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Letter to the Editor:
Here's Betting That a Commercial Use of Cold Fusion Is Closer Than Many Experts Think

By Daniel Wiener, Simi Valley
Los Angeles Times

May 21, 1989, p. 3

All the experts seem to be grossly overestimating the time it will take to commercialize cold fusion, assuming that the Pons-Fleischmann claims are completely confirmed ("It's a Big Leap from Lab to Payoff," Viewpoints, April 30). Even the most optimistic expert predicted at least five years, while others say more than 20 years.

My own estimate is one year, two at most, until the first commercial niche product hits the market. It may even be sooner. I speak from the perspective of an electronics engineer with 17 years of experience. Few people realize how drastically design-cycle times have been compressed over the past few years, as competition has intensified and better computer design tools have become available.

Comparisons to past energy developments are meaningless. Nor will cold fusion follow the time scale of military weapons programs or giant fission power plants, with their bureaucratic red tape and decade-long political delays. A better analogy is with computers: New models leapfrog each other every six months, a 2-year-old computer is practically obsolete, and a 5-year-old computer is a doorstop.

Consider that the world spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on oil, coal, nuclear and other sources of energy. All of those are candidates for replacement by cold fusion. Tens of thousands of scientists and engineers from industry and academia in every nation will be racing each other to understand, perfect and commercialize this breakthrough.

But even before then, the world will feel the shock waves. The OPEC countries are sitting on oceans of oil that were valued at trillions of dollars up until March 23, 1989. Oil reserves that were expected to last over a span of many decades had been carefully priced in an attempt to maximize their total return. When the realization sinks in that the useful life of those oil fields has just been chopped from 50 or 100 years to five or 10 years, the spigots will open wide. Energy prices will drop like a rock, helped along by speculators and our very efficient commodity markets.

Knowledge is cumulative and its increase is geometric. The future keeps arriving faster than our past experience leads us to expect. Cold fusion is about to set a record, and 10 years from now the world will be unrecognizable.

 

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