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Cold Science Heats Up
By T.J. Greaney
Columbia (Mo.) Tribune
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Shaul Lesin, CEO of Energetics Technologies USA, explains the use of a furnace to heat a thin foil of palladium in a vacuum.
Photo by Don Shrubshell.
For a group of Israeli scientists, 64 has become a magic number.
That’s because it was the 64th trial of an experiment that yielded results that, they hope, will one day change the world.
Lyudmyla Kvochina, left, a chemist, and Tanya Zilov, an electrochemist, check the stability of the temperature controls for the cell incubator.
Photo by Don Shrubshell.
Vitaly Krakov, left, and Boris Khachaturov, calibrate an electrolytic cell in the laboratory at Energetics Technologies USA, located in the MU Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place.
Photo by Don Shrubshell.
A palladium electrolytic cell sits inside an incubator. Researchers are measuring heat released from this process, often called "cold fusion."
Photo by Don Shrubshell.
Six years ago on a Sunday morning in a laboratory in Omer, Israel, researchers walked in to find that something extraordinary had happened. Water they’d left at room temperature two days earlier had boiled for more than five hours.
“I remember when” Tanya Zilov, an electrochemist, “started to scream,” recalled Shaul Lesin, the CEO of Energetics Technologies. “I came running from my office. I thought something broke.” What Lesin saw was evidence on a computer screen that 25 times more electric energy was being released than had been put in. For him, it meant the team’s efforts to produce a low-energy nuclear reaction commonly called “cold fusion” might have succeeded.
“I looked at the screen, and we started to dance, right there in the lab,” Lesin said.
The experiment involved a thin foil of the metal palladium bathed in “heavy water” that was saturated with a form of hydrogen called deuterium. When an electrical current was pulsed through the metal foil, the deuterium was loaded onto the palladium foil and gave off heat. What made this so special was that it had all happened at a low temperature without giving off harmful radiation typically seen in nuclear reactions. If repeatable, it could provide a safe, cheap and clean form of energy capable of powering cars or heating homes, Lesin believed.
“We kept looking on the graphs and at the raw data, just trying to find the error,” Lesin said. “Every time, we try to be skeptical and we try to find the error. But we couldn’t find it.”
In April 2009, Energetics Technologies was featured on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes.” As part of a report titled “Cold Fusion is Hot Again,” CBS invited Rob Duncan, the University of Missouri vice chancellor for research, to Israel and asked him to independently verify Energetics’ results.
Duncan, like most in his field, thought cold fusion was a dead science. “My first response when 60 Minutes called was: ‘You’re kidding — that’s been debunked a long time ago,’” Duncan recalled.
He had good reason to believe that. In 1989, cold fusion burst onto the national stage when two physicists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Utah, achieved results similar to those of Lesin and his team. Before publishing their findings, the scientists announced their discovery at a large news conference. The prospect of unlimited energy from an element found in seawater — deuterium — set off a feeding frenzy. The scientists appeared on the covers of Time magazine and many major newspapers.
Amid the hoopla, reporters coined the term “cold fusion,” which followed the scientists’ hypothesis that deuterium atoms had fused to form helium in a manner similar to the nuclear reaction that fuels the sun. The scientists believed they had done so at room temperature, hence the term “cold.”
But the truth was that nobody knew exactly what had happened. The scientists later regretted the name “cold fusion” and the news conference.
“This was a very, very bad media strategy,” Duncan said.
Things went downhill fast. Hundreds of researchers across the country dropped what they were doing and, in 1989, tried to replicate the results. No one could. A panel of top researchers assembled by the Department of Energy determined the next year that the inconsistency of the findings warranted no further research funding for cold fusion. Good science should be reproducible, the DOE panel said, and cold fusion simply wasn’t.
Fleischmann saw his career and reputation ruined, and cold fusion was derided as the alchemy of the 20th century.
But research never completely stopped. Duncan said that between 1990 and 2009, 20 laboratories around the world replicated Pons and Fleischmann’s study. Some of the most exciting results happened at the Naval Research Laboratories, where scientists loaded microscopic “nano-particles” of palladium with deuterium. They repeated it tens of thousands of times and measured excess heat every time, Duncan said.
