May 24, 2011

Opening up the "cold case" of cold fusion

These read like headlines from the 80's when I was a kid.
A possible scientific breakthrough that holds out the hope of cheap, abundant power...
Cold fusion - discredited and vilified in the past - is back in the news. The potential benefits are great enough that, despite past failures, the technology deserves a fair hearing from the scientific community this time.

In January, two Italian scientists announced they had invented a reactor that fuses nickel and hydrogen nuclei at room temperature, producing copper and throwing off massive amounts of energy in the process. Sergio Focardi and Andrea Rossi demonstrated their tabletop device before a standing-room-only crowd in Bologna, purportedly using 400 watts of power to generate 12,400 watts with no hazardous waste. They told observers that their reactors, small enough to fit in a household closet are able to produce electricity for less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour.

The Italians' reported 31-fold increase in energy from cheap and commonplace ingredients - if genuine - would rank as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time, deposing oil as king of energy resources. Petroleum-producing regimes in the Middle East now using petro-dollars from the United States and other power-needy nations to fund Islamic extremism across the globe would be put out of business. A nuclear physicist associated with the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics, Giuseppe Levi, told reporters at the January demonstration that he was convinced the results were accurate. But peer-reviewed journals, exhibiting an abundance of caution, have so far refused to publish the findings.- Washington Times

It is easy to understand why. In 1989, University of Utah chemist Stanley Pons and University of Southampton chemist Martin Fleischmann announced a similar breakthrough in cold fusion. When their results were largely unexplainable and irreproducible, they were shunned by the scientific community. That episode has resulted in scientists looking askance at any claims of success in cold fusion research, complicating the task the Italians face in proving their results are genuine.

The interest on Andrea Rossi's Nickel-Hydrogen Cold Fusion technology is accelerating. However, Rossi says that about 30% of nickel was turned into copper, after 6 months of uninterrupted operation. Kowalski says that "this seems to be impossible because the produced copper isotopes rapidly decay into Ni". . . Rossi says that about 30% of nickel was turned into copper, after 6 months of uninterrupted operation. At first glance this seems to agree with calculations based on simple assumptions. - Journal of Nuclear Physics