Cold fusion is again in the news, well, at least for Wired magazine, which has done an interesting article on the topic. But this article, if read carefully, is raising another prospect altogether, beyond the debates about the science of LENRs(Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) or LANRs(Lattice Assisted Nuclear Reactions, which is my favorite term for the theories that have emerged to explain it). There are still some within the scientific community that have justifiable difficulties, not so much with the concepts, but with the hit-and-miss nature of the devices built to achieve it. The devices sometimes perform, sometimes do not, and until this problem is resolved, they remain skeptical.
But there's another aspect to the story that Wired has picked up on: many of the more successful devices, Rossi's for example, now have the veil of corporate proprietary secrecy drawn over them:
Here are the parts of the story that concern us:
"In December, Cyclone Power Technologies, a US company known for its highly innovative Cyclone Engine, announced that Dr Yeong Kim would be joining their consulting team. Dr Kim is a professor at Purdue University and a leading researcher in LENR. In a press statement Dr Kim said that his new role with Cyclone was an opportunity for research to understand and harness cold fusion."
"Meanwhile Brillouin, one of the lead contenders for commercialising LENR technology, announced in December that they had signed a licence agreement with an un-named South Korean company after a year of due diligence. The deal, described as being worth 'millions of dollars' in Pure Energy Systems News, licenses the Koreans to manufacture cold fusion units, with production and installation in 2014."
The plan is to use reactors powered by Brillouin's cold fusion technology to replace existing boilers in a conventional power station. Bob George, CEO of Brillouin, says they should produce electricity at two cents per kilowatt-hour -- about a third of the cost of electricity from advanced gas power generation, the cheapest current option. Once the units are proven, George expects many other customers to be interested in similar retrofitting.
There has also been a small but potentially significant shift by US officialdom. Steven Krivit of New Energy Times noted a change in the small print of a document issued by the US Department of Energy. The DoE provides funding for innovative energy projects via their Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). The latest funding opportunity announcement included a new addition in the list of technologies which the DoE is interested in: alongside solar, photochemical reactors and radioisotope thermoelectrics and many more, Low Energy Nuclear Reactions made the cut.
And finally, as the article indicates, Dr. Rossi's hidden backer is now suspected to be Cherokee Investment Partnership. In this context, the article informs us of what may be one of the new factors in play:
"A partnership with Cherokee would be in line with Rossi's claims about the size of his backer and the project. He says there are sixteen people working with him on R&D, consistent with a modest investment from a company like Cherokee rather than full-on involvement from the likes of General Electric (or even Google) as others have optimistically suggested. Rossi has recently said that a domestic E-Cat reactor is as far away as ever due to safety and certification issues, and his latest posts suggests that some care is needed with the industrial reactors. If the E-Cat does gain acceptance, the regulatory bodies will become more interested in the issues posed by licensing nuclear reactors based on principles which are not well understood."
So there you have it: there are already significant corporate investors not only in research into the concepts of cold fusion (LENRs and LANRs), there are plans and indicators of plans from Asia - Korea and China, but let us not forget that Japan has been a heavy investor in cold fusion research through MITI - that actually plan to bring practical technologies to production! While I have my deep suspicions these 2014 deadlines will not be met, it is nonetheless a significant step. But why not meet them? Simple: for devices based on the concept to be marketable, they must work consistently, and that has been the problem with cold fusion all along, sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. Dr. Rossi's e-cat remains the most consistent device in its performance, to my knowledge, to date.
Note also the new interest of DARPA in the concept. This, more than anything else I've seen, constitutes the nihil obstat and imprimatur that means cold fusion has moved out of the realm of "totally fringe" and into the realm of "it's good enough for black projects". And frankly, if DARPA is announcing it now, that probably means this move was undertaken perhaps as soon as Pons and Fleischmann made their now historic announcement.
But finally, there is one other significant thing that the article notes, indicating what yet another hold-up may be: regulation. How does any government regulate a technology and industry that is not yet even fully understood?
The bottom line? Wired is correct: the concept of cold fusion is no longer the fringe area it once was. It's slowly becoming more and more mainstream. But there are still hurdles, so don't except to be powering your domestic power or cars with them any time soon.
So let's speculate: suppose somewhere, in some laboratory in China, Japan, or Korea, that the phenomenon has been fully cracked and understood, and technologies such as Rossi's e-cat have been developed, and that they too, are "fully understood." What's the hold up? The hold-up, again, is suggested by that paragraph concerning regulation, but regulation is merely the clever meme being advanced for public discussion. A worldwide introduction of cold fusion, at this stage, during a global financial instablity, could and probably would be disastrous and disruptive. So what the article is really suggesting, if we read carefully between the lines, is "this is coming, like it or not. How do we transition to a new era and technical culture of a very different understanding of energy, and tailor our financial institutions accordingly?" As I've been arguing elsewhere on this site, this will require some new thinking from technocrats and financial elites, on the implications and integrations of emerging technologies for the international financial system. We'll know the game has become very serious if we see these investment companies suddenly being bought out by the big energy companies, and if, suddenly, there is no more talk of it, or conversely, they announce the construction of large scale manufacturing facilities to produce the technologies.
See you on the flip side...