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Power Technology

A Cold Look at Cold Fusion Claims: Why E-Cat Looks Like a Hoax 426

Posted by timothy
from the judas-gets-too-little-credit dept.
In the past few days, several readers have submitted word of a paper published on Arxiv allegedly confirming the efficacy of Andrea Rossi's "E-Cat," a device Rossi says transmutes nickel into copper, producing cheap energy in the process. (Mentioned before on Slashdot.) Ethan Siegel of ScienceBlogs takes a skeptical look at the buzz surrounding this paper, and asks some seemingly obvious questions, pointing out various ways in which the cold-fusion / cheap-energy claims could be either confirmed or debunked. First time accepted submitter CdXiminez writes with a capsule of Siegel's points: "What would it take to convince a reasonable observer that you've got a controlled nuclear reaction going on here? Things not shown in the earlier report: Show that nuclear transmutation has in fact taken place; Start the device operating by whatever means you want, then disconnect all external power to it, and allow it to run; Place a gamma-ray detector around the device; Accurately monitor the power drawn from all sources to the device at all times, while also monitoring the energy output from the device at all times."
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A Cold Look at Cold Fusion Claims: Why E-Cat Looks Like a Hoax

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  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Thursday May 23, 2013 @10:50AM (#43803657) Homepage Journal

    NASA looks into all sorts of silly things from time to time on the off chance that perhaps one of those wacky ideas might pan out... and because some congressman or senator has made a gentle inquiry wondering if it is bullshit or not. That has nothing to do with the validity of what it is that may be claimed and sadly tax dollars are still being wasted on utter garbage that has nothing to do with science.

    Besides, even this crazy theory you are quoting here doesn't seem to have anything to do with the e-Cat other than it is what Ross claims the device is doing without any real proof that anything is happening at all. That isn't happening, and no real 3rd party investigations into the device have happened. Heck, the guy can't even get patents accepted much less prove that anything is going on.

    Rossi even claims to have a factory making these things somewhere in Florida, but when the State of Florida decided to go in and check out what was going on (after a "concerned citizen" made a complaint about a nuclear reactor being built in the state without permits and such) Rossi and his agents had to back off and assert that no manufacturing was even taking place in the state. Yeah, funny how that works out when your bluff is called.

    I've made my own private inquiries about the device, and the more I push the more I am firmly convinced this is a hoax of the worst possible kind. I don't know what Rossi's end game is, but he doesn't even merit being a good charlatan as well.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @10:59AM (#43803757)

    I'll settle for less: let the same people perform the experiment again, but don't have Rossi setting up the experiments in his lab on his terms. You don't invite Yuri Geller into the lab then let him set up the spoon-bending experiment.

  • To me, (Score:4, Insightful)

    by houbou (1097327) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:04AM (#43803821) Journal
    This either works or it doesn't, it exist or it doesn't and can be proven or not. Why is it so hard to just get the facts? It is supposed to be a process and actual equipment. Seems like there is a lot of bull fertilizer going around from every party involved. Proof shouldn't be so hard to get. This has been going on since 2011.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:04AM (#43803827) Journal

    What I feel sorry for is any researcher who wants to do some genuine research into cold fusion.

    The trick is that you don't put your conclusion before your hypothesis. "Cold fusion" is the conclusion, or the result, of the whole process that would result in your utopian revolutions (again, something that is post conclusion or desired symptoms of the result of this sort of research). When your research begins by you working backwards, that's when the red flags should go up because there is no logical way to work backwards. Sometimes a sci-fi author will imagine something but it takes a very talented scientist/research/inventor/engineer/whatever to go from hypothesis to that end construct -- even then there's often a slight catch or permutation of nonfiction idea.

    What this paper appears to do is formalize observations ... which is great (any more transparency is always welcomed). But it's also curious, wouldn't you say? We've been hearing about this for years now and no one can tell me what, exactly, is going on in this solution filled chamber. The critics are rightly asking questions about why the next steps aren't being taken (like getting real world measurements on its power draw versus its power emission). And are suspicious not of the data that is provided by this paper but of the data that aren't provided and would be obviously interesting.

    The fear is that Rossi stumbled upon a neat trick that is just not sustainable but he realizes that if he controls the parameters on the experiments, he can make it look like this thing works. Then he rakes in billions and walks away from any involvement in it. It is suspicious because it's being conducted at a university that should be making obvious logical steps forward. Yet we continually only see "demonstrations" like his "public displays" and "observations" like this paper.

