Cold fusion: smoke and mirrors, or raising a head of steam?

A lot has been happening in the world of cold fusion, or Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) since our last update. Andrea Rossi, who claims to have a working commercial cold fusion reactor, finally released a report with seemingly independent scientific confirmation of the reaction…

A lot has been happening in the world of cold fusion, or Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) since our last update. Andrea Rossi, who claims to have a working commercial cold fusion reactor, finally released a report with seemingly independent scientific confirmation of the reaction in his device. This was quickly followed by news of a major investor dropping out because of a failed test. Meanwhile, more conventional scientists are pressing forward with LENR development, and some big-name companies are taking an interest.

The weekend of 7 and 8 September saw a conference in Zurich on Rossi’s reactor, known as the E-Cat. The conference mainly preached to the converted, attended by licensees who market E-Cat technology in different regions, like E-Cat Australia and
Hydrofusion in the UK. Rossi has refused to give public demonstrations or prove the technology to sceptics; he wants to let the market decide. However, at the conference he produced a brief paper with details of third-party tests of an E-Cat.

The device tested was a new high-temperature model known as a Hot Cat. Previous E-Cats have been confined to around 200C — useful for heating water but extremely inefficient for conversion to electricity. Since May 2011 Rossi has been talking about an
improved version, and the new Hot Cat operates at a high enough temperature for electricity generation.

Although other scientists in the report have no known affiliations, one section was authored by David Bianchini, a radiation measurement specialist of the University of Bologna. The test, which ran for over six hours, measured an average temperature of 1,100-1,200C, and concluded that the energy output of the four-kilo Hot Cat was three 3.6 Kilowatts from an input of 1.28 Kw. Rossi says that a full scientific report will be available soon.

However, on 9 September Hydrofusion Ltd put out a press release about a demonstration of the Hot Cat in Bologna stating “early indications are that the results of the 16 July/ 7
August reports could not be reproduced.” Swedish science magazine
NyTeknik
reported that the test was overseen by Swedish National
Testing and Research Institute who did not find the Hot Cat was
outputting more energy than was input. As a result, a planned
investment of 65 million Kronor (£6.1 million) was withdrawn. The
investors are now considering whether this affects all E-Cats or
just the new Hot Cat.

Rossi has responded by saying that Hot Cat validation will not
be completed for another two or three months.

Sterling Allen of Pure Energy System News reported from the
conference that a one-megawatt E-Cat will be delivered to a
customer in Northern Italy
within a couple of months, which will apparently be
available for inspection by potential buyers and investors.
According to Rossi, a
previous one-megawatt E-Cat was sold to a secret military
customer who could not be authenticated.

The science discussed September’s Zurich conference was
evidently more persuasive. One time sceptic Enric Gunther now
believes that
Rossi has what he claims: “All his data he published fits with
what other more scientific groups found.”

“Their time has finally come”
Many of those other scientists were present at the 17th International Conference on Cold
Fusion last month in South Korea, described by some
attendees as having a “rock concert feel”: after years in the
wilderness, cold fusion researchers seem to think that their time
has finally come.

Perhaps the most notable contribution was Francesco Celani’s
live demonstration of an apparently working cold fusion device.
Unlike Rossi, Celani does not claim to have a secret catalyst, just

a nickel wire loaded with hydrogen which produces more heat than is
supplied to it. The 62 watts output from 48 watts input isn’t
going to boil a kettle, but it was a very open demonstration, and
unlike Rossi, Celani has plenty of theoretical physics to support
it.

Celani repeated the demonstration as part of
an event in the US sponsored by National Instruments with
positive results. UK-based start-up Kresenn says it has been
licensed to develop Celani’s technology commercially, with a
particular focus on green energy for data centres.

Another paper presented at ICCF-17 was from a Japanese group
with sponsorship from Toyota; this confirmed previous work
indicating that transmutation was taking place during LENR
reactions,
showing that a nuclear reaction is taking place. Toyota funded
cold fusion research in the 90s to the tune of £12 million, but was
discouraged by negative results.

Meanwhile another company at ICCF-17, Brillouin
Energy Corporation, has claimed positive results for its LENR
device, the Brillouin Boiler. Like the E-Cat and Celani’s
demonstration, this uses nickel and hydrogen. A
paper claimed that the Brillouin Boiler outputs produced
more than twice as much heat as the energy input, running for hours
at a time. The experimental results are small scale, producing nine
watts of excess power, but the company is planning to scale up its
apparatus. First there will be a commercial prototype, then range
of boilers from 600 watts to over 500 kilowatts.

Brillouin has entered into an agreement with SRI International,
a major company which has been carrying out a low level of cold
fusion research for many years. Perhaps Brillouin’s biggest claim
is that their results are consistently repeatable — something of a
Holy Grail in a field where results notoriously fail to get
replicated. The company is already in the process of licensing its
technology.

Competition
Defkalion, the Greek company often seen as Rossi’s closest rival,
also appeared at ICCF-17. The company recently decamped from Greece
for economic reasons. “[Defkalion] said they are still working
on setting up new labs in Canada and Switzerland and creating an
industrial prototype,” Frank Acland of E-Cat World
told Wired.co.uk. “They project that commercial production lines
will be set up in the coming year.”

There is action elsewhere as well. Steven Krivit of New
Energy Times achieved another coup with a leaked study from
Boeing and Nasa, which considered the possibility of
an LENR-powered aircraft among oyher future options. The report
concludes that LENR lacks verification, but expresses this in terms
of feasibility rather than assuming it’s impossible.

However, Krivit told Wired.co.uk that the most significant event
in the field in recent months was the death of Martin Fleischmann
on 3 August, which he regards as the end of an
era. Fleischmann was a British chemist and one half of the team
that announced cold fusion in 1989. The Martin Fleischmann Memorial
Project has been set up in honour to promote the study and
understanding of the new phenomenon.

As for who is most likely to get the technology to market,
Krivit suggests that there may be more going on beneath the
surface.

“Because the potential of this field is so incredibly and
obviously disruptive, anybody who might be close to commercialising
a potential LENR technology is going to keep it secret as long as
they can,” he said. “The last thing they want is to alert their
competitors and invite industrial competition.”

It’s an indication of the way things are going that his New Energy Times, a key
source of news on cold fusion, is launching a subscription service.
The field is looking less like the domain of tinkering eccentrics;
increasingly it seems to be getting taken seriously as a business
proposition. Technology is being licensed and companies are being
set up. In the words of the Boeing/Nasa report: “LENR
technology is potentially game-changing to not just aviation, but
the worldwide energy mix as well. This technology should be
followed to determine feasibility and potential performance.”