Guest post by Ric Werme
Six months ago I posted, with Anthony’s consent and misgivings, Cold Fusion Going Commercial!?. It’s time to take a look at how Dr Rossi and his Energy Catalyzer are doing. In a word, Wow. There’s a huge amount of information and blogish speculation on the web now despite there being still very little in the mainstream press. There’s a new blog that looks pretty good, other new blogs I haven’t checked out yet, existing blogs have a lot of information, and it may be quite a while before I get back to teasing information out of Rossi’s blog.
First, a quick summary. Andrea Rossi, associated with the University of Bologna, took research from Sergio Focardi and scaled it up with a nanostructured nickel substrate and an undisclosed (but supposedly inexpensive) catalyst that fuses hydrogen with nickel releasing heat and some gamma rays. A demonstration unit in January took 400 watts in and put 12 kilowatts out, boiling some 8.8 liters of water in 30 minutes. He says units have run for months heating his laboratory, designs that don’t need a continuous source of input heat can be built but are unstable and difficult to stop. The reactor produces copper, but it’s still unclear just how hydrogen is overcoming Coulomb repulsion without needing particle accelerators or pressures akin to the center of a star.
In January Rossi announced that a 1 MW reactor was going to be the first commercial development. That is proceeding. Manufacturing rights have been split between Defkalion Green Technologies S.A. in Greece and AmpEnergo Inc. in the USA The former gets Europe, Asia, and Africa; the latter gets the Americas and Caribbean.
Defkalion is building the 1 MW reactor based on an array of small modules similar to those used in the January demonstration. Ampenergo may use a similar approach, but may not be producing modules yet.
Let me do the rest of this in a question and answer format:
Umm, what is this good for? What am I supposed to be excited about?
Ah, a very good question. I’m going to take a very conservative approach to the answer, i.e. squash the hype. First and foremost, all the usable energy this produces is heat. The major limitation of this is the maximum temperature the reactor can run at, Rossi says they keep it at no more than 500°C. Modern power plants can produce steam at 600°C and a pressure of 250 bar. While this is unobtainable from from the Rossi device, it could be used in a two stage boiler – an E-cat stage to get the temperature up to several hundred degrees and a conventional plant to finish it.
So the E-cat device by itself would have to run at a lower temperature and the laws of thermodynamics mean that the E-cats alone will have to run at a lower efficiency than conventional plants. Let’s assume for now that the E-cat device can’t heat water to a point where it can be used efficiently in a steam power plant. Let’s ignore that lower efficiency may not preclude it from being cost effective. Let’s also ignore combined heat and power systems.
So then all we have is something that produces a lot of something that the existing power plant operators would call waste heat. Portable heat at that – the 1 MW pilot reactor will fit in a 20′ x 40′ container (6 x 12 m). What’s that good for? Industrial-sized space heating for one. A long time ago I read that genetic engineering would have a greater impact on the agricultural business than on human medicine. Ever since then, I’ve looked at the Ag business as really big business. One big consumer of propane is drying grain post harvest for shipping, storage, etc. A little corner of the AG world in New England is maple sugaring. Typically 40 units of maple sap is boiled down to 1 unit of syrup. Some processors do it the old fashioned way with wood fires (usually scrap maple!) or the not so romantic oil burners. There are reverse osmosis systems for removing the bulk of the water, but it has to be finished (and cooked!) in a boiler. Why not have nuclear powered maple syrup?
Patios, sidewalks, driveways are sometimes heated to keep them snow free. Some airports and cities have big melters that pay loaders dump snow into and propane heaters turn it into water to dump down the storm sewers.
There are a whole lot of things you could code that would fry the arch-conservationists, like heating entire roads or keeping open air swimming pools open through the winter.
My favorite idea is small scale, but incredibly practical – Antarctic research stations need to stock up on enough fuel oil during the summer to keep warm during the winter. A heat source that is refueled once a year would thrill the physical plant personnel.
Energy production needs energy, and the E-Cat could fit in to some current applications (assuming the applications are still viable). Distilling ethanol from the biological fermenters used to convert corn to ethanol is one. Another providing the hot water used in oil sand and oil shale extraction. Currently that’s provided by burning natural gas, and there may be plenty of that associated with the source that it’s remains the sensible heat source.
So, the answer is that simply heat is well worth getting excited about.
Yeah, but what about me?
Rossi is concerned about keeping some of the intellectual property a trade secret. That, and concerns about shutting down the reaction made me assume that the home heating market would be the last to develop, but Defkalion is planning a small box that can hold 1-6 5 kW modules for a combined heat and power application, including residential use. If I recall correctly, a typical residential oil burning furnace burns oil at the rate of one gallon per hour. That’s 40 kW, so yeah, If the fears for some brutal winters come true, Defkalion may be very busy!
