Cold Fusion Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is cold fusion?
Cold fusion was discovered by professors Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann and announced in March 1989. It is a reaction that occurs under certain conditions in supersaturated metal hydrides (metals with lots of hydrogen or heavy hydrogen dissolved in them). It produces excess heat, helium, and a very low level of neutrons. In some experiments the host metal has been transmuted into other elements. Cold fusion has been seen with palladium, titanium, nickel and with some superconducting ceramics.
What is excess heat?
Many chemical and nuclear processes are ‘exothermic’ meaning they produce more energy out than you put in. For example, when you strike a match, it burns until the fuel is exhausted, producing energy. Some cold fusion devices produce energy the way a burning match does: no energy is input, but a steady stream of heat is produced. Other cold fusion devices require an external source of electrical energy to keep the reaction going. The electrical energy input into the system produces some heat, and the cold fusion reaction produces additional or “excess” heat. For example, with electrochemical cold fusion you might input 1 watt of power and get out 3 watts, so 2 watts are excess. Some electrochemical systems get much better performance than this, inputting a fraction of a watt and outputting 400 to 500 watts.
Is cold fusion chemical, nuclear or something else?
Cold fusion cannot be a chemical process because it consumes no chemical fuel and it produces no chemical ash. Cold fusion cells contain mostly water, which is inert material that cannot burn or undergo any other exothermic chemical reaction. Cells also contain metal hydrides, which can produce a small amounts of chemical heat, but cold fusion cells have produced hundreds of thousands of times more energy per unit of mass than any chemical cell could. For example, a cell containing 40 milligrams (0.04 grams) of metal hydride, and no other potential chemical fuel, produced 86 megajoules of energy over a two month period. The best conventional chemical fuel is gasoline; only a few exotic rocket fuels produce more energy per gram than gasoline, and they are not much better. It would take 2,000 grams of gasoline to produce 86 megajoules of energy, so the cold fusion cell was 50,000 times better. Furthermore, no cold fusion cell has ever shown any sign of petering out for lack of fuel. The cell that produced 86 megajoules was deliberately turned off after two months. If it has been left on it might have run for years, or decades. Nobody knows how long it might go.
Cold fusion does produce nuclear ash: helium, a low level of neutrons, and in some cases tritium and transmutations in the host metal. It produces trillions of times fewer neutrons than plasma fusion or fission, and most scientists believe that nothing resembling plasma fusion can take place in a metal lattice, so if cold fusion is a nuclear fusion or fission reaction, it must be very different than any known reaction. It is not yet clear whether the helium, tritium and other nuclear ash from cold fusion is sufficient to account for all of the heat generated. If it is not, then perhaps this is a new source of energy never observed before, which occasionally produces nuclear reactions as a side effect.
If cold fusion cells are nuclear, why aren’t they extremely hot?
Many people think that because nuclear reactions produce gigantic amounts of energy, that means they must be very hot, like the inside of a fission reactor, or the sun. This is incorrect. A sample impure radium or uranium that is undergoing fission might be cold to the touch, or barely warm. These samples produce dangerous ionizing radiation. The individual fission reactions that occur atom by atom inside them produce millions of electron volts (eV) of energy, whereas the atoms in a chemical reaction release only a 3 or 4 electron volts at most. But atoms undergoing nuclear reaction in the impure sample are few and far between, whereas trillions of atoms in the chemical sample simultaneously participate in the chemical reaction.
Although a nuclear reaction produces millions of times more energy than a chemical reaction, in some cases the chemical reaction produces much more power over a short period of time. This is why a burning match is hotter than the impure sample of radium. The radium remains warm for thousands of years, the match burns out in a minute or two.
Okay, so what is the difference between power and energy? What are watts, joules, kilowatt-hours and BTUs?
These may not be ‘Frequently Asked Questions,’ but they ought to be, because power and energy are Frequently Confused Concepts. Power is the rate of energy release at a given instant in time. Energy is power integrated over time. Power is measured in watts, kilowatts and horsepower. Energy is measured in joules (watt-seconds) or kilowatt-hours. A power level of one watt that continues for one second equals one joule; the integrated energy from a 100-watt light that runs for 60 seconds equals 6000 joules. 4.18 joules equal 1 calorie, which is enough energy to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
In U.S. industry, thermal energy is sometimes measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). A BTU is the energy it takes to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. One BTU equals 1,055 joules. One horsepower equals 746 watts.
