Last year I wrote two columns about develop- ments in the field of low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technologies. After a relatively quiet few months, with no major news, May yielded a resurgence of interest with the publication of an apparently independent third-party evaluation of Italian entrepreneur Andrea Rossi’s energy catalyser (E-Cat) device.
To recap briefly, LENR is a process in which hydrogen is loaded into specially prepared nickel or palladium powder and subjected to an electrical charge in the presence of a catalyst. This triggers some sort of reaction that is not yet well understood but that releases ‘excess energy’ – that is, more energy than would be generated by conventional chemical reactions.
The LENR effect used to be called ‘cold fusion’, a label now regarded by those in the field as a misnomer, and one which tainted the field when early experiments, in 1989, by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann could not be replicated.
Since then, however, the LENR process has been demonstrated experimentally hundreds of times, as documented in credible scientific journals and at exhibitions like that held last year by US technology firm National Instruments. But until recently, claims by several companies – including Rossi’s Leonardo Corporation – that commercially viable quantities of energy were being produced by LENR devices had not been independently verified.
Rossi allowed third-party investigators to test an improved version of the E-Cat unit he first demonstrated in October 2011, called the Hot Cat or E-Cat HT (where HT indicates high temperature).
The evaluation was performed by seven scien- tists: Giuseppe Levi, of Bologna University; Evelyn Foschi, of Bologna; Torbjörn Hartman, Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson and Lars Tegnér, of Upssala University, in Sweden; and Hanno Essén, of Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology.
Their 29-page report, titled ‘Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device containing hydrogen loaded nickel powder’, was originally posted on May 6 on Cornell University’s scientific archive website, at http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.3913. A revised version was uploaded four days later, but it should be noted that the paper has not yet been through a scientific peer-review process, and so its findings should be regarded as provisional. The authors were careful with their use of the word ‘indication’ rather than ‘proof’.
Two separate tests were performed on the E-Cat HT – one in December 2012, which lasted 96 hours, and another in March, which tested an improved prototype running continuously for 116 hours. The scientists used a thermal imaging camera to quantify the heat output of the E-Cat HT, together with electronic equipment to measure the elec- trical power input that kick-starts the reaction. Both tests yielded evidence of so-called ‘anomalous heat production’ “in decidedly higher quantities than what may be gained from any conventional [energy] source”.
More strikingly, the authors conclude that “volumetric and gravimetric energy densities were found to be far above those of any known chemical source”. They state further that, “even by the most conservative assumptions as to the errors in the measurements, the result is still one order of magnitude (ten times) greater than conventional energy sources”.
Another scientist, David Bianchini, tested for any radiation emitted by the E-Cat HT but found none.
The coefficient of performance (COP) – the ratio of power output to power input – was measured as about 5.6 in the first test and about 2.6 in the second test, when the temperature was intentionally kept at a lower level. Interestingly, in both tests, the reactor was deliberately shut down after the specified interval, even though the reactor fuel was not exhausted. This suggests that the Hot Cat’s COP and energy densities could actually be much higher.
In its current configuration, the E-Cat HT is effectively a mechanism for magnifying the power output of some other energy source. Either electricity or gas is needed – albeit not continuously – to initiate and maintain the reaction taking place between the hydrogen and nickel powder.
The publication of this report has triggered an upsurge of debate in the blogosphere, although, thus far, it has largely been ignored by mainstream media sources, with the exception of articles by David Hambling in Wired magazine and by Mark Gibbs on the Forbes magazine website.
Some commentators maintain that the test might somehow have been rigged by Rossi, for example, by hiding an additional source of electrical energy input. In follow-up comments on the Web, the authors of the report say this is very unlikely.
In any event, the seven evaluators plan to con- duct a six-month-long continuous test of the Hot Cat later this year. If further testing proves that the E-Cat works as claimed, then the reported energy densities suggest that this could be a massively disruptive technology – and a clean one at that. Given how badly the world needs cheap and clean energy, it is a wonder that LENR is garnering so little attention.