Why is there a sucker born every minute?

The E-cat fiasco isn’t that important from the view point of the pathological science it represents– that’s happened many times before and will likely happen many times later. But there is another question, one that is fairly important to the entire field of LENR.

But why are so many people jumping on the bandwagon?  I mean, a secret test, not letting scientists look at your magic box, a history of fraud and legal action…it’s right up there with offers to sell you a certain bridge or beach front property in the everglades.

Well part of the answer is that today, the number of people who are well educated, even to a layman’s standards in the hard sciences is not a very large number.  When trying to evaluate a scientific scam, after all, it’s wise to have at least some knowledge of science (though the opposite does apply– the layman should always be firmly aware that he is just that– and not an expert).

But most importantly, any layperson should remember, and remember firmly, that Great Claims Require Great Proof.  To say that you have invented a new process of fusion, one that produces no neutrons, or any other dangerous radiation, that produces megawatts of power, and does so with desktop equipment– that is a great claim indeed.

And the proof is not found in youtube displays, or magical clients that wish to keep their identity secret and seem to often vanish away, or forever be “just about” to show off their new power units.  It is found in the rigorous testing of these claims by people who are not the friends of the inventor, who infact have no interest in seeing him successful– or unsuccessful.  Who are simply interested in verifying “Was this event properly documented, and does it represent something new?”

Now, the true believers will immediately claim that the scientific conspiracy will work against them.  Beyond the question of whether such a conspiracy exists, that should spur advocates of new discoveries to more, not less, in the way of strict adherence to the measures predicted to convince even skeptics that something is occurring that cannot be explained by chemical or other known reactions.

Rossi’s “work” is in fact a text book example of how not to do it.  By this time, the lack of careful documentation and factual support of his claims points to pathological science at the best, fraud at the worst.   The mindless rush to excuse these failures, especially considering his history, does advocates of non-traditional fusion no favors, making it plain that once again, many have let their hopes run away with their skepticism.

The best way to deal with skepticism is not to excuse shoddy work– it is to be more critical and demand more proof.  Every advocate of alternative energy should be looking at claims and asking themselves : “What would a skeptic think?”  “If I was trying to disprove this, what would I seize as evidence that something wasn’t right?”

Excusing poor testing, or dicey claims, does the quest for alternative energies no good. It simply allows critics to point to those instances and argue that once again, we’re seeing a community that has allowed a laudable enthusiasm for a new source of energy run away with its ability to be skeptical and detached.

Don’t be that community.

E-cat– suddenly a website is proof?

http://ecatinfo.com/e-cat/breaking-e-cat-news-launch-of-ecat-com

 

The freshly launched online platform e-cat.com is here to showcase exactly that. It’s the first world website that accepts e-cat preorders. It’s filled with e-cat info about cold fusion and LENR, about e-cat home units and e-cat plants, about Andrea Rossi and his incredibly rewarding technology.

Well, that’s pretty impressive.  A website now becomes proof?  Especially a website that stands behind its product-

 

Er, no, no it doesn’t:

 

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Now remember children, the magic box supposedly has been ready to go, oh many times, but there have always been dastardly incidents keeping us from our era of TRUE! FREE! ENERGY!
I’d save your money– because I have a barely used bridge for sale, and I’ll even put up pictures on my website…any day now.

And who says the era of the mad scientist is over?

Certainly not I!

 

The HIV virus may be about to become a new weapon in the fight against cancer as initial tests have shown it can drastically minimize and even help cure the most common form of leukemia.

A research team, led by Dr. Carl June working out of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has been experimenting with using a harmless version of the HIV virus combined with genetically modified white blood cells as a new way to fight cancer. The cells are taken from patients and modified with new genes that make them target cancer cells, but just as importantly, they can also multiply once injected allowing them to scale up as a small army inside the body.

 

Don’t start writing the epitaph for Cancer just yet– this has a long, long way to go.  But even so, it’s an example as to why having an educated workforce, backing up a strong culture of R&D in all areas, is absolutely vital to the growth of a nation.

