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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:24AM (#38705106)

    Tests conducted at NASA Glenn Research Center in 1989 and elsewhere consistently show evidence of anomalous heat during gaseous loading and unloading of deuterium into and out of bulk palladium. At one time called “cold fusion,” now called “low-energy nuclear reactions” (LENR), such effects are now published in peer-reviewed journals and are gaining attention and mainstream respectability. The instrumentation expertise of NASA GRC is applied to improve the diagnostics for investigating the anomalous heat in LENR.

  • by Twinbee (767046) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:34AM (#38705184) Homepage
    Here's Reddit's discussion of the story: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/ofz9f/nasa_developing_a_low_energy_nuclear_reactor_its/ [reddit.com]

    A couple from that thread claim that NASA hasn't discovered cold fusion here, but 'merely' radio active beta decay, which is similar to an atomic battery: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_battery [wikipedia.org]
  • by Twinbee (767046) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:42AM (#38705214) Homepage
    If some PhD in the field can confirm the above, that would be useful. It would show then that "LENR" doesn't always equate to "cold fusion". This would also provide less evidence for the validity of the E-cat, as wonderful as that would be.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:46AM (#38705236)

    I hate the cold fusioners with a passion - every time they trump up another scam like this it makes people distrust real science more and more. So something as exciting and potentially awesome as the Polywell languishes, because no one believes that fusion will work from a device that isn't $10+ billion dollars and smaller than a football stadium.

    Strap him to a rocket and shoot him into the sun, if he wants to bullshit about fusion so bad.

  • No way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:47AM (#38705238)

    This is a sophisticated fraudster. It is unclear what he is doing to simulate success, but one credible suggestion was that he could have gotten his hands on a nuclear battery, e.g. from the former soviet union. Such a device could easily produce the amount of energy observed in the given volume.

  • Re:Let me guess (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:56AM (#38705276)

    But other than that last clause, doesn't this also describe the state of conventional nuclear fusion, as well? Hasn't fusion been 20 years away for the past 50 years, or so?

    That quote is a confusion of political posturing and engineering critical path project planning.

    Here's the standard /. car analogy. For political reasons we will advertise that we will sell a car getting 10 MPG more than our current model. It takes a year or two to design, a year or two to develop and get the assembly line up and running (not a year or two of actual work, but a year or two of calendar time to shut down one line, get everyone ready for the new one, about two weeks of millright time to move the machines...) The newest announced car model is ALWAYS about 3 years away, because thats how long it takes from "say go" to "drive off the stealership lot". At some point, probably early, in the 3 year process, its cancelled.

    Another good analogy is we're always 15 years away from men on mars, because every couple years its proposed, they figure it'll take 15 years to get there, they cancel, repeat.

    Fusion has always been 20 years away because it takes 20 years from "say go" to "plant pushing power into the grid". As long as its politically useful to put on a big show about how we're starting a new initiative, and later cancel it, we'll continue to do so.

  • by vlm (69642) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:11AM (#38705320)

    And one good way to tell is the use of wrong metrics: 100 and 150 US$/kW doesn't mean shit.

    $/KW cost of installed capacity is the standard metric in the electric power industry. Its rarely the conceptually simple direct accounting measurement of total overall plant construction project cost divided by capacity, its all excruciating NPV calcs and frankly making stuff up is done to shoehorn non-applicable data into that model. You'll see lots of rolling estimated labor and theoretical financial costs into the capital $/KW figure. If you know what it actually cost, and can compare it to the reported imaginary accounting numbers, you can tell how corrupt they are, which is an interesting management metric for investment planning, which I am personally involved in from long term utility investment. You'd probably not be surprised to know that my management corruption metric has a weak negative correlation with returns and an extremely strong positive correlation with price fluctuations.

    Anyway... for example, most modern nukes end up costing about $3000/KW to install, as in, if by some miracle, the cost were perfectly linear regardless of capacity, going from bare dirt to a brand new ready to heat up imaginary one kilowatt reactor in my back yard would cost three grand.

    Because the numbers are abused to meet the pre-existing decision, you'll see crazy wild variations in estimates for the same project of at least a factor of two, sometimes three.

