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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 EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:46AM (#43803615)
    What I feel sorry for is any researcher who wants to do some genuine research into cold fusion. To me it would cause rate up there with inventions such as fire/math/smelting ore/cooking food/clothing.

    If cold fusion were invented tomorrow everything changes, world politics, anything involving oil or energy production, the environment, space travel, food production, basically everything. So while it attracts cranks by the boatload I would be happy to see huge amounts of funding going to CF. Yet I suspect that if you are a legitimate researcher and you mention cold fusion that there is stunned silence in the room. You might as well bookend it with paranormal research.
  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@NOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:17PM (#43803973) Homepage

    When you've attended enough UFO Churches, you can pretty much tell how things are going to turn out by the first sermon.

    It's not foolish to dismiss this outright. Dismissal is the only sane thing to do to save our resources. If it is a breakthrough, it doesn't matter if nearly everyone ignores it: It will quickly become widely known on the merit of the advancement. Not because pundits sing its praises, or expound on the possible endless benefits of infinite rectal probing.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:24PM (#43804065) Homepage Journal

    If cold fusion were invented tomorrow everything changes, world politics, anything involving oil or energy production, the environment, space travel, food production, basically everything.

    and how would that work ?

    Assume for a minute you can head down to your local Home Depot and pick up a portable "Mr. Fusion" 1 MW reactor powered by a single box of Borax laundry detergent (that is a 100 year supply of Boron I should note too). How do you think that would change the world?

    First of all, you would no longer be dependent upon utility companies for heating or cooling your home, and even worrying about things like insulation or energy efficiency would go out the window. People living in cold weather climates could put either wires or warm water under their driveways and sidewalks to melt snow and ice and not give a damn about how much that costs. As a side note.... you thought global warming was bad with coal plants and such, just wait until everybody is turning out gigawatts of energy on a personal basis and wondering where all of that heat is going after it has been used for something else!

    It would change international relations as oil would no longer be nearly so important except as a lubrication fluid, and even that can be mostly done with renewable resources like corn oil or other vegetable stock sources. Most of the recent wars would become irrelevant as control of petroleum resources would be insignificant.

    Transportation costs are largely dependent upon energy costs, thus building locomotives, ships, and even automobiles with these fusion devices would render most transportation costs to trivial levels except for the cost of vehicle construction and paying professional operators (like an airline pilot) or other crew related costs.

    Food production is largely a logistical issue as well, where trivial transportation costs would significantly lower food prices as well.

    As for space travel is concerned, fusion energy sources for spaceflight would ensure that you could travel to Mars in just a couple of weeks, and even trips to other stars might take just a few dozen years. Certainly interplanetary spaceflight would be a common to the point that even poor people of 3rd world nations could become "astronauts" and go anywhere in the solar system if they cared.

    The big question is if such a future could ever happen? It is an interesting promise that has captivated the imagination since the idea of nuclear fusion reactors was even conceived as a remote possibility. Cold Fusion reactors may be a way to get one of those "Mr. Fusion" reactors built, but you would have to prove that they really work as promised. Unfortunately there is more reason to think Andreas Rossi is full of BS and is being intentionally deceptive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @01:07PM (#43804567)

    Several of the points he makes were actually old arguments that were specifically addressed in the report. He appears to have missed that they measured power directly before the device, and that they did in fact have several types of radiation detection equipment.

    Phys.org has a less skeptical article: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-rossi-e-cat-energy-density-higher.html

  • by TFAFalcon (1839122) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @04:21PM (#43806649)

    What's more unlikely? That the universe happened by random, or that a being capable of creating the universe happened by random?

  • by sl3xd (111641) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @04:35PM (#43806813) Journal

    Read the actual report and see if you really think a few chemicals could really do what you suggest -- keep the temperature steady and glowing hot for 100 hours. If so, that would be amazing.. especially since the weight of the reactor did not change!

    I don't only think a few chemical could really do what I'm suggesting, I know they can.

    The "Glowing hot" reaction was, by their own admission, a very short term reaction, to "prove' that it can generate a lot of heat - in fact, enough to melt the steel and ceramic device. This was an earlier test, and had no part in either of the tests that lasted around 100 hours. In fact, there's no indication in the paper of the duration of the "glowing hot" test at all.

    The 100 hour "long term" test in their report is an entirely different device, "purposely" running the device cooler. There's no evidence it's even the same design.

    Chemical reactions can easily be used to melt the steel and ceramics used in the E-Cat. Thermite will melt through steel, concrete, and a few feet of dirt underneath. Thermite is self-oxidizing, the reaction is Fe2O3 + 2 Al 2 Fe + Al2O3 -- note that the resulting compounds aren't gaseous and therefore won't exhaust into the atmosphere - so the weight before and after the reaction is the same. That's only one of many reactions that can produce the same effect.

    When the test is prepared beforehand, and/or you're not allowed to monitor the whole process, it's quite easy for a charlatan to adulterate the test.

    Generating a lower level of heat for 100 hours isn't particularly difficult either, though not necessarily by chemical means this time.

    Notable is the fact that Rossi would not let anyone disconnect the power cables, instead demanding they use an ammeter to "prove' the cables weren't drawing any power.

    I've seen such a demonstration by an EE professor - the working meter read zero current. The purpose was to demonstrate that you really should understand how the meters work before infer anything from their readings. Otherwise, you end up with a meter reading zero on a circuit with enough electricity flowing to kill. Rossi could easily be using one of several methods to deliver power through the wire such that an ammeter still shows zero.

    Putting too much trust in a measuring instrument you don't understand has been the source of a lot of scientific embarrassment over the centuries.

    Similarly, Rossi will not allow any chemical analysis after the fact that would prove his claims (such as analysis for the type of copper isotopes that would result from the proposed reaction). Trying to claim that it would give away his "trade secret" catalyst is a joke: If he ever plans on selling this thing commercially, he will be required by law to provide an MSDS which details exactly what is in the catalyst.

    Even Coca-Cola has to list its ingredients on the can. The difference is the laws are a bit more lenient towards "natural and artificial flavorings" in foods than they are towards industrial reagents.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @05:41PM (#43807329)

    Have fun. May I recommend a Farnsworth Fusor? It doesn't get anywhere close to break-even energy production, but it's cheap and easy to build, and much safer than any DIY fission reactor is likely to be, assuming you could even get your hands on the fissile material in the first place. Just remember that it *is* a good source of fast neutrons and gamma radiation, so don't stand too close and be sure there's nobody standing over it upstairs either.

    Also, let me congratulate you and having the foresight to build it in your basement where the surrounding dirt can provide decent shielding. *Much* more responsible than in the garage where an unsuspecting neighbor could get a lethal radiation dose as they walk past.

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago

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