, it soaks it up. However, that reaction is exothermic until loading reaches something like 70% (D/Pt ratio). The reaction is not seen at that level. All the early negative results were with experiments that did not go above 70%, which was normally thought to be maximum. Pons and Fleischmann developed techniques of reaching 90% or higher; that level is about where the effect appears. However, Pons and Fleischmann did not understand what they found. We now know that the reaction is a surface reaction, because of where the helium is found. Roughly 40% of the helium is trapped in the metal: helium is mobile in the palladium lattice, but is trapped at grain boundaries, it cannot re-enter the lattice once it escapes.

The other effect is that as the lattice loads, it expands, and it appears to take a number of cycles of loading and deloading before the reaction appears. It does not appear with fresh, annealed palladium. Storms thinks that cracks must form of a particular size (very small, larger cracks cause deloading). That is plausible, the catalyst may be some particular size of resonant cavity.

“Testing for” helium is not adequate. It must be measured, not merely detected, and the measurement must be such as to indicate the total helium evolved in some period..

That’s what Miles reported, first, in 1991. His early measurements were order-of-magnitude, and they indicated a ratio to heat consistent with the theoretical deuterium fusion value. This was rough work. Later work has been more precise, and in two experiments, the surface was stripped, apparentlly releasing the rest of the helium. In one of those, the result was about 23 MeV/4He, as I recall, +/- 10% as reported. In the other, it was with the lowest heat of 3 laser-stimulated experiments, and helium was only a little above ambient (these experiments did not exclude ambient helium, but measured elevation above ambient. The 10% work was with flushing out helium and maintaining leak integrity). So that was on the money, plus or minus 20%. The other two laser experiments had much more heat, were not stripped, and found about 60% of the expected helium.

Miles’ helium measurements were blind. He collected outgas from electrolysis for a definite gas volume (equivalent to a fixed time at constant current), and sent samples to a lab, coded, so the lab did not know which samples had shown excess heat or how much. His original work was a few experiments, but it was enough to impress John Huizenga, who neverthless remained skeptical “because no gammas.” And that is the fact: it appears that the energy released is entirely converted to heat, with helium at the expected value if that is the case.

This work was amply confirmed over the years, but there was little public notice. Miles published in a major electrochemistry journal. After all, this was an electrochemical experiment! When I became involved with studying cold fusion in 2009, I found that realizing of heat/helium as a replicable experiment was missing. Nobody was focusing on that. Focus was much more on the heat, along, “a hundred electrochemists can’t be wrong.” Well, sorry, but they could. File drawer effect, unrecognized systematic errors, and the generic claim from Richard Garwin, “they must be doing something wrong.” If you can imagine how irritating that is as an objection.

(There is no way to know that cold fusion would be impossible without knowing WTF it is! Huizenga’s expectation of gammas requires that the reaction be d+d -> 4He, which must emit a gamma (very, very likely, though people have worked on phonon theories, I’m highly skeptical. Rather, much easier: it is a different reaction, and Takahashi, a “hot fusion” physicist, has analyzed some possibilities that involve 4D fusion probably, I’d say, in some kind of resonant trap; they could collapse, his analysis shows, into a Bose-Einstein Condensate and he predicts fusion within a femtosecond. But what then? Nobody knows, really. The resulting 8Be would presumably fission to helium and heat, no gammas required, but it would be too much energy. The “Hagelstein limit,” from what would be seen at higher charged particle energies, is about 10 or 20 KeV.)

What I suggest that you contemplate is not all the possible ways that heat could be measured incorrectly, or helium measured incorrectly, because that is all possible (but probably unlikely given what skill and effort has gone into eliminating the artifacts), but how it could happen that the levels correlate with reliability, so far within experimental precision of the theoretical fusion energy for deuterium conversion to helium.

More heat will mean, probably, more precision in helium and heat measurements, and is obviously desirable, but not actually necessary. A great deal of money was wasted, my opinion, trying to get more heat instead of studying what was actually happening. Once what is actually happening is understood, then it may become much more possible to improve results.

Because the fundamental heat/helium relationship is already known, to the satisfaction of researchers in the field, I proposed newer work with heat/helium (it was over ten years old, no newer results, because of helium measurement expenses) not because it was necessary for those in the field, but for political reasons, because a new finding with increased precision would be quite publishable, I’d expect, in a major journal, and this is direct evidence, not the more circumstantial evidence of heat and other nuclear results (such as tritium, reported at low levels, about a million times down from helium, and neutrons, reported at another million times down, i.e., rare. — But probably real, the SPAWAR work was well-done. All misleading and confusing, because the main reaction only produces helium, apparently.

“Political” to create cover for funding agencies, to do what the DoE recommended in both reviews (1989 and 2004). But there is also the science. The exact value of the ratio is important. It would be nice to get within 1% or better. I’ll also be far happier with actual calculated precision rather than the seat-of-the-pants 10% or 20%.

One more point. In a typical experiment with excess heat, there are about 10^12 fusions per second. That is with a d-d fusion idea. With 4D, it would be half that, but then the fusion product fissions and the fusion power would be the same. We don’t know the reaction (it could be some higher number of deuterons, or it is something else). Really, at this point, I emphasize that cold fusion is a mystery, but that, whatever it is, it is converting deuterium to helium, that’s the preponderance of the evidence.

