Image Courtesy of Pixabay
Calling something energy catalysis (E-Cat), low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), or condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS) cannot hide the fact that the idea is simply the same cold fusion announced to the press in March 1989. As cold fusion was notoriously debunked by the scientific community in the 1990s (Close 1991; Huizenga 1994; Taubes 1993; see also David W. Ball’s article in this issue), new names such as these popped up to conceal the true identity of the idea. The underlying physics on which all these processes are based is nuclear fusion. (To grasp the absurdity of the claims, it helps to have a nodding familiarity with the basics of nuclear interactions; I discuss those in the sidebar accompanying this article.)
How E-Cat Is Alleged to Work
E-Cat is the brainchild of Andrea Rossi, a self-proclaimed inventor with a master’s degree in philosophy and a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Kensington in California, which was subsequently identified as a diploma mill and shut down (Holguin 2004). He has demonstrated his E-Cat generators to audiences around the world but has not revealed how all the black boxes composing his machine work (Krivit 2011). The only thing we know about the E-Cat generator is that it is a cell consisting of nickel and hydrogen. This was not directly revealed by Rossi but became known after he challenged his competitor’s patent (E-Cat World 2015; see https://patents.google.com/patent/EP2702593B1/en). The details of how the patent allegedly accomplishes cold fusion is given in blog posts—as is the entire literature on cold fusion and LENR (see https://e-catworld.com/, http://news.newenergytimes.net/, https://animpossibleinvention.com/, and http://www.quantumheat.org/index.php/en/).
Journalist Steve Krivit maintains a blog containing the most comprehensive information about LENR (of which he is an advocate) and cold fusion (of which he is an adversary). No credible physics or chemistry journal is cited there, because no such journal is willing to publish articles that are not based on science. The fight between LENR believers and cold fusion advocates is not unlike that between two factions of a religion with opposing views. While members of the cold fusion community believe they achieve fusion by orbital capture (as in the process of muon capture by hydrogen discussed in the sidebar), the LENR community invoke weak nuclear interaction1.
How does Rossi’s E-Cat cell work? Mats Lewan (2016), a Swedish journalist with no physics or chemistry background but with a passionate devotion to cold fusion, proposes a “theory” whereby a hydrogen atom with an extra electron (H–) replaces one of the electrons of the nickel atom, and since H– is 2,000 times more massive than the electron, it gets much closer to the nickel nucleus in the same manner that the muon captured by a hydrogen atom reduces the size of the resulting muonic hydrogen. As a confirmation of his theory, Lewan mentions the X-ray burst “produced in a replication attempt of the E-Cat” reported—not in a scientific journal but instead in a YouTube video (Martin Fleischmann Memorial Project 2016). According to Lewan’s theory, the captured H– loses its electrons (through some unexplained mechanism) and the resulting proton fuses with the nucleus of nickel. Lewan claims that this process is similar to the muon-catalyzed fusion. There are several things wrong with this claim. First, in the muon-catalyzed fusion, the nuclei of the muonic hydrogen molecules fuse. Muons do not fuse with the hydrogen nucleus2. Second, if the proton is captured by the nickel nucleus (with twenty-eight protons and thirty neutrons), it has to turn into copper (with twenty-nine protons and thirty-four neutrons). Therefore, the proton must have a tremendous amount of energy—such as that provided in a large particle accelerator—to create the extra four neutrons. Third, nickel is at the bottom of the stability curve shown in the sidebar. Hence it cannot participate in either fission or fusion. Just as you need energy to move a ball at the bottom of a bowl, you need to provide energy to move from nickel to copper.
Comparison with Real Science
A unique characteristic of real science is the impact it has on science itself and, more tangibly, on technology. The following list is only a small sample of this characteristic. Note that all discoveries listed had at least one impact that occurred less than thirty years after the discovery.
- Maxwell predicted the electromagnetic waves (EMWs) in 1865. They were produced in the laboratory in 1887, and in 1901 radio was invented.
