A Parenthetical Note on the E-cat

Over a year ago, Andrea Rossi said his e-cat was in final approval process with the UL. He defined the unit as a production unit.

And yet, nothing.

I fear that in this case, the horse hasn’t just been flogged, it’s been sent to the glue factory.

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Fool Me Once….

When we ask why there isn’t more funding for Polywell, or Dense Focus Fusion or the other concepts we must remember the old joke: Fusion is the power of the future– and always will be!

For that last 60 years, there have been books about fusion, articles, TV specials, many of which tell us that fusion is expected by 1970, or 1980, or 1985…it’s a mirage, always just around the corner, if only we had more money or more funding.  It would be nice to blame this just on traditional fusion scientists, but it’s a danger every advocate, of any new technology faces– the danger of becoming overly optimistic.
And, after better than a half century, the response of many individuals, not Luddites but quite intelligent businessmen and citizens, to a breathless new announcement is… a hearty yawn.  They’ve heard that story before.  They’ve seen the pictures of bigger and better test units.  They have a hearty doubt if fusion will ever be achieved, or if it is, will it be economically viable.
Even many of those interested in alternative energy point out that advances in solar are changing the world as we speak– to them, the question is, “why invest in this, when we have more profitable directions?”  And they have a point– solar powered charges for celphones and tablet computers are revolutionizing the economy of the third world, in a way that big centralized power stations likely wouldn’t.

 

But what does this mean for advocates of Polywell fusion or any other fusion technology?  It means we must accept that we are  energized and enthused, but the rest of the world may not be– and we must understand that they have some fairly good reasons for that.  Falling into the trap of assuming anyone who doesn’t agree with us is stupid and shouldn’t be engaged not only is disrespectful– but it runs the real risk of alienating the uncommitted.

Today, we must face the fact that the Polywell, like other new concepts, has to be effectively marketed to the public.  As a community, we cannot leave this to occasional magazine articles, that more often than not fail to effectively explain it, nor can we expect people who may never even have heard of Polywells to understand and uncritically accept why they should invest money in it.

 

Remember, that the greatest developments in American history have been in part due to engineering, but Ford, and Edison and Steve Jobs were also great salesmen. That’s what the Polywell community has to become.

 

 

Why we have enough money for Polywell and Other Fusion Attempts.

According to Vanity Faire, men and women spend over 17 billion a year on cosmetics. This was in 1986.  In 2008, the yearly cost was over 30 billion.

Note that I’m not picking on women here, this is just the first example that came to mind. You can put cigarettes (over 35 billion for the US alone), or fast food, or any one of a hundred luxuries.

the point is that the common claim as to why we cannot afford working on Polywell doesn’t hold water. We are not “too poor” to do so– the United States is wealthier than almost any other nation in history– compared to the disposable wealth we have, the greatest Roman emperor was a piker.

If you want to move to more government controlled sources of funding, consider that a single B2 costs over 2 billion– far more than would be needed to take the Polywell from test to prototype to production machine.  More importantly, the benefits of a functioning fusion system woudl far outweigh the benefits of a B2 (for one thing, it’d reduce our dependence on sources of energy that demand the use of said B2).

The problem is not money– it has never been money.  The problem is one of allocating money effectively and convincing the people that it is important to do so. In other words, the problem isn’t science– it’s politics and public opinion.

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.

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.

Saturday Blog of the week!

http://newsicare.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/building-the-open-source-bussard-fusion-reactor/

 

Do you think it is impossible for a person or a small team to build the Bussard Fusion Reactor? Actually, it is happening. Famulus is building his own Bussard Fusion Reactor. He also showed the early products on the Kickstarter project page. The project has sucssfully raised the first round funding.

 

Why is this the Saturday Blog?

 

Well for one thing, It’s about fusion– one of my favorite subjects.

It’s about someone working on building a fusion reactor himself.  And that’ s really damned kick ass.