by David Niebauer
There has been quite a bit of activity lately in the field that used to be referred to as “cold fusion” and is now generally called “low energy nuclear reactions (LENR).” Many experiments over the last 22 years following the pioneering efforts of Pons and Fleischmann in 1989 have generated excess heat – but its still not clear that what is being observed is a nuclear reaction. It is becoming clear, however, that scientists and engineers are closing in on generating significant and useful thermal energy from the reactions. Given recent developments, I thought it would be useful to do a brief survey of companies that are moving this technology to commercialization.
Because the established scientific community confronts this field with a high degree of skepticism, the road to commercialization is particularly difficult. The main hurdle appears to be finding a financing partner willing to step out in front of the developments while the theoretical underpinnings are still being worked out. At this stage, there appears to be no question that excess heat is being generated by the best experiments. Whether these results can be translated into commercial success, however, is still to be seen.
Andrea Rossi/Leonardo Corporation
It is nearly impossible to gauge the actual stage of development of the Rossi Energy Catalyzer despite the concerted efforts of the inventor to bring his invention to market. Andrea Rossi made a splash early in the year with repeated demonstrations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Credentialed physicists observed significant and consistent thermal energy generated by his device. However, questions have been raised concerning how the measurements were taken (see the critique by Steven B. Krivit on the New Energy Times blog) and Rossi has refused to allow a third-party replication of his results due to an understandable reluctance to disclose commercial trade secrets.
Rossi responds to nearly every skeptical inquiry with the confident assertion that his customers will answer all questions when he delivers an operating 1 MW thermal power plant. This facility was originally commissioned by a group of anonymous Greek investors incorporated under the name Defkalion Green Technologies.
Rossi now indicates that he has terminated his relationship with Defkalion, and that he is working with an undisclosed US firm that has apparently stepped into the shoes of Defkalion. Rossi insists that his 1MW facility is on track and will be unveiled at the end of October somewhere in the US. To complicate matters, Dafkalion has vowed to continue work on its catalyzer product line, called Hyperion, with or without Rossi.
In the spirit of journalistic full disclosure, the reader should know that I have met with Andrea Rossi and his US commercialization partner, AmpEnergo, Inc. (not the undisclosed US firm). The team is credible, earnest and working hard to transform Rossi’s experimental results into useful commercial products.
I want Rossi to succeed, so the recent setbacks are a personal disappointment to me. I wish him luck and would love to see him finally vindicated. But the jury is still out on the Rossi E-Cat Energy Catalyzer.
Robert Godes/Brillouin Energy Corporation
Robert Godes is an inventor and engineer who, unlike Rossi, has taken the tack of being totally open and transparent to the scientific community. Godes has a grasp on the theoretical basis of his device and has modeled his experiments on this theoretical understanding. Godes employs hydrogen pressurized in a nickel lattice, similar to Rossi, but uses an electrical pulse as a catalyst. (Rossi has not disclosed his catalyst or the precise mechanism employed in his device.) A voice-over Power Point on the Brillouin website explains in great detail what Godes believes to be the theory and mechanism of his thermal energy catalyzer, which he calls the “Brillouin Boiler.”
The significant breakthrough in the Godes experiments is that he claims to be able to control the energy output by turning the device on and off at will. This is important because any commercialization of these devices will need to be controlled in this manner.
A drawback to early experiments in this field is that the energy output has been inconsistent and hard to replicate. Early devices would sometimes take days, even weeks, to ignite a reaction. Excess heat readings would spike and then be undetectable. It was not unusual for devices to explode due to the reaction running out of control.
Knowing that a device would need to be properly controlled to allow for commercial application, Godes has focused his efforts on achieving consistent, controllable results – and he appears to have succeeded.