- Quantization of electromagnetic waves was proposed in 1905. Eight years later, it was used to explain the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom.
- Einstein discovered his general theory of relativity in 1916. It immediately explained the precession of the perihelion of Mercury and predicted—among other things—the bending of light, which was observed in 1919. Gravitational waves, another prediction, were observed recently. The general theory of relativity also predicted gravitational time dilation, which is crucial in the design of GPS devices.
- The wave properties of the electron were proposed in 1923. Eight years later the first electron microscope was built.
- Quantum mechanics was theorized in 1925–1926.
- It immediately explained the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom.
- It accounted for the periodic table.
- A year later, it was used to describe the hydrogen molecule.
- Two years later, it was combined with special relativity to create relativistic quantum mechanics, which predicted the existence of antimatter and is now at the heart of the fundamental forces of nature and the standard cosmological model.
- Six years later it was used to explain nuclear alpha decay.
- Twenty-one years later, it prompted the invention of transistors.
- Twenty-eight years later, it was used to invent masers, the prototype of laser, which were first produced in 1960.
- Chemists have used quantum mechanics to synthesize countless materials from polymers and plastic to paints, detergents, and drugs.
- The helical nature of DNA was discovered in 1955. Seventeen years later, the first recombinant DNA was produced, which led to the far-reaching field of genetic engineering. Twenty-five years later it was employed in solving a crime. Today, forensic science is almost entirely based on DNA evidence. DNA has become an indispensable tool in archeology, paleontology, and zoology.
It has been almost thirty years since Pons and Fleishmann, in a press conference, abnormally reported cold fusion. No other scientist has been able to reproduce their results (see the article by David W. Ball elsewhere in this issue). Aside from the claims of the cult of believers, no invention or actual production of energy has been made. Dick Smith, a CSI fellow in Australia, has offered one million dollars to Rossi to demonstrate his generator in the presence of unbiased observers (Smith 2012, see box). Rossi has declined the offer, saying that customers can judge whether or not his invention works. However, no customer has surfaced to validate the operation of E-Cat. On the contrary, one customer has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the invention is bogus (Lawsuit 2016). The competition between LENR and cold fusion has had the benefit of releasing a huge amount of information on Rossi’s folly. For a timeline of events, see http://tinyurl.com/7zjn8kr.
Falling for Cold Fusion and E-Cat
With all the scientific evidence against it, why do people fall for cold fusion? The short answer is science illiteracy. The public, while enjoying the technology that is fundamentally based on modern science, is deplorably illiterate in the basic premises of science such as verifiability, repeatability, and evidence. Improving the science literacy of the public may reduce its gullibility, but other factors—especially those originating from scientists themselves—cannot be ignored. Ever since its birth, quantum mechanics has been infested with mysticism, especially of the Far Eastern kind, because of the philosophy of its founders. Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, and Schrödinger were all influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, whose philosophy paralleled Buddhism and Hinduism. It is not an exaggeration to say that physicists themselves have delivered the most devastating blow to science literacy and the flourishing of modern pseudoscience.
John Archibald Wheeler was arguably one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of the middle of the twentieth century. Although he did not win a Nobel Prize, he supervised forty-six PhD students at Princeton University, two of whom won the Prize: Richard Feynman, the noted American physicist, for his contribution to quantum electrodynamics, and Kip Thorne for his role in the design and construction of the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves. There was another side to Wheeler, which often prodded him to speculate on matters outside science. Freeman Dyson, a long-time friend and a fellow speculator—whose speculation won him the Templeton Prize in 2000—describes Wheeler as both “prosaic and poetic” (Barrow et al. 2004, xviii).
