Oct 24, 2012

Can Andrea Rossi's Infinite-Energy Black Box Power The World--Or Just Scam It?

POPSCI: Rossi--a lone Italian inventor with no real credentials and a history as a convicted scam artist--has convinced a small army of researchers that his box can harness a new type of nuclear reaction. What if they're right?

On January 14, 2011, a 61-year-old Italian inventor named Andrea Rossi staged a spectacular demonstration.
In a warehouse in Bologna, he switched on a strange contraption that looked like a leg of lamb wrapped in aluminum foil. He called it the “E-Cat,” short for “energy catalyzer.” It contained a pinch of powdered nickel, a puff of hydrogen gas, and a dash of a secret catalyst. When the mixture was heated with an electrical current, a mysterious reaction occurred, generating large amounts of excess heat—far more than any known chemical reaction could produce. The heat boiled water into steam. The steam could be used to spin a turbine to make electricity.

Here, Rossi claimed, was a machine that harnessed a previously unknown type of nuclear reaction—a machine that could produce nearly infinite energy cheaply and with no radioactive by-products. It would put the oil companies out of business. It would enable humanity to explore space on the cheap. It would change the world overnight.
A handpicked audience of 40 journalists and scientists watched Rossi’s E-Cat gurgle steam for an hour. Physicist Francesco Celani, who had traveled to Bologna from Rome, brought along a spectrometer to measure spikes in gamma radiation, which could provide evidence that nuclear reactions did indeed power Rossi’s machine; Rossi demanded that Celani turn it off, lest he divine his secrets.

Despite the rebuff, three weeks later Celani presented observations of Rossi’s “black box,” as he called it, at a special session of the 16th International Conference on Cold Fusion. He also circulated an e-mail in which he estimated that Rossi’s E-Cat produced 15 to 20 times more energy than it consumed.

If it were true, Rossi’s invention would be a miracle—the boundless energy source that physicists have been pursuing since the dawn of the nuclear age. But could it be true? Could a solo inventor working out of a warehouse in Bologna really have built a fusion device that could power the planet?

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