 

The 372 million dollar paperweight

Over at the Polywell Blog, we have the story of a fusion system that was designed, built…and never turned on.

    It seems the DOE funded the idea without being totally sure it would work.  John Clarke remembers his boss – the head of the U.S. fusion energy program – saying: “’they are good people at Livermore, they will figure something out.'”[6]   The closing of the project marked a major fall in magnetic mirror machines and the rise of the tokamak as the premier fusion reactor idea.  This was not inevitable.  Many voices, both inside and outside the science community, kept pressing for an alternative idea – in case the tokamak proved unworkable.  “All kinds of ideas were bouncing around: solar, ocean, thermal, wind, synfuels.  And we had only one for a fusion reactor, the tokamak.  What we wanted was a strong design to be number two” said Stephen Dean former director of magnetic confinement at DOE [6].  This implies that at the outset, the funding managers were not sure the tokamak was the only path to fusion.  They authorized 372 million dollars to a promising fusion idea without being certain it would work.  Today, we could test the Polywells’ viability with just 1/5th of those funds.

So what does this mean for the Polywell?  Well for one thing, it means that make no mistake, being cheap may not save it– in fact often, esepcially during budget cutting periods, such as we’re in right now, the cheap projects go first– they don’t have enough of a lobby to be saved.  The suggestions for helping the Polywell along via private investment are good, but maybe don’t go far enough. If the US fails to pursue the polywell, then another possibility is seeking foreign investment– or foreign partners.  India for example spends over 80 percent of her energy budget important material. Japan is in the process of giving up fission powered reactors, or at least claiming she will.

It is unfortunate, but if the US decides to cut funding, then it might be wise to seek out other regions for investment, however painful it will be to see the US having to buy a reactor design that we pioneered– but did not finish.

Biofuels and food supply, redux.

This interesting story may be of relevance to my earlier biofuels blogpost.

 

CNN has noted rising food prices:

 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Food prices have been rising worldwide, as the cost of raw materials and agricultural products surge, contributing to political unrest around the globe.

In December, international food prices broke an all-time high when they rose 25% for the year, led by rising costs for staples like rice, wheat, and maize, the United Nations reported.

The sharp rise in food prices, in particular, has become “a source of political instability,” New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, told CNNMoney’s Poppy Harlow, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Roubini, nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his famously bearish predictions, said spiking energy and food prices pose one of the greatest global threats — especially to emerging market economies.

Why prices are rising: Bad weather in Australia and Russia over the summer severely diminished wheat crops, partially fueling the latest commodities surge.

Rising incomes in emerging markets like China and India also play a role, analysts at the Eurasia Group say. The growing middle class in those countries has prompted a shift from a grain-based diet to one consisting of more meat.

And a push toward biofuels has also led to rising demand for corn and sugar, pushing up commodity prices.

 

Now we can’t blame Biofuels for all of this, of course, but if biofuels become a primary source of fuel oil, then the impact will become radically greater as biofuels become as, or more profitable than staple crops.

And that’s a major,  major disaster just waiting to happen, as it will put food prices, especially for the third world, on a direct collision course with fuel prices.

“Let them eat cake” was never said in reality, but the fact that it has become so resonant with the idea of short sighted leaders marching towards disaster should make it apparent just how bad the modern biofuel version of that would be: “Let them Drink fuel.”

 

Thursday Website callout

Well, it’s not, precisely a website, being more of a discussion forum, but Secret Projects, gets it this Thursday– an absolute treasure trove of old, new and speculative aerospace projects, ranging from the old civilian to the cutting edge military– and more than a few that never actually made it to the prototype stage…fortunately in some cases…

Dense focus fusion

http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2005/11/powered_by_chan.html

Developers, led by Eric J. Lerner, are developing Focus Fusion, a fusion process to generate electricity that is expected to be relatively cheap, highly efficient, and small enough to fit into a garage.  The process which channels hydrogen-boron fuel through a plasma focusing device, uses a smaller, more elegant approach than is currently being pursued by conventional fusion researchers.  This device could be fired up and shut off with the flip of a switch, with no damaging radiation, no threat of meltdown, and no possibility of explosions