Wheeler and two of his students wrote a book titled Gravitation (Misner et al. 1972), a masterpiece that has taught Einstein’s general theory of relativity to generations of physicists. Throughout the book, the prosaic Wheeler helps explain the intricacies of the theory with a peerless combination of clarity and rigor. Then, on page 1217, the poetic Wheeler breaks his silence:
… May the universe in some strange sense be “brought into being” by the participation of those who participate? … “Participator” … strikes down the term “observer” of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says. … Is this firmly established result the tiny tip of a giant iceberg? Does the universe also derive its meaning from “participation”?
Unsurprisingly, this particular admixture of quantum mechanics and mysticism has become a powerful tool for pseudoscientists to consociate their nonsensical ideas with science. If the universe is “brought into being by the participation of those who participate,” they argue, then you, as a participator, create the universe. And since “the universe derives its meaning from your participation,” you and the universe become the same: You Are the Universe. It is not a coincidence that Deepak Chopra and Menas Kafatos chose those words for the title of their recently published book, which predictably and regrettably became a bestseller in no time.3
Wheeler is only one of an appreciable number of scientists who step out of their field of expertise and speculate on spiritual and religious matters—and base their speculations on their science. This confluence of science and pseudoscience by scientists is inarguably the most pernicious blow to scientific literacy. Just type “quantum spirituality” in the Amazon.com search field to obtain several hundred titles, including such outlandish titles as Quantum Angel Healing, Quantum Tarot Cards, and Quantum Activism.
The CEOs and the decision-makers of corporations are, like the general public, not the most critical thinkers of the world4. They are most likely avid readers of self-help books on one variation of “positive thinking” or another and firm believers in its fundamental basis, namely the all-embracing and pretentious “law of attraction.”5 Benefiting from the speculative teachings of the likes of Wheeler, the promoters of the “law of attraction” can claim a link between their profession and quantum mechanics.
Indoctrinated in this culture of pseudoscience, the CEO of an energy company hears about an inventor achieving fusion on a tabletop. He “researches” the claim, and his positive thinking, coupled with the likelihood of the enormous profit promised by the invention, ignores all the negative scientific critique of the invention and invests in cold fusion. And if a Nobel laureate such as Brian Josephson affirms the possibility of cold fusion6, no doubt it will remain in the CEO’s mind7.
The believers and promoters of E-Cat and LENR resort to one of the most effective means by which untruth is propagated among the public: conspiracy theory. In the conspiracists’ view, just as the mainstream media have conspired to withhold the truth about what really happened on 9/11, to stay silent about the fact that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, to not cover the fact that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, so have the mainstream scientific journals conspired not to publish any of the breakthroughs in cold fusion and LENR. The public is in fact more prone to the scientific conspiracy theory than its political counterpart. While the latter enters the daily life of the public and, therefore, has a tangible effect on it, the former is too abstract. If John Doe can be made to believe that the Las Vegas shooting never occurred and all the fuss in the news media was simply a performance by paid actors, he can more effectively be indoctrinated into believing that parapsychology is a science, that near-death experiences indeed happen, that prayer can cure cancer, and that cold fusion, LENR, and E-Cat are possible.
Thus, to answer the question of why the public and CEOs of reputable corporations succumb to scientifically disproven nonsense, we have to ask another—more significant—question: Why do great scientists believe in ideas that contradict their science? There is no obvious answer. Perhaps they are so enthusiastic about publicizing the “excitement” of their discovery that they feel that peppering it with some exotic—albeit nonsensical—ideas may raise the interest of the public. Perhaps, as in the case of Brian Josephson, something happens in their lives that alters their personality and annuls their rationality. Perhaps their philosophical outlook is so strong—as with the founders of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and 1930s—that any novel scientific discovery becomes an excuse to inject that outlook into their science. Or perhaps public recognition, profit from books that appeal to the public, and million-dollar awards such as the Templeton Prize are too enticing to ignore. Whatever the reason, it is the responsibility of science educators to tell the public that science is not the same as scientist: It is the message that counts, not the messenger.
