Cold Fusion: What It Does
by Jed Rothwell
An edited version of a talk given at the Global Super Project Conference & Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, June 19-22, 1994. The theme was "Building Teams for Billion-Dollar Projects." Abstract
In 1989, cold fusion cells produced intermittent power at a fraction of a watt. Today, some produce steady output at levels as high as 150 watts. Some are fully ignited; that is, they are self-sustaining, with no electric input. The early cells produced low power that was difficult to detect, while the best cells today produce massive, macroscopic power that is impossible to miss. Cold fusion cells have generated thousands of times more energy than any
chemical reaction could. The effect is probably capable of producing millions of times more energy than chemistry. Rapid progress has prompted MITI, Toyota, EPRI, and others to expand R&D efforts in recent years. This will probably lead to prototype generators, space heaters, and automobile engines before the end of the century. Unless some unforeseeable, last minute problem arises, cold fusion will be commercialized. Within a generation it will bankrupt conventional energy suppliers, and bring about revolutionary changes in many areas of technology.
This lecture is titled "Cold fusion: What it does," because I do not know what
cold fusion is. I do not know what it is on the sub-atomic level, but I know how it behaves macroscopically. I can describe the engineering performance characteristics of this new energy source: power density, fuel consumption, radioactive byproducts, and so on. Based upon these characteristics, I can predict what kinds of products will soon appear.
First, some history Cold fusion was announced at the University of Utah in March 1989 by professors Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons1. The announcement caused the biggest brouhaha in the history of modern science. It was harshly criticized by most leading scientific journals and institutions2,3, and a few months later it abruptly vanished from the U.S. media. Most people then assumed that it was a mistake. People now assume that the experiments were never replicated, and that no experiments are being performed today. But cold fusion
did not disappear. The experiments were replicated. Pons and Fleischmann settled in France where a Toyota Motor Company think tank built for them a splendid, 50,000 square-foot cold fusion research institute. Behind the scenes in Japan, Italy,
Russia, and in many labs in the U.S., including Los Alamos, there are now more
solid, credible, important experiments being performed and published than ever
before. MIT's Technology Review for the May/June 1994 issue features a superb article about cold fusion4. The magazine cover shows an idea that was thrown in the trash can, and is about to re-emerge.
The Third International Conference on Cold Fusion was held in 1992 in Nagoya Japan. The sponsors, among them, The Physical Society of Japan, The Japan Society of Applied Physics, the IEEE comprise an impressive list5. In December
1993, the Fourth International Conference was sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). During that conference in Maui, Japan's Ministry of
International Trade and Industry announced expanded support for cold fusion, including a new dedicated lab and a $30 million, four-year program 6. Since 1989, tremendous progress has been made at the leading laboratories. We have progressed from cells that produced a fraction of a watt intermittently to cells that produce hundreds of watts continuously for days.
Two certainties
It is important to make two scientific points about cold fusion:
1. The effect does exist. Experimental error has been ruled out.
2. Cold fusion cannot possibly be a chemical form of energy.
Five years ago, the level of heat was so low it could barely be detected with sensitive laboratory instruments. These tiny flickers of heat might have been caused by experimental error, poorly calibrated equipment, or wishful thinking. Experimental errors might have explained the 1989 results. Today, the leading laboratories routinely see reactions ranging from 30-150 watts or more-some with no electric power input7,8. Such powerful reactions are dead simple to detect. They produce very high temperatures. Try holding your hand over a 150 watt light bulb and you will see what I mean. Cold fusion
scientists observe obvious, macroscopic heat effects. At Toyota, they boil water, and the cathodes remain hot long after that with no input7,9. If there were no cold fusion effect, the cathodes would quickly cool to room temperature.
