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Power NASA Science

Can NASA Warm Cold Fusion? 556

Posted by Soulskill
from the as-long-as-it's-not-on-the-moon dept.
TomOfAmalfi writes "Andrea Rossi says he can provide domestic energy sources (about 10 kW) based on his E-Cat system (a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction or Cold Fusion energy source) for between 100 and 150 US$/kW and begin shipping this year. Many people are skeptical about Rossi's claims because he has not explained how his 'reactors' work (apparently the reactors contain ingenious security devices to prevent reverse engineering), there is no theoretical basis to support his process, and no one has supplied independent measurements to support the specs on his black boxes. However, buried at the bottom of a NASA web page there is a comment about progress in 'cold fusion' research and a link to the slides used in a September 2011 presentation (PDF) which talks about LENR research. NASA has also released a video describing the great benefits we will get from NASA LENR research. Could Rossi be on to something?"
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Can NASA Warm Cold Fusion?

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  • Fusion Confusion (Score:5, Informative)

    by muon-catalyzed (2483394) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:42AM (#38705218)
    For confirmed peer reviewed low temperature fusion see Muon-Catalyzed fusion [wikipedia.org]. What we are approaching here is a whole new field of very promising catalyzed fusion science. NASA already has patents on some approaches and deems it OK to spend public funds on further research.
  • by Xyrus (755017) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:13AM (#38705328) Journal

    The difference between your examples and this Rossi character is that black hole and planetary discoveries were verifiable science that could be reviewed by others. Rossi's got a black box that no one really knows anything about. His evasion and roadblocks he puts in the way of trying to determine exactly what is going on is highly suspect.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:33AM (#38705430) Journal

    LENR is not cold fusion. LENR is a broad category and basically means 'stuff that is not high-energy fission / fusion.' It includes neutron capture (i.e. a neutron hits a nucleus, is absorbed, and no fission occurs) and radioactive decay. There are a lot of LENR generators. Some pacemakers contain betavoltaic generators that are powered by a small quantity of tritium. The Russians used to power lighthouses with radiothermal generators (RTFs) and there are three of them powering each of the Voyager spacecraft, with a rated lifespan of about 60 years each.

    eCat sounds like they are claiming two low-energy reactions: a neutron capture followed by a decay. This is potentially feasible, but then good snake oil is always feasible...

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:54AM (#38705542)

    I think his number is $150 per installed device capable of producing a KW...that is quite a nice rate (assuming the entire thing is not a fraud)...solar is $1-2k per KW just for the solar cells (nothing to convert the power to usable energy, no installation...just the cells) and has marginal economics, for coal (the cheapest) the plant is still quite expensive (ie $200,000,000 to produce 1000000KW==$200/KW, and that does not include the price coal).

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Courageous (228506) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:55AM (#38705554)

    $150/kW was the proposed cost to own the generation capacity, not the unit cost of the kW. Your thinking of cents/kW/hr.

    $150/kW/Yr = .01/kW/Hr.

    You'd have to postulate how long the device would last to get to a genuine kW/hr figure.

    Granted, I won't believe it until I see it.

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by dabridgham (814799) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:56AM (#38705556)
    I think you're confusing kW and kW-hr (kilowatt-hour), a common mistake. If I could pay $1,500 for a 10kW generator that would sit there producing that power constantly and reliably for 10 years with no additional expenses, then I'm only paying $0.0017/kW-hr.
  • Re:Fusion Confusion (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:05AM (#38705606)

    The problem is it takes more energy to make the Muon than you get out of the reaction in the end.

    From
    S. Atzeni and J. Meyer-ter-Vehn, The Physics of Inertial Fusion (Oxford University Press, 2004)

    For energy production by mu-catalysed fusion, it is necessary that the Nf reactions catalysed on average by one muon release a larger amount of energy than that required to produce the muon itself. The muon is obtained by the decay of the pion, with an estimated cost of 5 GeV. Assuming that fusion energy is converted to electricity with efficiency of 40%, and recalling that a DT reaction releases 17.6 MeV, then reactor self-sustainment demands Nf > 3000/(17.6 × 0.4) = 700. For practical energy production, Nf > 3000 is required.
    A simplified muon catalysis cycle in a DT mixture is illustrated in Fig. 1.7 [for a detailed discussion, see Bertin and Vitale 1992]. The muon can form either a T or D pseudo-atom; in this last case the is transferred to tritium in a time Tdt to form Tmu. A DmuT molecule is then formed in a time tmu ~109 s; here, DT fusion occur in a time ~ 7 × 1013 s. After the reaction, most muons are freed, and available again to catalyse fusion reactions. The whole cycle just described occurs in a time tc ~ 5e109 s. A small fraction ws of muons is instead captured by the alpha-particle and then lost to the cycle. The theoretically predicted value for this sticking probability is ws 0.006. This leads to estimating Nf = 1/(ws + tc/tmu) 120, which is not sufficient for energy production. However, in experiments values of Nf up to 200 have been measured, leaving room for improvement. Research in the field has been reviewed by Bertin and Vitale (1992) and Ponomarev (1990). The primary goals of current activities are the understanding of all the individual steps of muon life-cycle, and finding possible ways to reducing cycle time and muon sticking to alpha-particles.