Lesin and his team in Israel also were seeing tantalizing results. Since 2001, Lesin and University of California-Berkeley nuclear engineer Ehud Greenspan and others had been testing low-energy nuclear reactions in electrolytic cells. They cited hundreds of instances of observing excess heat, although they cautioned the electrolytic cells often had to run for weeks or months before the reaction occurred, and the output varied widely. Sometimes they saw enough energy to power a high-powered lamp, sometimes there was barely enough to turn a hamster wheel and sometimes there was nothing at all.
But the Energetics team believed it had a unique method. Unlike other researchers who used a direct electric current or sine wave to power the electrolytic cell, the researchers at Energetics Technologies use a modulated electric current. The technology was developed by a medical doctor, Irving Dardik, who believed that by layering waves of electric current within each other — “waves waving within waves” — he could help load deuterium into palladium at a greater level.
“The concept is that instead of looking at the world as being made of parts, it’s that fundamentally everything is made of a wave,” said Allison Godfrey, an Energetics co-founder who is married to Dardik. “In creating the right kind of waves, you can create things that people didn’t think were possible before, such as cold fusion.”
Duncan compared the modulated electrical current to a person trying to push a car out of a snow bank. If he pushes the car in a straight line, it doesn’t matter how much force is behind it, the car stays stuck. But if he rocks the car back and forth, in a manner similar to a pulsed wave, the car becomes dislodged. Duncan said using pulsed energy seems to help load more deuterium onto palladium foil. Palladium looks like a lattice at the atomic level, and the pulsed energy helps push deuterium deeper inside the lattice.
Recent research has shown that the more deuterium that can be loaded into the palladium lattice, the greater the chance for producing excess heat.
Energetics researchers have picked up key allies along the way. In 2001, Sidney Kimmel, founder of the Jones Apparel Group, agreed to fund the research as an investor. Kimmel, a major philanthropist who has donated $500 million to cancer research, remains excited by its potential as an alternative energy source.
“There is a belief that this will lead to something,” said Matthew Kamens, an attorney for Kimmel. “What it is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell knew when they sat down to do whatever they did, whether they thought they were going to end up discovering the theory of relativity or the telephone. But that’s what happened.”
More recently, Duncan also became a supporter. He gave two lectures at MU last year and several others around the nation urging scientists to set aside the rhetoric and conduct a rigorous examination of the findings reported by Energetics and others.
“When we see a phenomenon that surprises us, we should approach it with the scientific method and with curiosity,” Duncan said. “The problem here is the problem you traditionally have with new technology. Everyone wants to jump ahead to try to figure out what it may end up being … but what you really need to do is say, ‘This is something we haven’t seen or understood before; let’s try to understand it.’ ”
Last year, Kimmel placed a phone call to Duncan and began discussions about bringing Energetics to the MU Life Science Business Incubator. Incubator President and CEO Jake Halliday said researchers at the incubator could benefit not only from top-flight facilities but also could collaborate with leading-edge scientists from fields including plasma physics, nanotechnology, electrochemistry and material science.
Late last year, Energetics sealed the deal. In January, it shipped two 16,000-kilogram containers from Israel to Columbia with stops along the way in Valencia, Spain; New York; and St. Louis. Seven Israeli researchers also moved to Columbia, and Energetics has hired two full-time people locally, plus a part-time employee. In two or three weeks, they hope to finish calibrating their instruments and unpacking the millions of dollars worth of equipment and begin experiments. They will operate out of the incubator as an independent private business.
Halliday said the focus will be on improving the repeatability of Energetics’ low-energy nuclear reactions and, ultimately, developing a product they can take to market. “They are seeing excess heat, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little, and sometimes it’s a lot. So clearly we don’t understand the process, and this company and this laboratory is established to achieve reliable results.”
To accommodate the Israeli scientists, Halliday’s team orchestrated a massive build-out of the laboratory space in the business incubator off of South Providence Road. For starters, they had to add new power outlets. All of the Israeli equipment runs on 220 volts, and U.S. outlets are 110 volts. The lab space also needed to be climatized at levels more restrictive than even a surgical operating room. Energetics scientists measure heat in the tiny unit known as a “millijoule” and even the slightest outside disturbance could throw off the measurements, Halliday said. In that spirit, the lab also needed to be grounded to prevent interference from even trace amounts of electrostatic energy.
