“Fusion delusion” (Cold fusion devices)


Dr. Steven Novella has ruminated that cold fusion might enable jet packs, flying cars, and the end of reliance on fossil fuels. With all manner of tremendous applications, both practical and amusing, there would seem to be a strong incentive to find a way to produce massive amounts of energy while outputting very little.

However, as Novella noted, cold fusion is highly unlikely, to the point of not even having a theoretical model to work with. Because of this and numerous public failings after many promises, there are only about 100 persons seriously pursuing it, and only a tiny percentage of those are bona fide scientists. It’s OK to research and experiment, of course, but those doing it should be honest about their methods and findings, should submit for peer review, and should invite inspection and questions. With few exceptions, this is not how cold fusion proponents operate.

Cold fusion is a hypothetical type of nuclear reaction that would occur at room temperature, compared with the (very) hot fusion that takes place within stars. It has been pursued since the 1920s, with several tantalizing but untrue claims made on its behalf. The most spectacular failure was the Stanley Pons-Martin Fleishman debacle in 1989. This electrochemist duo had published an article in a science journal asserting they had achieved cold fusion. They made the cover of several national magazines and were a worldwide sensation for a few weeks.

Many scientists tried to replicate the work, with a few seeming successes. However, further investigation revealed that these were due to inaccurate heat measurements that resulted from faulty equipment. Furthermore, none of the experiments were showing the neturon flux that would result from fusion.

The attempts to replicate the alleged Pons-Fleishman findings fueled a surge in funding research, but this dried up after the experiments repeatedly fizzled. The few who attempt it today receive little if any funding and the field has become insular, opaque, and resentful of mainstream science, which it thinks is repressing it. In other words, it is a paranoid pseudoscientist’s playground.

There are highly complex, very technical descriptions of how time travel might be possible if 100 hypothetical methods go precisely right and another 100 speculative technological advances are developed. Cold fusion devices are similar. Coming up with one is about as likely as transporting George Washington back to witness it.

It would require, among other obstacles, joining nuclei lighter than iron into heavier elements. This demands a lot of energy since the nuclei must overcome significant electrostatic resistance to manage this. Regular fusion happens because of the high temperature and pressure in a star’s core. Being able to do that without those temperatures and pressure is the behemoth of a problem that almost certainly dooms cold fusion dreams.

Still, feeble attempts continue, with infrequent demonstrations that go nowhere. In order to be convincing, a cold fusion demonstration would need to show proof of gamma radiation, as well as heavier elements that result from fusion. Most tellingly, there would need to be gobs of excess energy. Instead, any seeming excess energy is infinitesimal, so little that experimental error may be the cause. Despite lofty promises, cold fusion advocates have yet to produce a working model. The best example would be for a demonstrator to give a presentation in an auditorium powered by his or her cold fusion device.

In lieu of this, we get years of talking about almost being there and of continual repression. The latest manifestation is the Leonardo Corporation’s ECAT device. The corporation’s website includes a description of what the ECAT is, how it works, and who invented it. But when it comes to answering when it can be purchased in order to fuel those jetpacks, we get this: “The ECAT currently operates as a pilot plant, gathering useful data to feedback in preparation for the mass production which is planned to start late 2016 to early 2017.” This date have moved to the right several times and is a microcosm of the cold fusion crowd’s shadowy operations.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian company R&D says it will have such a device to the world within 10 years. One believer, who seems reminiscent of Charlie Brown running toward the football, posted his feelings about the latest tease and those who would suppress it. It was a typical cold fusion advocate ad hominem, featuring hostility to criticism and strawmen. “I am appalled that the so called scientific community has so little vision.” (He posted this to the Internet using an iPhone). “The insults from the physics associations around the world indicates to me they are a little worried. Cold fusion makes them angry and gives them a headache. There are no facts of physics, only theory.” He must have wrote that while experiencing weightlessness instead of gravity.

The poster then complains that the few dozen persons who are pursing cold fusion devices are not taken seriously, a problem that would be fixed by one of them inventing it.


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