Cold Fusion Breakthrough?
Involved researchers expect a review of the US Department of Energy to catalyse scientific recognition of their research field
After 15 years of uncertainty, Cold Fusion is possibly close to its breakthrough. Many dozens of researchers from all over the world claim to have measured the fusion of nuclei at room temperature. A review of the accumulated evidence by the US Department of Energy is about to be finished. Researchers, who have steadily worked on the subject, wish for recognition that low energy nuclear reactions represent a legitimate scientific field of inquiry.
On March 23, 1989, Drs. Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons held a press conference at the University of Utah, and asserted that during electrolysis (electrical splitting) of heavy water they had gained more energy than they had put into the experiment. Both chemists hinted at a nuclear process. Within hours, reports about the "solution of the energy problem" spread around the earth.
But since the Fleischmann/Pons experiments are complex, renowned laboratories failed to reproduce the so-called Fleischmann/Pons Effect in hasty experiments. Most science journals did not report positive reproductions of the effect. The scientific community concluded in 1989 and still believes that Cold Fusion was two lone chemists' dream.
A report requested by the Department of Energy (DoE) concluded in November 1989, "that the present evidence for the discovery of a new nuclear process termed cold fusion is not persuasive" and recommended "against any special funding for the investigation of phenomena attributed to cold fusion." However, the conclusions and recommendations did not account for the fact that, besides the University of Utah, three other universities had reproduced the Fleischmann/Pons Effect and published their results. Additionally, the board knew of eleven other laboratories that had potentially, but not certainly, reproduced the effect.
The Naval Weapons Center of the US Navy should have been named among those groups. Dr. Melvin Miles, the scientist conducting the experiments, confirmed to Steven Krivit of the New Energy Times in late 2003 that he had sent a letter to each member of the advisory board stating that by then his laboratory had observed a Cold Fusion process. "Not a single member of the committee responded to my letter", he recalls. In the Weapon Center's final report of September 1996, Miles reports the measurement of excess heat in 28 out of 94 experiments and the production of Helium-4 as evidence for a real nuclear effect.
The foreword by Dr. Frank Gordon in a summary report of February 2002 is so far the strongest statement of the Navy about their research:
We do not know if Cold Fusion will be the answer to future energy needs, but we do know the existence of Cold Fusion phenomenon through repeated observations by scientists throughout the world. It is time that this phenomenon be investigated so that we can reap whatever benefits accrue from additional scientific understanding. It is time for government funding organizations to invest in this research.
Cold Fusion researchers meet roughly each year on the International Conference on Cold Fusion. After the tenth conference in August 2003 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, three researchers and an energy entrepreneur who knows the Secretary of Energy knocked on the DoE's door to ask for a new review. One of the researchers, Prof. David Nagel from George Washington Universiyt, says "many of us thought there is a sufficiently strong case now, as well as international competition".
Four months later Dr. James Decker, deputy director of DoE's Office of Science, agreed to perform a study. The department chose about 20 reviewers. Those who suggested the review wrote a document for the reviewers and attached seven of the more significant papers. Additionally, on August 23, several reviewers and three DoE officials listened to the oral presentations of six Cold Fusion researchers. Over the past weeks the last reviewers sent their reports to two senior DoE officials, who are expected to finally report to Decker these days.
What Decker's conclusion will be is "totally unpredictable", though, says Professor Nagel. He calls Decker a "very conscientious, qualified individual. All depends on the input he gets", says Dr. Michael McKubre. McKubre is a researcher at SRI International, the former Stanford Research Institute. He has reproduced the Fleischmann/Pons Effect many times since 1989. He is one of the four initiators of the review. McKubre says he "did get a sense of deja vu or time warp as it was clear that, with one exception only, the panelists had not made any intellectual advance in this field since 1990. Nevertheless the vast majority of interest and questioning was driven by a genuine concern to get to the bottom and understand."
Other than 1989, the identity of the reviewers will probably not be announced by the DoE. "The DoE is treating this review as they treat the evaluation of a proposal for funding", says David Nagel. "It is standard practice in the US funding agencies not to identify either the reviewers or the details of what they say." Funding is a central issue because Cold Fusion is perceived competition to Hot Fusion research, which has received billions of dollars internationally over the past decades, and which is regarded to be the energy source of the future.
Ours were really the presentations that brought home the heat/helium, genuine large nuclear effect reality. This, of course, is hardest to swallow and presents the greatest threat to existing hot fusion interests. In this process, however, and on the part of Jim Decker, I have seen nothing except a genuine effort to understand what might very well be a highly important and relevant truth for the DoE and US.
In Italy, the investigation of low energy nuclear reactions is being financed by a public budget of 50,000 Euro each year. In Japan the automobile industry continues to finance the research. Universities still profit from the once noble funding of Cold Fusion research in Japan. Research at SRI International is being backed by a private consortium. The US House of Representatives plans to give the DoE's Office of Science an additional $168.2 million for basic research, totalling at $3.6 billion next year.
Regarding the outcome of the review, Professor Nagel is optimistic.
Most people are unaware that there are about 3,000 papersl on Cold Fusion. If you take those and make a matrix versus various criteria, are the scientists who wrote the paper credentialed scientists? Did they use adequate equipment? Was it calibrated? Were there controls? Were there repetitions? There may be a 300 papers that satisfy all the criteria. And the only way you can make that data go away is by ascribing it all to one of two things: Lies or mistakes. That just can't be done! So I believe the reviewers, if they adopt this attitude, are forced to come to the conclusion that there really is a new and unknown scientific effect here!
In case that, even then, "they use the argument that if an experiment claims success then there must be something wrong with it," Nobel laureate Prof. Brian Josephson recently said he hoped "that that argument be rejected."
Between October 31 and November 5, 2004, the worldwide Cold Fusion community will convene in Marseille, France, for the eleventh International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (ICCF11). According to current planning French students will present an excess heat generating Cold Fusion cell. The recently founded International Society for Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (ISCMNS) will also have its first general meeting.
According to Professor Nagel "the primary remaining question is whether this phenomenon can be scaled up to become a commercial energy source." In Marseille a workshop will be on "consequences of Cold Fusion in our lives". Prof. Jean Paul Biberian, chairman of this year's conference, expects the conference to be "a turning point in the acceptance of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science as a genuine research field".