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Does Italian Demo Show Cold Fusion, or Snake Oil? 479

Posted by timothy
from the how-much-would-you-bet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Today, Wired.co.uk is running a story, 'Cold fusion rears its head as "E-Cat" research promises to change the world.' It gives an overview of the technology that claims to fuse hydrogen and nickel into copper, with no radioactive by-products, to produce copious amounts of heat, inexpensively, with a 1 megawatt plant scheduled to come on line later this month. Apparently, Wired was not aware that today is a big test in Italy by scientists from around the world, who will be observing the technology in operation, including self-looped mode. A real-time update page has been set up at PESWiki, which has been a primary news provider of this technology since it was announced last January." Wired's article is remarkably optimistic. I'd love for this to be true, but many decades of scientific-looking free-energy machine scams make it hard to be other than cynical; the claim of a secret catalyst which "can be produced at low cost," controlled-access for outside observers, the lack of published science to explain the claimed effect, and skepticism even from the free-energy world — along with a raft of pro-E-Cat websites registered anonymously earlier this year — all make it sound like this follows the marketing style of previous "over unity" / perpetual motion machines. I invite Andrea Rossi to take part in a Slashdot interview, if he's willing to answer readers' questions about his claims.
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Does Italian Demo Show Cold Fusion, or Snake Oil?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @10:06AM (#37626032) Journal

    Wired's article is remarkably optimistic.

    Parts of it, yes. But I think the article does an okay job of keeping cautious. Maybe you read only the sentences you want to? Allow me to cherry pick a few:

    Rossi's heavyweight supporters include 1973 physics Nobel prize winner Brian Josephson. Josephson also supports telepathy research.

    Skeptics point to the lack of published science, and the way that Rossi keeps details of his special catalyst secret. They also point to his past involvement in Petroldragon, a company involved in converting organic waste into fuel, which collapsed in the 1990's amidst allegations of dumping toxic waste. (Rossi maintains that he was the victim in this complex case).

    Until August of this year, Rossi was planning his big launch in Greece, and an E-Cat factory was being built in Xanthi. But the deal has somehow fallen through for unexplained reasons, vaguely blamed on pressure from "international energy interests" who may be threatened by the invention.

    "According to my analysis, his claim has no scientific credibility," Krivit told Wired.co.uk. The device he claimed to heat a factory in Bondeno seems to exist only on paper."

    At this point, I'm calling it 'tabloid science journalism.' This guy is looking to get rich quick not contribute to human knowledge so I'm not paying attention to him just yet. Hopefully I get to backpedal in a couple months when he starts shipping but ... well, I'm betting there will be some 'delay' imposed by 'ominous forces' as Rossi's wallet fattens.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 06, 2011 @10:24AM (#37626316)

    Nickel has the highest binding energy of any nucleus. When stars die it is because they've turned every element into iron and nickel and it is impossible to fuse anything further exothermically. Heavier elements, including copper, can only be produced in supernovas and they take excess energy to make. How could you get energy out of changing nickel to copper if copper has a lower binding energy? You can't. This process, like most free energy scams, defies the conservation of energy at a fundamental level.

  • Re:Waste of space (Score:3, Informative)

    by bhlowe (1803290) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @10:44AM (#37626642)
    There is LOTS of information available if you know where to look. It appears to dribble out and there is very little mainstream media covering it. But here are some good links to the science and demos:

    http://22passi.blogspot.com/2011/10/test-e-cat-7-luglio-2011.html [blogspot.com]

    http://www.esowatch.com/en/index.php?title=Focardi-Rossi_Energy-Catalyzer

    http://coldfire-lenr.blogspot.com/2011/09/ready-set-go.html

    But the most important public tests are happening today, and at the end of this month in the US.

  • by bhlowe (1803290) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @10:47AM (#37626684)
    The process is Ni powder + hydrogen gas + heat + pressure + (mystery processes/catalysts) = excess heat and transmutation of Nickel to copper. Water is not involved in the process.
  • by bhlowe (1803290) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:26AM (#37627362)
    Follow today's test live on twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/22passi [twitter.com]

    As of now, it appears to be running in self-sustained mode (creating heat with little or no electrical input) for over 2 hours.

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @12:24PM (#37628358) Journal

    Sigh.

    Look, Uranium, it's higher up than Iron. Heavier, more protons, higher atomic number.

    Uranium is hard to fuse. You can't move from Uranium to Plutonium easily, lots of input energy required. It happens, but it's not efficient. Most of the Uranium in breeder reactors turns into lighter elements, and a lot of energy is released. Enrichment setups where you line the walls of the reactor core with Uranium absorb energy lost in reaction to radiation. The natural production of Plutonium occurs the same way.

