One of the threads this column has been following over the last couple of years is the apparent renaissance of what used to be known as ‘cold fusion’ but is now usually referred to as low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) or controlled electron capture reactions.
In short, the process involves loading hydrogen gas into a lattice structure of a suitable metal, such as nickel or palladium, and subjecting the gas to a special electromagnetic stimulus. After a series of reactions taking place at the atomic level, the output is basically helium plus heat energy – with no radioactive by-products or greenhouse- gas emissions. While some electrical energy input is needed to kick-start and maintain the reaction, numerous experiments have yielded an ‘excess’ amount of heat energy beyond what a chemical reaction could produce.
Proponents of LENR claim that it has the potential to create abundant, clean and cheap energy – which, to most people, sounds too good to be true. But, recently, there have been several notable developments on the road to possible commercialisation of LENR, led by three separate companies.
Until recently, most of the limelight in the LENR field was captured by the colourful Italian inventor, Andrea Rossi. An early demonstration of his Energy Catalyser (E-Cat) device in October 2011 was met with much scepticism and accusations of fraud. Last year, however, an independent group of Swedish and Italian scientists subjected the E-Cat to more rigorous testing over several days, and the results apparently affirmed Rossi’s claims that the device generates significant quantities of excess heat. Longer tests are currently under way, with the results expected within a few months.
Subsequently, Rossi claimed that he was working with a US corporation to further develop his technology, but said he was unable to divulge its name owing to non- disclosure agreements.
But, in January, a start-up company called Industrial Heat (IH), based in North Carolina, announced that it had acquired the intellectual property and licensing rights to the E-Cat technology from Rossi following last year’s independent test. IH is an offshoot of an established, billion-dollar venture capital fund called Cherokee Indus- trial Partners, which has a history of investments in projects with environmental benefits. IH says it has been working hard preparing patent applications. It has been reported on some blogs that Cherokee’s CEO recently held discussions in China with manufacturers in an area famed for renewable energy, fuelling speculation that the product will be launched in China.
The second leading LENR company is Defkalion Green Technologies, which relocated its headquarters from Greece to Vancouver in 2012. Defkalion’s directors, who initially collaborated with Rossi but parted from him in August 2011, claim that their product – the Hyperion – is more stable than Rossi’s E-Cat. In July last year, Defkalion performed a live demonstration of the Hyperion, which was streamed on the Web for nine hours.
Defkalion president Alex Xanthoulis further claims the company is working with several major international corporations on various applications. In a recent interview, Xanthoulis stated: “We will have a pre- industrial version out ready for certification by the second quarter of 2014.”
The third horse in the race – and perhaps the most convincing – is an American company called Brillouin Energy Corporation. Having kept a low profile for several years, in September last year, Brillouin chief engineer Robert Godes and the CEO Bob George gave an hour-long interview on an American alternative energy website. Godes claims that he has an edge over his competitors in the LENR space because he alone properly understands the physics of what is happening inside the metal lattice and is able to adequately control the ‘electron capture’ reactions.
Over the last couple of years, Brillouin has been collaborating with respected research firm SRI International to commercialise its reactors. They are developing two device types – one referred to as ‘wet’ boilers that operate at relatively low temperatures of around 100 ºC and the other called ‘hot tube boilers’, which, apparently, create 600 ºC temperatures and are aimed at industrial users, such as power generators.
Big news came in December, when Brillouin’s George reportedly announced that the company has licenced a South Korean company to manufacture its boilers in a multimillion-dollar deal. It aims to have a working prototype before year-end.
SRI International’s Dr Michael McKubre, a long-time cold fusion researcher who is considered one of the most credible voices in the field, stated in a recent interview that all three of these companies were “perched on the edge of commercialisation”. He said they should ideally be collaborating with one another to ensure that opportunities such as financial backing materialised faster, thereby benefiting all of them.
Meanwhile, there are several other groups beavering away at creating LENR devices, including an open-source project. Given the profound implications should LENR commercialisation be successful, this is definitely a race to watch.