The world needs an Apollo-type program for cold fusion
After three years of studies climate scientists have come to the conclusion that Europe is going to experience an extreme climate change within the next decades. More dryness in summer, prolonged droughts in the south, shut downs of power plants due to overheating, more rain in winter, greater flood risk and water pollution, a forced change in agriculture, in general: more extreme weather conditions with extreme consequences. Unfortunately decision makers in business and governments tended to ignore this issue because of the long-term predictions.
In this year’s G8 communiqué on climate change the self-proclaimed world leaders state that “climate change is a serious and long-term challenge”, and assert that it is now time to slow, and “as the science justifies“ even stop the growth of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.
Is that the kind of language that is adequate in face of the frequent warnings by climate scientists? In May a draft of the G8 communiqué was leaked to a climate activist. This one said: “Our world is warming. Climate change is a serious long-term threat ... This is an issue we must address now.“ The final version has been cleansed of the „threat“, and acting was originally justified by science.
A second leaked draft shows where else the text has been watered down. It does not look better with the plan of action. The draft planned for the G8 to agree on several commitments to set up concrete funds to help developing countries take part in research projects. It's good that hardly anyone knows about the draft. Searching for concrete funds or dollar amounts in the final text is in vain. The rich countries could not even bring themselves to use the language of 1998, when climate change already was the “greatest environmental threat to our future prosperity”. When it comes time to act the rich north bails out.
One does not have to puzzle about who is the driving force behind this dilution. Bush’s Own Country is not willing to reduce greenhouse gases and is obviously successful in pushing this position. America wants to get the problem under control through research and development of new technology. Alright, let’s talk about technology...
Americas plan to save the world
“The US has always believed,” analyzes the Guardian, “that there would be some kind of magic bullet, such as cold fusion or some other theoretically plausible but unlikely method of producing electricity, or perhaps hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels”, but outside the G8 negotiating rooms, no one believed that. Indeed the US plan tosave the world climate through new hydrogen technologies, “clean” conventional power plants that that generate power from hydrocarbons but release no carbon to the atmosphere, and nuclear fusion. What they mean is, however, hot fusion, not cold fusion.
Hot fusion, the nuclear reaction of hydrogen nuclei in huge experimental reactors, has been investigated for about half a century. Proponents hope that in another 50 years fusion power plants will come up for at least a part of future electric power supply. Nuclear fusion is not a combustion process so no greenhouse gases are emitted. The fusion principle is known from stars like our sun: hydrogen nuclei fuse under enormous pressure and temperature to form a new element called helium. To put this into practice on earth fusion scientists try to confine the nuclear “fuel” in a magnetic cage so that it does not touch the reactor wall.
The problem that they have not gotten a grip on is that hydrogen nuclei when heated to the required 100 million Kelvin tend to leave their magnetic cage, causing the fusion process to break off. You can imagine the problem like a handful of Jell-O you are trying to squash without it escaping through your fingers. The biggest success of hot fusion was in 1997, when the British experimental reactor JET produced 16 megawatts of power in a short second. Unfortunately, this was only 65 percent of the heating power they had to put into the reaction. This past July, an international hot fusion consortium agreed to build the next generation experimental fusion reactor ITER in Cadarache, France. Ever since then one gets bombarded with news pieces on hot fusion.
However, neither in science nor in public is it acknowledged that there are alternative methods to hot fusion. Indeed, bubble fusion (Bubble Fusion takes next hurdle) is increasingly being discussed, a new hot fusion method which, however, functions completely different and on a much smaller scale, and which seems to have an energy source potential. More importantly, cold fusion is producing energy on a table-top scale for 16 years already, and is currently reaching prototype status with quite an effort.
Cold fusion is in no way an error of measurement or even a case of science fraud as some scientists and science reporters like to believe. The way the initial results were made public and the first publication by scientists Pons and Fleischmann were certainly problematic. But the facts available today leave no doubt about the validity of the claim that nuclear fusion can be achieved in a “room temperature” environment, for example by electrolyzing heavy water with a palladium cathode. The language use of “cold”, however, has caused much confusion because it implies that the process itself is “cold”, which is not consensus in the cold fusion community. Theoretically cold fusion is not explained, but practically it is proven.
It is an undisputable fact that the formation of fusion products and excess heat has not just been repeated many hundred times worldwide, but even using at least five different approaches which all showed the same patterns of behaviour. Excess power in the range of 1 Watt are routinely obtained for hundreds of hours. One experiment produced an excess power of 10 Watt for 2000 hours. The most promising experiments produced an energy excess of 1000 % and produced energy even after the energy input was turned off (heat-after-death). This is the evidence that makes cold fusion a viable future energy source. Who does not like to simply believe these words can check the facts using the LENR-CANR.org database.
