On 14th January of this year an article appeared in La Republica (a well respected Italian broadsheet) in which 2 scientists report that cold nuclear fusion (also known as a low energy nuclear reaction or LENR) has been achieved and demonstrated. The article explains that for the first time the process has been achieved using nickel and hydrogen, opening the doors to abundant clean energy.
Engineer Andrea Rossi and Physicist Sergio Focardi made this fantastic discovery. They have requested (and reports claim been granted) a patent for their invention that they successfully demonstrated to an invited group of scientists and journalists at their laboratory/factory in Bologna. Due to their patent pending at the time of the demonstration however they could not divulge the exact mechanics of the process that produced the energy and their secret ingredient, for fear of losing commercial rights over their invention.
Guests included physicists from several different institutions who were allowed to inspect their prototype machine as it worked.
The national Italian TV network RAI produced a long video report (here and below dubbed in English) (qui in italiano) for their RAI 24 news channel in which they rather unproblematically described the process that the two scientists had demonstrated as the future of energy and even went as far as raising political questions regarding the safety of the two scientists involved. Could their lives be at risk if they are the only people that know how such a potentially planet changing discovery could be harnessed?
Last week the Corriere Etrusco newspaper published an article claiming that the scientists had replicated their demonstration with success and the inventors state that their machine will be in full production and on sale by the end of the year, with reports abound that they have been granted a patent in Italy until 2028. In October they say they will demonstrate a much larger working model in Greece, capable of generating enough energy to power a factory.
In April of this year Swedish scientists confirmed their findings that part of the nickel used to power the experiment had been turned into copper, proof they say that a nuclear reaction had taken place. The Swedish aleklett wordpress website offers a description of the processes involved in both the reaction and the analysis process, written by a colleague of the specialist that carried out the analysis mentioned above.
As I followed the story I found that reports in English in general are not in the mainstream press but mainly found on specialized alternative energy and cold nuclear fusion websites. See The Oil Drum blog for example or this Lenr-Canr site for an online bibliography of publications on this topic. The most comprehensive reporting in English can be found in The Journal Of Nuclear Physics, a rather nice looking glossy website offering what they describe as ‘high quality peer reviewed articles’, and the favoured means of communication of our two favourite scientists.
During my hunt for reliable information I made some discoveries myself, and not just about cold fusion. Cold fusion is the holy grail for physicists, the promise of cheap, clean power for generations to come. Research has a long history, but one common thread, experiments that have reportedly demonstrated cold fusion in action have been impossible to replicate, and are therefore not accepted by the mainstream scientific community. So maybe this is why the mainstream press does not report on this invention.
But what about all these science journals? Well it turns out that the impressively titled Journal of Nuclear Physics was created by the very same scientists that are currently using it to claim this incredible breakthrough. There are many other journals reporting on cold fusion but they are also produced by (and for) outcast scientists working in this field.
But here lies a problem, scientists are making claims through what is in effect their own website about an experiment that nobody can explain in terms of physics, and that they themselves are not willing to explain in terms of materials because of the patent issue.
Evidence might point to pseudoscience, a hoax or publicity stunt, but many of the issues raised in such a case mirror those addressed on this website. Problems such as the private ownership of knowledge, innovation as politics, poor science reporting in the press, access to reliable scientific information and the communication of science and its relationship to society all play a part in events such as these.
We should also bear in mind that these scientists may work outside the accepted scientific community but they are well educated physicists and engineers that believe in what they are doing, and that they will one day achieve a ‘low energy nuclear reaction’ and change the world forever for the better.
Let’s just hope they do.
(photo: Cold Fusion. Painting inside Royal Society of Chemistry by beepbeep_car from flickr)