Cold Fusion Gets a Makeover

Did you know that cold fusion–derided as quackery and even as pseudo-science for decades–has a new, less threatening, less discredited name?

“Low-energy Nuclear Reactions”: that’s the new name (LENR for short) for research into room-temperature nuclear reactions. I had no idea science could be so concerned with being P.C.

I bring this up because of an article I saw on the BBC recently about LENR sessions at last week’s American Chemical Society’s 237th National Meeting. The ACS has organized sessions surrounding LENR research at its meetings before, suggesting that the field would otherwise have no suitable forum for debate (the main theme for this year’s conference was “Nanoscience: Challenges for the Future”–a much sexier topic).

This meeting roughly coincided with the twentieth anniversary of Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons’ much ballyhooed but ill-fated announcement that they had succeeded in achieving cold fusion, that long-sought-after source of boundless clean energy. Fusion is, after all, the energy source of the sun and the stars.

Attempts to replicate their experiments failed, largely discrediting the cold fusion field in the eyes of ‘mainstream’ science, but a number of researchers continue to insist that cold fusion is possible.

The ACS meeting heard of several approaches that claim to produce fusion power.

Many of the details of Pons and Fleischmann’s original electrolytic cell feature in more recent work, including the type of metal used in the cell’s electrodes and the use of deuterium, aka “heavy water”.

One wholly new approach was explained by researchers from Hokkaido University, who have seen unexplained heat production in a chamber filled with compressed hydrogen and a chemical called phenanthrene.

One group of scientists (creepily enough from the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center) described what it terms the first clear visual evidence that LENR devices can produce neutrons, subatomic particles that scientists view as tell-tale signs that nuclear reactions are occurring.

More information on the meeting can be found at the American Chemical Society’s website, where they have a nice article about some of the findings of the LENR sessions at the meeting.

– S.

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2 Responses to Cold Fusion Gets a Makeover

  1. Darrell

    It’s not quackery, it’s ‘speculative’

  2. Neal F. Guye

    I was a physics undergrad when Pons and Fleischmann hit the headlines. Everyone in our department (profs included) had a special meeting where we discussed everything and made a hole in the budget to buy palladium.

    BTW, those who talk about the potential of “FREE” electricity have never priced palladium. It’s around 220 USD per ounce right now, and any significant increase in demand would drive it up four or five times higher.

    Dr. Victor Madsen, who was a heavyweight with DOE, said he had been trying for a whole day to figure out how Pons and Fleischmann did what they said. He said the expected output was many orders of magnitude lower than what they reported.

    And like hundreds of other universities, we were never able to duplicate their results.

    So now, 20 years later, we are getting reports of results that are many orders of magnitude lower than what Pons and Fleischmann reported. The only breakthrough seems to be the special plastic that can be used to detect tiny neutron emissions.

    Between the need for palladium and the microscopic output, this is not a solution to our energy problems.

    There is a very old method for fusion where a big wire cone is electrified to a high voltage at the edge and grounded at the tip. Ions are released at the edge and electrically pulled down to the tip, where they occasionally fuse.

    The electricity used is far more than the energy produced by the fusion, but it’s something anyone can build with a enough time and interest.

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