Hot and cold fusion in comparison
Since the beginning of hot fusion research an estimated 25 billion Euro have been invested. Cold fusion, on the other hand, kept the pot boiling with a mere 25 million Euro. The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament estimates that another 60 to 80 billion Euro will have to be invested before hot fusion is commercially viable for power generation. Unfortunately, there is no Office of Technology Early Detection in Germany. Physicists of the Technical University Berlin have ideas how to close in on cold fusion, but with their annual budget of 10,000 Euro (declining) and equipment from the 1980s they do not get very far.
The German government plans to boost research by funding innovative projects. For the Berlin group as for other universities that do not belong to the chosen “elite” the loudly announced future concept has long turned out to be hot air. Annual German funding for cold fusion: 0 Euro. For hot fusion: ~115 million Euro. For renewable energy technologies: ~170 million Euro after all. For coal subsidies: more than 2 billion Euro! Something has gotten gravely out of hand, and that is not just the climate!
Funding for cold fusion stays away because the powerless lack imagination and the powerful fear competition. Hot fusion is only possible in large-scale power plants, needs high voltage transmission lines, and is thus suitable for centralization and monopolization. Cold fusion is a decentral energy source and makes transmission lines potentially dispensable. It is no problem that cold fusion is not producing electricity (yet) but only heat. The utility bill would be lowered either way.
Problems, however, arise with hot fusion. Even if the fuel can one day be successfully caught in the cage there remain material problems. So far no material has been found that defies the extreme demand to separate the reactor chamber from the so-called breeding blanket. Because in fusion reactors nuclear-weapons-grade materials can be bred, some critics see another dimension of problems. Admittedly, cold fusion also comprises, as long as the process is not understood, an accident potential, and, as soon as it is understood, a possible abuse potential. But who negates fusion energy because it can be abused should also ban the pen because it can be used to write homicide instructions.
Apollo-type program for cold fusion
Because, generally, research always yields new insights and, specially, in the future large power loads will have to be available at once, the exploration of hot fusion should continue. At the same time, however, a worldwide project to research and develop cold fusion should be started. In effort and societal dedication it should be similar to the Apollo program. A similar project for a hydrogen economy has recently been demanded by American scientists.
For 16 years scientists have studied cold fusion using limited or private budgets or discretely using otherwise available equipment. The field has now progressed inasmuch as a breakthrough is only a question of an individual team’s innovation or the beginning and extent of funding. Would sufficient funding start today a 100 Watt device could be build quickly.
Besides the evident environmental aspect the successful introduction of cold fusion would have far-reaching effects on different sectors. The introduction of technology would be accompanied by a change towards decentral structures whereof small and medium-sized businesses would profit most. For longer periods a new economy based on decentral energy supply would be independent of importing fossil fuels. The US and their allies could pull their troops out of the oil-rich muslim countries and deprive terrorism of its political foundation. Because cold fusion also allows for the cleaning and desalination of water the feared time of resource wars could be averted before it finally sets in. This perspective should eventually mobilize enormous societal forces because one could feel that one is actually acting in concert with politics.
Practically, the governments of ascending and established industrial countries should start individual research projects. The G8 should establish funds that would allow developing countries to participate in the international research and development competition. The funds could without any problems be provided by cutting military budgets or fossil fuel subsidies or by introducing an international tax on foreign currency transfers.
The Apollo program costed 135 billion Dollars, accounting for inflation. Half as much was spent to keep coal competitive at the turn of the millennium. If there was agreement to spend just one tenth of a percent of the annual worldwide military spendings on cold fusion one billion Dollars were available. Hot Fusion would not come far with that but for smaller, easier cold fusion it would be a quantum leap.
The first chance to take this way was in 1989 after the public announcement of cold fusion, but it was barred by the political-industrial leadership of the US. A second chance was last year. The US Department of Energy obviously felt forced to reevaluate the field because it feared to acquire a competitive disadvantage towards other countries. There is more cold fusion research in Russia, Italy, and Japan than in the United States. And increasingly private investors recognize its profit potential. If a group should achieve a breakthrough in this technology, the few experienced researchers would be in great demand.
Before publication of the DoE commissioned review, the German department of research said that “if the review brings up evidence that ‘cold fusion’ should indeed be regarded as possible, the department would again deal with this question.” After scientists that were, however, not experts on the field had issued their comments and had only come close to the facts as an exception, the German department was asked for comment again. It said that the US review “does not necessitate an own review” and “does not warrant efforts by the federal government” in the direction of cold fusion. Because the review has now turned out to be unscientific and dishonest it is greatly unwise to rest on its conclusions and recommendations.
Where there is will there is a way and “the way” in Latin means “iter”. But hope does not rest on ITER but on responsible decision makers that no longer inactively watch the decay of natural and societal balance. It is time to act!
If you want to read up on potential applications to cold fusion, read Jed Rothwells free ebook Cold Fusion And The Future.