Thursday, April 28, 2005

Infinite Energy?

Guess what's back in the news?

Cold Fusion!

Remember the stir it caused about 15 years ago? I remember, as a physics undergrad, seeing an attempt to replicate the Pons and Fleischmann effect, in a beaker of heavy water bubbling away behind some cursorily placed lead bricks, as if the experimenters didn't really expect any danger from free neutrons or gamma rays.

And none were detected.

The effect, whatever it was (or wasn't), certainly wasn't following conventionally-understood "hot fusion" reaction pathways; the expected byproducts of Helium-3 and/or Tritium were not being detected.

The only "replicable" effect seemed to be excess heat, which could be blamed on poor calibration methods, so the mainstream physics community dismissed it. It would take "new physics" to explain what was going on. And that's always a hard sell.

Be that as it may, room-temperatute superconductors weren't supposed to exist either, and it took years to explain them after the fact.

But, enough continued heat "anomalies" continued to be reported over the years, to the degree that now the Department of Energy has agreed to at least consider applications for new studies.
While Pons and Fleischmann went onto the front pages of newspapers worldwide, legions of curious, enthusiastic and sceptical scientists went into their labs to try the simple experiments themselves. As failed attempts to replicate the results piled up, scepticism turned to hostility.

A few months later, a report from the US Department of Energy found no evidence for the effect and put the nascent field out of its misery. That, as far as mainstream science was concerned, was that.

Cold fusion may now be about to get a second chance. In a landmark decision in December, the same US Department of Energy gave a cautious green light to funding cold fusion research.

It follows a decade-long investigation by the US Naval Research Laboratory, which concluded that there might be something in the phenomenon after all.
If the effect is real, "cold fusion" is probably a misleading misnomer, as it isn't, it seems, just a scaled-down version of hot fusion, but rather should be considered a form of "low energy nuclear reaction."

It turns out, such things now, very recently, exist -- it was just announced TODAY, in fact, in an accepted experiment (because it follows explainable, conventional physics), that actual nuclear reactions were produced on a table-top!

The process consumed more energy than it produced, so it's not an energy source (yet), but the consequences of this could be enormous -- it's the foot in the door of accepting that nuclear reactions can take place under "ordinary" conditions!!!
Fusion experts noted that the UCLA experiment was credible because, unlike the 1989 work, it didn't violate basic principles of physics.

"This doesn't have any controversy in it because they're using a tried and true method," said David Ruzic, professor of nuclear and plasma engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "There's no mystery in terms of the physics."
It will be useful as a neutron generator. This is really truly remarkable.

Fusion in ordinary solids is now accepted as REAL!

But back to cold fusion, there's a conference coming up at MIT. There's a magazine or two about it.

And to give conspiracy theorists plenty of fodder, a year ago the driving force behind keeping Cold Fusion going all these years, Dr. Eugene Mallove, was mysteriously murdered:
Devastated Family of Murdered Scientist Still Looking for Answers

Norwich, CT - On May 14, 2004, police found the badly-beaten body of Dr. Eugene Mallove outside his childhood home. Dr. Mallove was a former MIT science writer, and the founder and editor of Infinite Energy and President of the New Energy Foundation. His loss is mourned by many across the US and the rest of the world, and by scientists from many different fields. Eight months later, no arrest(s) have been made in the case.
The case remains unsolved.

It may be too early to count on Mr. Fusion reactors in the home, solving all our energy problems producing undreamed of prosperity and, as an added fringe benefit, cutting off the hundreds of billions of dollars going to the oil-owning radical Islamists who have been using their profits to spread their hate-filled fascist ideology as the only available form of "education" in the Islamic world -- and they will recede back to the sands from which they came.

If I may speculate, historians will look back at the resurgence of Islam over the last 50 years, an untenable and backward medieval system of repression and stagnation, and conclude it was a short-lived anomaly and the last gasp of an already dying system that could not survive in a modern world, but was only propped up, briefly, by the windfall of oil-profits showered on them, undeserving, by progressives of the early 20th century who felt bad about colonialism and so handed the world's most precious resource to the worst stewards imaginable.

One could say the unearned wealth has been a curse to the Arabs, as it allowed small factions of dictators and their cronies to consolidate great power, buy off the opposition, and delay real reform. The rich know that leaving too much wealth to their descendants often ruins them, morally and spiritually.

We should do all we can to relieve them of this terrible burden.

Whether by a seizure of the oil fields and the dissolution of the House of Saud, or by a rendering of oil obsolete as a fuel, is of no difference to me.

Just let's have it happen soon, please!

PS don't bet on hydrogen fuel cells. Oil is a ready energy source; the energy is already stored in it. Hydrogen, on the other hand, first has to be produced -- we can't just go bottle it! And to do that, it takes -- drumroll! -- energy! So we'd still be burning loads of coal or whatever to make the hydrogen to put in the fuel cells. Like ethanol, it's a boondoggle (ethanol may be "renewable", since it's grown, but it still takes plenty of energy to create it, probably more than is produced! It's really just a subsidy to big commercial farmers).


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