    One thing is certain, if the guy is quoting plant costs of only $150/KW that literally won't pay for the buildings, turbine hall, or maybe even the switchgear. $150/KW is like, what, the employee parking lot? That does not prove fraud, but certainly smell a stink of it.

  • by philcowans (2548324) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:15AM (#38705346)

    So I've been trying (with minimal success) to find any quality information on this, but there are a few bits and pieces out there.

    My understanding is that the most likely theory here is that there's a low energy mechanism for generating neutrons in condensed matter via 'heavy' electrons (high effective mass due to lattice phenomena), and that these neutrons can be used to trigger energy producing reactions (there's a lithium based cycle with no net consumption of lithium, for example). The reactions themselves aren't new, but producing neutrons cheaply enough to generate a net energy gain is. I don't have enough of an understanding of the theory to really judge how feasible it is, but the idea that electrons in lattices can behave in interesting ways (c.f. superconductivity) isn't crazy enough IMO to dismiss the idea outright.

    I think this is relatively orthogonal to Rossi and Co., although I believe there was some interaction between him and NASA at some stage. He's definitely mishandled the public relations around his announcement, is likely out of his depth in terms of understanding what he's doing and may well be attempting fraud. That doesn't change the fact that there may be some worthwhile science to be done in the field.

  • Re:No way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:35AM (#38705444)

    It is actually simple how he is doing it, there is a big issue with his "tests"

    No one is accurately measuring the actual volume of steam coming out, and some who have seen the test indicate there does not appear to be enough steam coming out for claimed amount...the basic claim is that xx amount of water went in and the same amount of steam came out...but consider xx water went in and 1/10*xx steam came out...that would also explain why he never runs the test for a really long time...the water is collecting in the device. All of the energy calcs are based on "knowing" that all of the water comes out as steam, and from reading the reports that is assume but never actually measured.

    The simple reality is that he could easily prove this device (if it was real) by turning it on and leaving it on producing steam for days and weeks (which he claims is possible as he has claimed the device is heating a factory some place and has been running for years)...he has never shown that he always does the shorter test that have the above flaw...which makes me believe the flaw above is the trick being used, and the device does not actually work at all.

    And if you look into Rossi's past he has pulled crap this this before...so he is either scamming someone for money, or he believes it is working.

  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:43AM (#38705482) Journal
    journal-of-nuclear-physics.com is a blog, not a peer reviewed journal. One glance at it quite clearly shows that it is designed to give the impression of quality peer reviewed studies, while actually being sloppily thrown together propaganda, and hence discredits the very thing it is trying to promote.
  • by tgd (2822) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:12PM (#38706000)

    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.

    This is true, but cold fusion research never really stopped, and there are a half dozen large labs around the world that have spent 20 years doing research, trying to figure out what is going on, even if there's no good theory behind the science yet. Discounting their work out-of-hand without a theory is just ignorant. There is vastly more published evidence *for* those reactions happening than against them, no matter what the theories might say. (And the variables that impacted the rapid set of tests that couldn't reproduce the P&F experiments are much better understood now -- according to published papers, the reproduction rate is near 100% in the last ten years.)

    So the real electrochemists working on the problem don't claim to know *what* is causing the excess heat, but from a power generation standpoint, it kind of doesn't matter. They also have proven they're getting at least some transubstantiation going on, which suggests at least *some* of that heat is coming from nuclear processes.

    Its weird (and strangely ignorant) that on this one subject, so many researchers take the "we don't know any way that COULD be happening, so lets not research it" position instead of the "something we don't understand is happening, and that is exciting to research" position. Even if it was a purely chemical reaction, there's something exciting about figuring out THAT, too!

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamstar7 (694492) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:31PM (#38706488)
    Um, yeah, it does. Hydrogen fuses into helium. It also releases neutrons.

    Ordinary combustion has water as a waste product. The ratio of water to the total of all the waste products of combustion depends on how much carbon is present, and how much the combustion is compressed. Camp fires produce carbon dioxide & water. Automobiles produce carbon monoxide, various nitreous compounds, and minimal water.
  • by garyebickford (222422) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .cib73rag.> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:51PM (#38706640)

    It's worth also mentioning that the PR campaign was not the idea of Pons and Fleischer, it was the university's PR department IIRC. I think P & F were planning to follow normal scientific publication protocols, but things got out of hand once the uni got involved.

