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

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 Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:12AM (#37626116) Homepage

    Most of the world operates on first-to-file, not first-to-invent. If you had a working "secret sauce", how insane would you have to be to not file a zillion patents on it? Protecting such inventions is exactly what the patent system is actually for.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:19AM (#37626220)

    This guy is looking to get rich quick not contribute to human knowledge so I'm not paying attention to him just yet.

    If what he's selling is true (my money is on not for the record) he can get rich and change the world for the better. I can't hardly blame someone with a potentially world altering invention wanting to keep it under wraps for as long as possible. Yeah, it's against the open source ethos, but it's also how reality works for 99% of the people out there; you don't give your work away for free. Quite frankly, this would be the exact kind of invention that the patent system works for; one that would still be useful in 20 years, is simple to replicate given a working sample (presumably), and is completely un-obvious to experts in the field.

    Personally, they won't convince me until they are making money over the course of a year from operations (as opposed to investment) and/or they hand over a sample of the device to some independent researchers. There's way too much about this company that just doesn't smell right, but that's just my opinion.

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:27AM (#37626358) Journal

    He's apparently not an expert either. He's not a physicist, but rather an entrepreneur. (But to be fair, his partner is a physicist.)

    Actually, the invite from /. may be a great litmus test - if he eagerly agrees, it suggests that he's a charlatan who will take any publicity he can get--which he almost certainly is.

  • by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:35AM (#37626506) Homepage

    You really find a lack of skepticism about global warming out there? Rather, despite more skepticism than about any other topic in current science, 98% of scientists with expertise in the field conclude that anthropogenic global warming is a major threat to our species.

    Sometime you might try skepticism about skepticism. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. A skepticism that's promoted by a PR firm working for the oil companies, that previously promoted skepticism about tobacco and cancer on behalf of the tobacco companies, is a good target for skepticism about skepticism. Or do you believe that loading up the lungs with tobacco is health, too, just as you apparently believe that loading up the atmosphere with CO2 is benign?

  • by elmartinos ( 228710 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @11:48AM (#37626698) Homepage

    Rossi does not want your money. He has solely funded all development of the e-cat with his own money: He has sold a company he owned, and he has now even sold his house. Peswiki asked him if they should set up a donation site for him, but rossi does not want that too. He also does not want to apply for FP7-ENERGY, a european research program for energy.

    So Rossi either is a completely self-deluded man that manages to delude lots of other people around him as well, or he really has something working.

  • by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @12:09PM (#37627084) Homepage Journal
    He's waiting for Moller to make a bid to use it to power his air-car. That should have all the manufacturing capacity tied up for many years...
  • by DCFusor ( 1763438 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:08PM (#37628066) Homepage
    Many of us in the fusion world, amateur (surprisingly large) and pro, think this must be crap. One respectable scientist we know of has tried to dupe Rossi, and did get some heat - about the amount you'd expect from the chemical reactions possible. No more. No excess copper in the reactor after.

    For those saying "why aren't there patents" - there have been attempts, which were rejected for lack of clarity on what was being patented. For most of the time (including now as far as I know) the only people willing to publish their papers are owned by, well, themselves.

    I've not looked up the masses, but yes, this end of the periodic table doesn't have much you can do with binding energy in it. I probably should, so I could state definitively that this can't work. If it was really that easy, would we not have seen it before now, happening by accident and so on? I put hot H (actually mostly other H isotopes) in nickel containing stainless steel daily -- nothing special happens at any energy regime I reach (which are in general well above what the Rossi claims are).

    I think everyone honestly in the fusion field wants some form of it to be real, and to work. But we also realize that there are a lot of people in this field for various dishonest reasons, from gaining corner offices with perks, to tenure, to just making sure they have a job for life, as in give us X billion more dollars and Y more years, and we'll really make it work this time - we just didn't make it big and expensive enough the last 4-5 roundy rounds. Even fairly honest people fall into that trap when it means lifetime security at a cushy job, and those of us in the open source fusion world (yes, it exists and is thriving) wish it were otherwise - but there it is.

    I AM a betting man - my day job is as a trader. Anyone want to take a bet with me? You get the side that "this is real" to win, I'll take the other side for plenty of money and a year time limit. I'll put my money where my mouth is. I'll take anyone, but what would be fun is say if Rossi himself would take that bet for say, half a million -- with a registered agent holding the bucks (must be real money, and guaranteed no counterparty risk). I note that while they've taken plenty of "bets" it's under conditions where it's not actually a bet -- they don't pay back if they fail.

    To me it looks like they climbed to the top of the snake oil tree and fell out, hitting every branch on the way down. No disclosure. No duplication of the results in independent labs. No explanation of why it could work. No patent apps that actually disclose the process. Just the usual "gimme money and someday it will work". A couple of prominent boosters mean nothing - those guys can be had with the average financier's lunch money, famous or not, and examples abound on both sides of every science controversy.

  • Re:Not Published (Score:3, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @03:52PM (#37630898)

    Wow, that is one of the most elitist things I've ever heard. Just because I'm not willing to bend over and take abuse, I'm suddenly not good enough to be a scientist.

    Yep, pretty much. Someone who doesn't want to take orders isn't good enough to be a soldier. Someone who doesn't want to run into burning buildings isn't good enough to be a firefighter. And someone who isn't willing to publish controversial work in the face of opposition isn't good enough to be a scientist. You can call that "elitist", if you want, but anyone with an IQ above the boiling point of Ether will realize that you're just whining because you want to be granted the same kind of respect and deference without having to do any of the work that's required to get there.

    Plus, the fact that you think "elitist" is a dirty word also suggests that you're not good enough to be a scientist.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.