Whether you are a scientist or just a regular Jane, how do you evaluate the claims of a new energy technology?
In 2003, Michael C. Ruppert, author of Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil and star of the movie Collapse, posed “Nine Critical Questions to Ask About Alternative Energy“. You can read these queries on his old website From the Wilderness. His new site is Collapsenet.com.
The questions created criteria for evaluating the claims of alternative energies like the renewables: wind, solar, and hydro, as well as ethanol. It was his response to those who advocated replacements for oil and gas which produced flat or negative energy return on energy investment EROEI, like ethanol.
Of concern was M. King Hubbert’s Peak Oil, the condition of reaching maximum production capacity for oil, after which is irreversible decline. The need for solutions to a looming, deep energy deficit had many hoping for an alternative energy solution, but their expectations did not match the realities.
Eight years later, the possibility of a clean energy technology marketed to the world moved closer to physical reality with the recent demonstration in Italy of a cold fusion “steam engine”. Inventor Dr. Andrea Rossi’s ECat boiler produced 12 Kilowatts of power over an hour, using a fuel of hydrogen and nickel.
Low-energy nuclear reactions have been a science for the last 22 years. Now, it seems that a technology is in sight, a technology that promises a nuclear-sized power with no emissions or radio-active waste. How do these claims stand up to Mr. Ruppert’s Nine Questions?
Jed Rothwell of lenr.org has long been involved with low-energy nuclear reactions research, and is the author of Cold Fusion and the Future, a look at the implications of cold fusion technology and the changes and challenges it may bring. We asked Mr. Rothwell to respond.
(Note: Question 9 had multiple parts which we numbered to fifteen questions!)
1. How much energy is returned for the energy invested (EROEI)?
With oil or coal there is significant “energy overhead” meaning it takes energy to extract energy. With oil this is roughly 10% to 20% depending on where the oil is extracted, the type of well, how far the oil is shipped, and what grade of fuel the refinery produces.) Coal is more efficient; the overhead is around 8%. (Pimentel, D. and M. Pimentel, Food, Energy, and Society, Revised Edition. 1996: University Press of Colorado, p. 17.)
The only significant energy overhead with cold fusion is the energy used to extract heavy water from ordinary water. This is 0.05% with today’s heavy water extraction techniques, and it will probably be less in the future, because the techniques should improve. (Rothwell, J, Cold Fusion and the Future, p. 46.)
Total worldwide production of energy will consume roughly 6,000 tons of heavy water per year, which is enough to fill 2.4 Olympic size pools. Some additional heavy water will be needed to cover losses from evaporation, broken cells and so on. (Rothwell, J, Cold Fusion and the Future, p. 34.)
2. Have the claims been verified by an independent third party?
Yes. Roughly 200 major laboratories have verified many aspects of cold fusion, especially excess heat and tritium. A small number of laboratories have confirmed neutrons and helium production. These are much more difficult to measure.
3. Can I see the alternative energy being used?
If you visit the laboratory you can see experiments producing cold fusion. This is what Prof. Robert Duncan did on the “60 Minutes” segment broadcast in 2009. There is only one commercial or practical scaled device. It was demonstrated by Rossi et al. at U. Bologna on January 14, 2011.
Watch CBS 60mins Cold Fusion More than Junk Science
4. Can you trace it back to the original energy source?
The energy comes from nuclear fusion.
5. Does the invention defy the Laws of Thermodynamics?
Nothing defies the laws of thermodynamics. That is impossible. Cold fusion is measured using calorimetry, which is predicated upon the laws of thermodynamics.
6. Does the inventor make extravagant claims?
No. All major claims confirmed by mainstream peer-reviewed journal process. The claims may seem extravagant to people unfamiliar with the scientific literature, but that is a subjective state of mind.
7. Does the inventor claim zero pollution?
Cold fusion produces minute amounts of helium, far smaller than the existing background, and low levels of tritium which is dangerous but can be contained. It produces far less nuclear waste and radioactivity than uranium fission, and roughly 11 million times less radioactivity than plasma fusion.
8. Can I see the blueprints, schematics or a chemical analysis of how it works?
Yes. Thousands of papers about cold fusion have been published, including roughly 1,000 in mainstream peer-reviewed journals.
9. Infrastructure requirements: Does the energy source require a corporation to produce it?
Yes. Cold fusion cells are similar to batteries. They require precision manufacturing and careful handling of some toxic materials. Tritium must be removed during recycling. Mildly radioactive substances when handled correctly are not a hazard. Tritium is used today in some wristwatches and in emergency exit signs in buildings. Radioactive americium is used in smoke detectors.
10. How will it be transported and used?
If cold fusion can be made practical, it will be built into devices. There is no need to transport it. Both cold fusion and plasma fusion produce roughly 1.5 million times more energy per gram of fuel than chemical energy sources, so there is no need to transport fuel. An average automobile will use roughly 1 g of heavy water per year.
11. Will it require new engines, pipelines, and filling stations?
It will require new engines, but no pipelines, filling stations or any other distribution infrastructure.
12. What will these cost?
Cold fusion generators and engines should cost roughly as much as a conventional chemical ones now do. They probably will not require rare or expensive materials, and they should require roughly as much precision and cleanliness as NiCad batteries do. The fuel for cold fusion generators — heavy water or deuterium gas — is virtually free. U.S. per capita annual fuel costs are presently $2,499 according to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. DoE. The deuterium fuel needed to replace this would cost roughly $1.
13. Who will pay for them and with what?
Consumers will pay for them. Since the fuel is virtually free the overall cost of owning these machines will be lower than today’s models.
14. How long will it take to build them?
Once commercial devices become available they will replace most major energy consuming devices such as automobiles, heating and air-conditioning units, and appliances as rapidly as these machines wear out and are replaced. These machines normally last 10 or 20 years. Some heavy equipment such as railroad locomotives and aircraft last longer than 20 years. Large centralized power generators last much longer than 20 years, but these will not be needed with cold fusion.
15. What do you think of these questions in regards to evaluating alternative energy? Are they sufficient?
Some of these questions are not applicable to cold fusion. The questions that should be asked of any scientific claim about energy (or any other subject) are: Has the claim been peer-reviewed and independently replicated? In the case of cold fusion, the answer to both is yes.