JUSTIN MULLINS reports for the IEEE SPECTRUM ONLINE today in Cold Fusion Back From the Dead
- U.S. Energy Department gives true believers a new hearing
The cold fusion story began at a now infamous press conference in March 1989. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, both electrochemists working at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, announced that they had created fusion using a battery connected to palladium electrodes immersed in a bath of water in which the hydrogen was replaced with its isotope deuterium—so-called heavy water. With this claim came the idea that tabletop fusion could produce more or less unlimited, low-cost, clean energy.
Startling more than a few heads earlier this year, James Decker, the deputy director of the DOE's Office of Science, announced that he was initiating a review of cold fusion science. The department's own investigation in 1989 determined the evidence behind cold fusion was unconvincing. Clearly, something important happened to alter the department's oitlook.For Peter Hagelstein, an electrical engineer at MIT who works on the theory behind cold fusion and who chaired the August 2003 conference, the quality of the papers was hugely significant. "It's obvious that there are effects going on," he says. He and two colleagues believed the results were so strong that they were worth drawing to the attention of the DOE
THE FIRST HINT of a tidal change came in February 2002, when the U.S. Navy revealed that its researchers had been studying cold fusion on the quiet
more or less continuously since the debate started. This work was carried out at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego
, where the idea of generating energy from sea water—a good source of heavy water—may have seemed more captivating than at other laboratories.
Many researchers at the center had worked with Fleischmann, a well-respected electrochemist, and found it hard to believe that he was completely mistaken. What's more, the Navy encouraged a culture of risk-taking in research and made available small amounts of funding for researchers to pursue their own interests. At San Diego and other research centers, scientists built up an impressive body of evidence that something strange happened when a current passed through palladium electrodes placed in heavy water
And by 2002, a number of Navy scientists believed it was time to put up or shut up
. A two-volume report, entitled "Thermal and nuclear aspects of the Pd/D2O system," contained a remarkable plea for proper funding from Frank Gordon, the head of navigation and applied science at the Navy center. "It is time that this phenomenon be investigated so that we can reap whatever benefits accrue from scientific understanding. It is time for government funding agencies to invest in this research," he wrote.
Then, last August, in a small hotel near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
, in Cambridge, some 150 engineers and scientists met for the Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion
. Over the years, a number of groups around the world have reproduced the original Pons-Fleischmann excess heat effect, yielding sometimes as much as 250 percent of the energy put in.
Stanislaw Szpak and colleagues from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command have taken infrared video images of palladium electrodes as they produce excess energy. It turns out that the heat is not produced continuously over the entire electrode but only in hot spots that erupt and then die on the electrode surface. This team also has evidence of curious mini-explosions on the surface.
Fleischmann, who is still involved in cold fusion as an advisor to a number of groups, feels vindicated. He told the conference: "I believe that the work carried out thus far amply illustrates that there is a new and richly varied field of research waiting to be explored."
I recall recently (reference: Senate LAWYERS Dash to Incur Global Warming Expenditures ) another M.I.T. Professor, Richard Lindzen, stated “Science, in the public arena, is commonly used as a source of authority with which to bludgeon political opponents and propagandize uninformed citizens." Looks like he could be right AGAIN!!!