Some skeptical scientists claim that all excess heat measurements are due to experimental error. What does this assertion mean? What these skeptics are really saying is that Toyota cannot tell the difference between boiling water and water at room temperature. They are asserting that hundreds of scientists worldwide cannot measure temperatures ranging as high as 200*C. Figure 1 shows
data from Mizuno et al. of Hokkaido University. Ten hours after the reaction begins, the cell temperature is 400*C. The calibration shows that if there were no reaction, the temperature would be 270*C. That is 130*C, a gigantic difference! The Hokkaido scientists spend a month calibrating and checking their equipment
before they do these experiments. They employ three types of control experiments that show no trace of excess heat. An error, something like a loose wire, could not possibly hide during calibration, hide during the control experiments, and then suddenly produce such dramatic effects with the ceramic material in deuterium only. The notion that all reported results could be caused by systematic errors flies in the face of the scientific method. If it were possible for hundreds of scientists to make gross errors year after year, mismeasuring temperatures by 100*C in experiment after experiment, then science would not work-and we would still live in trees.
My second point is that we are now certain that cold fusion is not a chemical source of energy. It produces thousands of times more energy than any chemical
reaction ever could. A half-gram of the most concentrated chemical fuel will burn at 70 watts for four minutes; half-gram cold fusion cathodes sometimes generate heat at that rate for hours, some go for days. Cold fusion cannot be any type of chemical battery storage; the 16 gram Piantelli device produced as
much energy as 320 automobile batteries. (In U.S. units: a half-ounce gadget generated as much energy as 9,000 pounds of batteries.) "Anomalous heat production in Ni-H systems"Il Nuovo Cimento, Vol. 107 A, N. 1 pp.163-167, S. Focardi (U. Bologna, INFN), R. Habel (U. Cagliari, INFN) and F.
Piantelli (U. of Siena, INFN).
Three sample runs from 1993:
Highest power:
57 watts for 20 days 98.5 MJ
3.5 watts/cm2 Longest:
27 watts for 100 days 320 MJ
2.3 watts/cm2
Example cited in paper:
44 watts for 24 days 91.2 MJ
2.7 watts/cm2 (MJ = mega-joule)
Here is some 1992 data from Pons and Fleischmann (Fig 2)7,9. This is the temperature of a cell that was driven to boiling by heat from the cold fusion reaction. At this stage, all of the electrolyte has boiled out, and the connection between anode and cathode is broken, so no additional electrical energy can go into the cell. As you see, it stays hot for three hours. This phenomenon is known as "heat after death" or "a fully ignited, self-sustaining" reaction. If there were no cold fusion heat, tests show that the temperature would drop very rapidly. This should be intuitively obvious: the cathode is a half-gram metal rod, like
a small nail. Without some source of energy to keep it hot, a small nail in a half-silvered Dewar will cool down very rapidly. During the three-hour period it remains hot, and the cathode generates 128,500
joules. The absolute maximum potential chemical energy in the cell is the 660 joules that might be released by combustion of the deuterium in the cathode. The cell has generated 200 times more energy than any chemical reaction could.
There can be no stored up chemical or physical energy hidden in the cell, because it already generated excess heat for a week before this point, including 86,700 joules in the 10-minute boil-off just before the power cut off.
Cold fusion is nuclear, sort of . . .
We often assume cold fusion must be nuclear, because no other source of energy
could produce so much heat from such a small amount of fuel. We think it is some kind of fusion, because it produces tritium and helium. On the other hand, it does not produce a deadly flux of neutrons, so it cannot be the type of nuclear fusion that occurs in the sun. Scientists do not know what to make of it. They theorize, hypothesize, argue, and debate. Some scientists say that because the reaction is theoretically impossible, it cannot be happening. They believe that textbook theories overrule facts. They are like the proverbial professor of aerodynamics who insists that bumblebees cannot fly. You must not get dragged into sterile, academic debates with these people about neutrons. To evaluate the reality of cold fusion, it is best to ignore nuclear physics, and stick with simple, concrete, 19th century physics. Look at calorimetry: power in, heat out, power density, net excess energy; simple, classical physics-the bread and butter of engineering. If you concentrate on that, you will understand what it means when Piantelli reports a stable, 400*C, 30 watt reaction that runs for 100 days, adding up to 320 megajoules of energy from 16 grams of nickel. It means that if he can scale up that reaction, he could put Exxon out of business.
