National Commentary

The Peak Oil Crisis: The Anomalous Heat Effect

 The ages are coming faster all the time. The Stone Age lasted 3.4 million years, while the succeeding bronze and iron ages lasted only 2 or 3,000. In the last few centuries, however, “ages” have been coming at a breakneck pace — the industrial age, the oil age, the air age, the nuclear age, the information age and others depending on how one likes to count such things. All this is by way of saying that the evidence continues to accumulate that we are getting close to entering a new age marked by the availability of nearly unlimited amounts of cheap, pollution-free energy currently locked within the nucleus of hydrogen atoms.

This age, which for the minute is being euphemistically called the age of the “anomalous heat effect”, will undoubtedly be renamed after we all figure out just what we have going. As yet there has been no real “smoking gun” that will convince the most “it’s too good to be true” skeptics that mankind is about to enter a new era, — one that will be easily comparable to the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago or the industrial revolution a few centuries back. However there seems to be enough research taking place, accompanied by announcements of progress by reputable and knowledgeable individuals, to suggest we can expect solid proof that mankind is on to something shortly.

Although the detailed physics of this new energy producing phenomenon are as yet a matter of controversy, the general idea seems to be that hydrogen is first loaded into the metal lattice of nickel or palladium; then subjected to an electronic pulse or heat, which squeezes the proton (the hydrogen nucleus) so hard that it absorbs energy and an electron thereby turning itself into a low energy neutron. These neutrons in turn quickly combine into isotopes of hydrogen which then decay into helium giving off prodigious amounts of heat as they lose mass (Remember E=MC2). The amount of heat given off by this reaction is hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of times more than would be produced if an atom of carbon were burned chemically (combustion) to produce heat.

There have been too many developments in this science of late to outline here, but thanks to the Information Age, they are reported, analyzed, sliced and diced in the numerous blogs and websites following the phenomenon. The bottom line is that so many reputable laboratories and scientists are now reporting that the “anomalous heat phenomenon” is for real and so many say they are making progress in engineering useful devices that can produce commercial amounts of heat, that those still skeptical or in denial simply have no idea what is going on out there. Moreover, a number of major corporations and parts of the U.S. and European governments seem to be well aware of the phenomenon and recognize its potential.

Public and media acceptance of “heat-from-hydrogen” still suffers from the premature announcements that were made 23 years ago and that resulted in much of the mainstream media hyping an ill-understood phenomenon that could not be readily reproduced at the time. Parts of this story, however, have been creeping into the fringes of the media of late and it is only a matter of time before realization of what is taking place sets in.

I have a number of colleagues who are aware of this new phenomena and willing to concede that it may be valid, but doubt that it can be developed and engineered into commercial products in time to prevent the disruptions that will accompany the peaking of oil production and other natural resources, and havoc caused by global warming. They indeed have a valid point. In the past, major new technologies such as the automobile, electronics, or the airplane have taken decades to come into sufficiently widespread use to have a real impact on society.

An argument can be made, however, that this new technology might be adopted more rapidly than is usual. First, it is a rather simple and cheap technology. The quantities of materials required for a simple heat producing device are almost laughably small in comparison with that required by other sources of energy. The physics may not as yet be fully understood but the engineering and building of heat producing devices seem, from the outsider’s vantage point, rather straight forward.

The second factor arguing for rapid adoption is the overwhelming need for cheap pollution-free energy that is likely to arise in the next few decades. Not only will conventional fuels become very expensive, but they are likely to be in short supply. Droughts and floods stemming from global warming could easily become so serious that they overwhelm ideological objections to limitations on carbon burning. Eliminating coal from electricity production would obviously be the top priority for a new source of clean energy.

Many rice bowls would be broken by the obsolescence of fossil fuels, and our current crop of renewable sources of energy for that matter. In the US we are still seeing instances of “big physics” refusing to accept that nuclear energy can be released inexpensively and cleanly from bench top devices as opposed to the multi-billion dollar projects the government has been funding for decades.

Someday it may be recognized that global warming had a good effect as it is the only phenomenon powerful enough to overcome objections to the new disruptive technology.

Last week Martin Fleischmann died in England. He was the electro-chemist who started all the “cold fusion” fuss back in 1989 when he and a colleague announced the discovery of heat which could only be coming from a “cold” nuclear reaction. Now, I understand they do not give out the Nobel Prize posthumously, but perhaps they could make an exception for the guy who saved the world by showing us the way to get off fossil fuels in time to avoid extinction. 


Tom Whipple is a retired government analyst and has been following the peak oil issue for several years.