ACS c&en : Cold fusion died 25 years ago, but the research lives on

  • Cold fusion died 25 years ago, but the research lives on
    Scientists continue to study unusual heat-generating effects, some hoping for vindication, others for and an eventual payday

    In brief
    In 1989, the scientific world was turned upside down when two researchers announced they had tamed the power of nuclear fusion in a simple electrolysis cell. The excitement quickly died when the scientific community came to a consensus that the findings weren’t real—“cold fusion” became a synonym for junk science. In the quarter-century since, a surprising number of researchers continue to report unexplainable excess heat effects in similar experiments, and several companies have announced plans to commercialize technologies, hoping to revolutionize the energy industry. Yet, no one has delivered on their promises. In the pages that follow, C&EN explores several possible conclusions: The claims are correct, but need more time to develop; those making the claims are committing an elaborate ruse; or it really is junk science that won’t go away.

    Mostly featuring BrLP/Mills, but also McKubre, Rossi, Nagel, Kowalski, Nocera,

  • The article purports to be about "cold fusion" but so far, reading it, the heavy focus is on Mills. While there is a connection, it involves lumping together all fringe claims. Not good. The article also repeats, as if fact, standard skeptical tropes, such as researchers being motivated by dreams of limitless energy.

    The lede is crucial to the message of an article. Many people only read the lede, and walk away with the impressions created. The headline is


    Cold fusion died 25 years ago, but the research lives on.
    Scientists continue to study unusual heat-generating effects, some hoping for vindication, others for and an eventual payday

    So the "scientists" are diehards, reacting to rejection, and some are greedy. This is a common "human interest" headline that completely misses the science and care about science. In the headline alone, the article reinforces the rejection cascade.


    The company is one of several that are developing processes that collectively fall into the category of new energy technologies. This movement is largely a reincarnation of cold fusion, the short-lived, quickly dismissed phenomenon from the late 1980s of achieving nuclear fusion in a simple benchtop electrolysis device.

    This is after bringing up Mills' company, Brilliant Light Power in the first paragraph. What "movement"? Is the article to be about "new energy technologies"? That covers a lot of territory! If so, the headline pretended it was about cold fusion, which became the poster boy for Bad Science, through an information cascade, not science.


    After all that, Wilk says he still can’t tell if Mills is a titanic genius, is self-delusional, or is something in between.

    This story line is a common refrain for the researchers and companies involved. It all got started in 1989, when electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons made the stunning announcement at a press conference at the University of Utah that they had tamed the power of nuclear fusion in an electrolysis cell.

    When the researchers applied a current to the cell, they thought deuterium atoms from heavy water that had penetrated into the palladium cathode were fusing to form helium atoms. The excess energy from the process dissipated as heat. Fleischmann and Pons said this process could not be caused by any known chemical reaction, and the nuclear reaction term “cold fusion” was attached to it.

    So he has now tarred all LENR research with the same brush. Wilk only considered Mills. This little section is historically inaccurate. Helium was not claimed in the original announcement, there was a single report of helium from F&P later, then they shut up about it. Helium wasn't shown to be the reaction product until 1991, by which time the "consensus" had already formed with no definitive experiment, very much unlike N-rays and polywater, with which cold fusion is often compared by debunkers and writers on "pathological science."


    After months of investigating Fleischmann and Pons’s puzzling observations, however, the scientific community came to a consensus that the effect was inconsistent or nonexistent and that the scientists had made experimental errors. The research was summarily condemned, and cold fusion became a synonym for junk science.

    Telling the story this way completely neglects that a genuine scientific consensus, based on definitive research, never formed. "Months" was completely inadequate to review the F&P claims. If anyone found heat that quickly, there was a high possibility of the finding being artifact. at that point. The immediate and famous negative replications were utterly inadequate; from later analysis, they predictably found no effect. Do what they did, no heat and no other nuclear evidence either. It was a very difficult experiment.

    So he starts out by reciting the standard story, highly biased, not balanced at all. Will people read the rest of the article? What's there if they do?

    Much more about Mills, who has not allowed true independent verification, and that is mentioned, of course. Mills will look like a fraud from the story, only with a few perhaps maintaining the possibility that he has something. Not about cold fusion.