Remarks on Nuclear Interaction
The stability curve of nuclei—a plot of average binding energy (BE) per nucleon (proton or neutron) versus the atomic mass number shown below—tells us how the two exothermic (energy releasing) nuclear processes, fission and fusion, work. In either case, the higher BE on either side of the valley turns into the kinetic energy (KE) of the final products with lower BE (closer to the valley). Fission accomplishes this by triggering heavier elements on the right. In fusion, two light elements on the left combine into heavier elements. Think of the curve as a bowl with a ball inside. If the ball is not at the bottom of the bowl, it moves toward it whether we release if from the right or the left. If the ball is at the bottom, it will not move unless we provide energy to it. Since fusion is the alleged underlying process of E-Cat, a brief introduction of that topic will be helpful.
Nuclei repel each other electrically unless they are so close that the attractive nuclear force, which operates only within the nucleus, dominates. Classically, this requires the two nuclei to touch each other. To achieve this, they should be moving at an extremely high speed. It is known, however, that at the core of stars such as the Sun, hydrogen nuclei (protons) fuse at much lower speeds. This was a puzzle until quantum mechanics, through the phenomenon of tunneling, allowed fusion at larger distances and, therefore, lower speeds. There are two ways to bring two light nuclei together: by accelerating them (hot fusion) or by making very small atoms so that the distance between the nuclei of the molecule formed by those atoms is very small (cold fusion).
Quantum mechanics gives only the probability of fusion, which is expressed in terms of cross section8. Bigger cross sections correspond to higher probability of fusion. At the core of the Sun, hydrogen nuclei fuse with a small cross section: it takes about ten billion years for the hydrogen in the sun to fuse (Krane 1987, 537). While this prolongs the life of the Sun and the possibility of life on Earth, it makes protons bad candidates for man-made fusion. Plots of fusion cross sections (McCracken and Stott 2005, 38) show why deuterium-tritium fusion at about 100 keV is the process of choice in fusion laboratories around the world. Deuterium is abundant in the oceans, and tritium can be produced in situ.
The second way of bringing the nuclei closer is by forming muonic hydrogen molecules. Muon is basically a heavy electron. Replacing the electron in the hydrogen atom by a muon shrinks the size of the atom by a factor of almost two hundred. So, the two nuclei in a muonic hydrogen molecule are almost two hundred times closer to each other than a regular hydrogen molecule and, thus, more likely to fuse. Although the fusing of muonic hydrogen molecules has been observed in the laboratory, this kind of fusion cannot be a source of energy because the production of muonic hydrogen requires more energy than the energy outputted in the subsequent fusion. Nevertheless, all claims of cold fusion rely on processes similar to this.
Dick Smith’s Challenge to Rossi
In August 2018, Roger Green, the Australian agent/distribution holder for the Rossi E-Cat, issued a press release about Australian businessman and CSI Fellow Dick Smith’s challenge to their claims (Smith 2012). Here is the text of their release:
ONE MILLION prize money
for Rossi’s Ecat independent validation
A famous Australian benefactor and entrepreneur, Dick Smith, is willing to award Andrea Rossi one million USD to support the progression of the Ecat technology
All that is required is a public demonstration at an mutually agreed reputable university… An independent assessment of the energy inputs and outputs of the Ecat reactor, with specific care around wiring and measurements of the output power.
It will be 100% secure and there is no need to reveal how the reactor works, or what is inside the reactor.
For more details
Contact Roger Green
Who is Dick Smith
Dick Smith is one of Australia’s most notable people, having become famous as an entrepreneur and business man and then cementing that as a record breaking aviator, philanthropist, author, environmentalist and political activist. He was awarded Australian of the Year in 1986.
Green also told Smith on August 26 that the prize challenge had been passed on to Rossi, but “Rossi was extremely busy (like always) in building a 40 MW plant and is not interested in the prize.”In other words, he declined the challenge.