Energetics invested nearly $1 million in the lab, and the MU incubator paid $225,000 for the office suites.
In the coming months, Lesin and his team plan to monitor several electrolytic cells while experimenting with different inputs. It’s unclear what combination of liquid, gas or plasma will maximize the loading of deuterium onto palladium metal.
But many outside observers still are skeptical. Some physicists believe the excess heat Lesin and his team reported is simply the result of a measuring error. Even though Lesin rigorously insulates his electrolytic cells and calibrates his instruments, they question whether he is properly measuring the energy input.
Even staunch believers in the possibilities of low-energy nuclear reactions, or LENR, have questioned Energetics’ methods. Steve Krivit, an investigative science journalist and editor of New Energy Times, said he thinks that by focusing exclusively on measuring heat, Energetics is missing a chance to understand the underlying science.
“The problem is that people in the field in general do not understand what is creating the heat or how to create it,” he said. “They don’t have good control over it, and they don’t fundamentally understand what’s going on. And if they don’t fundamentally understand what’s going on, they could just be spinning their wheels.”
Krivit believes Lesin should focus on looking for alpha and neutron emissions that might offer evidence of a nuclear reaction. At this point, Krivit said, any research on LENR is scientific exploration in its purest form. It will not yield a marketable product in the near future, he said, which appears to be Energetics’ goal.
“In my view, they’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
But Halliday said the collaboration with MU will most certainly explore the science underpinning LENR. Krivit’s “suggestion is a good one, and that’s what we’re doing,” Halliday said.
But Lesin also is convinced a commercial application is possible soon. He remembers trial run No. 64 and believes replicating those fantastic results is not far off. It just requires a process of trial and error that’s steadily getting him closer.
“If I wouldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I saw it with my own eyes every time that it happened.”
Reach T.J. Greaney at 573-815-1719 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in Saturday Business on page 9 of the Saturday, October 9, 2010 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.
Correction: Energetics did not produce "25 times more electric energy" than they put in. The amount of electrical energy they produced was zero. That 2004 experiment - meritorious and credible as it was - has never been replicated by anybody and produced 34 watts of heat - not electricity - for 17 hours.
As I reviewed in my 2009 Journal of Environmental Monitoring paper, Pons and Fleischmann were boiling water in 1992. The Energetics trial and error approach is important, but this is not real progress.
Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times
October 9, 2010 at 11:34 a.m.
Correction #2: A gross misunderstanding seems to have occurred either in your communications with Robert Duncan or his communications with people representing themselves as affiliates of the Naval Research Laboratory.
NRL has never claimed measurements of excess heat, let alone tens of thousands of times. In fact, the opposite seems more true. You can look at what NRL representatives said about their work last fall in Rome and also what they told the Army Research Laboratory earlier this year. Specifically, look at the last sentence from NRL group leader Kenneth Grabowski's presentation to ARL. After eight years of NRL efforts in LENR, they don't think it is nuclear, "it is likely chemistry."
To borrow Ronald Reagan's slogan: "Trust, but verify." Particularly with anything to do with "cold fusion."
Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times
October 9, 2010 at 3:22 p.m.
Correction #3: Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann are electrochemists, not physicists.
Correction #4: Reporters did not "coin the term 'cold fusion'" in 1989. That term had been around for decades, and had been associated with Steven E. Jones' distantly-related work. Reporter Jerry Bishop of the Wall Street Journal was the first print journalist to apply, not coin, that term to the Pons-Fleischmann work.
Correction #5: It is a partial misrepresentation to state that Pons and Fleischmann "announced their discovery at a large news conference ... before publishing their findings." They had submitted their findings for publication and their paper had been accepted for publication before the press conference. However, Pons and Fleischmann, but more specifically, the administrators and attorneys involved with the announcement, did not permit a pre-print of the scientific paper to be distributed at the time of the press conference and this was certainly poor form.
Correction #6: It is a misrepresentation to state that Pons and Fleischmann "regretted the name 'cold fusion' and the news conference." They did not choose to call it "cold fusion." They did not use this term in the press conference, nor in their preliminary note, nor in their 58-page seminal paper. The term grew into common usage because it was the default term for everyone in the early days of this controversy.
