Dear Science: We Want Cold Fusion And We Want It Now

Editor’s note: The following is the opinion of the author. Some of us don’t really want cold fusion at all. We would be very happy with moar windmills.

Author’s note: The author would be happy to call this hot fusion, cold fusion, controlled fusion or generic acronym. The author found herself confused by the word salad going on.

 

Fusion technology seems to be its own worst enemy. For every breakthrough, there’s a corresponding story that makes the process appear to be a mythical boondoggle that can’t exist. Which maybe it can’t, but it’s not like it’s the scientific equivalent of searching for Bigfoot (That’s right Animal Planet, we’re lookin’ at you — “Finding Bigfoot”? Really?)

Nuclear fusion is a real thing. That’s how the Sun works. You know this from They Might Be Giants.

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Not only is fusion a real thing, it’s a thing we humans can do. Just ask Teller, Ulam or anyone hanging out around the Marshall Islands back in 1952 when we detonated Ivy Mike – the first fusion bomb.

IvyMike

Or, ask Jamie Edwards, the 13-year-old who just created his own fusion reactor. That’s right. A child. Created a fusion reactor. WTF?

Jamie Edwards Fusion

So, what is nuclear fusion, if you skipped physics? Nuclear fusion happens when hydrogen isotopes are heated to extremely high temperatures, becoming plasma and overcoming the electrostatic forces that would ordinarily repel the positively charged nuclei. The two nuclei fuse, release a shit ton of energy, scientifically speaking, and create a helium atom and a neutron.

fusion reaction

No radioactive waste here. Sounds great, right? It’s the holy grail: unlimited, clean energy from an abundant and renewable natural resource. But there are two problems that must first be solved:

Problem 1: the amount of energy we need to create a fusion reaction is ridiculous. The temperature required to achieve fusion is 270,000,032° Fahrenheit. And that takes a lot of energy. More energy than we can currently capture from the fusion reaction, which leads to…

Problem 2: fusion creates a stupid amount of energy. The H-bomb was 500 times more powerful than fission weapons. How can we contain that power, using it to both create the next fusion reaction and create electricity?

And, that’s what scientists have been working on. Resolving the inefficiency and finding a way to contain that nonsense amount of energy. But they don’t want to call it cold fusion anymore. They would prefer we all call it LENR: low-energy nuclear reactions. Or something else entirely. This is less fun to say, and no science fiction movies will want to talk about LENR.

So, why the name change? Well, you might remember the cold fusion scandal of the late 1980s. You don’t? What’s wrong with you? Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced that they had achieved cold fusion: fusion of nuclei at room temperature through a chemical reaction. Unfortunately, other scientists were unable to replicate the experiment. Pons and Fleischmann weren’t crackpot scientists. They were at the top of their field, and they weren’t the only group working on this type of chemical reaction. In fact, it’s thought that the reason the pair went public prematurely was the pressure to win priority and patents over another group of researchers.

Pons_and_Fleischmann_in_their_lab_France_1993_h400036-300x214

To win the priority battle, the pair took to the airwaves, instead of peer-reviewed journals – announcing their success at a press conference. The news media jumped on the promise of “free” energy, creating a feeding frenzy when other scientists refuted their claims. The United States Department of Energy reviewed the work and essentially pulled funding for further cold fusion research.

Luckily, since 1989, there has been a hell of a lot of success in the field of low-energy nuclear reactions even though we all agree that is still a dumb name. Magnetic confinement, laser confinement and electrostatic confinement. All the confinements! The principle behind all of these techniques is to confine the reaction and use the energy from the first reaction to create a new reaction.

Containment experiment

Containment experiment

Just last month, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that using laser confinement, they had captured more energy from a fusion reaction then they had used to create it. BAZINGA! They have yet to create a self-sustaining reaction, but what the fuck, this is one hell of a breakthrough. Did it make national news? Not really. Why? Don’t know! Whatever. Just trust us this is a big fucking deal. Seriously, check out those sweet-ass lasers!

