by David Niebauer
In the tradition of starting off the New Year with a resolution, I have decided to go large this year. I predict that 2012 will be the year that low energy nuclear reaction technology (LENR), also known as “cold fusion,” breaks out of the lab and into the commercial market. I hereby resolve to commit my energy and resources to advance the commercialization of any device that generates clean, inexpensive, safe, abundant energy.
I recently co-founded Fusion Catalyst, Inc., a public benefit 501(c)(3) corporation with Bastiaan Bergman for just that purpose. While we wait for a working reactor, we intend to support cold fusion research in any way we can. Our “Open Catalyst” project is one step in this direction. As it states on our website (www.fusioncatalyst.org), Open Catalyst is
“a crowd science project where many scientists globally can contribute to the search for the catalyzing material that enables low energy nuclear reactions. We plan to design and build a simple calorimeter reactor vessel that is automated and connected to the web. Scientists all over the world are invited to use this calorimeter and scan through potentially LENR-active materials. In this process, data is uploaded and shared in a completely open database. Every scientist in the world can slice and dice the data anyway he wishes. We envision that the power of the crowd can speed up the daunting task of searching for the secret catalyst.”
As the New Year commences, I thought I would try to articulate my view of the future of LENR – the reason we formed Fusion Catalyst in the first place.
First, I believe there are a number of inventors in the world who are on the verge of commercializing LENR technology. Granted, many of these inventors do not come from established universities or government research programs. What they do offer, however, is the promise of commercially useful reactors. Give us access to a working reactor and we will put it to use.
The likely path for commercial introduction of this technology is through industrial and utility applications. The reason for this is primarily economic. It is reasonable for inventors who are not primarily concerned with academic research to seek out the largest markets and customers with the deepest pockets. In addition, safety and permitting issues will be more rapidly resolved in the industrial application environment.
However, it is important that this technology not be concentrated in too few hands. Ultimately, we believe that cold fusion will be an ideal distributed energy generation technology. The materials — hydrogen and nickel — are not scarce; in fact, they are some of the most abundant elements on the planet. The only thing of value therefore, and the thing to be controlled and “made scarce”, is the technology and application know-how. Our goal is to have the technology and know-how distributed and made available on the largest scale possible. This requires many scientists and inventors working and sharing their research and experience openly.
I do not believe that anyone will emerge with a fundamental “uber-patent” in this field. I believe there will be many different approaches using different catalysts and perhaps no catalysts at all. Let those who have filed patents show the world how their device works. We will be happy to pay a reasonable royalty for its use. We have considered a patent pool or some other open source approach, but this will depend upon the available intellectual property and contributors to the project. At this stage, there is still much research to be done.
Assuming that a working device becomes available under a scenario where the “scarce technology” does not make it cost-prohibitive, the first thing a reasonable man will do is explore how much useful work he can get out of it. Even if the first devices are unstable and/or unpredictable, if it is useful we will put it to work.
The first distributed applications will likely be “off-the-grid” heating and cooling, as well as irrigation and other farming applications. There is a wide range of applications for steam at sufficient temperatures. And if electricity can be generated, whole communities can be formed outside of the metropolitan power centers of the world.
Another obvious application is desalination of water. A working, inexpensive device used to produce clean, potable water would not only aid the most poverty stricken areas of the world, it would end the so-called “water wars” in a single stroke.
Other distributed applications would directly address hunger and poverty. With cheap irrigation, new crops can be successfully grown, manual labor can be reduced and, eventually, hunger can be eliminated on the planet.
I anticipate an objection that, if we eliminate poverty in the world, we will be faced with a global crisis of overpopulation. Even ignoring the Hobbsian cynicism underlying this objection (i.e., that we need war, poverty and infant mortality to keep human population in check), I believe that overpopulation will resolve itself in a world of abundance. For one thing, people will not need to crowd into metropolitan power centers. People will be free to spread out and live in what are now inhospitable areas of the planet. Some will choose to remain in cities, but it will be a choice and not an existential imperative, as it is for many today.
Conflict is conditioned upon scarcity. We don’t know what an “economics of abundance” would even look like. I’m not saying that this new technology won’t bring new problems of its own – it will not transform human nature overnight. But I am saying that, before we scare ourselves with unfounded nightmares, we should be open to the positive impact that such a technology can have on the world.
If the devices can eventually generate electricity without noxious emissions, without dangerous radiation, and without significant capital expenditures, we are freed from toil for the sake of survival. Farming is difficult in most parts of the world. With unlimited, free power, even if only in the form of steam, most of the work can be done mechanically. Work will take on a totally different meaning. New ways of living and associating will be invented. We may actually start to thrive as a species on this planet.
Is this all a utopian dream? I don’t think so. I am talking about what is possible for the human being. No one knows how things will turn out in the future. I am dedicated to the global propagation of clean, limitless, free energy. Reactors that employ nickel and hydrogen appear to be close to achieving these difficult-to-imagine goals. Don’t let it be suppressed, demonized, denigrated or over-protected. The best way to accomplish this is through many different approaches to fundamental technology and applications.
We don’t know what an economics of abundance looks like. Give us a working reactor capable of generating useful heat and we will begin exploring that question. We believe that when this device is finally manifested, it will advance the human spirit in beneficial ways. Fusion Catalyst was formed for the purpose of forwarding the work necessary to realize this goal. We seek others who are like-minded to join us.
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