Not too long ago I was out with friends and somehow the term cold fusion come up per our discussion. Don’t ask me how we got to that point because I have no idea, that is what is awesome about alcohol. But my first reaction was, that is not possible. He quickly corrected me and said that he had recently read something that said that some guy had figured it out and that it was possible. Skeptical, and most importantly because I am a weirdo, I went to the internet to try and get to the bottom of the this.
As I am sure you are aware I am not a nuclear physicists and know very little about this subject. So this is my best explanation of what is happening or how this might be possible. There are three ingredients that are needed to create cold fusion – palladium, deuterium, and an electrical current. Palladium is a metal (DUH), Deuterium is some kind of hydrogen that is found in sea water, and there is plenty of that to do around. The quote below was from another article I found.
“Deuterium is essentially unlimited. There is ten times as much energy in a gallon of sea water, from the deuterium contained within it, than there is in a gallon of gasoline.” That is very surprising and fascinating!
So now that you have all three ingredients what happens next? As far as I can tell you take the palladium and put it in the sea water, although most scientist use “heavy water” which is water with more hydrogen in it to help the reaction, then you run an electrical current through the water and voila, a reaction should occur and you have created cold fusion. Well it obviously is not that simple. Up until this point I was pretty enamored with the science behind this, but once you get here then it is a simple measurement of how much heat the device is giving off vs how much energy is being added. Seems pretty silly but everything I have read says that if we can accomplish this it will be a game changer in terms of clean and sustainable energy.
The big kicker here is that in normal nuclear reactions there is tons (literally) of nuclear waste to deal with after. With cold fusion there is none of that, and as far as I can tell it will be much cheaper to produce. The reason I am talking about this now is because I find two things about this subject absolutely fascinating and or troubling. The first being that an Italian scientist has claimed to have actually achieved this feat! Now I will say that I am somewhat skeptical, but I have also read that his experiments have been replicated and have not been disproved, which is a good thing. I will get to the second reason this subject has irked me to write this post in a second.
Enter a man named Andrea Rossi, who is the scientist that has claimed to have figured this out. This article and interview are pretty interesting and it discusses all the different aspects of his discovery. Rossi says that he has some working device that is powering a manufacturing plant. He also said that he is not 100% sure that his device is working or is actually creating the cold fusion. Which I would think they are still measuring the energy in vs the energy out as I mentioned above, which I think is about as unscientific and un exciting as it sounds. Still though if this is actually working then I think it could be the major breakthrough that could propel us as a species to the next level. Although, before I get too excited about clean sustainable energy that is actually possible and not something in a science fiction novel, let’s take a look at the time line.
Let’s say that tomorrow Rossi releases a statement that his machine works and as the article states there are already over one billion dollars sitting there for him if he is right ready to invest. I am sure it will take a few years for him to mass produce this technology and that is being optimistic. Realistically I think it could take 10-20 years to fully utilize this discovery and finally rid ourselves of fossil fuels. I honestly think it could take longer.
What also needs to be talked about is all the bureaucracy and politics that are and will be involved with a move to curb our use of fossil fuels. Lobbyist will be working overtime to get politicians to condemn cold fusion, which is truly sad. I live in a state that uses coal to make electricity and I can already see how it will play out in my state. There will be an uproar of those in the coal industry about losing their jobs, which don’t get me wrong that is very sad and I feel sorry for them. But eventually at some point new technology will have an effect on almost everyone’s job one way or the other, so to save those in a dying industry just because is very silly and possibly detrimental to the planet and the economy. While those in coal may lose their jobs, the new cold fusion plants could create a great deal more jobs, and some of these same individuals could work in the new plants. So while the initial movement from coal to cold fusion would result in lost jobs, I think the long term affects would be net positive both economically and environmentally.
I cannot think of a reason why a politician would keep using coal when cold fusion is and could be cheaper, that is the real kicker and one of the main reasons solar power has not caught on like it should have. It is very expensive to install and does not produce the same output in terms of watts. If this technology can cut people’s energy bills in half or more I think they will listen. No one likes paying more for something that has a cheaper alternative. I know people and I am sure you do as well that will drive all over town looking to save a few cents on gas. They saved $0.05 a gallon, but they spent $2.00 driving to the other side of town. People like saving money, plus the thing you are buying (gas or electricity) is essentially the same everywhere. Meaning that no matter where you buy it or what you pay for it, it is the same. If I have a gallon of gasoline for sale for $2.00 and across the street my competitor is selling a gallon for $2.10, and they are both unleaded with the same octane rating (basically there is no difference between them). Then why pay $0.10 more if you don’t have too. I don’t think people will voluntarily pay more for electricity given there is a cheaper alternative that does the exact same thing even if that means hundreds if not thousands of workers losing their jobs. The point I am trying to make is that in the normal market place there are tons of alternatives to any given product. There is a Samsung phone that is a cheaper alternative to the Apple iPhone, these products essential do the same thing, but that are not the EXACT same product. Energy is different as electricity is electricity no matter how it is produced. Gas has different octane ratings but in theory as long as it has the same rating then it should be the same universally no matter where you buy it.
So even though I am hopeful that this guy has truly figured out this conundrum, I am very skeptical as to how the real world will accept and utilize this technology. Oil drives the economy and has for over 100 years I do not think those in power will lightly give that up. I just see this being a long hard road to curb our massive appetite from coal and other fossil fuels. But that also depends on if Rossi’s breakthrough is indeed a breakthrough.
But what I think is even more disturbing about this whole mess is the fact that scientist are so enamored with their own reputation that they think working on cold fusion is a waste of time and more importantly detrimental to their careers. Let that last sentence sink if for a bit. We have a group of people that are extremely intelligent, yet they are so worried about themselves and their careers that rather than try to figure out something that will better humanity, they condemn those that do work in that field and label them as pseudoscientists. WOW! That is really all I have to say about that. I mean I can understand on one hand thinking that this is impossible, as I was in that same boat before I did some research, but I don’t think I would blast those that work in this field. That has always bothered me when it comes to academia and needs to change. I will defend them to a point as if I thought something was truly and utterly impossible that I have to say that I would not want to spend my time on it, BUT I do not think I would judge those that did. When it comes to science and scientific discoveries if nothing else is true, I think there is one constant, and that is theories change and tomorrow what you thought preposterous might be proven to be correct. Einstein was wrong more than once in his career as was Hawking. So if these to BRILLIANT individuals were wrong and your reputation is so important to you, then why risk it saying that someone else is in fact wrong?
I am concerned about our future even more so if the brightest minds on the planet are so concerned with their reputation that they would not try to figure something out for the betterment of the species. After watching the 2017 Asimov Foundation Discussion I was somewhat enthused about humanity. That a gathering of such bright minds can get together and have a discussion about science and our reality, that is truly an amazing thing and reminds me on some level of what the Medici Family did so long ago. However, when I read stuff like the above article I am once again forced to return to my negative outlook for humanity. I hope on so many levels that Rossi is right, but as will all things time will tell.