  • by paiute (550198) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:09AM (#38705630)

    Tests conducted at NASA Glenn Research Center in 1989 and elsewhere consistently show evidence of anomalous heat

    There are plenty of ways "anomalous" heat can be generated during chemical/mechanical processes without jumping right to the conclusion that it must be two nuclei fusing - the same way that seeing something unknown in the sky does not automatically mean it came from some other planet.

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by drolli (522659) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:33AM (#38705768) Journal

    I agree. The most comprehensive document i found using the search lenr on the NASA webpage on the research there seems to be:

    http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/sensors/PhySen/docs/LENR_at_GRC_2011.pdf [nasa.gov]

    It is an obviously very optimistic document on why NASA should fund cold fusion research. And let me - as somebody who was a scientist for 10 years - clearly state that you viewpoint should be an optimistic one, when presenting in terms of "why is that fundamentally interesting". However, you should have a realistic opinion on "what needs to be done to verify the effect" *before* promising fancy devices.

    these are the references cited in the presentation above, which are not conference presentations, progress reports, or books, but real peer-reviewed papers:

    Li, Xing Z.; Liu, Bin; Tian, Jian; Wei, Qing M.; Zhou, Rui and Yu, Zhi W.: âoeCorrelation between abnormal deuterium flux and heat flow in a D/PD system,â J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 36 3095-3097 (2003).

    Widom, A., Larsen, L., âoeUltra Low Momentum Neutron Catalyzed Nuclear Reactions on Metallic Hydride Surfaces," Eur. Phys. J. C (2006)

    Kim, Y. E., âoeTheory of Bose-Einstein Condensation for Deuteron-Induced Nuclear reactions in Micro/Nano-Scale Metal Grains and Particlesâ, Naturwissenschaften 96, 803(2009).

    Let me say that very clearly: i am not an expert on the field. But if there would be anything which seems close to being implemented to people working in the field, then i know there would be several high-ranking papers.

    what makes me *particularly* (i am an experimentalist) doubt about this research, and especially Rossi (who claims incredible rates of conversion of the material) is that it should be extremely easy to detect the helium or other products (in Rossis case) in the output. The order of magnitude of the effects cited would be *massive* and easily detectable by the signature of the reactions in the waste products. Instead of looking at the reactors, i claim it would be better to examine the material input and output.

    Show me the peaks in am AMS, (if needed for efficiency, please use an acceleration mass spectrometer) for the fresh fuels and the spent fuel, and i believe in Cold fusion. Show me nice pictures and make a fence several meters around your device and don't publish in peer-reviewed journals and you will trigger my scepticism.

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:12PM (#38706004)

    RTGs are powered by the heat of radioactive decay, i.e., physics that would have seemed routine 100 years ago). That has nothing to do with LENR.

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:21PM (#38706076)
    He has even already gone to jail before for similar fraud *in Italy!*. Now that is an achievement.
  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:3, Informative)

    by simcop2387 (703011) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:31PM (#38706134) Homepage Journal

    No Water would not likely be the waste product. It'd be helium in most fusion reactors. Which means that we'll all have lots of latex balloons for parties.

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:36PM (#38706156) Homepage Journal

    Le'ts think that through a little bit more. Rossi just "announced" how his "1 MW" reactor is now going to be sold for the low, low price of $1.5 million (from the previous $2 M he has been supposedly selling them for). For the sake of argument here, let's say that this reactor technology can scale down to a home generator plant for 10kW at a proportional price, which would give you a $15,000 home unit instead of the $1500 one that you think you are going to get. BTW, this is the only thing that Rossi is actually selling at the moment, or at least claiming to sell and the rest if a pipe dream. Perhaps "economies of scale" can help reduce manufacturing costs, but that is the only hard data point I have at the moment. Rossi claims it could get as cheap as $50 per kilowatt, but that sounds more like a con man talking than something real. I will grant the upper price limit of about $20k for a 10kW unit, and if you want to put the lower price limit at $1500, I'll buy that as reasonable.

