Monday, April 20, 2009

Cold Fusion’s No Better Reheated

The announcement on the April 19th edition of 60-Minutes on CBS served the important purpose of presenting the enormous potential of fusion to provide virtually limitless, cheap, and pollution-free energy. Mastering fusion will be mankind’s greatest advance since mastering fire. While fusion is a vitally important objective, the so-called “breakthrough” announced by 60-Minutes is bad science and bad journalism.

The key claim made by the scientists 60-Minutes interviewed was that excess heat was generated by a reaction they say they do not understand. There’s nothing magic about reactions that release energy – candles generate more heat than the matches which light them. Every fuel we burn – coal, natural gas, diesel, gasoline – generates excess heat; that’s why we burn them. The only remarkable thing about this announcement is that the proponents acknowledged they didn’t understand it.

I once saw Siegfried and Roy make a tiger disappear five feet in front of me. That was very impressive, but I don’t think it was magic. The 60-Minutes announcement isn’t nearly as impressive, and it certainly is not new science.

Chemical reactions, such as the one discussed last night, release energy by rearranging electrons in molecules. The energy of any chemical reaction is therefore millions of times less than is required to change an atom of one element into an atom of different element. Chemical reactions can’t change lead into gold or deuterium into helium; only nuclear reactions have enough energy to do that.

If these scientists were serious about providing real proof of achieving cold fusion they should have shown evidence of helium gas being generated in the reaction. Fusion in the Sun and all other stars is based on hydrogen and deuterium nuclei being converted into helium. Detecting helium is easy to do and would provide a definitive test, as any competent scientist in this field is well aware.

If this were a sincere effort to advance energy technology and solve our critical energy and greenhouse gas problems, why didn’t the scientists present this definitive evidence?

If this were a sincere effort to inform the public of a vital field of scientific development, why didn’t 60-Minutes interview experts in nuclear physics? Promoting more “junk science” can only make the public understandably less interested in supporting real science.