    My charges are still borderline character assassination/ad hominem and this could very well work. But I've had enough talk of what is "perceived to happen" and I'm afraid that someone has a really neat trick that they've already thoroughly investigated and figured out why it works. And maybe it even fooled them in the beginning. But truly there is no good way to monetize this trick. So they give everyone else only enough information to make them think that it works. Then they capitalize on this public interest and walk away from it just before the reveal.

    If not, I apologize but I also wouldn't be buying into this idea until we start with a hypothesis and tests are reproduced around the world and the true reason behind this anomaly is well understood and indeed a good energy answer. It's totally possible he doesn't know yet and his greed is the reason we only get tastes of this device. If that's true, however, we still don't know if it's a good answer to our energy addiction.

    I only hope there are enough details in this paper for other researchers around the world to better reproduce and analyze these results. I'm sorry if this is just a matter of an ill-equipped laboratory at Bologna University but with all the interest this has generated, I would be surprised if that was reason.

    In conclusion, start with a hypothesis, openly publish your methods and results. Wait for others to reproduce. Your rigor and its results will be your vindication if you fear being attacked for doing research. Just don't start your research by saying, "I'm going to make cold fusion and cheap energy is just ten years away." That's when you're openly attacked for good reason -- that's not science, those are words that you spout to get money.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:04AM (#43803835) Homepage

    But usually people prefer to just dismiss without much thought, since the topic became taboo.

    Largely because it's all been demonstrated to be either fake, a gross misunderstanding of what's happening, or so totally un-repeatable by anyone else as to be suspect.

    Group-thinking is surely a fucked-up human characteristic.

    Right, all those people who still think we live on a flat earth or that the world is only 6000 years old are the victim of groupthink.

    Or, you know, if you make an extraordinary claim, you're gonna need proof.

  • by Alejux (2800513) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:16AM (#43803961)
    goes out of his way to make it look like it's a hoax.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:52AM (#43804405)

    I'm sorry, but the idea that the universe is billions of years old and that we evolved by progressive, random modification from single-celled organisms that, themselves, arose by random processes bears the burden of proof. It's a more fantastic idea than that of special creation.

  • by sycodon (149926) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:10PM (#43804613)

    If you are speaking E-Cat. Yes.

    If you are speaking LENR, then we should just let the research take it's course and not kill it out of some prejudice of some kind

  • Re:Wrong approach (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:13PM (#43804651) Homepage

    Or, much more likely, that they're simply measuring the current incorrectly.

    Mod parent up. Bear in mind how this thing works. There's a resistance heater inside, and it is never completely off for long periods. The claim is that the heat given off by the device is greater than that being pumped in by the resistance heater. The heater is fed with a "proprietary waveform" from a control box the watchers were not allowed to examine. All they could do was put clamp-around current sensors on the leads to the device, voltage probes on the inputs, and feed those to a current meter. I strongly suspect problems with the current measurement.

  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:17PM (#43804709) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, your attempt to explain this is unfortunately not really close to correct.

    You don't need to put energy into a fusion process to get more energy out. There is no scientific reason for that. However: in praxis we humans who build nuclear fusion reactors need to work that way. We have to heat up a plasma with lots of energy to get a little bit of fusion going on. But this is not natural law, it is just how our fusion reactors work.

    E.g. no one or nothing puts energy into the sun to make fusion possible. The pressure alone is enough. If we want to do that we needed to create that pressure and for that *we* would need energy.

  • by sl3xd (111641) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @01:18PM (#43805441) Journal

    You obviously have no experience in the realm of charlatans.

    In every single case of too-good-to-be-true power sources, there is a gimmick to make the results seem legitimate to the untrained.

    It's little more than an magician's trick of misdirection, and ignorance of the audience. There's no real magic in a magician's act; misdirection and suspension of disbelief are their breadwinners.

    There's a reason charlatans won't allow people who know what they're doing to examine their apparatus. It has nothing to do with "trade secrets", and everything to do with the fact that experienced chemists, engineers, and physicists generally find the gimmick and expose their fraud in minutes.

    There are a lot of ways to heat up the reactor chemically. If you honestly believe that "it can't be done conventionally," then you've utterly failed chemistry.