  • Cold Fusion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hackus (159037) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @02:13PM (#38706760) Homepage

    Such claims are not unrealistic. Consider what they did to the original researchers. Way beyond what was required to disprove a theory. They had to utterly destroy two fine individuals, not just their theory. This was a coordinated response from the entire scientific community.

    It isn't too hard to see how irrational the response was to the initial claims of Cold Fusion. Instead of firing the imagination, it got the attention of bean counters at M.I.T. who saw such a direction destroying billions of potential dollars in Hot Fusion tech research. M.I.T. lead the way to insure these sceintists would never have any theory ever published again, and anyone who would dare challenge HOT fusion would be destroyed, not just disproven.

    I believe, Cold Fusion exists from looking at the research, which refuses to die. But there are very powerful ineterests in OIL and ridiculous HOT fusion approach which is nothing but a black sink hole of money, which hasn't produced any results in over 50 years.

    Ultimately we are going to pay a price for our Greed. Which you can see from research to banking to food and how obese people are.

    The price will be whether we continue to exist as a species.

    Over the past 100 thousand years of civilization we have had plenty of opportunities to stop and correct this behavior.

    We continue to refuse.

    -Hackus

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @06:00PM (#38708322) Homepage

    And here are some more reasons I sent to Rossi: http://peswiki.com/index.php/OS:Economic_Transformation [peswiki.com]
    "The key point here is that breakthrough clean energy technologies will change the very nature of our economic system. They will shift the balance between four different interwoven economies we have always had (subsistence, gift, planned, and exchange). Inventors who have struggled so hard in a system currently dominated by exchange may have to think about the socioecenomic implications of their invention in causing a permanent economic phase change. A clean energy breakthrough will probably create a different balance of those four economies like toward greater local subsistence and more gift giving (as James P. Hogan talks about in Voyage From Yesteryear). So, to focus on making money in the old socioeconomic paradigm (like by focusing on restrictive patents) may be very ironic, compared to freely sharing a great gift with the world that may change the overall dynamics of our economy to the point where money does not matter very much anymore. ..."

    Others calling to open source the eCat:
    http://www.e-catworld.com/2011/11/open-source-the-e-cat/ [e-catworld.com]

    By the way, the catalyst may be some variant on Potasium Carbonate:
    http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/GernertNnascenthyd.pdf [lenr-canr.org]

    Mentioned here by "Sojourner Soo", with the abstract from 1994:
    http://ecatnews.com/?p=1144 [ecatnews.com]
    "Anomalous heat was measured from a reaction of atomic hydrogen in contact with potassium carbonate on a nickel surface. The nickel surface consisted of 500 feet of 0.0625 inch diameter tubing wrapped in a coil. The coil was inserted into a pressure vessel containing a light water solution of potassium carbonate. The tubing and solution were heated to a steady state temperature of 249 C using an FR heater. Hydrogen at 1100 psig was applied to the inside of the tubing. After the application of hydrogen, a 32 C increase in temperature of the cell was measured which corresponds to 25 watts of heat. Heat production under these conditions is predicted by the theory of Mills where a new species of hydrogen is produced that has a lower energy state then normal hydrogen."

    In the 1950s (or maybe 1930s) a Princeton physicist was talking about some similar things (forget his name offhand).

    Rossi could have ended almost all dispute by just running two eCats side-by-side, one with the catalyst and one without. Or even just one with the hydrogen and one without, where people picked the one getting the hydrogen. That would rule out many things. (Maybe not all, but a lot.) The fact that he has not done that, which would be relatively easy, makes me more suspicious that it really works (although people have invented explanations for why he has not done that).

    What has been said by Steven Krivit is the suggestion that LENR (cold fusion) does work, but not as well as Rossi suggests it does (and he has been still trying to get it to work well).

