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."
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
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.
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:
57 watts for 20 days 98.5 MJ
3.5 watts/cm2 Longest:
27 watts for 100 days 320 MJ
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Fusion of Deuterium." J. Electroanalytical Chem., vol. 261,
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,
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
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,
of a cell that was driven to boiling by heat from the cold fusion
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,
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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