    On top of that, there has been absolutely no discussion as to what "ongoing" expenses there might be to actually operate this device. Even from Rossi's own accounts and from people "in the know" that have successful devices running cold fusion, the longest I've heard of one of those devices working is about a week or so, perhaps a month on the outside. I'll give the benefit of the doubt that Rossi has made a substantial breakthrough and made a device that will work non-stop for about a year (considered a miracle even among the true believers in cold fusion), I still don't see how this is going to make it to ten years. Keep in mind even all of the "demonstrations" that Rossi has done only lasted 24 hours, perhaps two days at most. He has yet to set up a device running for several weeks at a time, if only on a web cam as a "demonstration" that could easily be faked as well. It is a stretch, but I would put ten years as the hard absolute limit of operation before the device needs to be refurbished even if it works exactly as Rossi claims (which I have my serious doubts).

    Even with all of this, there seems to be some sort of power requirement necessary to keep the reactor sustained (at least if you even think this device works at all). The most common way to deliver that energy is through electricity, where you can leverage the power consumed by the device by some ratio of energy input to energy being produced. Keep in mind that the power rating that Rossi is claiming is heat being produced by the devices and not electricity, noting that there will be some energy conversion costs transforming that heat into electricity. Here is also where the fuzzy details of how the device really works make a real problem trying to nail down prices. With the demonstration last October with his 1 MW plant, he had a 100 kW diesel generator sitting beside his "power plant" that was running during the demonstration. There was a "self-sustaining" mode, but my point here is pointing out that there is only some leveraging going on of the electricity input, and that a continuous power supply is necessary to make the thing work.

    Sure, your "home energy unit" might be producing 10 kW of heat, but it sure won't be producing 10kW of electricity. I really am not convinced that if you had two of these units both connected to hyper efficient turbines producing electricity with some thermocouples trying to pick up some of the last watts generated before the waste heat finally has to be vented that they will even be able to power each other. For the sake of argument here, let's just presume that there still is an energy gain of some sort (wishful thinking even if Rossi is correct) and that you also don't need an air conditioner to keep the reactor room cool enough to operate if it is in a warm climate (further reducing efficiency). The question comes up therefore what is the ratio of energy input into a unit vs. how much is actually produced. Another variable is the efficiency of the turbines available that can be scaled to a home energy uni

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:38PM (#38706164)

    Erm, no, you used 1000W, for an hour.

    You used 3600 x 1000 Joules, or 3.6MJ

    You don't measure total energy in kW - Watts are always a unit of power, the rate at which energy is used.

    Adding the h means "for an hour" ; it's a way of expressing energy in units that people understand - because their appliances are rated in terms of their power consumption, it's easier to think about what they consume if left on for an hour. "3.6 megaJoules" doesn't mean much to most people. "Leaving your hairdryer on for an hour" does.

    Saying a battery is a "10kW" unit makes no mention of it's capacity - only it's possible power output (10,000 Joules per second). The battery can run, say, 10 hairdryers, or three modern kettles, but it might only be for a few seconds. or it could be a million years. A 10kWh battery tells you that it holds 36MJ of energy, enough to run those kettles for an hour, but it says nothing about whether that battery can release that energy fast enough to boil the water.

    0.5c per kWh is indeed a bargain, even if it's just raw heat. But the whole "reverse engineering proof" thing really doesn't raise my opinion of Rossi or his alleged technology.

    If this thing is real, it's a revolution. It has the possibility to produce world peace. People fight over perceived differences in wealth. Energy is the root of all modern wealth - one of the reason things are getting so fraught is that energy (specifically fossil fuel) is getting harder to come by. Reducing the cost of energy by an order of magnitude could usher in a new era of peace. The guy would probably win 2 Nobel prizes. Instead he comes out with petty crap like that, revealing that he's just in it for the money. Being a genius doesn't preclude you being a materialistic ass .. but most of the materialistic asses I'm aware of ain't geniuses.

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Oligonicella (659917) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:48PM (#38706236)
    "...that have successful devices running cold fusion,..."

    Please provide a cite. I know of not a single functioning cold fusion device. Not one.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpinyNorman (33776) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @04:17PM (#38707576)

    No - he did not go to jail for fraud. He did go to jail because a real energy company he founded (creating oil from waste) was polluting the environment, and for alleged tax evasion, but apparently was subsequently acquitted of those charges.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Rossi_(entrepreneur) [wikipedia.org]

    So, he's a for-real, engineer and entrepreneur with experience in the energy business.

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:5, Informative)

    by eggstasy (458692) <jorge DOT manuel AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @06:53PM (#38708746) Journal

    I'm not a physicist, and I can't be sure what the poster meant by that, but there are plenty of "devices running cold fusion", they simply do not generate more power than they consume. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muon-catalyzed_fusion [wikipedia.org]

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