So, it turns out that any concerns you might have had over Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on October 21, can now be put aside: The world is still here (as far as I can determine) and humanity is still busy going about it’s evil ways which involve consuming energy at a staggering rate … and that leads me nicely to this week’s revisiting of the topic of my blog posting two weeks ago, “Hello Cheap Energy, Hello Brave New World“.
As I discussed in that posting, an inventor by the name of Andrea Rossi has developed what he claims to be a simple system for generating what would be, essentially, endless and incredibly cheap energy.
On October 28th the biggest test of Rossi’s system, which is called the E-Cat, was conducted in Italy and some results were made public which I’ll discuss in a moment.
Before that I do, let me give you a quick refresh: The E-Cat, which is short for “Energy Catalyzer”, is claimed to produce a “Low Energy Nuclear Reaction” or LENR. LENR is another name for “cold fusion” or CF (LENR is considered a more acceptable term than CF which was discredited after two world-class researchers, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, announced that they had a working cold fusion system but which, alas, no one could duplicate).
Allow me to digress for a moment to ask all of you who sent me messages in tones ranging from polite through to downright rude asserting that cold fusion has actually been successfully duplicated: If an experiment that demonstrates cold fusion has really been replicated in the real world by real scientists then why would the scientific community ignore something so profound? Everyone agrees that cold fusion would be a game changer and in itself would be a hugely important scientific discovery so why would anyone in the scientific community ignore an important, successful, and replicable experiment?
Rossi’s E-Cat is claimed to use a secret catalyst to react hydrogen with nickel and, in the process, transmute the nickel into copper producing considerable heat. Whether this reaction works or not and if it does, exactly how it works, has been enormously contentious and the subject of numerous learned and amateur debates.
Rossi has previously conducted several demonstrations of the E-Cat and the publicly revealed results have done little to convince the skeptics but have driven the “Believers” into a frenzy of support, accusations of cover-ups by “The Man”, and endless hyping of other energy generating solutions.
The skeptics fall into two camps: Those who flatly don’t believe that Rossi’s E-Cat could ever work at all, and those who take a rather more objective stance and, whether they are hopeful of a positive outcome or not, are deferring judgment until convincing results are produced.
I would include myself in the latter: I really hope the E-Cat works as claimed but I want to see proof; real, verifiable, scientifically valid proof.
Many of those who argue that the E-Cat is flat out impossible and that the whole thing is a mistake at best or a fraud at worst are serious scientists and, you have to admit, they have a point; how could something like the E-Cat work in defiance of known science?
Even so, to be completely dismissive of Rossi’s claims would seem to be foolish as it is one thing to *believe* something is false based on your assumptions and quite another to be able to *prove* beyond a reasonable doubt that it is false.
While the hard core skeptics might be erring in one direction, the Believers are erring in a completely opposite way. Despite a lack of solid evidence and based on the slim, unverifiable test data from the E-Cat trials revealed to date, they still just believe. They post in blogs, in forums, and on Web sites long and often impassioned arguments based on their interpretations of physics, quantum mechanics, chemistry, string theory, numerology, and maybe even the divination of goat entrails. I find most of these arguments impossible to understand let alone refute because unless you really are a real physicist or chemist (or goat entrails reader) the “proofs” are usually impenetrable jungles of mathematics (or entrails).
A subgroup of the Believers which I shall call the “Suppresists”, appear to be firmly convinced that there is a conspiracy by commercial interests and or the government to prevent any device that upsets the energy economy status quo from being developed and made public. There is, of course, no objective, verifiable foundation to these claims but that doesn’t seem get in the way of the “Suppresists” … disagree with them and you must be either ignorant or in the pay of “The Man.”
The other sub-group I alluded to is the “It Has Already Been Solved” lobby. These people are convinced that company X or inventor Y has cracked the world energy problem and often argue vehemently that whatever Rossi is doing has already been done. They have sent me to Web sites where obscure companies show often fairly polished presentations of how their systems work and, in some cases, videos of supposedly working prototypes. Of course, there’s never anything you can buy or, for that matter, any third party scientifically valid test results but that doesn’t stop the “It Has Already Been Solved” lobby. They just believe.
From the way they argue I’d guess that many of the Believers probably also wear tin-foil hats. Some of the messages I’ve received from people who appear to be in this group are astounding not just for their lack of basic grammar but for their inability to express coherent thought.
So, before we look at the results of the E-Cat test on the 28th, what of Rossi and the E-Cat? Why has he been so cagey and secretive about the E-Cat and not permitted a reputable third party to conduct an objective performance test? Well, there appear to be two plausible explanations.
The first is that Rossi is honestly mistaken and he just believes the E-Cat works and produces excess energy when, in fact, it doesn’t. This is something that has happened before (Pons and Fleischmann appear to have been similarly mistaken) but it’s hard to believe as Rossi has been collaborating with a well-credentialed physicist and emeritus professor from Bologna University, Sergio Focardi. A failure of this kind would be a sad and unfortunate conclusion for all concerned as they would be discredited and reviled.
The other explanation is that the whole thing is a fraud and that the E-Cat doesn’t work at all. This too is hard to swallow because there would be no obvious upside. What benefit could either Rossi or Focardi hope to gain?
Sure, there may be some money involved but I doubt whether it would be a large enough amount to justify what would be an usually elaborate and public hoax and whoever the funds came from would, almost certainly, start legal proceedings (if not retain the services of a “mechanic”).
As with the case of the E-Cat being a mistake, the end result of it being a scam would also result in Rossi and Focardi being discredited and reviled. So unless Rossi has also discovered a way to vanish with the cash, the E-Cat being a fraud seems as unlikely as it being a mistake.
But here’s what I find so odd about Rossi and his project: If the E-Cat works and Rossi is just being cagey to maximize the financial benefits, he’s going about getting rich completely the wrong way. A working CF system (or, if you prefer, LENR system) would be one of most valuable, if not the most valuable, inventions in the history of mankind.
Quite inexplicably, Rossi has apparently choosen to go it alone and, it has been reported, has even sold his home to finance development of the E-Cat! This makes no sense. Rossi could have approached Bill Gates or Paul Allen or Warren Buffett or any of thousands of wealthy individuals and institutions and if the device could be proven to work, he would have been given a blank check! Should that not have been enough all he’d have to do is license the system at, say, $1 per year per kilowatt he’d become the richest person ever within a few years.
So, if Rossi isn’t in it for the money, then what else could he be in it for? If his goal was the betterment of mankind, he’s going about it in a very strange way. If it’s for fame and glory, his current way of promoting the E-Cat makes no sense.
Whatever rationale Rossi has for the way he’s developed, promoted, and presented the E-Cat is a complete mystery so we’ll just have to wait to see how the whole drama plays out.