    Finally, after pages on Mills, Nagel is quoted. Not bad. The reporter naturally makes sure we know that Nagel is a professor of "electrical and computer engineering." Skeptics would want to see an expert in nuclear physics, since cold fusion is "physics," right? Actually, it's not. Nagel's expertise, as I recall, is that he managed researcher projects, including projects on cold fusion. NRL is mentioned, but would readers put that together? No.

    Then he goes into "the other main branch." In fact, NiH research is a small part of the overall field, though it got a great deal of publicity lately, because of Rossi's claims. NiH research is still at a primitive level compared to PdD, where the ash is known and there is extremely strong evidence that the heat is real, producing correlated ash. That little piece of evidence -- from more than a dozen independent research groups, it is actually huge, is the single fact that can penetrate the cascade, if communicated.

    So ... the story does get into some real reporting. But the impact will likely be negative. It's in how the story is presented. The reporter did not make an effort to understand the scientific issues, but really is only reporting on a controversy with the focus being opinion, but the lede and first part would be set up to confirm the extreme skeptical views.

    At the end:


    All the discussions about cold fusion and LENR end that way: They always come back to the fact that no one has a commercial device on the market yet, and none of the prototypes seem workable on a commercial scale in the near future. Time will be the ultimate arbiter.

    How about actual scientific research, controlled experiment, careful analysis of data, and independent confirmation published in the journal system? I.e., like ordinary scientific research? Making a commercial device a necessity for acceptance is cart before the horse, probably. Unless someone gets lucky.

    It is a huge distraction that adds profit motive and thus bias. It creates secrecy that inhibits research. I am not, at all, against commercialization, rather against hitching the star of science to it. Commercialization would obviously establish reality, but it is more likely that reality will lead to successful commercialization.

    That Industrial Heat is supporting real research that is not application-focused is not mentioned. That the Duncan initiative at Texas Tech, in collaboration with ENEA, has been funded by Bill Gates, obviously, isn't mentioned and I doubt that the reporter got far enough into the field to discover that.

  • I didn't realize Mills thought he was doing LENR, in fact I thought he was adamantly against the moniker
    (see…conversations/topics/4274, posted previously here by Jack Cole).

    Can someone (shall I say it...) 'prove' that RL Mills of the new Brilliant Light Power is the same Randy Mills posting there? And is he for or against the LENR tag?

    This stuff about Mills was obviously tossed in because the reporter thought of it all as roughly the same thing: fringe science, probably bogus, but, hey, maybe there is something to it, once in a while, a meteor hits somebody.

    Mills does not use any LENR explanation. It's been pointed out that hydrinos, with the small orbits, might catalyze fusion reactions (like muons), but ... this is highly unlikely to explain the LENR we know about, because it, like Muon-catalyzed fusion, it would produce classic fusion products. There is basically no connection between Mills' work and LENR. However, maybe if he has actual results, LENR might be the real cause, instead of hydrinos. Or vice-versa.

    That kind of speculation is almost totally useless. Absent the possibility of truly independent research, it will be impossible to tell. Mills has not encouraged true independent research. In my opinion, in that context, the work should largely be ignored. Those who wish to invest have that freedom, but may want to look carefully at what is shown to them, and consult independent experts.

    All LENR investment, at this point, is like that to a degree; that is, there is no clear evidence from the experimental work that we have, so far, that reliable effects, perhaps necessary for commercial devices, are actually possible. To many it seems likely, eventually, but that's speculative. Personally, I'd say, "probably," but then suggest that it might take billions in investment to do the work. In my view, basic science comes first, fully and completely addressing all the issues, including the issue of reality and possible artifacts.

    The basic scientific research would not take billions. We have a current effort on heat/helium, and it appears to have funding of $12 million, which should be easily enough. That will establish both reality and nuclear origin for the Anomalous Heat Effect, if it confirms what is currently preponderance of the evidence (i.e., not 100% nailed down, but still easily enough to justify that further research. In fact, in 2004, there was already enough evidence for that, and the DoE panel recommended that research ... and it didn't happen. Ah, politics?)

    I do expect or hope to be in contact with the Texas Tech people, beyond McKubre, with whom I already have good communication. I may or may not be able to talk about it. However, I would be able to be a conduit for suggestions and questions, to be considered *before* completion of the work and publication. (McKubre is stuck in New Zealand, right now, for health reasons, the same basic reason I must presently restrict my own travel.)

