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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« Weirdness: Montagnier Again, Teleporting DNA | Main | Those Me-Too Drugs »

January 25, 2011

Weirdness: A Cold Fusion Demonstration?

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Posted by Derek

Several people have asked me about this recent press conference, where two Italian researchers (Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi) say that they have demonstrated anomalous nuclear reactions with nickel and copper, on a scale sufficient to produce electrical power. (To be technical, it's probably not fusion per se, but is it anything, and if so, what)?

I hope that they're right, naturally. But there are a lot of things to wonder about. They chose to announce this at a press conference, and to "publish" in a journal that actually doesn't exist. Rossi himself seems to have had some criminal problems with the Italian authorities in the past. All this does not inspire confidence (says the blogger in a scrupulously neutral tone of voice). And this whole area is absolutely saturated with cranks, sharp operators, self-deceivers, paranoids, and loose cannons of every description. I continue to think that these phenomena (if there are phenomena there at all) are worthy of study, but man, the signal-to-noise ratio in this field just could not be worse. The legitimate scientists working in it (and there are some) have my sympathy.

For what it's worth, this latest work seems to follow up on some earlier reports from another Italian physicist, Francesco Piantelli. That link, a blog written by a sceptical enthusiast, will probably tell you more than you want to know about the story, and a look through its other posts will tell you plenty about the state of the whole field. I'm going to take the same course of action that I have with all purported new energy breakthroughs in the last twenty years: wish the participants good luck, hope that they've actually found something worthwhile, and sit back to watch. If anyone does make a breakthrough, it's going to be abundantly clear. If, on the other hand, the people involved are still flopping around and issuing press releases year after year, then they're probably still having to pay their own electric bills.

Comments (23) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


COMMENTS

1. Bored on January 25, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

Snake oil comes in many forms. So do people who buy it.

Life would be so much easier without the second law of thermodynamics.

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2. IP Chemist on January 25, 2011 10:34 AM writes...

Looks like they may be going for patent coverage before publishing. Take a look at WO/2009/125444 or US 2011/0005506 if you get a chance. Their spec is a bit thin, but gives some idea of what's going on. I'm still not buying it until they put some data out there.

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3. RB Woodweird on January 25, 2011 10:39 AM writes...

I call it the Home Depot Test. If I can buy it at Home Depot within five years, it is real.

Lasers - check.
LEDs - check.
BlackLight Power generator - no.
Mr. Cold Fusion - pending.

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4. Peter Gluck on January 25, 2011 10:52 AM writes...

Dear Derek,

The generator works beyond any doubt, works at Piantelli's lab, works in more places for Rossi and Focardi and it will be commercialized.For the time given has no good theory and there are some sale-up problem. Take please a look to "Triumph looks in the mirror" at my Ego-Out blog.

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5. Captain Kirk on January 25, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

This is a pathetic waste of time. Everyone knows that the future of energy production lies in matter-antimatter reactions using dilithium crystals.

Now excuse me while I go make out with an alien chick... Spock can handle this one.

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6. Vader on January 25, 2011 11:59 AM writes...

I can't prove the experimenters aren't seeing something, though I'm deeply skeptical. One ought to be skeptical any time an effect is reported to be orders of magnitude greater than predicted by any mainstream theory, yet by coincidence is just above the detection limit for whatever apparatus is being employed by the experimenters.

But the proposed explanation is pure woo. A proton converting to a neutron which is then absorbed by a nickel or copper nucleus? That can only happen through the weak interaction, and there's a reason it's called "weak." This is the reaction that powers the Sun, to be sure -- but at a temperature of 25 million degrees and a density a hundred times that of water, and even then the rate is just a few ergs per gram per second. You ain't gonna power much with that unless you have a whopping big mass of it.

I much prefer fission for my energy needs.

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7. Vlad Konings on January 25, 2011 12:03 PM writes...

Kirk,

Best be careful making out with alien chicks.

http://www.pbfcomics.com/archive_b/PBF051-Zarflax.jpg

(May not be entirely SFW)

Permalink to Comment

8. Ken Bob on January 25, 2011 12:04 PM writes...

Now I know. I always wondered why I felt sparks when I reach into my pocket and rub my pennies and nickels together. Good thing I'm not rich, or I wouldn't ever have observed the effect rubbing my dimes and quarters together.

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9. metaphysician on January 25, 2011 5:12 PM writes...

I'm sure this isn't anything others haven't already asked, but. . .

"Do you have an explanation for how you got energy out of a fusion reaction involving nuclei larger than iron?"

Because iron is the bottom of the binding energy well. Making anything larger than iron costs more energy than it liberates. Hence why, you know, stars die when they run out of enough stuff smaller than iron to fuse.

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10. Curt F. on January 25, 2011 10:29 PM writes...

A proton converting to a neutron which is then absorbed by a nickel or copper nucleus? That can only happen through the weak interaction, and there's a reason it's called "weak." This is the reaction that powers the Sun, to be sure -- but at a temperature of 25 million degrees and a density a hundred times that of water, and even then the rate is just a few ergs per gram per second. You ain't gonna power much with that unless you have a whopping big mass of it.

Is the sun really powered by weak interactions? I thought the force holding nuclei together and the force whose energy is released during fusion was the strong force.

Because iron is the bottom of the binding energy well. Making anything larger than iron costs more energy than it liberates. Hence why, you know, stars die when they run out of enough stuff smaller than iron to fuse.