    Conversely, breaking down Helium or Carbon into smaller elements (Hydrogen, Lithium, etc) is not easy. Fusing Li + Li into C would emit energy, whereas fissing He into H would lose energy. It's exactly in reverse.

    Iron is the most stable point here. Fissing Iron into lighter elements is hard, and absorbs energy to create mass--the products of the fission are slightly heavier. Fusing iron into heavier elements is also hard, and creates slightly heavier elements.

    Nickle is heavier than iron.

    Fissing Cu into Ni + H would result in Ni + H + free particles (electrons, neutrons, whatever) that are LIGHTER than the original piece of Cu. This is because part of the mass of the original Cu is released as thermal energy. Conversely, fusing Ni + H into Cu will bind some of the thermal energy input into the structure of the Cu atom, raising the mass of the products.

  • by orzetto (545509) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @12:52PM (#37628870)

    About a month ago I got an email from my dad in which he asked my opinion on this issue, since I have a PhD in engineering and work as a researcher. The case had been presented to the public in a Italian TV magazine [youtube.com]. I drafted a debunking on various grounds, which for your benefit I report here.

    Short version: this Rossi guy is a convicted felon, his buddy Focardi an old, crooked professor with no relevant publications since the 60s, and they are after the money of naive investors.

    Detailed version:

    • Mr. Rossi is a convicted felon, known for the Petroldragon [wikipedia.org] affair: in the 70s, he claimed he could make oil out of garbage. He was eventually sentenced five times, including bankruptcy fraud of said Petroldragon society. He managed to dodge some more convictions thanks to Italy's statutory limitations law.
    • Prof. Focardi has an academic career spanning over 50 years, yet he has amazingly few publications. On ScienceDirect only about 10 publications show up, of which only 2 as first author and dating to the 60s, the other ones are publication orgies with a dozen of authors or so dating to the early 70s. The greatest is the latest publication, dating back to 1986, with TWENTY-ONE other authors, that over 25 years gathered only 4 citations. In any case, Focardi never published anything on fusion, cold or warm.
    • The patent filed by Rossi [uibm.gov.it] is titled "process and apparatus to obtain exothermal reactions, in particular from nickel and hydrogen". There is no mention whatsoever that the reaction is nuclear.
    • The mysterious device is explained vaguely (also in Italian sources) referring to likewise mysterious unknown nuclear forces. So, there is no theory, no experiment that can be reproduced, only claims.

    Mr. Rossi is therefore only looking for rich, greedy fools that will pump money in his next bankruptcy fraud. As a consequence of a certain prime minister and his modifications to the legal system, crimes like bankruptcy fraud are now very difficult to prosecute in Italy, so Rossi could just get away with it this time.

  • by AlienIntelligence (1184493) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:56PM (#37629984)

    This would be awesome; nickel and hydrogen are both extremely plentiful,

    No 'they' aren't.
    Nickel is the fifth most common element in (in, iN, IN!) the Earth.
    Nickel is a metallic element, making up [ONLY] 0.008% of the Earth's crust.
    http://oldsite.nickelinstitute.org/index.cfm?ci_id=13&la_id=1 [nickelinstitute.org]
    Nickel is abundant in space, where supernovae and stellar cooking
    has created it in chunks and hurled it about the universe. Exactly
    where we can't get to it.

    [although I have imagined a time where 'mining' asteroids ended up being
    the controlled deorbiting of chunks of mined asteroids. Think there are
    big crowds for a shuttle launch? I think the antithesis would be a deorbited
    chunk of nickel. New lines of betting would come up in Las Vegas. People
    with a death wish would use boats and planes or pilgrimage to the target
    zone. We'd have some awesome footage... for the first dozen times, then
    people would get bored with it, haha.]

    Hydrogen is only abundant on earth in molecular or compound form
    with a really weak 0.14% by weight showing. Once again, abundant in
    space, where we can't get it to cheaply.

    and if copper is a byproduct, this would become a very inexpensive source of pure copper

    No, it wouldn't... are you getting that nickel for free??? Remember why
    hydrogen cars "aren't taking off"? Where are you getting the hydrogen from?

    which can eliminate at least some environment-damaging copper mines.

    And replace them with nickel mines???

    It sounds like you are regurgitating college 'book facts'.

    Lastly, I know the nickel is used as a catalyst... and a lot might not be used
    but anything that increases its price will change the price of another process
    that uses nickel and none of use want to see it go up in price. STEEL.

    -AI

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