Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Peak Oil Crisis: Cold Fusion Gets a U.S. Patent?

Sometimes our government moves very slowly. In the case of granting a patent to cold fusion technology, which just might replace fossil fuels, it took 26 years.

Andrea Rossi with his cold fusion device

The odyssey that started with a press conference at the University of Utah back in 1989 and has bumped along below the world’s radar screen ever since, seems to be coming to an end. The cold fusion phenomenon had a brief flurry of notoriety until it was “debunked” by many physicists, a couple of universities, and the U.S. Department of Energy panel. The science fell into disrepute, its discovers were disgraced and went into exile.

Fortunately for mankind, there were a handful of experimenters who were able to reproduce the original experiments which produced anomalous heat, thereby keeping the spark of cold fusion alive, but mostly in obscure laboratories out of the purview of the mainstream press. A decade or so ago some Italian physicists made a major breakthrough which led to devices producing commercial, not just test tube, amounts of heat. This effort culminated in a number of semi-public demonstrations of the technology, which were largely ignored or denounced as conventional wisdom held that “cold fusion” was impossible.

Circa two years ago the Italian cold fusion effort, led by entrepreneur Andrea Rossi, was moved to North Carolina, linked up with a venture capital firm, and well-financed developmental work began on building commercially viable cold fusion reactors. Last February the first prototype, a one-megawatt reactor system producing steam 24 hours a day, was installed for a one-year test in an undisclosed factory somewhere in the US. This device has now been successfully operating for over six months. If all goes well for the remainder of the trial period, a report is scheduled to be issued and heat producing devices will go on sale to the public.

At some point the mainstream media will cotton to the fact that we have been led badly astray as to the viability of this technology and there indeed is an alternative to producing large amounts of energy other than by burning fossil fuels, nuclear fission, hydro, solar and wind. Obviously a technology that can produce large amounts of heat continuously at low cost and without harmful emissions or hazardous waste will catch on quickly. If not in the U.S., then I am sure the Chinese will be happy to help advance the technology.

One of the reasons there has been so much skepticism about cold fusion and Rossi’s reactor in recent years was the secrecy surrounding the inner workings of the device. Much of this secrecy was due to the developer’s inability to obtain a valid international patent on his intellectual property. When the U.S. Department of Energy declared the whole technology a hoax 25 years ago and reaffirmed this decision in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary 10 years later, the U.S. Patent Office adopted the position that it would not patent any device claiming to be based on cold fusion or anything close.

In 2008, Rossi filed for a U.S. patent on his technology, only to have it finally rejected seven years later for lack of sufficient proof that he really had developed a technology that worked. Although Rossi was granted an Italian patent in 2011, nobody thought it offered much protection against copiers of a technology that could easily be worth trillions of dollars should it come to replace fossil fuels someday.

This time around Rossi, and his patent attorneys, took a new approach to gaining the first of what will likely be many patents relating to a technology which could easily turn out to be the most important of the century. Rather than claiming that the device was based on controversial nuclear reactions, the new patent is for a simple “Fluid Heater” that raises the temperature of water by subjecting a mixture of nickel, lithium, and lithium-aluminum-hydride powders to heat. The mixture warms to hundreds of degrees centigrade and begins to produce much more heat energy than is initially applied to the powder by the built-in electric heater. There is a no mention anywhere in the patent of “cold fusion,” nor any kind of nuclear reaction. The patent is silent as to what is causing the excess heat, only saying that it occurs, leaving it to the reader to conclude that so much heat is bring produced that there must be some kind of nuclear reaction taking place – known chemical reactions will not suffice.

The patent breaks new ground in our understanding of how Rossi’s reactor works for in order to obtain his patent protection, he had to reveal the inner workings of the reactor and the composition of the fuel that was inside. The revelation in the patent that there are three separate powders, the proportion of the powders, and that the nickel catalyst must be preheated to drive out any moisture and increase the porosity of the nickel should be of great help to anyone attempting to replicate Rossi’s device. Also revealed in the patent was that each fuel load should be able to run for six months before needing to be replaced. Rossi, however, recently stated that that a single fuel load may run for a year and that the reactor currently being tested can run for long periods of time without the need to turn on the heaters that are run with outside power.

In the past year, numerous replicators have attempted to produce excess heat from devices similar to Rossi’s. One the of these replicators, Alexander Parkhomov at the University of Moscow, has been successful in at least a dozen tests. Other replicators have been able to produce excess heat, but were unable to control their reactors which quickly melted down due to the massive amount of heat being generated. With this new information from the patent, we should soon be seeing many successful replications and put to rest assertions that the technology is a fraud.

For those of us who have been following this technology for over a quarter of a century, the granting of a U.S. patent marks a major milestone in the history of science for it offers the opportunity to get mankind beyond the age of carbon and nuclear fission fuels and all that they have wrought – rogue petro state governments, pollution, global warming, and dangerous radioactive wastes. For now, the major question is whether this or similar technologies can come into widespread use fast enough to slow and then halt the many adverse societal, economic and climatological trends with which we are currently beset. More