    Simply heating a lithium-ion battery pack over 185 C starts an unstoppable chain-reaction that quickly reaches a couple thousand degrees. Surround a LiPo battery with a chunk of steel, short circuit it, and it it will reach a temp over 185 C. Now you just wait for the steel to slowly heat up. Create an array of a few of these, add copper to equalize the heat in your bank of LiPo batteries, and voila, you've got a heat source of well over 500 watts that can last for hours - days even, if you set it up right.

    As much as the /. crowd hates to admit it, there are reasons for most intellectual property law, NDA's, patents, and so forth: one of them is to protect a in inventor - so he can have outside experts verify his apparatus, and can publish how it works for expert scrutiny, yet still retain the rights to profit from his work.

    I'd like to believe that Rossi has somehow found out how to generate abundant, clean, and cheap energy. His actions, however, are identical to a garden-variety charlatan. Activities such as grandstanding before customers or the press, "demonstrations", and refusal to let experienced and external experts examine his device.

    Rossi does none of this. The smell of charlatan coming from the guy is overpowering. His behavior is identical to a classic con/charlatan. As the saying goes, you don't have to eat the whole turd to know it isn't chocolate.

  • by tragedy (27079) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @01:58PM (#43805857)

    There isn't much legitimate research because cold fusion violates some very well-established laws regarding energy requirements: You need to put energy into fusion to get more energy out, and that energy in is rather a lot.

    If you could actually be a bit more specific about exactly what laws are being violated, we might be able to take you a bit more seriously. Just waving around the idea that large energies are involved doesn't tell us anything. Let's use tritium-deuterium fusion as an example. You need something like .1 MeV to break through the Coulumb barrier and release about 170 times that much energy. .1 Mev is about 1.6 X 10^-14 joules. In other words 1 watt of power could, at some close to perfect level of fusion efficiency, produce over 170 watts in return by fusing tritium to deuterium something like 62.5 trillion times a second. Hmm, the numbers don't seem intuitively correct there. I was expecting the energies involved to be quite small, but that seems too small. It works out to about 327 gigajoules per gram of tritium-deuterium fuel which is very close to the published numbers I can find, however, so I guess they're correct.

    So, one joule of energy is, in principle, enough energy to produce fusion 62.5 trillion times (admittedly in the easiest two atoms to fuse). In practice it isn't since you'd have to have some Heisenberg principle violating particle cannon to actually produce those collisions. To actually produce fusion, you have to find ways to confine that energy so that you can try over and over again to produce those collisions, really really fast before the energy leaks away. That's why high-energy also tends to mean _lots_ of energy and massive equipment but it doesn't necessarily have to. It can also mean really high energy intensity, but not a whole lot of actual energy. For example, a really, really brief, but really intense laser pulse. In practical engineering, that still tends to equal lots of energy and equipment. I don't think there are any physical laws that anyone has proven that say that has to be the case, however. You certainly haven't cited any.

    There are plenty of things we don't really know about physics. We don't even have a very good idea about what really is or isn't knowable yet. As such, we really are not yet able to discount the idea that a particular arrangement of matter might promote fusion (or other nuclear reactions we don't properly understand) inside itself. It might come down to some particular way of concentrating energy really intensely at certain points in the structure of the material. Or it might come down to somehow promoting quantum tunnelling, or some other quantum effect that somehow railroads particles into the collisions you want. We don't know enough about physics yet to really discount such possibilities.

  • by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:18PM (#43806065)
    If some one has to point out to you who the sucker is, it's probably you. You'd think you'd be used to that by now.
  • by timholman (71886) on Friday May 24, 2013 @12:25AM (#43809781)

    The first time I read about this thing, I thought, "Why not just set it up at work? Get it running, throw the breakers coming from the power lines, and let this little "reactor" run the plant?"

    One of the sure signs of pseudoscience is that the "inventor" cannot do anything useful with his creation, no matter how long he "refines" it.

    If I could build a free energy generator, I wouldn't need to prove anything to anyone. If nothing else, I would unplug myself from the grid, and stop buying gasoline. On a larger scale, I could (for example) perform electrolysis of water and sell hydrogen in bulk quantities at a price no one else could touch. I wouldn't need true believers to worship me as a genius. I wouldn't need to put on ridiculous demonstrations. I would just make money, and lots of it.

    That fact that Rossi and others of his ilk seem incapable of doing anything practical with their devices except try to solicit money from victims ... er, investors, should tell you everything you need to know about their validity.

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