Why doesn’t cold fusion produce dangerous ionizing radiation and neutrons?
Nobody knows! This is one of the many unsolved scientific mysteries of cold fusion. Some scientists think that because the effect does not produce intense radiation, it cannot be a nuclear process. (See the question above: “is cold fusion chemical, nuclear or something else?”) Others say the radiation is produced but then somehow absorbed by the metal lattice. In any case, it is a good thing cold fusion does not produce dangerous ionizing radiation because if it did, cold fusion cells would require elaborate shielding and cold fusion would be difficult, expensive and dangerous to commercialize. From the scientific perspective the lack of radiation and neutrons is puzzling and even annoying, but from the point of view of business, commercialization, and the environment it is a priceless advantage and a boon to mankind.
What is “hot” fusion (conventional, plasma fusion)?
Hot fusion is the kind of nuclear reaction that powers the Sun and the stars. At temperatures of millions of degrees, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms can overcome their natural tendency to repel one another and join or fuse to form helium nuclei. This releases enormous energy. Fusion is the opposite of fission, which is the release of energy by splitting heavy uranium or plutonium nuclei.
What is the present status of “hot” fusion?
Scientists the world over have spent more than four decades and billions of dollars (an estimated $15 billion in the U.S. alone) to investigate the possibility of mimicking with devices here on Earth the fusion reactions of the stars. These are complex and large machines that rely on high magnetic fields or powerful lasers to compress and heat fusion fuel, typically the isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. The controlled hot fusion program has made enormous strides, but all agree that the earliest possible time when practical hot fusion devices might be available is about three decades away. Hot fusion is a very tough engineering problem. Many engineers – even those favorable to hot fusion – suggest that the “tokamak” reactor approach being followed by the U.S. Department of Energy will never result in commercially viable technology.
The U.S. hot fusion scientists now want to build a gigantic, complex test reactor called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), which might begin to operate in 2005. A commercial hot fusion power plant would not be on-line until at least 2040. The annual budget for hot fusion research in the U.S. regularly exceeds $500 million, and the program now seek increased funding for ITER and other experiments.
How does cold fusion differ from hot fusion?
Cold fusion releases enormous quantities of energy in the form of heat, not ionizing radiation, as in hot fusion. This heat energy is hundreds to thousands of times what ordinary chemical reactions could possibly yield. If “cold fusion” is a heretofore unknown form of benign nuclear reaction – as most researchers in the cold fusion field believe – there is more potential cold fusion energy in a cubic mile of sea water than in all of the oil reserves on earth. Cold fusion, in contrast to hot fusion, occurs in relatively simple apparatus. Cold fusion reactions are not at all like conventional hot fusion reactions. If they were, cold fusion experimenters would be killed by massive flows of radiation-neutrons and gamma rays.
Are there theories that can explain cold fusion?
Cold fusion researchers have attempted to find theoretical models to explain the observed cold fusion effects: large thermal energy releases, low-level nuclear phenomena, and the absence of massive harmful radiation and other conventional nuclear effects. There is yet no single, generally accepted theory that explains all these phenomena. There is no doubt, however, that the phenomena exist and will eventually be explained. It is difficult to come up with a theory that fits all the data. The explanation might lie in nuclear reactions, exotic “super-chemistry” requiring some modifications to quantum mechanics, or something even more bizarre (such as tapping of the zero-point energy of space at the atomic level).
How do you put lots of hydrogen into metal?
It isn’t easy! That is one of the reasons cold fusion remains difficult to replicate. The electrolyte, hydrogen or deuterium gas must be kept free of impurities. The metal must be carefully manufactured, cleaned, prepared and pre-treated. As the metal lattice fills up, tremendous pressure is created, which causes most metal samples to fracture. This prevents “high loading” which is a necessary condition for cold fusion. Here are some of the different methods have been used to achieve high loading:
.The original Pons-Fleischmann electrochemical process. Heavy water solution with a current-carrying electrolyte such as lithium deuteroxide (LiOD). Current is passed between a palladium or palladium-alloy cathode and a platinum anode.