InertialContainment

And then, BAM! Science (the AAAS journal, not the field) broke the story that ITER is in trouble. ITER is an international fusion reactor project. It’s basically the big daddy of energy research. The project is intending to use magnetic confinement to stabilize the plasma and create a larger energy output than input. But there’s a problem. The facility was originally supposed to be completed in 2016, but the new timeline is unclear. The costs have tripled, topping $22 billion in US dollars.

ITER facility currently under construction

ITER facility currently under construction

But, let us be clear: this is not the same problem that plagued Pons and Fleischmann. ITER has a management problem. There’s not a flawed scientific theory. Instead, the project is facing the same problems you face when you hire a contractor to renovate your house and he messes it up and tells you it will take an additional 6 months and $50,000 to do the kitchen.

So, what’s the take home message? Research into fusion power is not a fool’s errand. LENR might not be as sexy as cold fusion: the research is expensive, it’s taken a long time and it’s still not producing commercial results, but it really is the holy grail of energy research.

If we can solve the associated problems, it would change the world. Not like Facebook changed the world, but like dwarf wheat saved India from an impending famine. Except, not just India. Or the United States. Or France. The entire geopolitical landscape would change. Dramatically. And quickly. So pull it together fusion. Stop making yourself look stupid, because we need you to be a thing so awesome that even politicians can understand how important it is to give you delicious money.

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  • TheDukeOfHighwayJ

    “We Want Cold Fusion and We Want it NOW…”I want to fly by flapping my arms. Could I add it to the list?Viable fusion is about 10-15 years away, and has been for the last 40 years. But dont let that infer that Im against further research; I am not.

  • Dragoon21b

    ok just to play devils advocate here lets stop and think about this…if a country (any country) looses the geopolitical power of energy production what’s going to happen and are they going to be happy about it…What happens to the oil companies…what happens to the vast oceans of money they control (remember we are talking about an industry that has actually toppled Governments and redrawn maps here)…what happens to the people that work for them…What about the infrastructure for those industries…It’s not that I’m not for cold fusion…I just think there are a lot more consequences than people think about…change is good…sudden change…usually not so much

    • The_Magic_M

      There are many future technologies that would turn the world economy on its head[1]. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen, or won’t happen without big turmoil. But it wouldn’t be the first time.[1] Apart from clean “unlimited” energy, another example would be matter transformation (being able to rearrange a lump of coal into, say, a tasty steak) which wouldn’t just yank the chain from most industries but also render all currencies virtually worthless.

      • Dragoon21b

        I always thought that was one of the things they rather conveniently “overlooked” in Star Trek…the Federation is a wonderful idea but getting there…that’s a messy process

        • The_Magic_M

          Star Trek had no real currency (those few things that you needed non-replicatable Latinum for were not everyday stuff).And indeed such a device would make monetary systems useless, but it wouldn’t create that much chaos. What do you need money for if you don’t have to buy anything? (Well, except the replicator, but that’s something society would build simply out of self-interest. Same with access to base material.)So what if bankers go broke, they can create all the food and housing they need with a replicator.

        • Given the number of horrible near-future wars and dystopian settings Star Trek writers have invented as part of the setting’s backstory, I wouldn’t say they exactly overlooked it. They just optimistically decided that we finally learned from it.

    • BaldarTFlagass

      Predicting the consequences of technological advances has always been a bit of a crapshoot. Remember how the internet was supposed to make us all smarter? I think the reality is that it has made a whole bunch of people a lot dumber.

      • Zippy W Pinhead

        you’ve been visiting gateway pundit, haven’t you?

    • There’ll still be a use for oil. Lots of stuff is made from petroleum products, after all. And I’m pretty sure we’re still a ways off from all-electric vehicles because of battery technology.

  • george gonzalez

    I’d say that neither the laser confinement nor the ITER projects are “low energy”. The lasers use more energy than the whole USA uses, for a nanosecond at a time. ITER also heats the plasma to umpti-million degrees. LENR is more like something you could do on your tabletop, sans gigawatts.

  • dmsilev

    This article is, quite frankly, completely confused. ITER and the LBL laser-confinement system are not ‘LENR’ systems. They’re hot-fusion, using two different techniques to confine the plasma to get the density and energy up to the point where fusion happens.LENR, aka ‘cold fusion’, is very much the domain of crackpots these days.

