March 28, 2014 – From an MIT conference held in the last week on cold fusion to the latest refusal to grant a U.S. patent for Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat, to a company developing what it calls dense plasma fusion, the future of cheap, clean, nuclear energy still appears to be a dream with no immediate breakthroughs.
The MIT conference took place on March 21 to 23 and commemorated the 25th anniversary of the announcement by Pons and Fleischmann that introduced us to a process they called cold fusion. I have written a number of postings about cold fusion, a technology which spontaneously transmutes one element into another with the byproduct being anomalous heat. As of yet, however, from all those working on experiments in cold fusion, no one has yet to produce a working low energy nuclear reactor that can be packaged into a power generator for the kinds of applications promised like heating a house or providing the power plant to drive a car. It appears from the few postings that have emerged from the MIT conference that the commercial dream for cold fusion remains elusive. Those dedicated to the subject are still tinkering. So are we a year, 5 years, 10 years away from a commercial cold fusion reactor? My hunch is the 10-year timeline is too optimistic.
Why do I say that? Because no one in a patent office seems convinced there is anything to the technology. At least that’s the case at the U.S. Patent office with its latest preliminary rejection of Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat patent filing. Rossi, who recently sold his LENR rights to an American company, Industrial Heat, just can’t seem to get a break from those issuing patents in almost every country where he attempts to file. I quote from E-Cat World’s publication of the patent examiner’s comments in which he states:
- “The specification is objected to as inoperable. Specifically there is no evidence in the corpus of nuclear science to substantiate the claim that nickel will spontaneously ionize hydrogen gas and thereafter “absorb” the resulting proton…”
- “There is presently no peer-reviewed evidence to demonstrate the spontaneous fusion of nickel and protons…”
- “Additionally the Examiner notes that if the reaction occurred as claimed by the Applicant, it would also spontaneously occur in nature.. not be patentable subject matter…..”
- “…the specification and all claims are found to be inoperable.”
Which brings me to Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, and the development of a technology referred to as focus fusion. Unlike Rossi’s E-Cat LENR, what Lawrenceville is doing has received a U.S. patent. What’s involved?
Dense plasma fusion uses a device containing two cylindrical copper or beryllium electrodes enclosed in a vacuum chamber with low-pressure gas injected to fill the space between them. When an electrical pulse is introduced the gas heats and an intense magnetic field creates a plasma which travels the length of the electrode where it becomes dense and forms a plasmoid. This induces two beams to flow, one containing electrons, the other ions. The electrons heat the plasmoid to billions of degrees Celsius. The ions collide and fuse contributing more heat to the plasmoid. All this happens in a mere 10 nanoseconds (10 billionths of a second). The net result – more energy out than in and the potential for a commercial fusion reactor that would produce environmentally clean, cheap energy with little to no radioactive waste. The byproduct of fusion using this process is helium, a much sought after gas here on Earth. The only radioactive byproduct, low-energy neutrons can be handled by housing the reactor in a few layers of shielding.
So how close are we to a commercial device? Well don’t count on something appearing on the market soon because it appears that a commercial dense plasma fusion reactor is as close to market as we humans are willing to fund it. Lawrenceville appears to be spending as much time seeking funds as it is doing research. It has used crowdfunding, small grants from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and institutional and private investment to bankroll it to date. This hasn’t amounted to a lot of money. The company has even posted a wish list seeking donations of equipment to help it continue its research. Sounds very much like a startup and a company flying by the seat of its pants. So a commercial fusion reactor on the market soon? Don’t hold your breath!