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Power Technology

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

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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:39AM (#43803541)

    That quote is P.T. Barnum. If you are looking for a W.C. Fields quote for this article, I suggest "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull."

  • by Peter Simpson ( 112887 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:46AM (#43803619)
    NASA is "looking into this": don't misinterpret investigation as validation. If it's not reproducible, more work needs to be done. If the process appears to violate the laws of thermodynamics, your first reaction should be "scam", not "how do I get in on this?". Your second reaction should be "how do they do it"? It's been many years since cold fusion and while there have been tantalizing hints that there may be something to it, nobody has been able to reliably reproduce the phenomenon for objective observers.
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:53AM (#43803681)

    There's plenty of reseach into legitimate low-temperature, low-pressure fusion, going under names like muon-catalysed and antimatter-catalysed fusion. It's very well accepted work. The trouble is that most research going under the name "cold fusion" would better be described as "I have invented a machine that makes energy from nowhere and am postulating fusion as its mechanism of operation".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:54AM (#43803699)

    Principals? Principles.

  • by dmbasso ( 1052166 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:01PM (#43803771)

    If it's not reproducible, more work needs to be done.

    It is reproducible, that's the whole point they're still "looking into this".

    If the process appears to violate the laws of thermodynamics [...]

    Can you explain how fusion (of any kind) appears to violate any thermodynamics' law?

    It's been many years since cold fusion and while there have been tantalizing hints that there may be something to it, nobody has been able to reliably reproduce the phenomenon for objective observers.

    Actually there were several successful experiments, it doesn't take much work to look for their results. You may start with Dr. Peter Hagelstein, from MIT.

    But usually people prefer to just dismiss without much thought, since the topic became taboo. Group-thinking is surely a fucked-up human characteristic.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:03PM (#43803809)

    There were two experiments. In one, 360W was applied continuously, and in the other, 930W was applied on a 35% duty cycle. Of course, that's assuming there's no trick wiring. The other assumption is that their baffling method of estimating the power output was working properly. It certainly looks fine (assuming the IR camera didn't go over 50C, which is all it's rated to without active cooling) but Rossi doesn't like people to do actual calorimetry and I can't help but read that as an indication that the positive results would immediatley disappear.

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:46PM (#43804337)

    Muon and antimatter catalyzed fusion are based on well understood physics (the rate at which muons catalyze fusion can be calculated by any graduate physics student). So far though these schemes have insurmountable "technical" issues: The muons stick to the helium and can't be re-used, and the anti-protons require too much energy to produce (and probably anhillate too often).

    The research is legitimate because it is possible that there is a way around these problems. I think its unlikely, but the value if you succeed is so high that it is worth some effort.

    The other style of cold-fusion is really a form of : we have this gadget that gets hot due to some "new" physics. That would be OK, except it us usually coupled with "it is a secret process, so we won't give you full access to the machine"

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

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:51PM (#43804389) Homepage

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

    The paper clearly states that power was delivered to the system in surges, or pulses. Clamp-on ammeters *deliberately* smooth out measurements. Small pulses of power are simply not reported by the device, so if their is a shorter-duty-cycle delivery to the E-Cat, then this will disappear from the measurement. I believe this can explain 100% of the phenomenon being reported.

    This problem with power measurement is extremely well known, and is the same basis of "proof" that many similar devices have put forth in the past. Newmann's machine was perhaps the most celebrated example, where simply hooking it up to an oscilloscope demonstrated the total area under the curve was less on the output than the input. The same is true of Naudin's version of the MEG, but in this case Naudin *did* capture the pulses on an oscilloscope, but then applied incorrect math to extract the resulting power figure. Once again, simply applying the correct formula demonstrated that the output was less than the input.

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity - Hanlon's razor

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @01:55PM (#43805197)

    And mass is energy, in the amount of mass times the speed of light squared. This is what all nuclear science is based upon and why fission plants, nuclear warheads, and fusion bombs work. The system energy is not being increased, because the mass defect in the nuclear reaction is converting mass to energy.

    When I read the original E-Cat stuff is sounded like total bullshit. The process I saw NASA examine and the new Rossi reactor that has been independently verified by half a dozen scientists from across Europe is actually pretty sound science wise.

    In this case, the experiment puts hydrogen atoms into a tight nickle lattice, with hydrogen in the interstitial positions, then radiates it with terrahertz radiation, which forces inverse beta decay of the hydrogen due to the lattice pressures and radiation, the neutrons are then forced into the nickle atoms, which then beta decay to become copper. The beauty of this is that you don't have to overcome the coulomb barrier, but still have a nuclear reaction taking place. In fact, the reverse beta decay of hydrogen is much lower energy than the beta decay of nickle.

    A while back I, as a total noob, looked at fusion and said "well, how would I get around the coulomb barrier?" instead of trying to get through it. I calculated that radiation in a swath of Terahertz range that is difficult to produce would make it possible to induce reverse beta decay in hydrogen. If this guy got it to work, the only surprising development is that he was able to produce the right kind of radiation easily. There is literally no other surprise.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @05:21PM (#43807185)

    I think it would be just as foolish to dismiss this outright, considering the " tantalizing hints that there may be something to it" and the developing theories as it would be to start dumping your life savings into Rossi's company.

    No, not really. It's the "tantalizing hints that there may be something to it" part which pretty much screams bullshit. Fusion is not exactly subtle; if it's going on, it's not hard to detect, and hasn't been. Furthermore, according to the Wikipedia link [wikipedia.org], the device was covered up during demonstrations, actively hindering any kind of measurements. Add those together and shave with Occam's razor, and you get "conman".

    Also, fusion is not really all that hard to achieve. For example, a fusor [wikipedia.org] is simple enough for a hobbyist project. What's hard is a fusion device with a net energy output; we don't even know if Rossi's device is doing fusion at all, so why would we even begin to assume it's not only doing so but generating more power than it consumes?

    So yeah, with the information we have, this seems like exactly the kind of thing that should be dismissed outright.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith