The Cold Fusion Question


Our world runs on fossil fuels. Currently, approximately 82% of the United State's total energy consumption comes from nonrenewable sources like coal, oil and natural gas. The burning of these fossil fuels directly contributes to the 6.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions which emerge from the US every year. All of this combines to become the most significant contributing factor to the steady rise in Earth's temperature which has been going on since the 1920s, and which has the potential for catastrophic consequences if left unchecked. But what if all of that could suddenly go away? What if nearly all of the world's energy could come from a virtually unlimited, safe, and clean source? This was the promise of cold fusion, the radical idea that humanity could harness the power of the sun in a jar on your tabletop. I'll admit, "harnessing the power of the sun in a jar on your tabletop" sounds absolutely insane, but the idea was first proposed by Dr.

Stan Pons and Dr. Martin Fleischmann, two highly respected electrochemists. Their press conference in March 1989 at the University of Utah was met with much excitement, and hope about the potential impact of their discovery. If indeed this scientific discovery proves to be practical as it appears to be not only do the world's population get a promise of virtually unlimited energy, it gets the elimination of acid rain, reduces the greenhouse effect, and allows us to use fossil fuels in a way which is much more important than simply lighting a match to them. The premise was relatively simple, but radical. In hot fusion, like that found in the sun, positively charged atomic nuclei which normally repel, are placed under such high temperatures and pressures that they cannot avoid colliding. When they collide, they fuse to form larger atoms, and in the process release energy and subatomic particles. Cold fusion is essentially the same process, just at much, much lower temperatures.

The cold fusion apparatus is a palladium electrode in a bath of heavy water, water containing the hydrogen isotope deuterium. When electricity is run through the system, more energy is released than was put in, and this excess heat comes from fusion. Theoreticians believe that this works because the palladium electrode forms a lattice, in which the fusion of deuterium is far more likely to take place than in the surrounding environment. This increased likelihood allows a significant release of energy, even with only the input provided by a simple electric current. Heavy water naturally exists in seawater, and is virtually unlimited. There are no harmful emmisions, and the technology's small size would allow it to be applied in a huge variety of situations. There's a problem though: it didn't work. At least not replicably. Teams from places like UC Berkeley, Yale, the University of Rochester, MIT, and CERN all attempted to replicate the experiment, and none of them could do it consistently.

Every single one either failed to see results at all, only saw results which were within the bounds of experimental error, or did see results, but not consistently enough to give conclusive support to Pons's and Fleischmann's claims. Everyone with any authority in the field shot down cold fusion as soon as it was born, and so the ideas behind the phenomenon quickly became a well-known pseudoscience. Fast forward to the late 2000s. Cold fusion operations have had virtually no funding and practically no credibility for the past 20 years, but somehow they have carried on. Several teams, like those led by Dr. Michael McKubre in America and Dr. Hideo Kozima in Japan among others have refined the cold fusion experiments, using higher quality palladium and more precise measurement equipment to improve the quality of the data taken.

From these they've been able to gather more reliable and consistent results, which have begun to turn the case around for cold fusion. The most promising results have come out of Omer, Israel, where a team at Energetics Technologies has been getting more and more results which are in favor of cold fusion. The Israeli team has reported energy output numbers on the order of 1 million joules, which to be fair isn't actually all that much. That's only enough energy to run a single stadium floodlight for about an hour. The exciting part is that in tests like this, they measure 25 times more energy output than input, a huge disparity, and one which speaks to the phenomen's potential usefulness as a power source. True, these results are only in extreme cases, but even in average cases, there is still an 8 to 11 times greater output than input, more than enough for the experiments to power themselves, with much energy left over to be transmitted to homes across nation.

These results are more consistent and reliable than the 1989 results ever were, and they lead to the important question: is cold fusion still a pseudoscience? I'm sorry to say in this video that I offer no concrete answer to this question, but it is truly exciting that we're seriously asking this question in the first place. On the one hand, if the answer is "yes," and cold fusion is still a pseudoscience, then the last twenty years of research have been a complete waste of time and resources. That's not the exciting possibility though. What if the answer is "no?" What if cold fusion is in fact scientific? There is no guarantee that it will hold to all of the promises of that March day, but such a simple and powerful tool regardless holds the potential to be incredibly useful. Even if it cannot replace the United States power grid, the efficiency of the cold fusion process could still lead to great strides in energy efficiency, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Whether or not this is the silver bullet to the world's energy problems, one thing is certain: if cold fusion is a science, the world is undoubtedly a better place, and all because two guys in Utah decided one day that it would be a good idea to electrocute a jar of water.