Fred McGalliard
Thu · 1 upvote from Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
We are rapidly getting beyond my current state of knowledge. Thank you for your detailed reply. I do agree that He4/total energy produced is a key to determining that something nuclear is going on. The process of measuring He levels and even overall energy levels in the presence of chemical “junk” etc., is beyond my actual experimental experience, and certainly I have not been paying attention recently. So thanks for your input. I might even get around to reading up on the current state of the art.

Martin Hogbin
I was goingto upvote this until I saw the bit about cold fusion.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
The point of the Answer was not cold fusion, but no coverage of “on earth” fusion possibilities should fail to mention it. Muon-catalyzed fusion is cold fusion, by any sane definition. But the strong preponderance of the evidence on cold fusion has become that there is a real effect, not understood.

Martin Hogbin
‘Cold fusion’ is usually taken to refer to the Fleischmann–Pons claims of nuclear fusion at room temperature, which are generally accepted to be a fraud or, at best, some kind of self-delusion.

If you meant muon-catalyzed fusion it would have been better to have refered to it by that name.

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax
Thanks for expressing your opinion. It creates opportunities to learn something.

Yes, that is the meaning. But MCF was the first usage of the term “cold fusion,” and often we see it claimed that “cold fusion is impossible” — meaning fusion at low temperatures — and MCF is a clear counterexample. In any case, the question was about fusion in general, without any specification of what kind of fusion.

“Generally accepted” is vague and refers to at best a mass of opinion that may not be grounded in evidence. There is no credible claim of fraud on the part of Pons and Fleischmann.
It is a common claim that they were deluded. They were expert chemists and could not explain their results through chemistry. So they said “nuclear” and Fleischmann, before he died, regretted that claim in an interview. They had seen, they thought and reported, evidence for low-level neutron radiation. That was an error, admitted.

Their claims of anomalous heat were difficult to replicate, and most replication attempts were based in a lack of understanding of the necessary conditions, and were rushed. Later Bayesian analysis showed that the major “early negative replications” could be expected from the reported conditions, which were, simply, inadequate to generate the effect.

The heat findings were never successfully impeached, and there were, in fact, later confirmations by highly reputable groups. It is possible, for some of these, to assert the “file drawer effect,” with, perhaps, some systematic artifact as well. Heat evidence as to the FPHE is circumstantial on the issue of “nuclear.”

However, in 1991, helium was reported as correlated with anomalous heat. This was published under peer review in a major journal in 1993.

This finding has been confirmed by about a dozen research groups, and the ratio is consistent with a hypothesis of “deuterium conversion to helium,” which would show the same ratio regardless of mechanism, if the reaction has no major “leakages” as energetic radiation or other transmutation products.

The correlation alone — which is quite strong — demonstrates a high probability of “nuclear.”
The first DoE report (1989) was rushed and inadequate, but it did recommend more research, and it did not conclude “fraud or delusion.”

The second report (2004) was much stronger, with half the 18-member panel concluding that evidence for an anomalous heat effect was conclusive. That second review was itself rushed, and clear errors can be found in the report.

So the idea that the results were fraud or delusion is simply a popular opinion, an “information cascade,” not supported by evidence. As well, the mental state of F & P is irrelevant to what we now know, which is based on far more than evidence from them.

What I’m presenting here is being backed by major funding for basic research, which was the recommendation of both panels. Fortunately, funding agencies often are not concerned by what is “generally accepted,” which may generally be more-or-less correct, but which can also be spectacularly wrong.

If asked for specifics, I can show verifiable evidence for any of the claims above.

I did edit my Answer to cover MCF specifically.

So what is going on here? Dramatis Personae:

Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax, 3.6m answer views, 1.7k followers. Recent (last decade) interest in cold fusion, published author and blogger. Age 74 in a few days.

Joel Reid, 1.1m answer views, 370 followers. Physics teacher. Roughly 32 years old.

4 Upvoters of Reid’s comment: 3 of the upvoters have 1 follower, and 1 has none.

47 upvoters of my Answer, many have many followers, one, Pete Ashley, has twice been a Top Writer, and he has 6,665 followers.

Martin Hogbin, 376.8k answer views, 103 followers. Top Writer 2018. His stats sort-of-suck for being a Top Writer. I looked at his answers, and saw enough that I followed him. Nice brief answer.

My point is not to brag, but there are many people in the cold fusion field who believe that cold fusion cannot be communicated to the public because of the dedicated skeptics. When I started on Quora, I saw results that seemed to confirm that. However, it is possible to build a readership and a following on Quora, and lately results have been very different. I can, if I don’t want to respond to someone like Joel Reid, simply delete the comment. There is no obligation to allow comments on Answers.

At this point, I prefer to respond to his comments. Maybe he will learn something, or maybe not. That’s up to him, actually. I’m not seeing that he is terribly curious, unlike some of the other commentors. We’ll see. He has responded again, making definitive statements (“all”, “none”) showing a deep ignorance of the actual history.





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