National Commentary

The Peak Oil Crisis: The Next ‘Keystone’ Debate

Unless a Republican wins the the Presidential election in 2017, the 7-year debate over whether to build the Keystone pipeline is probably over. Gone will be the endless TV and newspaper ads describing the dangers of either building or not building it. Waiting in the wings, however, is another energy/climate debate that will make the Keystone controversy look like a flyspeck on the pages of history.

I am talking about the coming debate over what now is variously known as “cold fusion,” “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions,” or “Condensed Matter Nuclear Reactions”, all of which describe same the heat producing reaction which has been observed for the last 25 years. This new debate, which seems likely to start sometime next year, may be one of the most acrimonious in US history for these new energy-producing technologies have the potential to, over time, seriously disrupt or even destroy much of the oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, and wind industries. In short this and/or similar developments could easily be the mother of all disruptive technologies leaving the world a far different place from the one we know.

For the last 25 years, the industries and scientific establishments that might be threatened by “cold fusion” and similar technologies have been able to keep the news of the technologies’ development under wraps through a variety of stratagems and keep government funding from speeding its development.

This situation is about to change radically. In recent years, principal developers of this new technology, tired of all the skepticism and accusations of fraud, have adopted the position that they will continue to work until a commercially viable product is ready and then put it on the market.

To those of us who have been following the issue, the artificial wall of secrecy that has existed for over 25 years is about to fall. A few tentative stories have begun to appear in the press and last week a California company, Brillouin Energy, that has been making progress on its LENR technology in recent years, was invited to make a presentation on Capital Hill. The key event which could turn all this around will be the completion of the one-year trial that a North Carolina company, Industrial Heat, has been conducting. This trial is due to be finished this winter and if successful, the company says it will disclose the results and if all goes well announce that they have a product for sale.

Thus, the results of Industrial Heat’s one-year test will be critical to what happens next. If the reactor has indeed been able to produce a megawatt of pollution-free heat continuously for a year and the verified costs of operating the device are sufficiently below any other source of energy to justify taking a gamble on a new technology, then we are clearly in a new age. Industrial Heat says they already have over $3 billion in tentative orders awaiting the results of the trial.

Assuming that no technical showstoppers emerge from the test and that energy producing reactors become available for sale in the next year or so, there would seem to only one possibly insurmountable problem remaining. That will be the disruption this will eventually cause to existing energy producing industries. If they have not already been made aware of what could happen, then a few minutes after the news hits the cable networks they will. High-level meetings will gather across the US and around the world to figure out how to stop or at least delay this technology for as long as possible.

We have seen this scenario before. Remember cigarettes and cancer? Exxon and global warming? It is clear that a well financed campaign to spread doubt and confusion can be highly effective. In the case of cigarettes, it was decades before tobacco consumption began to drop. In the case of global warming, enough money and PR has about half of the American people convinced that global warming is all an environmentalist hoax, even as sea levels rise, California fries, and unprecedented storms tear the land apart.

In the case of low energy nuclear reactions, it will be easy to conjure up fears. In a matter of days after it becomes apparent that the technology is valid and could shake the economy to its core, television ads will start claiming that the technology is bad for your health, and that it should be tested for another 30 or 40 years before the public is endangered. The TV ads naturally will be accompanied by a rush of lobbyists to Capital Hill seeking to outlaw or at least mandate years of testing before it can be released to the public. It will sound a lot like the campaign against AC electricity 120 years ago.

It should be noted that in 25 years of testing, no experimenter has detected harmful emissions or residue resulting from the technology.

Fortunately, however, the leadership of Industrial Heat, which at least for the minute seems to be the company that could be the first to offer this technology for sale, has a stratagem to circumvent to what will surely become widespread opposition to the technology. Industrial Heat simply took the technology to China where PR firms, lobbyists, congressmen and TV commercials have zero impact on decision makers. Moreover, China, where people are dying from their own coal smoke, is desperately in need of a clean source of energy ASAP.

Last month some sort of an agreement to set up an R&D establishment in China was signed between Industrial Heat and the Chinese government. It seems likely that the technology being tested by Industrial Heat will be transferred to the Chinese government, who are in sore need of a fix for their environmental and economic problems, will evaluate the technology on its own merits and with little consideration for the disruption it could cause to existing industries. The world just might be saved from global warming after all.