11A031 The Fusion Game by Jim Davies, 1/31/2011    

Two of the treasures on my bookshelf are autographed works by the late Eugene Mallove, whom I met on a few occasions while he managed the magazine Infinite Energy. Tragically, at age 55 he was senselessly murdered in Norwich, CT - and the government justice monopoly has still not nailed his killer(s). Gene was an MIT graduate and a maverick, for like many other scientists he was thrilled by the 1989 announcement by Pons and Fleischmann that they had discovered "cold fusion" in their University of Utah laboratory, but unlike the others he stayed with them after their initial results could not be replicated.

Fusion is what happens when two atoms combine. Fission is more familiar: one atom (of uranium) splits up into two smaller elements, with the conversion of a tiny amount of mass into a huge amount of energy; but fusion is the opposite, though it releases even more energy. What's emitted by the sun is fusion energy, not fission; hydrogen atoms are combining to produce helium plus radiation. The H-bomb uses a fission explosion to create momentarily the super-high temperatures needed for a fusion explosion, which then takes place with a far more powerful bang. At vast taxpayer expense, government scientists have been laboring for decades to generate controllable fusion energy here on earth, but have not succeeded yet. The problem has been the need for those extraterrestrial temperatures.

The reason for the interest is that if it can be done, all worries about energy sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, bio, geo, hydro, wind, wave, the lot) are over. Theoretically, fusion energy is dirt cheap, its raw materials abundant. The repercussions would be enormous, the whole game would change and civilization would begin a new chapter. And if it can be done cold, ie at or near room temperature instead of solar temperature, we can take all that and square it.

The search for cold fusion has continued, in small underfunded laboratories and without notable success, but last week from Italy came news of a breakthrough. It may turn out to be another disappointment, for the theory behind it has not been published for "peer review," which is a no-no in academia; but physicists Focardi and Rossi demonstrated their new device in a press conference reported here. It was observed to produce about eight times more energy than it used, thanks to the "burning" of hydrogen with a nickel catalyst, and to produce no harmful radiation. The couple promised a commercial version this Summer, but declined to take time to publish papers explaining how it works. If in fact it really does work, that's one neat way to keep potential competition guessing, while tantalizing it by wearing symbolic overcoats in their laboratory.

Fox News has thrown some cold water on this cold fusion claim, and noted that "Their credibility isn’t helped by the fact that Rossi apparently has something of a rap sheet, which allegedly includes illegally importing gold and tax fraud." Anyone who trusts gold more than government paper, and who tries to cheat the tax thieves, is a person of rare intelligence and courage - so I certainly hope this Establishment medium is proven wrong.

Cold fusion would really upset a large set of powerful companies in energy, all of whom have close ties to government and strong interests in keeping energy expensive; the more so if this revolutionary technique were produced independently of their own lavishly funded laboratories. I don't know whether Focardi and Rossi can pull that off, but surely wish them well.

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