By Steven B. Krivit
[This article is Copyleft 2011 New Energy Times. Permission is granted to reproduce this article as long as the article, this notice and the publication information are included in their entirety and no changes are made to this article.]
[This issue of New Energy Times contains the third in a series of reports based on my interviews with Andrea Rossi, creator of a device he calls the Energy Catalyzer, or E-Cat, Sergio Focardi, professor emeritus at the University of Bologna, and Giuseppe Levi, a professor in the university’s Department of Physics, and based on my investigation of their claims of a low-energy nuclear reaction device that produces commercially useful levels of excess heat. The complete list of New Energy Times reports on this topic is here.]
Issue 37 of New Energy Times focuses entirely on the story of an Italian man, Andrea Rossi, who appears to live in Florida, and his extraordinary energy claim. His brief biography in English is here and in Italian is here. A German Web site called Eso Watch has collected a great deal of information about Rossi. Appendix 36 provides information about his criminal history in Italy
Rossi claims to have invented a phenomenal low-energy nuclear reaction device. He claims not only that it is scientifically valid but also that its development is far enough along to be at a high technology readiness level. For many months, he has made promises that he will show proof of a 1 megawatt device in less than three months from now, on October 15.
Careful observers have noticed that Rossi is not claiming a 1 megawatt electrical device but a 1 megawatt thermal device. They have also noticed that Rossi has not specified the required input energy. Therefore, the net power of his claim is unknown.
Does Rossi’s device produce heat beyond that which is possible by chemistry? The device may produce some excess heat, but not nearly at the levels claimed by Rossi and his collaborators Sergio Focardi and Giuseppe Levi. In fact, the heat released from the experiment appears to be several orders of magnitude less than what they have claimed, at best.
Last year, Rossi and Focardi claimed an energy gain of 213 times. This year, Rossi downgraded that to six. Our analysis shows a possible energy gain of one to two times. In other words, Rossi’s device probably produces Watts, not kilowatts, of power. It may, in fact, produce zero excess heat. We cannot know with confidence because of the poor data collection and reporting.
The validity, or lack of validity, of Rossi's claim has not been easy for the lay public and even some scientific observers to assess.
For example, even an expert in advanced technology told me that he was not able to make a clear, initial decision about Rossi's claim.
That expert is Tony Tether. Few people have seen as many new, strange and innovative ideas as he has. He is the president of the Sequoia Group, a consulting firm, and he served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from June 18, 2001, until February 20, 2009.
"If it is a hoax, it is a damn good one," Tether said.
For 10 years, I have been seeking and reporting the facts about low-energy nuclear reactions specifically, and leading-edge nuclear power in general. I look for both technological solutions and evidence of pre-technology scientific progress. I have often found inspiring evidence of good science. On occasion, however, I also find evidence that claims do not hold up. Because I am not a representative of or publicist for the niche field of LENR, but rather a specialist investigator, I report the news that I find, good and bad.
I have tracked Rossi's story for about a year. Francesco Celani, a nuclear physicist with the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics, was the first person to tip me off to it.
Celani has been researching LENR for 22 years. He is also one of the few LENR researchers who have performed experiments with nickel and hydrogen. Most LENR researchers have focused more narrowly during this time and worked only on palladium-deuterium experiments. They followed in the footsteps of Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, who claimed primarily to achieve fusion in a desktop experiment and secondarily to have discovered a previously unknown nuclear process.
Ni-H LENR research — and any eventual Ni-H LENR technology — is potentially far more practical than Pd/D LENR experiments because palladium is a precious metal and deuterium is costly, as well.
But very few researchers ventured into the Ni-H realm in the last two decades. One of the main reasons for their narrow interest in Pd/D systems was that this was simply the popular route within the field. The underlying basis for this popularity came from a common belief held by many researchers in the field that LENR processes were dominated by a deuterium-deuterium fusion reaction.
LENR researcher Pamela Mosier-Boss of the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego wrote to me in September 2010 and explained her perspective.
"I simply believe our data shows that hot fusion is actually occurring inside the lattice," Mosier-Boss wrote.
Beliefs aside, however, the data stacked up against the theory of “cold fusion”. Interestingly, that same data definitively supported the idea of some other, perhaps unknown, nuclear processes using weak interactions. Lewis Larsen was the first person to come up with a potentially viable theory along these lines. Other theoreticians — for example, Akito Takahashi, a longtime “cold fusion" theorist — have recently explored the idea of weak interactions as part of a possible explanation for LENR.
But Ni-H LENR work has been explored nearly as long as Pd/D LENR work. Some of the best research to come out of the Ni-H line was that of biophysicist Francesco Piantelli, retired from the University of Siena. I have told his story here, in articles #12 and #13.
The Internet media buzz that Rossi developed was enough to cause many longtime Pd/D researchers to open their minds to Ni-H LENR work — but not without giving up their fantasies of deuterium-deuterium cold fusion. Some of them suggested that, in Ni-H LENR work, hydrogen nuclei were overcoming the Coulomb barrier of a nearby nickel nucleus. Other people suggested that neutrons, which are not affected by the Coulomb barrier, were captured by a nearby nickel nucleus and that, in their view, neutron capture was the new fusion.