    What Mills has definitely done is to create an absolutely spectacular piece of promotional video.

    With the screen going green and then completely whited out, the voice" "Oh My God! Shut it off!"

    Glued to my seat. Yes, because it's a video and there has been no announcement of deaths, as there would be, I can know that they survived. But that would apply to most movies. It was still riveting.

    How does one do this with cold fusion? At this point, the real thing is, as has been said, about as exciting as watching paint dry.

  • Rathke's comment on the SunCell


    Rathke continues. “Now, one could ask the question, ‘Could he have been lucky and stumbled upon some energy source that experimentally just works by following a wrong theoretical approach?’ ”

    When a conceptual model is built, it is only as good as the predictions that it makes. Applying Mills theory to just one system is a limited way to test the applicability of that theory to explaining what is going on in nature.

    When evaluating a theory, the wider the differences are between systems that the theory purports to explain, the better the chance that the theory approaches truth.

    A theory is like a ten thousand piece puzzle. Each system that the theory is intended to describe is a puzzle piece. If the theory can fit together all 10,000 systems into a connected and coherent whole, then the theory is a valuable one.

    But the selection and characterization of systems to analyze, the systems that reflects the theory as a valid system representation, is where the analysis of a theory fails.

    Here is a system that produces overunity power like the SunCell. It operates at about the same temperature using an arc discharge, and operates in a water environment.

    Can the hydrino theory explain how this system works? If not, why not?

    By the way, the Klimov system produces transmutation products. The system must be changing the atoms that enter the energy generating reaction. Is the SunCell also producing transmutation produces. Have the materials that enter into the SunCell reaction been tested for transmutation. If not, why not?

  • maybe there is something to it, once in a while, a meteor hits somebody.

    From the Department of Nerd Nitpicking: I do not think anyone in recorded history has been hit by a meteor. Houses have been hit. One woman's garage roof and car was smashed. At least one person in Russia died from a building collapse caused by the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013, but that was not a direct hit.

    Someone may well have been killed by the Tungaska event of June 1908, but it was in a remote location which took years for the scientists to reach.

  • Quote from Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax: “maybe there is something to it, once in a while, a meteor hits somebody.”
    From the Department of Nerd Nitpicking: I do not think anyone in recorded history has been hit by a meteor. Houses have been hit. One woman's…

    Jed, there is no one died in Russia, when the meteorite fell over Chelyabinsk. The meteorite exploded at high altitude and the fragments fell into the lake, from where it got them.

  • Jed, there is no one died in Russia, when the meteorite fell over Chelyabinsk.

    There were about 1,500 people injured seriously enough to seek medical care, mainly from broken glass. There were some photos of collapsed buildings, especially old brick buildings. I recall one person was killed by a collapsed building. I cannot find an article that says that, but some of the damage is extensive, so it would not be surprising:


    Time magazine says a bus driver in India was killed when a meteor destroyed a water tank:

  • The other day I was able to get the rhodium in the course of experiments on the transmutation. I is waiting for the results of chemical analysis for writing an article. Reproducibility experience very high. Rhodium output is also very high, it can not be a mistake correlation.
    So the work continues :thumbsup:

  • Woman hit by meteorite.…hodges-science-space-hit/

    Yeah, I'd seen that photo. There are roughly (maybe) 16 times as many people who have lived on the earth than are alive now. The Time article focuses on "reliable reports," but there would be no reliable report from most hits. I used "hit by a meteor" as an example of something that is possible but extremely rare. Which seems to be accurate. Very rare. But possible.

  • Scientific american replicate the article

    I commented moaned that way on my scoopit... not very diplomatic, but I'm tired.


    Again the article of C&EN copied without due diligence.Why does everybody choose to select the worst LENR companies, the worst theories... As if they wanted to kill again the domain.
    There are clear results, published in peer reviewed journal, replicated result, boring like any good science...
    Why again focus on pet theories, huge commercial claims with cloudy demos...
    Is it manipulation or just plain incompetence.
    When you have the choice between malice and incompetence, assume it is incompetence.

  • When you have the choice between malice and incompetence, assume it is incompetence.