That is the point! Toyota, MITI, EPRI, and the others are spending money on this research to "put Exxon and OPEC out of business." They are not interested
in funding esoteric debates about neutrons. There is no market for neutrons except in government-funded hot fusion research; nobody wants to buy them. Toyota wants concentrated, industrial strength heat. Their cathodes yield 4,000 watts per cubic centimeter, which is better power density than a fission
breeder reactor. High temperatures have been reached, and Carnot efficiency is
excellent in some cells. Virtually free fuel?
Cold fusion produces massive, concentrated heat energy from water! The fuel is
virtually free. A kilogram of heavy water in a cold fusion device will probably produce at least 2.7 million times more energy than a kilogram of oil. To put it another way, your car will go 55 million miles on a gallon of heavy water. The metals used in many cold fusion experiments are cheap and abundant. Some 1989 experiments used palladium, which is expensive; others used titanium which is cheap. Recent experiments have used nickel, ceramic compounds, tungsten-bronze, and other host metals.
The reaction produces no measurable levels of pollution or radiation. The cells input hydrogen and output helium, an inert, harmless gas which is already present in the atmosphere. If all of the energy in the world were produced by cold fusion, it would add a few tons of helium to the atmosphere per year. Some cells do produce worrisome levels of tritium, but others do not
produce any measurable tritium at all. There must be some controlling factor which turns on the tritium production under certain conditions. When the scientists finally learn how cold fusion works, they will learn to turn off tritium, just as today we prevent fires from generating excessive smoke from insufficient combustion. Cold fusion does
produce neutrons, charged particles, and other byproducts of a nuclear reaction-but they can be contained with modest shielding.
The 64 trillion dollar question is: Can Piantelli scale up the reaction? The Italian newspapers report that he is working in cooperation with the Fiat Motor Company. Will Fiat put Exxon out of business? If Piantelli cannot do it,
can Mizuno, or McKubre, Miles, Mills, Pons & Fleischmann, or someone else? Can the reaction be controlled and scaled up? I see no reason why not. There are no insurmountable roadblocks. Progress has been swift, and power levels are thousands of times higher than they were a few years ago. Piantelli, who achieved 60 watts last year, is reportedly preparing to test a 1,000 watt cell. If he succeeds he will soon go to 10,000 watts-enough to power a prototype Fiat automobile.
I have spent 20 years building new products with cutting edge technology. Painful lessons have taught me never to count my chickens before they hatch. So, I cannot be absolutely certain that cold fusion will pan out, and I would not want to guess how long it will take. This is brand new science. It is like
designing and building a computer from scratch: Start with a bucket of sand, refine the silicon, etch the chips, build the circuits . . . it can be done, but it takes time. What lies ahead? In spite of the difficulties, we have made great progress. We are close to the
goal. The stakes are high, for cold fusion will be worth countless hundreds of
billions of dollars. I cannot imagine anything will stop scientists from finishing the job. Investment in cold fusion may still be risky, but a bet against cold fusion would be foolhardy. If you invest in oil, you are betting against cold fusion, and you are much braver than I. Future prospects are rosy, but there are no practical devices yet. One experiment will yield high temperatures; another will continue for months at a
modest temperature; a third produces excellent power density, only to die out after a few days. Put them all together in efficient, reliable, and controllable devices, and you have a potent source of energy. Nobody knows how
to put them together yet, but we will learn. When one caveman finds you can rub sticks together to make a fire, another finds you can roast a pig in a fire, and a third invents a stone blade to cut firewood, eventually the three will get together and develop cooking.
A broad range of cold fusion cells will emerge from the laboratory. Some may be ideal for space heating or water heating, at modest temperatures. Others will work at thousands of degrees. These devices will allow a broad range of engines, generators, and heaters. A tiny thermoelectric power cell may be ideal for pacemakers and other medical devices. A glow discharge device may be
right for jet aircraft engines.
