Science

Do not forget the ‘other’ nuclear

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on January 24, 2015

The magnetic coils inside the compact fusion (CF) experiment are critical to plasma containment, as pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin.   -  Reuters

President Obama’s visit has put the nuclear debate on the centrestage again with implications on big-bucks commerce and energy security. But for the same reason it is useful to take note of the recent seminal developments in the ‘other’ nuclear – cold fusion.

Hot discussions about cold fusion, or nuclear fusion at room temperatures, have been raging within the scientific community from 2011 when an Italian engineer called Andrea Rossi showed to the public his invention, a fist-sized device that produced more energy that it consumed, with only a spiked nickel powder and hydrogen gas as raw materials. '

'Energy catalyser'

Rossi called it E-Cat, for ‘energy catalyser’, and said cold fusion was happening within the box. The scientific community was outraged.

The notion of fusion of nuclei of atoms at room temperature flies in the face of established physics.

Nuclear fission

Mankind has mastered nuclear fission — if you crack open a nucleus, neutrons fly out of it releasing heat — and the entire global nuclear edifice is built on this principle.

Nuclear fusion happens when two nuclei merge together. Now, nuclei have a tendency to move away from each other and to coax them to even get close calls for a lot of input energy. But once the ‘Coulomb barrier’ is overcome, then a fundamental force of the Universe, called the ‘strong nuclear force’ takes over and the nuclei fuse, releasing energy.

Therefore asking a nuclear physicist to believe a claim that somebody got two nuclei to fuse at room temperature is like asking Hitler to love a Jew.

However, Rossi went ahead and made bigger devices and showed them working. Only, he wouldn’t tell anybody what the nickel powder was spiked with — that is his secret.

Working of E-Cat

Till date, nobody including Rossi knows how the E-Cat works, but it works. Some scientists, such as Robert Duncan of the University of Missouri (now with Texas Tech University), feel that E-Cat is actually a fission reactor and not to be confused with cold fusion. Hence the new branch of physics called ‘low energy nuclear reactions'.

Many developments

Regardless of the name or description, the E-Cat devices have comprehensively proven to be energy sources and have attracted more open scientific inquiry.

A group of scientists performed “independent third party tests” on the E-CAT in February-March 2014 at Lugano, Switzerland and the results were announced in October. Terming the reactor as “remarkable” the report (available in public domain) notes that the results showed “heat production beyond chemical burning” and concludes that there has been nuclear transmutation in the fuel.

It says that it is “most unsatisfying that these results so far have no convincing theoretical explanation'', but adds that the results could not be “dismissed or ignored just because of lack of theoretical understanding''. The results, it says, are “too conspicuous not to be followed up in detail” and says that the invention has the potential to become a large energy source.

Another instance doing the round is a more recent experiment conducted by a Russian scientist called Alexander Parkhimov, who also felt that E-CAT produces energy.

Next month’s edition of Current Science magazine of the Indian Academy of Sciences will feature low energy nuclear reactions on its cover, a sign of grudging acceptance by the scientific community.

Business has not been far behind. Last year, a group of venture capitalists in the USA (Cherokee Investments) have purchased the rights to Rossi’s E-Cat technology and formed a new company, Industrial Heat LLC, and plans to set up factory in China.

Another company, Brillouin Energy Corporation, California, claims to have discovered the secret of the Nickel-Hydrogen reactor and has licensed a Korean company to manufacture the product.

Experiments in India

After a few experiments some years ago, the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, declared the matter as closed. But a group of determined scientists intend crusading for more research.

The most active of them is Dr Mahadeva Srinivasan, a ex-BARC nuclear physicist, who was actively involved in BARC’s experiments, has had a meeting with the Union Power Minister, Piyush Goyal, and is convinced that the government would take the matter forward.

Dr Srinivasan, who has attended every one of the eighteen International Conference on Cold Fusion, is sure that by 2020, E-Cat reactors will be produced in hundreds in India, producing cheap, clean, decentralised power.

LENR devices has the potential to replace oil and to change the global geo-political order in a few year, he says.

Published on January 24, 2015
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