National Commentary

The Peak Oil Crisis: Another Disruptive Technology?

The August doldrums are a good time to note that there is yet another “disruptive technology” under development, and possibly close to market, which has the potential to make radical changes in the way we obtain and use energy. This time it is not anomalous heat observed when hydrogen is loaded into nickel, but is an updated incarnation of a technology that has been around for 45 years — the noble gas engine.

This device, which used to be known as the Papp engine after its original inventor, or the noble gas engine after its source of fuel, has had a turbulent, and controversial history ever since it was first demonstrated in public back in November 1968. As with low energy nuclear reactions (LENR) the device’s major problem is that, in the eyes of many, it seems to be too good to be true, therefore it probably isn’t. In the last 40 years, the technology has had several abortive revivals, but no one ever succeeded in building a commercially viable product and the technology has been essentially dormant since the 1980’s. Now that seems to be changing.

The general concept of this device is as follows. Start with a device similar to the combustion chamber, pistons, and crankshaft of an automobile, only without intake or exhaust valves. Fill this chamber with a mixture of noble gases such as helium, argon, and neon. Then zap the gas with a 200,000 volt electric charge much in the manner a spark plug detonates the air/gasoline mixture in your car. This pulse of electricity turns the noble gas mixture into a ball of plasma that expands to five times its original volume pushing on the piston with enormous force. Removing the electric pulse immediately changes the plasma back into gas which instantly shrinks to its original volume and its original state and is ready to be zapped again.

The best analogy in nature is a lighting bolt that arises from a massive difference in electric potential between clouds or between clouds and the ground. As the electrical discharge of the lightning bolt takes place, the air along the bolt is ionized and expands rapidly. As there is nothing to contain the ionized air we hear it as a clap of thunder which dissipates its energy over hundreds of square miles. A Papp engine holds its “thunder” in chamber and uses its energy to push against a piston in the manner the combustion of air and gasoline does in your car.

Unlike in an internal combustion engine however, the gas mixture in a Papp engine can be re-zapped into a plasma and returned to a gas continuously dozens of times per second — for months, or perhaps years, producing incredible amounts of useful mechanical energy by current standards. There are many interesting features to this device. It produces no exhaust, no radioactivity, and builds up no heat. The cost of an occasional “refueling” with small amounts of a noble gas mixture should be trivial. Such engines should be inexpensive to build in comparison with internal combustion engines as they have no valves, no fuel system, no cooling system, no exhaust system and the only significant forces involved are the push of the expanding plasma against the pistons. By today’s standards the electronics required to control the engine should be relatively inexpensive to produce. In short we have an engine that takes close to no fuel, is cheap to produce, produces no emissions of any kind, and is scalable to whatever size is required.

About five years ago an American engineer named John Rohner, who was peripherally involved in designing the control system for the early prototypes of the Papp engine that were built in 1980s, and understood how the system worked, became interested in updating the decades’ old designs.

Numerous witnesses, including two of Rohner’s brothers, who assisted in building several of the prototypes 30 years ago reported that the device actually worked. Over the last five years, Rohner has worked on improving the original Papp engine to the point where it is a useful and commercially viable device and is ready to be brought to market. He claims to have greatly improved on the older designs – Papp’s patents taken out in the 1970’s have long since expired — and Rohner has patented the updated designs. For anybody interested, Rohner’s company has a web site – – that provides considerable additional information.

Now we get to the key question – is this for real and is a paradigm changing development about to be revealed on the world? As one can see from Rohner’s web site, his company plans to reveal a working engine at the PowerGen conference in Orlando on December 11th 2012. At the conference, not only is Inteligentry to display an operating “plasma transition” engine as Rohner is now calling the device, but 8-10 engine manufacturers who have licensed the technology are supposed be there and ready to take orders for working engines.

Needless to say, anyone who can come up with an inexpensive replacement for oil, coal, and natural gas, and all the renewable sources of energy for that matter, has a shot at becoming the world’s first trillionaire. Rohner has refused all requests for a public demonstration of a working plasma transition engine prior to the official debut in December, but has released pictures of the device that is supposed to go on sale shortly and extensive technical details as to how it works. However, so far there are no third party verifications that the updated version of the Papp engine is a commercially viable device. For now the only option is to wait out the next four months and see what happens at the official announcement. 


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