Focus Fusion reactors are small and decentralized, ideally suited for distributed power generation. Focus Fusion reactors can fit into a garage.  Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) Focus Fusion project aims at developing an electric generator with a projected output of about 5 MW, sufficient for a small community.  The Focus Fusion process can produce electricity directly without the need to generate steam, use a turbine or use a rotating generator. The reactors are extremely compact and economical, with expected costs of $300,000 apiece. As the fuel is an insignificant cost, electric power production is estimated at about one tenth of a cent per kWh, fifty times cheaper than current costs.  Because it can be shut off and turned on so easily, a bank of these could easily accommodate whatever surges and ebbs are faced by the grid on a given day, without wasting unused energy from non-peak times into the environment, which is the case with much of the grid’s energy at present.  On-site personnel are not needed on a daily basis, maintenance would be rare.  One technician could operate a dozen facilities by themselves.

This is a quite interesting concept, although like all reputable fusion researchers, the people behind it are being fairly quiet until they have some firm information and evidence for it.  This is something important to remember– just because you don’t hear a lot about it doesn’t mean nothing is happening– but in the aftermath of the Cold Fusion fiasco, every researcher in this field wants to be damned certain that he or she has pretty much unassailable proof before making claims of fusion.

So, what does this mean in practical terms?

The biggest thing of course is that fusion decouples our energy budget from fossil fuels or fissionable nuclear systems.  Ditto for hydroelectric or wind power– in other words it dramatically reduces our “energy footprint” on the planet.  That’s the first big difference, and it’s a pretty damned big one– just take a look at your average oil field and what that does to the local environment, or hell, try to breath in many cities with severe air pollution.

Then there’s the political question– many nations will be able to stop spending money on foreign fuel (India, for example, imports just over 80%  of their fossil fuels), and plow that money back into other needs.  Once the systems are built, they only need to be maintained– so instead of spending a billion dollars a year on crude, you’re just spending whatever it costs to maintain your fusion plants.

But that’s not the only advantage– if you can build a 5MW power plant, then you can get away from the one big power plant model.  I doubt we’ll ever see “Mr. Fusion” at home, because 5MW isn’t anything for non-professionals to be screwing around with, but town and even neighborhood stations isn’t out of the question.

This has two advantages.  1.  It reduces the environmental footprint even more as we no longer have to have big power lines snaking everywhere. 2. It reduces our vulnerability. If every neighborhood, town and even large building has it’s own, independent power source, it becomes impossible to knock out, by malice or natural disaster, the entire power system.  That’s a big deal for places like California that are in danger of earthquakes, or parts of Texas that get visited every year by Mr. Tornado.

In the third world, well, decentralization is probably the best way to go– it’s less vulnerable to corruption and is more organic– instead of trying to come with some ten year plan, that may or may not work, you can add generating capacity as needed– and again, you don’t have to pay for fossil based fuel imports.

Is it going to save the world?  Nah, Homo the Sap will no doubt figure out some way to screw things up even more– but it will hopefully make the world a better place.

Now all we have to do is make it work…

Update:

In a breakthrough in the effort to achieve controlled fusion energy, a research team at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. (LPP) in Middlesex, NJ, announced that they have demonstrated the confinement of ions with energies in excess of 100 keV (the equivalent of a temperature of over 1 billion degrees C) in a dense plasma. They achieved this using a compact fusion device called a dense plasma focus (DPF), which fits into a small room and confines the plasma with powerful magnetic fields produced by the currents in the plasma itself. Reaching energies over 100 keV is important in achieving a long-sought goal of fusion research—to burn hydrogen-boron fuel. Hydrogen-boron, (also known by its technical abbreviation, pB11) is considered the ideal fusion fuel, since it produces energy in the form of charged particles that can be directly converted to electricity. This could dramatically cut the cost of electricity generation and eliminate all production of radioactive waste.

That’s a VERY big deal and a big milestone in the process.  So we’ll have to keep watching.