One of the first cold fusion applications will be the automobile engine, and much else will follow from that. The company that brings out a cold fusion automobile will grab a gigantic share of the auto market, and make fantastic profits which it will invest in improving cold fusion technology. It will soon
produce or license other products, like small home electric generators. Cold fusion produces neither smoke or other pollution, nor does it need a tank
of dangerous, explosive gasoline, so you can put a cold fusion reactor in your
basement. Thermoelectric chips may be rapidly improved, allowing compact, rugged, maintenance-free, silent generators, with no moving parts. If thermoelectric chip prices do not fall, then some other equally quiet, convenient form of electric generation will soon be invented, because the economic incentive will be so great. When a core technology improves radically, peripheral technology follows a few
years later. After microprocessors appeared, smaller, cheaper, and better disks and printers soon followed.
Design engineers today must strive to make engine and generator fuel efficient. Over the lifetime of the engine, the cost of fuel exceeds the cost of the engine. There are design trade-offs: engineers must sacrifice simplicity, ease of maintenance, ruggedness; they must select expensive materials to get the most out of the fuel. With cold fusion, fuel efficiency hardly matters at all. A 12 percent efficient engine will be as good as a 30 percent efficient engine, as long as it is not too hot and bulky. Fuel cost will be zero in either case. Designers will stop worrying about efficiency and concentrate on other desirable features instead, like a low capital cost for equipment, simplicity,
and low maintenance cost. New designs will eventually allow cheaper motors than we have today. Competition will ensure that cold fusion automobiles will become cheaper than gasoline models.
The first home generator may cost $30,000, but prices will fall swiftly because the materials in most cold fusion cells are cheap, and the manufacturing process will be simple. Home generators will soon cost about as much as a deluxe central air conditioner and heater, which is $7,000 to $14,000 in Atlanta, Georgia. They may be co-generators that provide high grade
heat for electricity and air conditioning, and waste heat for water and space heating during winter. Heat can be used in place of the compressor pump in a refrigerator or air conditioner. Perhaps some of you will remember old-fashioned gas fired refrigerators. They remind us that heat can be used in many applications we tend to think call for
electricity. The co-generator will eliminate the need for both electricity and
gas. When people build new houses, offices, factories, and shopping malls, or when old water heaters, furnaces, and air conditioners wear out, people will replace them with co-generators, and they will go off the electric power network. The electric power distribution network, and the power companies, will soon go
out of business. There will be no need for central distribution of power. It exists today because it is safer, it pollutes less, and it is more fuel efficient which makes it cheaper. When fuel costs nothing, and there is no pollution, central power distribution will make no economic sense.
These hydroelectric mega-projects you have talked about will not be needed. In
30 years, existing hydroelectric dams will be abandoned, because it will not be worth maintaining the high tension wires from the dams to the cities. We will not need any more oil wells, pipelines, or supertankers. Only 19 percent of oil is used in non-energy applications. That's 11 million barrels a day world-wide. Local sources will suffice in many countries. The U.S. will not import any oil from the Middle East when our consumption drops by 80 percent. I predict that in the distant future this 11 million barrels per day will drop to zero, as chemists learn to synthesize petrochemicals out of hydrogen and carbon, the carbon from carbon dioxide in air. That will require a fantastic amount of energy, because it takes much more energy to synthesize a kilogram of oil than you get from burning a kilogram, but it will not matter when energy is free. It will be safer and cheaper to synthesize oil for petrochemicals on site with automated machines, rather than shipping it around in trucks.
The revolution is on the horizon
I could go on talking about the ramifications of this revolution for the rest of the week and barely scratch the surface. Every industry uses energy. Nearly
every product uses energy. When products are redesigned to take advantage of the new features and freedom this energy source will provide, many will be revolutionized and improved tremendously. At last we will have practical portable computers. Our aircraft will fly at full speed, no more "cruising speed" to preserve fuel. An airplane, hovercraft, or cruise missile will be able to circle the globe a hundred times without depleting its fuel supply. Agriculture will be revolutionized. Large scale distillation of ocean water may allow the deserts to bloom. Dazzling new products we cannot even imagine will suddenly appear. The possibilities are mind-boggling. Every industry on earth will change, and eventually every person on earth will be affected. For one thing, the air will
be clean again, because most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuel.