We've never heard from Pons about his view on the term "cold fusion" or "fusion." We have heard Fleischmann express regret. However Fleischmann doesn't just regret calling it "cold fusion." He regrets even calling it "fusion," and that, only recently. http://newenergytimes.com/v2/news/201...
As far as regrets about the news conference, Fleischmann, at least, had regrets about it before it even started. This fact has been published in many books. When I met Pons in 2004, he didn't want to talk with me about anything from the past, so I cannot speak for him.
Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times
October 9, 2010 at 7:34 p.m.
Correction #7: It is incorrect to state that "no one could ... replicate the results." Aspects of the results; heat, and most importantly, tritium were replicated within weeks. Please refer to my Elsevier encyclopedia chapters and JEM article. http://newenergytimes.com/v2/about/pr...
Correction #8: It a partial misrepresentation to state that "20 laboratories around the world replicated Pons and Fleischmann’s study." In terms of the labs that precisely replicated the Pons and Fleischmann’s study, it is probably closer to five. In terms of the labs that more generally replicated LENR phenomena, it is probably in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Correction #9: You write that "some of the most exciting results happened at the Naval Research Laborator[y]." Again, you seem to have a reversal of your facts.
To the contrary, some of the most exciting results have happened outside NRL -at a competing Navy facility known as SPAWAR, in San Diego. The SPAWAR lab has 21 published papers reporting their original, positive LENR results. NRL has none.
Correction #10: You state that "sometimes [Energetics] saw enough energy to power a high-powered lamp." As I reported in Brussels, Belgium, at the International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems, Energetics achieved a maximum power rate of 34 Watts for 17 hours. This is their best result reported thus far. In a follow-up effort during the years 2006-2007, they best they reported (in a book I edited for the American Chemical Society) was a half-watt of excess heat. I may have overlooked something in the last few years, but I am not aware of any other significant excess heat results from them.
Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times
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The Tribune's View
Cold fusion: will it work?
By Henry J. Waters III
Monday, October 11, 2010
Several decades ago cold fusion grabbed our attention. The science promised to produce low-level nuclear energy without the frightening radiation produced in large power plants. But repeated attempts failed to develop the process, and most of the scientific community became skeptical.
Except for a few loners who kept trying. A team in Israel reported exciting results. The CBS show “60 Minutes” decided to do a program examining whether cold fusion has a future, and the producers needed a credible, objective scientist to ponder the question in the face of general skepticism among peers.
To the great credit of University of Missouri’s Robert Duncan, he was invited to appear on the program to give his views. Duncan is MU vice chancellor for research. He also had been skeptical about cold fusion, but “60 Minutes” became convinced of his open mind and sent him to Israel to examine what the researchers were doing. He told “60 Minutes” viewers the new research did have possibilities, and a new era of discussion was launched.
Directly as a result, the Israeli team — a company called Energetics Technologies — has moved its operation to the MU Life Science Business Incubator, installing millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, moving seven researchers from Israel and hiring two full-time people locally.
Read all about it in the good story by Tribune reporter T.J. Greaney in last Saturday’s Business section.
The Energetics approach has not yet been fully proved, but the potential is enormous. At this point, Duncan’s role is most impressive to me. He had the solid reputation causing “60 Minutes” to use him as a credible authority, and he proved it by expressing a conclusion about the future of cold fusion contradicting many of his colleagues.
His proposition seems unassailable: This is no time to conclude the science is worthless and give up in disdain, the position held by so many others.
Duncan need not rely on stubborn faith. His approach to the cold fusion inquiry is based on skepticism, but he understands the science well enough to explain why Energetics might be on to something and why it’s worthwhile for MU to invest some money making the incubator ready for the continued research.
If MU can become the place where cold fusion is brought back to life, the campus will gain enormous publicity as a place to do collaborative research and Duncan will deserve great credit for making it happen.
If in the end this latest attempt fails, the campus and Duncan still will look good, having been willing to pursue an elusive goal worth a serious college try. If pursuing cold fusion were a slam dunk, everybody would do it. That it is not makes the local pursuit unique and important.
You never really lose until you quit trying.
— MIKE DITKA
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