On July 7, 2011, Ruby Carat of Cold Fusion Now reported that Brillouin will be working with Los Alamos National Lab to replicate Godes’ work, and that commercial funding should follow successful results. Godes has confirmed to me in a private conversation that Los Alamos replicated his results unsolicited by simply following his work in the voice-over PowerPoint on his Web site. While Godes’ modest reactor is generating only 2X energy output, he believes that with additional work (and the funding required to do that work) he can greatly improve upon these results. At 3X energy output, the device begins to be commercially viable.
Brillouin shows a clear and credible product evolution path on its Web site, from beaker test to commercial prototype to commercial boiler. Brillouin intends to enter the US commercial boiler market, which is estimated to be $1.1 billion in size and growing.
It is not clear who will be first to step up as Robert Godes’ financial partner. However, he appears to be well positioned and willing to provide whatever third-party validation might be required. Godes has filed a US patent prepared by the well-known patent firm of Townsend, Townsend and Crew (now Kilpatrick Townsend), and is working daily to improve his results.
For those who have watched the April 2009 60 Minutes episode, “Cold Fusion is Hot Again”, the name Energetics Technologies will be familiar. At the time, it was a New Jersey company with a research facility in Omer, Israel that Robert Duncan of the University of Missouri visited as part of his investigation of the state of the art of LENR technology. On the 60 Minutes episode, Duncan, speaking of Energetics Technologies, states: “The work done was carefully done and the excess heat is quite real.”
Energetics Technologies is a pioneer in the waveform process of LENR profiled in the 60 Minutes episode and which has been successfully replicated by SRI International of Menlo Park, CA and ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies.
Duncan, who started out as a LENR skeptic, has apparently now become a supporter. He was instrumental in moving Energetics Technologies research lab from Israel to a technology incubator at the University of Missouri. Energetics Technologies was originally supported by billionaire philanthropist Sidney Kimmel and has now been taken under the wing of Duncan and the University of Missouri.
Energetics Technologies has been successful at generating heat from their experiments using palladium and an electric pulse somewhat similar to that being employed by Brillouin. However, because they have not achieved consistent, controllable results with their work, the road to commercialization for this company appears to be a long one. I will watch for any updates coming out of the University of Missouri.
Star Scientific Limited
A recent entrant to the field is an Australian company named Star Scientific Limited. Star Scientific Limited employs a reaction referred to as “muon catalyzed fusion.” According to its Web site, “muon catalysed fusion is a well known scientific process where a subatomic particle known as a muon captures two hydrogen atoms and forces them to fuse, resulting in energetic particle release and helium.” The problem has been getting the reaction to occur consistently and in sufficient volumes for the energy release to be useful. In addition, given the present state of the technology, it takes more energy to produce a muon than the amount of energy they liberate in the fusion reaction.
Star Scientific Limited claims it is working toward “economically and constantly produc[ing] pions, which immediately decay into muons” and that, once accomplished, these fusion reactions will make sustained, controlled muon catalyzed fusion a reality.
Star Scientific Limited provides very few details on its Web site so it is difficult to gauge the likelihood of success. In response to inquiries, the company has indicated that it is “a fully funded private company and seeking no investment,” so perhaps they will make significant strides in the near future.
Most people I have spoken to believe that Star Scientific Limited’s claims are not credible given the current state of understanding of muon catalyzed fusion. But then again, the same thing has been said of LENR in general. I will look for more details from the company to try and gauge the timeline for successful commercialization.
Are we at the dawn of a new era of clean, inexpensive renewable energy? We appear to be approaching a critical mass of experimentation and understanding of fundamental theory to make such a question more than a pipe dream. It is my personal commitment that, 20 years from now, it will seem absurd that we relied on burning fossil fuels for so long when technology was at hand for the transition to a genuine clean energy economy. Perhaps one of the companies that I have profiled in this blog will be the first to break through to commercialization. Or maybe work being done behind closed doors at government-funded labs and corporate R&D facilities will bear fruit. The time is certainly ripe.
David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on financing transactions, M&A and cleantech. www.davidniebauer.com