National Commentary

The Peak Oil Crisis: Update on ‘Cold Fusion’

The “cold fusion” story which has been creeping along at a snail’s pace for nearly 25 years seems to be picking up steam. For those of you who are coming late to this story, which admittedly has had close to zero play in the mainstream media, there are now three companies who say they are close to having commercially useful devices that can inexpensively extract unlimited amounts of clean energy from the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. Two of these organizations, Andrea Rossi’s Leonardo Corporation and the Greek-Canadian company Defkalion, are heard from frequently so those following the numerous cold fusion blogs have some idea of their progress and goals, if not the minute details of their technology.

The third company which claims to be making substantial progress towards a post-carbon world is Brillouin Energy from out in California. Brillouin Energy has been developing its products well below the radar and only emerges every year or so to enlighten those interested as to their progress. Last week the two principal leaders of Brillouin, Robert Godes who developed the process and Robert George, the CEO and financial manager, were interviewed for an hour on an alternative energy web site as to their progress and plans for the future.

Godes claims that Brillouin alone among the dozens of organizations working on cold fusion understands the physics underlying the reaction which has now been observed hundreds of times around the world. The phenomenon of heat being produced from loading hydrogen in metal lattices under the proper conditions has now been reproduced so many times before so many reliable witnesses that to deny that the effect is real only reflects on the deniers these days.

Brillouin calls its heat-producing effect a “Controlled Electron Capture Reaction” and maintains that other researchers are forcing electrons to combine with protons to produce neutrons inside a metal lattice — whether they know it or not. In recent years the most successful researchers in terms of quantities of heat produced are using powdered nickel as the medium in which to force hydrogen, capture electrons to produce neutrons and initiate the reactions that yield helium in addition to prodigious amounts of heat.

To date few say publicly they agree with the Godes thesis that cold fusion is really an electron capture reaction. However, his success in controlling the prototypes he has built has convinced the management and scientists at the prestigious research lab now known simply as SRI to partner with him in commercialization of his process. Those who remain skeptical that the “cold fusion” phenomenon is for real usually start with some version of the assumption that we already know all that will ever be known about nuclear physics and that another way to extract energy from an atomic nucleus is impossible. It sounds a lot like the skepticism that greeted the Wright Brothers’ first flights.

For those interested in the details of what could turn out to be the predominate energy source of the 21st Century and beyond, the Brillouin Energy web site does an admirable job in explaining the basics of the thesis. While Brillouin’s Controlled Nuclear Capture Reaction may or may not ultimately prove to be correct, it is remarkably easy to understand. Hydrogen is loaded into a metal matrix, a controlled proprietary electro-magnetic pulse is sent through the metal and a series of reactions take place which ultimately result in the production of helium, lots of heat, and almost nothing else.

The real question, of course is how quickly this reaction will come to be commercialized and recognized for its significance to many aspects of life on earth ranging from carbon emissions and climate change, to adequate food and water to one of the biggest economic stimuli the earth has ever seen.

In the course of their interview, Godes noted some of the progress that was being made on the new hot tube boiler which is being developed at SRI. Their current plan is to develop a prototype by the end of 2014 which then can be demonstrated and licensed to existing boiler and heating plant manufacturers. One of Brillouin’s early goals is to use their heat-producing technology to replace the boilers in existing coal-fired power plants thereby eliminating the emissions problems not to mention the expense of the coal. In Godes’ view, this is the low-hanging fruit and could easily be expanded to provide the heat source for existing natural gas and even nuclear plants. Remember that this reaction produces only helium and heat, not the radioactive wastes that come from fission reactors.

Brillouin Energy, however, is not the only game. Andrea Rossi and his Leonardo Corp which revived interest in “cold fusion” three years ago by demonstrating, amid much skepticism, that he could produce commercial amounts of heat. Rossi says he now is in partnership with a major US corporation and is hard at work verifying and preparing his technology for market.

The Greek/Canadian company, Defkalion, demonstrated their latest device to a conference this summer and say they will be ready to start marketing or licensing their technology soon. Godes of Brillouin notes that Defkalion seems to have adopted a version of his electronic pulse technology as a means of initiating and controlling the heat-producing reaction. There are also other companies with less ambitious plans working on device for market and who knows what may be going on in China where there is a desperate need for cheap clean.

We have now heard recently from what appears to be the three most advanced players in the field and they all report good progress that could culminate in useful heat producing devices in the next year or so. Engineering a new science into products is a slow process; it was 20 years after the Wright brothers before commercial air travel came into widespread use and about the same for the automobile. From what we know of “cold fusion” however, it is really a rather simple and cheap technology to implement so it could come quicker than many believe.

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