    Still, it is so hard to be an innovator in our society, that I could cut Rossi a lot of slack. Just maybe not a check yet. :-)

    But sooner or later we will get cheap energy, one way or another, so many people are working towards it. Even just from solar:
    http://cleantechnica.com/2011/05/29/ge-solar-power-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-in-5-years/ [cleantechnica.com]

    Or thorium, or hot fusion, or geothermal, or whatever...

    But the eCat would be a great mobile power device.

    Of course, if it does work, it is only one more reason we need to rethink our outlook on nature, technology, society, and economics:
    htt [pdfernhout.net]

  • Re:Answer, in brief: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DG (989) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @06:56PM (#38708780) Homepage Journal

    If this is legit - please note my (puts on sunglasses) POWERFUL skepticism as to its legitimacy - once it is out in the wild, it will be reverse-engineered and copied about as fast as humanly possible.

    There's not a patent or copyright law in the world that will stand up to the economic pressure of a clean energy source at 1/3rd the price of current sources.

    This is the sort of thing that governments nationalize. It would be HUGE.

    That being the case, his only real chance to recoup his reward is to extract every red cent he can from it up front, before the secret is out. He'll need it for the patent infringement legal bills.

    DG

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

    by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:11PM (#38708868) Homepage Journal

    both to yourself and to society at large?

    -

    1. It's like having control over any resource, it puts the owner into position of power.

    2. It's not patented, so nobody is prevented from reinventing it, thus it's already better than what's happening now for society at large.

    3. Once you die, there is really nothing to worry about. Nothing matters to you once you are dead, and everybody dies, so eventually everything becomes worthless to everybody.

    4. There is a huge difference between amount of capital one has. A trillion is clearly better than a billion, etc., that's simple math, again, it puts you into position of more control.

    5. By proving the fact that this technology can exist, the market only creates even more opportunities, people enter that same market in search of the solution, and it's likely that they will find this solution or something different, which actually will benefit the society more than having one solution.

    6. Clearly I am talking about power, control, ability to corner the market for some time while others are looking for the same solution or better / different solutions. I don't believe in charity in business.

    7. As to pharma - this is an issue of copyrights and patents. In fact this is a completely opposite case and neither you, nor the other poster understand this. Patents and copyrights (and government, as in FDA and other agencies) create the situation in pharma, where it is profitable NOT to look for new solutions, because others are prevented from looking into solutions due to the high barriers of entry set by government in every way, especially patents, copyrights and regulations.

    I see trade secrets as the BEST solution for the society in fact, because nobody is prevented from looking for that same solution, nobody can be forced into any licensing agreements, there is more opportunity to develop better / different solutions.

    If one person creates / invents something, it's likely others will do too, and patents/copyrights and licenses are in fact barriers to entry into the market and methods of prevention of effective distribution of the solution.

    With a trade secret and no patents/copyrights, one has to be in a hurry to develop solutions and corner the market before others find the same or different/similar solutions and enter the market.

    This is the principle by which the FREE market operates as opposed to controlled, manipulated market, so anybody making comments on 'mental health' should examine his own levels of understanding or intelligence.

  • by this great guy (922511) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:42PM (#38709114)

    You are wrong. The anomalous heat detected in some experiments is statistically significant. Just one example: in a 1998 experiment, Focardi had set up a cell that ran continuously for 278 days and produced an excess power of about 900 megajoule: http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/FocardiSlargeexces.pdf [lenr-canr.org]

    The problem is that this experiment, and many others, despite providing very interesting results, have been mostly ignored by the scientific community purely because of the stigma associated to Cold Fusion research. This is frustrating!

    The submitter is also incorrect when saying that Rossi provided no details about how his reactors work. He explained that (a) he processes the nickel powder to create tubercles and enhance its contact surface with hydrogen, (b) he uses 2 nickel isotopes to enhance the reaction, (c) he splits molecular hydrogen (H2) into atomic hydrogen (H1), (d) he uses high pressure and temperature to initiates the reaction, etc.

    I used to think that Rossi's E-Cat was a scam, but after researching deeply the subject, I am now convinced this guy might be onto something, see this post I wrote explaining many Cold Fusion experiments that seem to support Rossi and that have been ignored by the community at large: http://blog.zorinaq.com/?e=61 [zorinaq.com]

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

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