    Or simply error. (Someone may be competent, but err. And, of course, it might be error on the other side. I know it's rare, but ... it happens. So, let's say, "there seems to be some misunderstanding without demanding that it be in a specific direction. Even though it is utterly obvious. Once in a while -- maybe it happened once ^^ -- something was obvious to me because I had overlooked some teeny detail, heh! heh!)

    The headline is not bad:


    Experiments Creating Energy When None Should Exist
    The field, now called low-energy nuclear reactions, may have legit results—or be stubborn junk science

    The headline should be "Releasing Energy" not "creating" it. Nobody is claiming something from nothing.

    There doesn't appear to be a comment page, or I'd consider linking to a critique. If there is a place to link, anywhere in this farrago of copied wimpiness, how about a link to ACS c&en : Cold fusion died 25 years ago, but the research lives on ? (i.e., my response here.)

  • You cannot judge the research activity just from publication activity - in situation of strategical importance the dependence is exactly the opposite as one could expect naively.

    In April 1942, Georgii Flerov, who would later become a key figure in the nuclear program, addressed a secret letter to Joseph Stalin pointing out that nothing was being published in the physics journals by Americans, British, or even Germans, on nuclear fission since the year of its discovery in 1939, and that indeed many of the most prominent physicists in Allied countries seemed not to be publishing at all. This academic silence was highly suspicious and Flerov urged Stalin to launch the program with immediate effect as he believed that other nations were already secretly advancing their programms.

  • Agreed. In a way it is not bad. What was ignored is now covered with bias...
    It is the occasion to raise awareness about good data beside the buzz. One informed journalist, one informed tycoon can do much.
    There is same move around EmDrive and I suspect it is connected. Physics is acknowledging, yet minimizing, possibility of novelty.

  • Quote physicists like to say, no experiment should be believed until it has been confirmed by theory.

    This statement is irritating and I doubt any physicist has ever said such a thing unless it was as a joke.

  • This sentence is absurd, but most critics that you read on such anomalies are saying exactly that.

    Huizenga wrote:

    Furthermore, if the claimed excess heat exceeds that possible by other conventional processes (chemical, mechanical, etc.), one must conclude that an error has been made in measuring the excess heat.

    Kevles wrote:

    Eventually, [Fleischmann and Pons] particular claims were refuted as theoretically unfounded and without experimental support. This is the incident I referred to in my article and it has altogether nothing to do with research since in this field

    Just see recent bashing of Emdrive (experimentally questionable I agree) done mostly on theory, some even discussing of a theory (pilot-wave the less supported today), denying the validity of the claim because the theory is challenged. Oriani paper was deniez for exactly the same reason. they first asked for a theory, and then rejected the theory part.

    I observe that when academic media (I put scientific and NyT/WaPo style journalists) covers anomalies they seems not to do any investigation... I mean not 10 minute of googling like I can do to check a strange news on a conspiracy site.
    It seems they anyway take great effort to covers the most fringe and minority theory and the most dubious entrepreneur, avoiding , national labs, universities, foreign labs, papers. They don't have any excuse as I relay enough of key references and warnings.
    They report legal trouble, and avoid peer reviewed material, except if critic.

    My first bet is they are simply incompetent clown, but sincerely it is hard to swallow, given the huge effort behind not finding the good data, while anyway they contact interesting people.
    I could think they are simply trying to damage the domain, while forced to cover it... Not so credible anyway...

    Another direction why some references don't appear while they feature dubious sources, is racism, ostracism, protectionism, chauvinism...
    This was cited long ago about Morrison critics on non US cold fusion replications by Indian, Japanese, EU, non coastal universities...

    In fact best references in LENR are Japanese research, Indian review by Current science and BARC, and non-coastal US universities (TxAM, TTU,Mizzou). SciAm and C&EN don't talk of brillouin, but absence of Brillouin is uncommon. Basically US article mostly talk of US claims even the cloudy one...
    On Emdrive British inventor, Chinese team, Italian inventor... they only reacted when Nasa fringe lab took the subject...

    It looks so absurd that incompetence is probably the answer. Theory-based denial of reality and chauvinism is part of incompetence, so maybe there is a coherent explanation around that.

    Answer for LENR community is to relay access to good data. Problem is we don't agree on what is good data and credible claim. Space for improvement!