- Barrow, J.D., P.C.W. Davis, and C.L. Harper, Jr. eds. 2004. Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
- Close, F. 1991. Too Hot to Handle: The Race for Cold Fusion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- E-Cat World. 2015. Piantelli European Patent Revoked after Challenge by Leonardo Corporation. Available online athttp://e-catworld.com/2015/09/30/piantelli-european-patent-revoked/.
- Holguin, Jaime. 2004. Top officials hold fake degrees. CBS News (May 10). Available online at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/top-officials-hold-fake-degrees/.
- Huizenga, J. 1994. Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Krane, K. 1987. Introductory Nuclear Physics. New York: Wiley.
- Krivit, S. 2011. The Failure of Rossi’s Energy Catalyzer, Caught on Video Parts 1 and 2. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=m-8QdVwY98E and https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=YrTz5Bq6dsA.
- Lawsuit. 2016. Available online at http://newenergytimes.com/v2/sr/RossiECat/Rossi-vs-Darden/20160806-Darden-Countersuit/20160806-Darden-Countersuit-29-0.pdf.
- Lewan, Mats. 2016. Finally: This is possibly how the E-Cat works. Available online at https://animpossibleinvention.com/2016/03/07/finally-this-is-possibly-how-the-e-cat-works/.
- Martin Fleischmann Memorial Project. 2016. Implications of Signal, Seeing into the E-Cat with X-Ray Eyes. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtTeHU4vBmc&feature=youtu.be.
- McCracken, G., and Peter E. Stott. 2005. Fusion: The Energy of the Universe. New York: Elsevier.
- Misner, C., K. Thorn, and J.A. Wheeler 1972. Gravitation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Pollack, Andrew J. 1992. Cold fusion, derided in U.S., is hot in Japan. New York Times (November 11).
- ———. 1997. Japan, long a holdout, is ending its quest for cold fusion. New York Times (August 26).
- Smith, Dick. 2012. Email to Andrea Rossi. Available online at http://newenergytimes.com/v2/sr/RossiECat/Solihin-Millin/SmithOffer.pdf.
- Taubes, G 1993. Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion. New York: Random House.
- The claims of how the weak nuclear force is responsible for LENR are based on erroneous speculations that violate some fundamental principles of weak interactions. However, debunking LENR is not the intent of this article.
- The real analogue of muon-catalyzed fusion is for the nickel atoms to form a molecule. This is impossible because there is no such thing as a nickel molecule. And even if there were, two nickel nuclei never fuse, because nickel is in the valley of the nuclear stability curve.
- For a critical review of this book and its exploitation of Wheeler’s participatory dogma, see Skeptical Inquirer March/April 2018, p. 62.
- Steve Jobs believed in the nonsensical “Reality Distortion Field.” He refused conventional medical treatment, preferring alternative medicine, which caused his eventual death.
- A highly recommended book on the impact of self-help culture and positive thinking is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (Picador, 2009).
- Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry spent $25 million on cold fusion in the early 1990s. About fifteen Japanese companies took part in the effort and contributed additional money (New York Times 1992). However, five years later the Government of Japan terminated its research, which had failed to confirm that cold fusion existed (New York Times 1997).
- Brian Josephson was a brilliant physicist, who in 1962 mathematically described an effect now bearing his name, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1973. Something happened to him right around that time that shifted his interest in science to parapsychology, mind-matter unification, transcendental meditation, E-Cat, and other paranormal phenomena. In 1974 he angered scientists during a colloquium of molecular and cellular biologists in Versailles by inviting them to read the Bhagavad Gita and the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and by arguing about special states of consciousness achieved through meditation (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Josephson#Early_interest_and_transcendental_meditation and http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/).
- Cross section is not just a quantum mechanical concept. It can also be defined in classical mechanics. Fire bullets at a bowling ball. If the distance of the bullets from the center of the bowling ball as they pass it is larger than the radius of the ball, they miss it; if smaller, they interact with it. So, we say that the cross section of the interaction of bullets with the bowling ball is simply the area of the circle seen by the bullets as they pass the bowling ball.
Cover Image Courtesy of Pixabay