The following is a further posting in a series of articles by David French, a patent attorney with 35 years experience, which will review patents of interest touching on the field of Cold Fusion.
In my last posting I started Part 1 of what was to be a two-part reference to the initiatives of Randall Mills and Blacklight Power in respect of producing energy through exploitation of a shrunken hydrogen atom, the “Hydrino”. Part 2 will soon follow. Meanwhile I wish to now address a consideration respecting what will be needed to make Cold Fusion a commercial success.
It’s been 23 years since Pons and Fleischmann made their initial announcements. Hundreds if not thousands of examples of unexplained excess heat have now been identified in the laboratories of heroic “cold fusion” researchers struggling around the world on very modest budgets. Yet industry has not picked-up the baton to join in the race. Why is this?
There are no doubt many reasons but this article addresses the issue of thermal efficiency. It is proposed that industry will not be interested in ColdFusion technology until energy gains well in advance of 3:1 are achieved. Something higher e.g., 6:1 or 8:1 is a minimum in order to activate commercial interest in the exploitation of the excess energy phenomena associated with condensed matter physics. It all starts with the Carnot cycle.
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1 June 1796 — 24 August 1832) was a French military engineer who, in his 1824 book Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, gave the first successful theoretical account of heat engines, now known as the Carnot cycle. He is often described as the “Father of thermodynamics”, being responsible for such concepts as Carnot efficiency, Carnot theorem, the Carnot heat engine, and others.
The Carnot theorem applies to engines converting thermal energy to work. This is to be contrasted with fuel cells and batteries which convert chemical energy into work. The theorem states that the maximum efficiency that any heat engine can obtain depends on the difference between two hot and cold temperature reservoirs that are its “source” and its “sink”.
The principles behind Carnot’s theorem are as follows:
• there is a maximum limit to the efficiency by which work that can be extracted from heat;
• only an engine operating on the Carnot cycle can achieve the maximum efficiency possible in extracting energy from heat in order to produce work
• only a perfect, reversible, heat engine operating between a heat source and a heat sink can equal the efficiency of a Carnot engine operating between the same reservoirs
• all irreversible heat engines operating between two heat reservoirs are less efficient than a Carnot engine operating between the same reservoirs.
Generally, for an engine to operate “reversibly”, it has to function very slowly and have not heat loss through “leakage”. Virtually all practical heat engines are of the irreversible kind.
The formula for this maximum efficiency is:
Efficiency = 1 – T(cold)/T(hot)
where T(cold) is the absolute temperature of the cold reservoir, T(hot) is the absolute temperature of the hot reservoir, and the Efficiency is the ratio of the energy-value of the work done by the engine to the heat drawn out of the hot reservoir.
Using the above formula to demonstrate an example, and recalling that 0°C is 273° Kelvin, the ideal Carnot efficiency of a heat engine operating between 273°C and a block of ice at 0°C is 50% i.e. 1- 273°K/546°C. This is ideal. This is perfection. Typical gasoline automobile engines operate down in the range of 20% thermal efficiency. Power generation stations achieve typical thermal efficiencies of around 33% for coal and oil-fired plants, and up to 50% for combined-cycle gas-fired plants.
Using the above figure of 33 1/3%, it takes 3 barrels of oil to make one barrel of electricity in terms of heat value. This is a shocking thought for national planners who see citizens using electricity for heating. Nevertheless, electricity is an amazingly convenient energy source that is delivered apparently effortlessly to the door of the consumer and is available at the turning of a switch. Only the cost of electricity limits its consumption as a source of heat.
Because electricity is such a special form of energy, ready to do work directly with 98% efficiency through electric motors, it can be used in some applications to recover a portion of the heat value used to create it. And if you do not demand too much, it can provide even more. Heat pumps are designed to extract heat from the environment and raise the temperature of the extracted heat to certain modest target levels.
If the object is to heat a room with 30°C hot water, then this heat can be pumped out of the ground from a depth of 30, 40 or more feet, where the temperature is generally a constant 10° to 15°C. Heat pumps are rated based on their “coefficient of performance” – COP. Depending on the temperature spread between the heat source and the heat sink, the co-efficiency of performance for an electrically driven heat pump can be higher than 3:1, for example 4.5:1. Thus it is possible to recover some of the heat value used to generate electricity if the object is to provide only a moderate boost in the temperature of the heat being pumped.
If on the other hand, you aspire to re-create the furnace temperatures used when the oil or natural gas is combusted to create electricity in the first place, then a heat pump just won’t do the job.
Meanwhile, in the field of cold fusion, virtually all of the experimentation that has been going on has been using electricity as the source of heat to stimulate the low energy nuclear reaction, (if that’s what is occurring). On this basis, if the reaction does not produce a 300% output of heat for 100% input of electricity, then that technology has failed to achieve even a bare minimum recovery of the value that it has consumed. In addition, there are always system inefficiencies. That’s why a ColdFusion reactor is not really going to make sense until it has a gain, or coefficient of performance – COP, in excess of 6:1 and preferably 8:1 and more.
The original question posed was: Why has industry not picked-up the challenge to develop ColdFusion into a working industrial resource? One reason is that a large number of experiments done around the world have not shown a COP of 6, 7 or 8. In fact, many of the scientific results have shown excess energy gains of 20%, 30%, etc. rather than the 600%, 700% or 800% that would make investors sit up and pay attention.
If an LENR reaction were to produce heat at the temperature of 500°C, or preferably 600-800°C and do so with a COP for the input electrical energy of even just 600%, then interest may suddenly arise. The Carnot efficiency, that is the ideal theoretical capacity to generate electricity from thermal energy for a source at a temperature of 850°C, relying on a cold-water sink at 27°C would be just under 67%. Allowing for production losses, a thermal efficiency of 25-30% might be achievable for the production of electricity.
Electricity is like “White Gold”. It can be sold instantly. There is always a market for it. This removes one major uncertainty from the business case for investing in ColdFusion technology. You know that you will have something to sell that people will buy.
But this hasn’t happened. We still haven’t had a demonstration of the sustained production of high-grade heat for an extended period of time.
This is not to say that the production of steam, “wet” steam if it still contains water droplets and is only at a temperature of 100°C, is not valuable. It can be used for low temperature applications throughout our society. Heating homes is only just one application. Running air conditioners is another. Industry consumes a lot of hot water. And the desalination of water is a big application that will change the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings.
Let us hope that demonstrations at higher levels of COP will soon attract the interest of industry and provide the breakthrough that every fan of ColdFusion has been hoping for, for so long.