Even though Celani tipped me off to Rossi's extraordinary claims a year ago, I did not contact Rossi until January, until after he made his first public demonstration and gave a press conference. Because I have closely studied the history of “cold fusion,” I have learned the lessons of science-by-press-conference. I therefore approached the Rossi story cautiously, learning what I could from Rossi in the course of several months. His associate with the scientific credential, Sergio Focardi, a physicist retired from the University of Bologna, never returned any of my e-mail inquiries. Rossi had always given me the impression that he was technically qualified to answer and respond to most of my questions. I inferred that Rossi and Focardi had agreed that Rossi was the point of contact for the duo.
Rossi and Focardi have self-published only a single paper on their claim, and they published it on Rossi's blog. Neither of them has made any presentation at a science conference on their joint work. These are serious warning flags, and I noted them.
Eventually, Rossi gained the confidence of a technology journalist, Mats Lewan, from Ny Teknik, and two Swedish professors who came to Bologna to see Rossi's device. Following what I originally thought was the professors' independent inspection of Rossi's device and their endorsement, I took Rossi's claim more seriously. Not until a few weeks ago did I learn that Rossi paid the travel expenses for the two professors to come to Italy, check out his device, and write a trip report.
I made my own trip to see Rossi, Focardi and their associate Giuseppe Levi, a physicist with the University of Bologna, on June 14 and 15.
On June 16, I published a preliminary trip report, and on June 21, I published a slightly edited final version of my Report #1 - First Report of Interviews With E-Cat Trio.
On June 20, I published a video from my trip to Bologna in which Rossi explains his energy catalyzer.
On June 28, I published my Report #2 - Energy Catalyzer: Scientific Communication and Ethics Issues, and I told readers that my next report would review the technical matters and my concerns about the trio's claims. I realize that, in today's world of Twitter and texting, one month seems like an interminable wait for some people. Thank you for your patience. The wait is over.
The effects of the June 20 video and my early brief reports have been very interesting. When I published the video, I made not one comment about its content, let alone any kind of report or analysis. Within two weeks, 20,000 people had watched the video and more than 50 people sent me their comments and analyses of what they saw in it. Some of those commentaries went into great detail and depth. The knowledge and technical skills of the writers was self-evident.
Report 3 thus became a very unusual report because these contributors did the bulk of the scientific and technical analysis. This was not my original intention, but they beat me to the work. Most of the contributors had specific training or experience with thermodynamics. In my role as an editor, if I did not personally know the contributor, I confirmed the person’s identity and got to know the person a bit in all but one case. The New Energy Times team worked with these contributors and edited their various analyses, and these now compose the bulk of the three dozen appendices to Report 3. These appendices also contain the hard scientific and technical information on which I have based most of Report 3. More-technical readers may wish to skip my Report #3 and jump straight to the appendices.
Readers will notice that some of these contributors have made different estimates of the same parameters of the Rossi experiment. Because Rossi has not made many of these parameters public, the contributors' independent estimations reasonably could be different. Readers will also find overlap in some of the topics covered by the contributors in the appendices. The New Energy Times team has done its best to reduce the overlap, but because all contributions were offered to us independently and without a coordinated effort, avoiding overlap was not entirely possible. As much as possible, we have sequenced the appendices logically.
I am working on the final editing of the three hours of videotaped interviews I made with Rossi, Focardi, Levi, University of Bologna physicist David Bianchini and blogger Daniele Passerini. I will send out another announcement when the videos are ready.
I have set up a dedicated Web page, "Andrea Rossi and His Energy-Catalyzer (E-Cat)," that will list all of the New Energy Times reports as well as other related information. I expect to write one follow-up report on the Rossi story in which I will provide more information about my journalistic process in this story. I intend to comment on my experience with the key sources of this story and offer some reflections. I also intend to note some of my observations about the response I have seen from people involved in the LENR research field. Beyond that, I will not be following the Rossi story in any detail until and unless he and/or his associates make an appropriate scientific communication or deliver a publicly available energy device for sale.
Several experts in the nuclear fission industry, who work with steam day in and day out, followed this story with interest and have contributed their knowledge and experience to this investigation. I appreciate their interest.
Nuclear fission experts, as a group, were never strongly opposed to low-energy nuclear reaction research. These experts are primarily nuclear engineers working in industry. They have delivered real, practical nuclear energy for half a century. They are not to be confused with thermonuclear fusion academics, who have yet to develop a practical reactor after 60 years of research and development.
Twenty-two years ago, these fusion researchers, for perhaps a variety of reasons, interfered with and delayed the progress of low-energy nuclear reaction research.
I am deeply grateful to all the contributors to this report. Many people offered contributions that we did not end up including because of the overwhelming amount of material we received. Four technical volunteers reviewed most of the appendices as well as the main report. Their generous efforts to make this project technically accurate were tremendous, and their volunteer service benefits every reader. Any remaining errors, of course, are my responsibility alone.
More than anybody, and with few exceptions, the researchers in the LENR field are most directly affected by this story. They have made the greatest contributions to this report, and I thank them for having the courage to speak their minds.
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