    • Joline Z

      Definitely word salad going on with regards to terminology – I agree and appreciate the feedback- I made a couple of edits for clarity, although I do keep seeing the LENR acronym being used and not by crackpots – or should I say not only by crackpots. JZ

  • This is my marker. i’m putting it down here, for eternity: the idea that any of these free energy forever technologies will just happen is ludicrous. not because of science, which will or won’t figure out the problems associated therewith, but because if it starts to seem real we will immediately enter WWIII, with the fossil fuel producing countries on one side, and the rest of us on the other. and all of those weapons we’ve sold the sauds will come home to roost. reap the whirlwind, figuratively.

  • BaldarTFlagass

    I guess it all comes down to whether you pronounce it “new-clear fusion” or “new-cu-lar fusion.”

  • SullivanSt

    Achieving net energy output is a BFD. It’s something that’s never been achieved in a tokamak (like ITER is planned to be) – the current record is the JET achieving output of 70% of input.

    • US_Citizen71

      It is also something the NIF hasn’t achieved either. The claim is only technically true. They did get more energy produced than the laser light/energy focused on the fuel sphere, but it took something like 1000x as much energy to produce the laser light/energy than was transmitted to the fuel.

  • SullivanSt

    Oh btw, fusion is not without radioactive waste. Those neutrons it emits are very harmful to life, so must be blocked. The shields they use become radioactive when they absorb the neutrons. It’s much less nasty than fission product, but it’s there nonetheless.

  • bachcole

    Unfortunately, hot-fusion has not produced so much as a milliwatt of excess energy. Cold fusion has produced tons of excess energy hundreds of times.

    • TheDukeOfHighwayJ

      ” hot-fusion has not produced so much as a milliwatt of excess energy.”None of the attempts were ever designed to; uptill just now.”Cold fusion has produced tons of excess energy ….”I couldn’t find a conversion from tons to killowatt-hrs.”…..hundreds of times…. “Out of tens of thousands of attempts.And not once repeatably.

      • bachcole

        Hot fusion: And what was the purpose for the past 63 years if not excess heat?Cold fusion: your arrogance and your ignorance seem to be running in parallel. I give you only the tip of the tip of the iceberg, the best of the best:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtweR_qGHEc&list=PLFBAB0BB637C4A59Ehttp://arxiv.org/pdf/1305.3913.pdfYou can deny until hell freezes over, or until we place a plate of crow in front of you, and then you will be forced to eat.

        • or until we place a plate of crow in front of you, and then you will be forced to eat.

          Your thuggish fantasies aside, “a plate of crow” is exactly what skeptics have been waiting a quarter century to get.I’d love for cold fusion to be a real thing, something that every home could have (unlike a hot fusion reactor). What’s taking it so long? We’re not talking about the Higgs boson here, which had strong theoretical support from the beginning, even though it took 50 years to finally find in a multibillion-dollar accelerator. We’re also not talking about hot fusion reactors, which are limited by engineering constraints, not unknown physics.What we are talking about is 25 years of tabletop setups. Setups that supposedly work for no really well understood reason. That’s fine; you don’t have to formalize the mechanism to get an experiment to work…obviously! But where are the confirmatory experiments?If you want to suggest that scientists just avoid cold fusion research out of professional embarrassment, then you should be yelling at Stanley Pons for getting “cold fusion” associated with “crackpot” right from the beginning, not skeptical laymen who are still waiting for the revolution to catch fusion fire.

          • bachcole

            I did not wish to suggest that someone other than the skeptopath would be forcing them to eat crow. They will force themselves to eat crow.I have been waiting 50 years for hot fusion to break even (yes, I am old enough to have been waiting 50 years), and it still has not happened. And cold fusion has gone way beyond unity 100s of times repeatedly, but since hot fusion is sexier and has such dramatic PR like the Sun and Dr. Teller (an impressive dude) and hydrogen bombs, hot fusion gets all of the funding and cold fusion gets the shaft. But the day of cold fusion is rapidly approaching. And there is nothing that you or anyone else can do to stop. You will be eating crow; be prepared. I don’t want you to become mentally unhinged when it happens.