It will be many years before products take full advantage of cold fusion. It will take prodigious amounts of work and investment capital. The capital will come from consumers. They will be delighted to pay less for cold fusion automobiles than gasoline powered models, especially when the cold fusion autos will be more reliable, more powerful, and will never require fuel. When your old furnace wears out, you will be happy to spend a few thousand dollars extra on a new furnace and co-generator that saves you $150 or much more per month for gas and electricity. The gradual changeover to cold fusion will not cost the consumers any more than they would have paid anyway, because all equipment wears out after 20 or 30 years. Most people will put off buying a cold fusion car until the old gasoline car wears out, or until the last gas station in the neighborhood goes
out of business.
This changeover will be the biggest technological mega-project in history. But
it will not be a centralized, planned project. It will happen spontaneously, everywhere, without planning, without direction. It will be like the microcomputer explosion. Dozens of companies will sprout up, dozens of old ones will die off. Companies that sell energy conservation equipment will disappear, while new companies will blossom by selling things like flashlights
that stay on for decades, welding equipment you do not have to plug in, and scuba diving equipment that never runs out of air because it extracts oxygen from water. Ideas, gadgets, and innovation will come from every direction, in a madcap free-for-all. It will be capitalism at its best. Some people may try to stop cold fusion. Exxon, OPEC, and the DOE may fight to
the bitter end (or they may finally join the cold fusion revolution!), but they do not stand a chance against MITI, Toyota, Hitachi, and the American consumer. The public will demand this marvelous, money-saving, pollution-free form of energy.
There is a strange objection I often hear. People say, "We have heard these empty promises before, 'power too cheap to meter.' Nuclear fission did not pan
out, nothing can work that well. It is too good to be true." This is a myopic view of history. A person living 200 years ago would find our world filled with countless inventions and discoveries even more amazing than cold fusion, inventions which did pan out. Electricity, nuclear reactors, hydrogen bombs, x-rays, unmanned exploration of
other planets, antibiotics, television . . . our ancestors could never have imagined these things. Our personal computers perform millions of operations per second for years without skipping a beat. They can compute more sums in a few minutes than an ancient clerk or astronomer could have done in a lifetime.
They are miracles of technology, unthinkable in any earlier age, yet our children use them to play games! We take for granted the blessings of science and technology-we have forgotten how wonderful they are. People say there are no panaceas. They say technology cannot remake the world.
But technology has remade the world time after time throughout history. Arthur
C. Clarke published a marvelous speech about cold fusion in "Cold Fusion" magazine's first issue. In it, he concludes:
"With monotonous regularity, all throughout history, religious crackpots have predicted the imminent end of the world. I have about 90 percent confidence that I'm doing something very similar . . . And this time, it's good news."
1. M. Fleischmann, S. Pons, and M. Hawkins, "Electrochemically Induced Nuclear
Fusion of Deuterium." J. Electroanalytical Chem., vol. 261, pp 301-308.
2. J. Maddox, "End of Cold Fusion in Sight," Nature, 340, 15 (1990).
3. F. Slakey (A.P.S.), "When the lights of reason go out-Francis Slakey ponders the faces of fantasy and New Age Scientists," New Scientist, Sept. 1993, p. 11.
4. Dr. Edmund Storms, "Warming up to Cold Fusion," Technology Review (MIT), May/June 1994, 19-29.
5. Frontiers of Cold Fusion; Proc. 3rd Int. Conf. Cold Fusion, Nagoya, 1992, ed. H. Ikegami (Universal Academy Press, Tokyo, 1993), p. iii, p. 681.
6. K. Matsui (MITI), "New Hydrogen Energy (NHE) Research Project in Japan," Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Cold Fusion, Maui, 1993, (EPRI).
