National Commentary

The Great Energy Transition: A Progress Report

On Nov. 24 in Stockholm, there was a demonstration of the progress that the Italian, Andrea Rossi, has made in his decades-long effort to develop a new source of energy based on Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). As Rossi’s last demonstration of an earlier version of his energy-producing device was back in October of 2011, it seems worthwhile to note his progress and compare it to the other new energy-producing technology which may be coming on the market soon.

It should be obvious to all that the world’s leaders are not making a sufficient effort to curtail the use of fossil fuels to at least mitigate what almost certainly will be centuries of climate-induced disasters. These disasters will range from the flooding of the world’s coastal cities; to insufficient food and water to support a growing world population that is now at 7.4 billion; to large portions of the earth becoming uninhabitable. Although some countries, mostly in Europe, are trying to slow the use of fossil fuels, these efforts are being hampered by the imperative that economic growth trumps all other concerns.

The leaders of the nations that burn the bulk of the world’s fossil fuels still are not willing to implement the sacrifices necessary to make a significant reduction in carbon emissions. Even the Chinese who are taking many steps to cut the use of the most polluting types of fuel are more concerned with the effects that polluted air is having on their cities than trying to reverse global warming. While many scientists are warning that mega-disasters are just ahead, most of the world’s population either do not understand the problem or believe that situation will not become serious enough in their lifetimes to justify the sacrifices and increased government regulation necessary to reduce emissions. Even in the U.S., a series of devastating hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, droughts, and fires in the last year have not been enough to convince the nation’s leaders that what might be the most serious threat that the nation has ever faced is only decades away.

Recognizing this, perhaps fatal, human weakness, we must ask if there is a way out of the situation in which mankind finds itself. The answer is a resounding “yes.” We must develop and widely deploy energy producing technologies that are non-polluting and so cheap in comparison with other sources of energy that they will quickly replace fossil fuels for economic reasons alone.

What can be thought of as bursts of economic progress in the last few centuries have come almost entirely from technological innovation – think steam engines, mass production, internal combustion, electricity, electronics, etc. It is almost certain that the advent of extremely cheap energy would be the catalyst for another round of rapid economic growth and prosperity similar to what occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is for these reasons that tracking the progress in alternative energy technologies is of critical importance to the wellbeing of future generations. We are all familiar with what might be termed “conventional” sources of alternative, non-polluting energy — wind, solar, tides, waves, geothermal, etc. While good progress has been made in reducing the cost of several of these technologies in recent years, there is still a way to go. While these alternative sources of energy can produce heat and electricity, much of our fossil fuel consumption is used for transportation. Solar and wind energy may someday power much of our transportation; however, better and cheaper batteries will be needed before they can fully replace fossil fuels.

At the present, there are two technologies on the horizon that seem to offer the possibility of replacing fossil fuels in the immediate future. These are Rossi’s version of LENR and Randell Mills’ hydrinos. Unfortunately, much of mainstream science backed itself into a corner years ago by declaring prematurely that these technologies could not possibly work. In the last decade however, much solid and verified evidence has emerged to the contrary that has been largely ignored. The lack of a blessing of these technologies by mainstream science has resulted in little significant support from Washington and not much from other governments (that we know of). It is indeed ironic that the very technologies that have the potential to solve global warming and produce a new wave of economic growth are almost universally ignored despite considerable progress in recent years.

Given this situation, it will take obvious and incontrovertible proof – think the Wright brothers flying over Dayton – that these technologies are valid before it they come to public and governmental attention as possible replacements for fossil fuels. Even then there is bound to be a major backlash from those currently dependent on fossil fuels for their economic well-being — think OPEC, Russia, Alberta, and Texas.

Even for those aware of their existence, it may come as surprise that the LENR and hydrino technologies could be quite close to becoming commercially viable. They both have been under development quietly in private laboratories for many years only surfacing now and again to report progress publicly. There now is no question that enough verified experimentation is available to conclude that the underlying science of these technologies is valid in that they are producing more useful energy than they consume and without significant pollution or radiation.

While the demonstration by Andrea Rossi of his latest device was not particularly spectacular (it only warmed up a bowl of water), it was intended to show the attentive public and potential collaborators that he has developed a very small and presumably reliable LENR reactor that can produce considerable heat. The details of the device were not revealed other than its compact size and the claims that it requires a very small power input in comparison to what it can produce. During the demonstration Rossi noted that the small reactors should be able to run for six months or more before needing refueling. His efforts to secure his new device from reverse engineering by potential competitors meant that only snippets of new information as to how his device works were revealed in the November demonstration.

After the demonstration, Rossi reported that he had meetings with people interested in collaborating with him and made “an important agreement” that will make it much faster to start commercial production. However at least one scientist that has been following Rossi’s efforts for many years opined that it would likely take from one to three years to turn the device demonstrated into a useful commercial product.

Back in New Jersey, it has now more than two months since we last heard a progress report on Brilliant Light Power’s efforts to bring its hydrogen-powered SunCell to market. Last spring Mills announced that he was revamping the SunCell project so that he would develop a thermal version of the SunCell, suitable for heating a boiler, before completing a second version that would produce electricity directly. The new electricity-generating version would initially be equipped with cheaper conventional solar cells rather than the more sophisticated and expensive concentrated photovoltaic cell that had been planned. At the time, it was hoped that these changes would shorten the time it would take to bring the SunCell to market.

In mid-September Mills told a gathering in Denver that good progress had been made in automating a prototype device that can run continuously under computer control. He listed nine key engineering challenges that have been overcome in recent months, but he did not indicate when the automated SunCell would be ready for a public demonstration. He did indicate that the “science” required for the SunCell had been completed and that it was now up to sub-contractors doing the engineering of the prototype to complete their work.

Having no known competitors working on his technology, Mills has been quite open in discussing his technology in comparison to Rossi, keeping only a few details of his device confidential. Mills has published the scientific theories behind the SunCell have in great detail.

To an outside observer who has followed the course of the LENR and SunCell technologies for many years, it would seem that Mills and his SunCell have several major advantages over Rossi and his LENR. Mills has well thought out plans for bringing the SunCell technology to market and is already developing a network of manufacturers and distributors waiting for the day when prototypes are ready for testing. While development schedules slip, it looks possible that we will see a working prototype that is close to being a commercial product in the coming year.

If and when it gets into commercial production Mills’ device could take over the market quickly. The Rossi reactor will run on a mixture of metal powders and hydrogen that will have to be replaced at least once a year. Mills’ SunCell would seem to have an advantage as it can make its own hydrogen fuel from water and run for years without maintenance.

Perhaps there is a place for both these technologies in a future world. The LENR technology, for instance has may be able to deactivate radioactive material from power plants. This too is a sorely needed technology.