The second sentence here might be true, but the first sentence is only true for certain interpretations of "bottom". Wikipedia says: Of all isotopes, iron-56 has the lowest mass per nucleon. With 8.8 MeV binding energy per nucleon, iron-56 is one of the most tightly bound nuclei.[1]
Nickel-62 has a higher binding energy per nucleon; this is consistent with having a higher mass per nucleon because nickel-62 has a greater proportion of neutrons; which are slightly more massive than protons.

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11. wwjd on January 26, 2011 8:56 AM writes...

I thought stars only produced helium and that all the heaviear elements were created at the big bang.

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12. ash on January 26, 2011 9:35 AM writes...

wwjd, no, you are mistaken.

Permalink to Comment

13. Derek Lowe on January 26, 2011 10:05 AM writes...

Nope, wwjd, the earlier comment about binding energy is correct. The Big Bang seems to have produced mostly hydrogen, with a bit of helium and such on the side. Stars take that mix and run up all the elements to iron in the course of their normal lifetimes - you can see the spectral lines of all sorts of elements in them, with more appearing as they age.

Anything heavier than iron-56, though, seems to be only produced by supernova explosions, which always comes as kind of an odd thought, when you consider gold, mercury, silver, bromine, and all the other heavy elements.

Permalink to Comment

14. Vader on January 27, 2011 1:39 PM writes...

Curt,

"Is the sun really powered by weak interactions? I thought the force holding nuclei together and the force whose energy is released during fusion was the strong force."

The reaction has several steps and a couple of branches, but the first step is for a proton in close proximity to another proton to beta decay into a neutron, a positron, and a neutrino. This is a strongly endothermic reaction mediated by the weak force. It's only possible at all because the neutron promptly binds to the other proton, an even more strongly exothermic reaction mediated by the strong force.

Subsequent steps in the main reaction pathway to helium are all mediated by the strong force as well.

So, yeah, the strong force provides all the energy yield. But the weak forces is needed to activate the reaction.

Permalink to Comment

15. Henry on January 28, 2011 3:42 AM writes...

Waiting for Mr. Spock it is better if you take a look of this pubblication, it could explain what could happen in the Rossi-Focardi reactor between the protons in the nickel lattice:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/77127077754p1788/

In the mean while i advice the reades people take a look to the Eng. Rossi website to know how is funny italian laws and learn more about the "criminal problems" of Eng. Rossi:
http://ingandrearossi.com/

If you don't know italian... hey welcome in the club, there is google translate!

Permalink to Comment

16. Brad Arnold on January 30, 2011 11:51 PM writes...

Frankly, I don't know why I bother posting on these "cold fusion"articles, because it appears to be a waste of time, but..."cold fusion" has been verified by the US Navy in 2009, and I have a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency report) from the same year listing the "cold fusion" experiments around the world and their progress ('promising' and definitely verifiable). I've spend hundreds of hours studying this, and (being a Mensa member and a US National Master at chess) the only realistic question is how is the verifiable phenomena occurring.

More interesting is what will happen when this clean cheap abundant and decentralized power production technology emerges. You will be able to live "off the gird," so population demographics will change dramatically as humans settle everywhere. Practical desalination will mean virtually unlimited amounts of water anywhere. Also, best of all, is I have rocket engine designs that will enable this us to escape the Earth's gravity well and civilize space in our generation.

You simply don't understand what is about to happen. It is beyond weird that main stream media is letting this occur under the radar. Just the ramification to the price of our current energy infrastructure is almost beyond most people's ability to imagine. Sad...it just goes to show you most people simply don't understand most things, but just fake it because they are familiar with their current environment.

Permalink to Comment

17. Dan on January 31, 2011 12:36 AM writes...

Brad: I have to wonder what on earth your rank at chess has to do with anything here. In fact, its mere mention casts more doubt on your post; I've rarely seen someone brag about a completely irrelevant qualification when there's any truth to their story.

I'd love to be wrong; cold fusion (if scientifically and economically viable) would solve quite a few problems. But this doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would remain under the radar if true, nor would it be likely to be classified.

Permalink to Comment

18. Anon on January 31, 2011 5:15 AM writes...

32543 6245 53676 55

Permalink to Comment

19. Sili on February 6, 2011 6:29 PM writes...

The Big Bang seems to have produced mostly hydrogen, with a bit of helium and such on the side.
I hate to nitpick (yeah, right), but most of the He in the Universe was created in the Big Bang. Together with, as you say, bits of Li to the point that the relative abundaces tells us the composition of Universe in those first few instants after the BB. This, incidentally, is one of the observations that are best explained by Dark Matter. Permalink to Comment

20. Mikaela on March 1, 2011 7:58 AM writes...

This blog seems to collect links about this…Exciting!
Best regards Mikaela
http://energycatalyzer.blogspot.com/

Permalink to Comment

21. Alex on March 5, 2011 9:59 AM writes...

did anyone ask the first firemaker about what scientific theory he was basing his claim of his 'invention'?
The arrogance and hubris of many scientists knows no bounds.

Permalink to Comment

22. Dan on March 27, 2011 4:46 PM writes...

Alex: You can see fire. Until they scale this up to the point that it's abundantly clear that it really is producing energy, despite such a thing being incompatible with all known laws of physics, I'll side with what has been tested a semi-infinite number of times over somebody who thinks that's all wrong.

Permalink to Comment

23. Andrea J. on April 11, 2011 2:52 PM writes...

i am a mensa member from italy and i am pretty good at chess, but still i have big doubts about Andrea Rossi: checkout the Petroldragon scam he set up some years ago!

Permalink to Comment

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