7. M. Fleischmann (U. Southampton), S. Pons (IMRA), "Calorimetry of the Pd-D2O
system: From simplicity via complications to simplicity," Phys. Lett. A., 176 (1993) 118-129
8. F. Piantelli (U. Siena), "Anomalous Heat Production in Ni-H Systems," Il Nuovo Cimento, Vol. 107 A, N, J. 163-167; also, lecture at U. Sienna, Feb. 14,
9. S. Pons, M. Fleischmann (IMRA), "Heat After Death," Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Cold Fusion, Maui, 1993, (EPRI)
10. T. Mizuno et al (Hokkaido U.), "Anomalous Heat Evolution from SrCeO3-Type Proton Conductors During Absorption/Desorption of Deuterium in Alternate Electric Field," Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Cold Fusion, Maui, 1993, (EPRI)
11. Estimate from Peachtree Heading & Air-conditioning, Atlanta GA, for HVAC systems with all "bells and whistles," including installation but not duct work. $7,000 is for a medium size house; $14,000 is for a five-ton system, suitable for a very large house.
12. G. R. Davis, "Energy for Planet Earth," Scientific American, September 1990, 55-62
Mr. Rothwell's talk was before The Global Super Projects Conference & Exhibition was held in Barcelona, Spain from June 19-22, 1994. The theme was "Building Teams for Billion-Dollar Projects." Eleven sessions were held, with titles such as: "Team Building for Attracting and Developing Industrial Super Projects; Building Teams for Large Global Events [including the Olympics]; Building Teams for Water and Energy Projects; Telecommunications; and Building
the New Global Data Highway."
The conference was sponsored by the World Development Council (WDC), which is headquartered in Norcross, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The WDC is a non-profit, non-governmental organization of corporations and agencies that focus on large-scale super projects: things like civil engineering, airports, dams, highways, and advanced telecommunications networks.
This was the third annual Global Super Project Conference. Previous conferences have focused on individual projects such as the proposed Motorola Iridium satellite communication network and the Kansai International Airport. Previous conferences have attracted a broad range of participants from companies and organizations ranging from architecture firms to large corporations like AT&T, Bechtel International, Inc., China State Construction Co., NASA, and NEC. Previous speakers have included Ross Perot and Robert McNamara. Some two hundred participants attended in 1994.
The WDC chairman is Mr. McKinley Conway, president of Conway Data, Inc, which specializes in publications, information, and association management related to the fields of economic development and corporate expansion. It publishes a family of magazines, books and reports on these subjects. The WDC likes to invite a few challenging, futurologists to the conference, so in April it asked the world's leading futurologist, Arthur C. Clarke, who he might recommend for this year's conference. Clarke suggested Jed Rothwell. In a connection forged by fax from Atlanta to Sri Lanka and back to Atlanta, the WDC contacted Rothwell, who lives just down the street.
[Ed: Figures have been omitted, but captions are included.]
Figure 1. This graph shows1992 data from Pons and Fleischmann, the temperature
of a cell that was driven to boiling by heat from the cold fusion reaction. At
this stage, all of the electrolyte has boiled out, and the connection between anode and cathode is broken, so no additional electrical energy can go into the cell. As the graph demonstrates the apparatus stays hot for three hours. This phenomenon is known as "heat after death" or "a fully ignited, self-sustaining" reaction. MIT's Technology Review ran as its cover story in the May/June 1994 issue a lengthy feature by Dr. Edmund Storms (Los Alamos National Laboratory, retired)
titled, "Cold Fusion Heats Up." The piece claimed that " . . . the basis for skepticism is dwindling as reports of energy-releasing nuclear reactions at room temperature pour in from labs around the world." Figure 2. Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry announced at the Third International Conference on Cold Fusion, 1992, in Nagoya, expanded support for research, including a new dedicated lab and a $30 million, four-year program.
Figure 3. This graph shows data from Mizuno et al. of Hokkaido University. Hours after the reaction begins, the cell temperature is 400*C. The calibration shows that if there were no reaction the temperature would be 270*C-a gigantic difference of 130*C.
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