Dude, what about the US, you keep talking about Greeks!
Well, living in New Hampshire, I’m pleased to report that Ampenergo is located in NH. The principals are Karl Norwood, Richard Noceti, Robert Gentile, and Craig Cassarino.
Robert Gentile was the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) during the early 1990’s. That’s okay. He is/was President of Leonardo Technologies Inc., an Ohio company that may have been set up by Rossi and is related to the Leonardo Corp in Bedford, NH. The links are weird, I haven’t figured them all out.
Richard Noceti co-wrote a paper titled Synthesis of Hydrocarbon Fuels using Renewable and Nuclear Energy and is listed as National Energy Technology Laboratory and LTI Associates. That’s good.
Karl Norwood is the President of The Norwood Group, a large real estate company based in Bedford NH. Hmm. His Linked-in entry says “Karl Norwood’ss [sic] real estate experience is multi-faceted, from multi-family to office and industrial properties. In business for over 40 years, he has been actively involved in all forms of commercial brokerage, negotiating on behalf of both landlords and tenants.” Whoa, shouldn’t we have a few manufacturing folks here?
In January, I went looking for the Leonardo Corp and was surprised to find it shared the same phone number as Norwood Realty. So I stopped there one day in January and the receptionist gave me Craig Cassarino’s phone number and said he was in Brazil that week. I eventually called him a month or so later. He knew little of cold fusion history or other research that went on in New Hampshire, he’s more of an international business consultant. Exportnh.org says “Craig Cassarino has spent decades focused on sustainability of resources in both New Hampshire and Brazil, so it’s very fitting that now, as New Hampshire’s Commercial Consul for Brazil, he is serving as a resource for Granite State businesses interested in doing business in Brazil.” Oh my.
So it sounds to me as though Ampenergo will be a middleman between sub licensees and Rossi. I’m sure they have lots of contacts to work with. Frankly, I expected to find something like a General Electric throwing hundreds of engineers at designs of all scales and dozens of scientists to build higher temperature devices, better heat flow management, figure out the nuclear physics, etc. Perhaps GE is, but are doing so quietly. At any rate, look to Defkalion for early results, perhaps Ampenergo can get factories set up throughout the Americas (or just in Brazil) later. I think the modules for the 1 MW reactor are being made in Florida.
How about producing electricity with thermocouples?
A “classic” thermocouple relies on the relative ease of moving an electron from one metal to another in a heated junction. They’re used in gas fired boilers, temperature sensors, etc. To get a decent amount of power requires a lot of wires. Something I wasn’t very familiar with until I started researching this is semiconductor thermocouple that uses lead telluride. Recent research has improved its output by adding some dopants that produce points where it’s easier for heat to knock off an electron. Rossi is very interested, but I suspect that there may not be enough tellurium to go around. I have a small thermoelectrically powered fan that you put on a wood stove. It also serves as a good guess about the smoke stack temperature, as the hotter the stove gets, the faster the fan spins.
Cute device, pretty pricy. I’m sure there will be good applications, but overall I don’t think it’s thermocouples are efficient enough, inexpensive enough, and raw material plentiful enough.
I hear it’s a scam.
Well, suppose it is, we’ll find out soon enough. I think it’s likely for real, but there are several other opinions and red flags worth keeping in mind. If it is a scam, it’s a heck of a complex one.
The obvious opinion is it’s all been faked or that Rossi, et al, are seeing what they want to see and it’s all a fantasy. Early LENR devices had so little excess heat that it took painstaking measurements to find it. The device Rossi demonstrated produced so much heat that there’s simply no question it was producing heat. Even the input power, supplied by a piece of lamp cord, is nowhere near the 12 kW that was being produced. (On a 230 VAC source, that lamp cord would have to carry 50 amps to bring 12 kW into the test device. 50 amps generally requires AWG 10-11 gauge wire.) Other parties, including Swedish nuclear experts have concluded the device is real and is too small to provide the demonstrated energy chemically.
There are detractors, primarily science journalist Steve Krivit. He’s a longtime follower of the cold fusion/LENR scene and is quick to point out it’s not “real” fusion. He visited Rossi et al in Italy, burning bridges along the way. There’s a personality conflict, I think Krivit was looking for a science discussion about how it works and if it works, while Rossi was taking time out of another busy day building a 1 MW reactor expecting it will work much like his smaller modules, because they’re using many of them.
Krivit’s trip to Italy left both sides annoyed with each other. From that page, follow the subsequent posts to the actual interviews and observations of the system.