.The Randell Mills Process. Ordinary water solution with (typically) potassium carbonate (K2CO3) electrolyte. Electrodes: nickel cathode and platinum or even nickel anode.
.Deuterium Gas Discharge Process. Low voltage electrical discharge onto various metals through a deuterium gas atmosphere.
.Ultrasonic Activation. Using ultrasonic frequencies, acoustic energy bombards palladium or other metal submerged in heavy water, producing excess energy and helium-4.
.Ceramic Proton Conductors. Certain ceramic materials such as strontium-cerium-oxide and aluminum-lanthanum-oxide, when very low current is passed through them in a deuterium gas atmosphere, give significant excess energy.
.Piantelli-Habel-Focardi Process. A nickel substrate is subjected to high temperatures in a hydrogen atmosphere.
Which laboratories are getting positive results?
Several hundred laboratories around the world have obtained positive cold fusion results. A partial list, which appeared in Fire from Ice in 1991, is long outdated. In the spring of 1991, a conference in the former Soviet Union revealed many more positive results; at the Second Annual Conference on Cold Fusion held in Como, Italy, in July 1991, much more positive evidence for cold fusion emerged. At the Third International Conference on Cold Fusion in October, 1992, the evidence became completely overwhelming. At the Fourth International Conference on Cold Fusion (Maui, December, 1993), the field blossomed in many new directions: new methods of generating excess power, and new observations, especially the apparent transmutation of heavy elements at low-energy. Research facilities reporting important cold fusion results include:
- Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)/Stanford Research Institute (SRI)
- Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory
- Naval Weapons Center at China Lake
- Naval Research Laboratory
- Naval Ocean Systems Center
- Texas A&M University
- California State Polytechnic University
- ENECO, Salt Lake City
- Hokkaido National University
- ENEA (Italy)
- National Institute for Nuclear Physics (Italy)
- Osaka National University
- National Institute for Fusion Science, Nagoya
- Tokyo Institute of Technology
- Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, India
- IMRA Corporation (Toyota subsidiary)
- NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph company)
- E-Quest Sciences (California)
- Shell Recherche SA (France)
- Tsinghua University (China)
- University of Illinois at Urbana
Many other private research laboratories, most in Japan.
Who is funding cold fusion research and development?
Major financial support for cold fusion research comes from Japanese sources. In the Autumn of 1991, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry organized a research consortium of ten major Japanese corporations to advance research in cold fusion. Prior to this, only the Ministry of Education was involved in this research. This consortium is called “The New Hydrogen Energy Panel” (NHEP). In the spring of 1992, as the activities of the Panel became widely known, Japanese newspapers reported that five other major Japanese corporations asked to be included. In mid-1992, MITI announced a four-year, three billion yen ($24 million) program to advance cold fusion research, to be administered by MITI’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). This money was to spent on special expenses within the national laboratories, such as travel and extra equipment purchases beyond the usual discretionary levels. In 1995, the four year budget for this project was raised to $100 million. NEDO is sponsoring the Sixth International Conference on Cold Fusion, in October 1996.
- Is there a future for cold fusion?
Unfortunately, cold fusion has been widely attacked, belittled and ignored in the U.S. and most of Europe, except Italy. Funding for the research in the U.S. is all but non-existent. A few independently wealthy U.S. scientists are working on it, and “underground” research continues at many laboratories. Fortunately, cold fusion research is not “Big Science.” It does not need massive installations, just relatively small-scale dedicated work. Cold fusion energy development will dominantly be the territory for private industry. There is no need for massive government investment.
Probably the most difficult hurdle in trying to come to terms with cold fusion is that it seems too fantastic, “too good to be true” economically and socially, and too unexpected scientifically. But the same was said about many other scientific revolutions, like anesthetics, electric lighting, airplanes, antibiotics, space flight and nuclear fission. Cold fusion and allied discoveries will probably revolutionize the world in ways we can barely begin to imagine. We believe that before the year 2000 there will be prototype cold fusion powered automobiles, home heating systems, and compact electrical generating units. These technologies will revolutionize the world as they speed the end of the Fossil Fuel Age. People who think that such revolutionary changes cannot happen have forgotten the lessons of history. We should remember the sentiments of Michael Faraday, to whom we owe our revolutionary electrically powered civilization. He wrote: “Nothing is too wonderful to be true.”