In March of 1989, a discovery was made that rocked the scientific world. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman had announced that they were able to create and sustain a cold fusion process. After intense media attention, and corresponding interest in future test, the subject seemed to have faded away. Future tests proved inconclusive, and when the quick promise of easy energy didnt materialize, most quickly forgot the subject. Little is said about the continuing research in the scientific community to further our understanding of the free energy enigma. Is it science fiction, on the border of legitamete science, or is it a practical field worthy of serious attention?
Cold Fusion is the merging of two dissimilar metal hydrides. The process is exothermic, and can generate energy in one of two ways. Energy can be input in to a system and multiplied, or energy alone can be generated although in a much smaller amount. For example, one watt of energy can be input and 3 watts recovered. Some systems are capable of producing hundreds of watts per individual watt. The actual physics of the reaction is not completely understood. Some claim it is merely a chemical reaction not yet understood, while others are convinced it is a nuclear reaction.
One example is a cold fusion cell which used .04 grams of metal hydride. It produced 86 megajoules over a two month period. A similar chemical reaction would have required 2,000 grams of chemicals to produce the same amount of energy. Another interesting point regarding this cell was the fact it had to be deliberately shut down. There was no sign of the reaction tapering off.
The skepticism regarding cold fusion stems from two separate studies, one done by MIT, and the other by the Energy Resources Advisory Board. The MIT study has been palled by attacks on the methods used to present the information. The chief science writer at the Institute denounced the study and resigned. The report contained altered graphs and an unclear method. The ERAB report was inconclusive, but presented to congress in a such a way as to present all of the negatives in order to maintain funding for their existed programs, instead of transferring research money to others.
Numerous labs across the country are still conducting cold fusion research. Among the most noticeable are Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, The Naval Research Laboratory, and a large Japanese energy consortium. Cold fusion is only produced three out of ten times under the best conditions, but this is enough to justify continued research. The first transitors were only successful one out of a hundred times until the mechanisms were completely understood. The science of the reaction taking place in cold fusion is still not clear. When pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together better, the success rate will increase, and yields will go up.
The actual set up of a cold fusion cell is an electrolyte such as hydrogen or deuterium in which a electrode made of specially treated and prepared steel is immersed. The lattice structure of the metal is filled with the hydrogen, where the fusion occurs. The problem is most metals fracture when subjected to these conditions. High loading is the state in which the metal survives, and begins to produce energy. There are numerous different methods and materials that are used to accomplish this goal. The original was a Heavy water solution with an electrolyte, in which a current is passed between a palladium alloy electrode. Several other new methods are in use today but the most promising is the Ceramic Proton Conductor. In this case, a low current is passed through a strontium-cerium-oxide in deuterium atmosphere. The reaction gives off significant excess energy.
Cold fusion differs significantly from traditional nuclear power in several beneficial ways. The primary benefit would be the ease of obtaining materials. Were a practical system to develop, there would be more energy in one square mile of sea water than in all of the oil reserves on earth today. A second attractive feature is the lack of hazardous or radioactive byproducts. The only thing given off is a low level of helium, neutrons, tritium, and some transmutation of the host metal. Compared to the heavy metal waste of traditional fission, it seems to be a drastic improvement. A negative is although the energy produced can be great, the relative power is low. The reaction does not have the instantaneous power of traditional chemical reactions, but rather a prolonged low level intensity. This makes easy use of the energy made at this point more difficult.
There is the belief also that Cold Fusion is not a nuclear reaction at all. Some think that the process is merely a chemical reaction not yet understood by todays laws of chemistry. This presents numerous gray areas in the understanding of the reactions taking place in the experiments. If indeed it is a chemical reaction then there is some flaw in our understanding of chemical reactions. The lack of nuclear byproducts when in theory there should be lends strong credence to this belief though. Only continued experimentation and new exploration will help explain the mystery.
The use of cold fusion would be a boon to mankind. Its use would solve all energy delimmas currently facing the petroleum dependant modern society. Elimination of pollution, economy, and ready availability of raw materials would be a tremendous improvement over todays combustion engines and chemical cells. More so than any other alternative energy solution, cold fusion presents a source that is truly renewable and, if it lives up to its hypothesis, a large enough amount of power. No other means to date has proven its practical use on a large scale. Cold fusion could be the solution to the problems of global warming and pollution.