Krivit states “Thus far, the scientific details provided by the E-Cat trio have been highly deficient and have not enabled the public to make an objective evaluation.”
Rossi retorted later, “Mr. Krivit has understood nothing of what he saw, from what I have read in his ridiculous report.”
Krivit’s focus is on the boiling water test, and thinks that the output steam flow was “wet” – that water droplets cam out with the steam. Rossi set up another demonstration with much higher water flow to stay with liquid water, and measuring the flow and temperature gain. The results showed more heat release than before.
What sort of “red flags” should I be aware of?
Here’s a list, some are holdovers from cold fusion history:
- It sounds too good to be true.
And therefore requires extraordinary results.
- Scientists have come away impressed, but scientists are lousy at spotting fraud.
It would be nice if James Randi would take a look, there are a number of doubters on his discussion board. However, so much energy comes out of the device that it can’t be powered from the wall outlet, can’t be battery power, can’t be burning hydrocarbons (that second test released the equivalent of burning 7.9 gallons of gasoline). There’s not much else it could be, e.g IR lasers or microwaves.
- What’s with Rossi’s legal problems in the past?
I haven’t read too closely, but Rossi was involved in a trash to oil project that didn’t get very far, but some accounts point to corrupt Italian officials shaking down a company that was beginning to make money. (I’m shocked!) Those issues may be one reason why Rossi is working with Defkalion, a Greek company.
- And how about Ampenergo in the Americas?
I’ll contact them in a while. They’re going to have to move and move quickly. At least they didn’t spend much time on a name. :-)
- If Rossi were a real scientist, he’d describe the catalyst.
Yeah, but he’s an inventor/entrepeneur. He’s focused on getting a product out, one that he wants to protect until things are more established. He may talk about it more in November after the 1 MW reactor is shipped.
- And how expensive is the catalyst.
Rossi says it’s cheap. There’s some other work that used palladium on carbon, I wouldn’t be surprised if the nano structure is from nickel on carbon fibers or even just charcoal. It may be his biggest advance is increasing the surface area of the nickel.
- This converts nickel to copper, which isotopes?
Uh, can I get back to you on that? Sergio Focardi says that what is produced does not match natural copper. Physicists from Sweden say “the used powder is different in that several elements are present, mainly 10 percent copper and 11 percent iron. The isotopic analysis through ICP-MS doesn’t show any deviation from the natural isotopic composition of nickel and copper.” If the copper produced has the natural percentages of 69.17% 63Cu and 30.83% 65Cu, that’s a big red flag and and means either the result is contamination with natural copper or that the processes that make copper in the E-cat are similar to the natural processes, which should involve exploding supernovae.
On the other hand, if the ratio is different, then that’s very strong evidence that copper is being produced through nuclear chemistry.
No one seems to be talking about the iron. Iron is a couple steps before nickel, and that suggests alpha particle emission, but that’s more common with very heavy elements.
I’m still reading, I want to know more!
A remarkably amateurish but informative video was created by Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson at the University of Cambridge. I think it exists because there just wasn’t a decent video introduction. Is it an appeal to authority if the authority is yourself?
A blog dedicated to Rossi’s Energy Catalyzer has appeared as http://www.e-catworld.com/. It’s run by Frank (admin). I think I know who Frank is, but he never replied to my query. I think it will be a good source of information.
In a July post from Pure Energy Systems, there’s a list of Web sites focused on the E-Cat device. I’ve only had a chance to look at a few. (The last is one I found elsewhere.)
An interview with Sergio Focardi gives a really good background on developing the E-Cat. Focardi doesn’t know what the catalyst is, but suspects it’s involved in splitting molecular hydrogen into atomic hydrogen (ordinary hydrogen is a molecule with two atoms).
Wired had a good summary of LENR research in 2006. One person referenced, Les Case, was a solo researcher in New Hampshire and longtime acquaintance of mine. He died of natural causes a year or so ago.
The next big step is the completion, testing, and delivery of the 1 MW reactor. After that, Rossi might have time (or might be surrounded by reporters) and be willing to talk more about what’s inside.
I’m just amazed that the mainstream media haven’t picked this up. I don’t know how much of it is bad memories from the science by press conference days of Pons and Fleischman, and how much is pursuing more important stories, like which celebrity is entering or leaving rehab. When they do pick it up, they may overhype it, but it’s easy to show that maintaining a high standard of living requires access to cheap energy.
While the E-Cat device will not supplant many current uses for petroleum products, it doesn’t have to. It wouldn’t take much of a demand reduction to chase the speculators out of oil, and it could help reduce the cost of producing products from crude oil to refined fuels.
Whatever happens, our “interesting times,” as the Chinese curse goes, are about to become more interesting.