          • You think Edward Teller, the sociopath’s sociopath, is an impressive dude?

          • bachcole

            Lots of sociopaths are impressive. Teller was impressive, scientifically speaking. I dare you to deny that.

        • TheDukeOfHighwayJ

          I to would love to eat some of that crow, but until then there are a few “minor” barriers to overcome:•No theory, no use of the Scientific Method;•Though there are supposedly five hundred theories, not even one is presented;•Focus on endless, aimless tinkering.•A convenient number of delicate and critically important conditions with no explanation given for any of them;•Excessive and obtrusive jargon, waffle and many irrelevant detail presented in the graphs that is somehow denied to any theory regarding fusion;•Contradiction between surface effect and (volume) loading at num-atoms(H) >= 0.9×num-atoms(Pd);•Reliance on testimony; and•No explanation how an applied electric field is supposed to overcome the Columb force between the deuterium nuclei.

          • you take a good point that cold fusion make the “scientific method” impossible to apply.Cold fusion is an observation, and scientific method is based on validating a theory (except the mainstream theory, which is thus refuted, see later).there is no theory here, just fact. maybe it is erroneous to ask scientist to give their opinion out of their domain.Chemist as observers are competent in calorimetry, electrochemistry, so thei reproduced and confirmed the observation, and rebuted the claims of incompetent physicist like Lewis and hansen.Engineers are CNAM were skeptics (not deniers) and the replicated it. 1993 ;-) . because they were less interested in theory if they don’t work.http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lexpress.fr%2Finformations%2Ffusion-froide-et-pourtant-ca-chauffe_605304.html&sandbox=1still no theory, still no theory to criticize the observation i would add. the observation are not challenged.only by 4 rebutted and abandoned papers. one paper was so great that it rebuted the two others, and confirmed the reality of cold fusion while claiming the opposite… the fourth is abandonne when the author realized he badly understood the problem.I imagine i give you the information earlier here, and you never caught it. that is the symptom on groupthink.scientific method have found NOTHING to challenge the OBSERVATION.note that since the observation are incompatible with mainstream physics as physicist understand it, that theory is refuted according to Popper criteria.I just think that it is simply that physicist don’t understand QM enough to imagine what is happening… the mainstream understanding of QM is refuted, not QM.take ketchup to eat the crow.

          • Deleted

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      • Slamtundra

        I always get that wrong too. It should be “fuck-tons”.

      • psi2u2

        You might want to do a little research first..just saying. Cause you are completely wrong about LENR. It is not 1994. Some thing things have happened. Just saying. Good luck You are responsible for your own education. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTvaX3vRtRA Youtube is your friend.

    • hot-fusion has not produced so much as a milliwatt of excess energy

      Hydrogen bomb libel!!

      • bachcole

        You are right. I should have said controlled excess heat.

  • TJ Barke

    It would only shift geopolitical conflict away from energy and on to other valuable resources.

    • Zippy W Pinhead

      like water

  • Academic Science have absolutely failed, despite the garage science have suceeded in replicationg, controlling, and now industrializing that energy… Much is still needed, but despite pathological opposition by nuclear physicist who are incompetent in calorimetry (just see the critics to understand they are so), now LENR works.I’ve made and exec summaryhttp://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/and this one is good toohttp://www.lenrftw.net/home/are-low-energy-nuclear-reaction-devices-realto understand the story I advise to read that book : Excess Heat by Charles Beaudette.http://iccf9.global.tsinghua.edu.cn/lenr%20home%20page/acrobat/BeaudetteCexcessheat.pdfthere is a simple summary about the pathetic critics that you find in wikipedia and in hot fusion labs:http://fusiontorch.com/uploads/StormsJudgingValidityOfFleischmannPonsEffect2009.pdfJed rothwell in that article have a section of that kind debunking critics (easy), and give a vision of the futurehttp://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2000http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2000anyway the book of beaudette is the most technical and is very educative for interested but ignorant people.Read Beaudette Excess Heat !

    • Jaime Oria

      None may have such knowledge again!