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Wed Oct 24, 2012, 02:50 PM

Cold, but not Fusion

by Mark Anderson

In 1989 Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made a sensational claim that would have changed the world—had it been true. They said they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature using a simple tabletop device, thus creating a revolutionary clean energy source they called “cold fusion.”

Unfortunately for the University of Utah chemists, multiple attempts to replicate their experiment over ensuing months failed. Cold fusion was considered debunked, and it has lived beyond the fringe of mainstream science ever since.

Yet quietly, more than 20 years later, two of the world’s largest mainstream scientific institutions—NASA and the European physics research center CERN—have revisited the controversial energy-generating experiment. A growing cadre of scientists now suspect that Pons and Fleischmann’s observations were the result not of fusion but of more plausible physical processes. Some are even cautiously optimistic that those processes could be exploited to generate abundant amounts of clean energy. “There’s enough evidence that says we need to look at this,” says Joseph Zawodny, a physicist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

The man most responsible for the change of thinking is a technology and energy consultant with a background in physics named Lewis Larsen. In 1989 he was paying attention when Pons and Fleischmann described how a set of palladium rods, connected to an electric current and immersed in lithium-enriched water, churned out more energy in the form of heat than it received in electricity. He followed along as subsequent experiments achieved mixed results. Some seemed to produce a lot of heat, others little or none. Yet a nagging question persisted: If the contraptions really were putting out more energy than they took in, what could be responsible?


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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 03:34 PM

1. Interesting but a bit anticlimactic

It says there is now a different hypothesis of how the original Pons & Fleischman apparatus might have produced excess energy, but still after these 20+ years, there is no accepted, confirmed repeat of the original results.

It would be very exciting if something emerged from this research.

While we're on the subject of unproven but potentially revolutionary energy theories, I am reminded of Thomas Gold's theory that much of the oil we are pumping is not actually from "fossil" remains, but instead is the product of processes at work inside the earth. The BBC is covering a major new oil find under Madagascar. Some people are now saying that the US could become "the new Middle East" of oil exporters. It seems oil is appearing everywhere you wouldn't expect it, and in much larger quantities than expected in places where we do expect it.

It is very much in the interest of energy companies to have people believe their product is in short supply, so they trounced Dr. Gold throughout his last 20 years, despite an extraordinarily distinguished career full of breakthroughs in several fields of science.

Here are some references for anybody interested in that theory:

P.S. I am well aware of the potential environmental catastrophe that awaits the planet if in fact there is something like an order of magnitude more oil than we thought waiting to be burned. However, here are ways to use energy to sequester CO2, so this need not be a climate calamity. I am in favor of understanding the truth, and then pursuing public policy based on the truth.

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Response to BlueStreak (Reply #1)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 10:06 AM

3. "oil is appearing everywhere you wouldn't expect it" doesn't confirm abiogenic oil theories

The main thing that's happening is that expectations of where you'd expect oil to be produced are conditioned strongly on the price of extraction. So, for instance, the oil sands in Canada contain vast amounts of petroleum, and this has been known for a very long time, but extracting it is difficult and expensive. For decades it was more profitable to explore and exploit more accessible deposits. The main conclusion to draw from renewed interest in well-known but less commercially accessible petroleum deposits is that we're running out of the stuff that's easy to extract, not that there's a previously-ignored geological mechanism of oil production.

From my brief Google research just now, it appears there's generally acceptance of the notion that some petroleum deposits have abiogenic origins, with some specific, generally very small deposits thought not to be true "fossil" fuels. But even a geologic process of creating oil will proceed on a timescale far slower than our present consumption rates, so from a resource scarcity perspective the question of the precise origin is moot - if you slurp it up much faster than it can be produced, you're on a trajectory to run out.

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Response to caraher (Reply #3)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 01:05 PM

4. Well, your cost of extraction argument cuts both ways

The Gold theory is that the abiotic oil is formed at much deeper levels -- obviously. The so-called "fossil" reserves are essentially on the skin of the earth. That means, clearly, that if you have to drill down 5-10 times farther then usual to get to the abiotic oil, it is more costly. And that is certainly an explanation for the limited investment in that exploration to date.

The theory further holds that some of that abiotic oil makes it way through cracks in the mantle and effectively replenished the things we call "fossil fuel" reserves.

None of this either proves or disproves the Gold theory. Indeed, there is no strong evidence against the theory, other than the brainwashing of 6 generation of geologists who were taught that oil is dead dinosaurs. That is really curious because some of the largest fields today exist in areas that never could have been the most active areas of vegetation and wildlife -- even factoring in continental drift.

And there is some evidence for the theory. However, it is very much against the interests of many of the most powerful nations and many of the most profitable corporations to maintain the status quo re: oil origin and ownership rights.

Regarding your search that revealed there is no some tepid acknowledgment that abiotic oil is real, L have been following this field for 20 years. Let me assure you that during Gold's life, there was essentially NO acceptance of this premise. Sometimes progress of ideas moves very slowly. Copernicus lived a mere 500 years ago. For tens of thousands of years, astronomers and star gazers were absolutely, fundamentally wrong about what they believed so strongly. They even invented gods based on their false beliefs.

This is not "just" a theory. Gold actually sunk very deep well in places where there is absolutely no geological explanation for "fossil fuels" (i.e. WAY deeper than any vegetative or animal layer, and under solid rock that predated life on earth and would not have permitted migration downward of fossil-based substances) and in fact pumped up oil that was essentially the same as today's crude oil without the organic traces that leads scientists to declare oil a "fossil" product. There has never been any plausible explanation for Gold's results, and they have been repeated in Russia and elsewhere. That is why there is now a broader acceptance that abiotic oil is real. Now the question is not "if". the question is "how much?"

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Response to BlueStreak (Reply #4)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 02:05 PM

5. Seems like it really doesn't matter in the end

The best thing to do is leave as much of it in the ground as possible, regardless of its origin

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Response to caraher (Reply #5)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 02:49 PM

6. I am in favor of knowing as much truth as humanity can find out

and then acting accordingly.

It seems that many on the left / those most concerned about the climate are treating this subject like the child who puts his fingers in his ears when he doesn't want to hear something. And these folks reflexively brand the theory and those who are curious about it to be climate haters. That really isn't the way forward. (And I am not saying you are doing that.)

I would again put that same argument back to you. If much of our oil does have an abiotic origin, that doesn't really change how we protect or destroy our environment. The two are really not linked.

We have, in fact, reduced our CO2 emissions the last 2 years. The reduction is slight and not nearly enough, but it does indicate we are able to take some actions that are not driven by the price of fuel, which has remained relatively constant for years. And we have been able to make those changes in usage despite a very unfavorable political climate. Key things that helped included, cash for clunkers (a fantastic program that has never been mentioned at all during this campaign), raising the CAFE standards, getting rid of brain-dead management at the Detroit auto companies, and various tax incentives for clean energy.

We can and should continue to push those things. But I don't see how that effort is helped by ourselves becoming science deniers just because we are afraid of the answer we might learn.

There are, for example, ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale. Some of these might require hydrocarbons and/or/energy in order to drive that process. In other words, if we discovered a practically limitless supply of energy that had the potential to ruin our climate, some of that energy could be expended in removing the harmful gases from the atmosphere.

I just think we should be more open-minded about these things and not automatically refuse to think about them because we can only imagine negative results.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 05:22 PM

2. Um....they forgot to turn on the stirrer.

The "cold fusion" apparatus contained an electrode near a temperature probe and a stirring device.

They forgot to turn on the stirring device. Then they noticed the rise in temperature. Then they shouted "Cold Fusion!!!!". It was caused by the electrode.

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