Welcome to the age of diminishing returns
Showing posts with label "e-cat". Show all posts
Showing posts with label "e-cat". Show all posts

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Breakthrough in free energy: the B-Cat

Today, in a press release, prof. Ugo Bardi has disclosed the development of a new Free Energy device that he stated will solve all the energy problems of the world. The device, termed "B-Cat" (schematically shown above*) generates at no cost continuous and never ending oscillations that can be tapped to produce energy.
Prof Bardi did not disclose the details of the mechanism that makes the B-Cat work, hinting, however, that it is proof of a "new physics" that goes beyond the dusty, so called "laws of thermodynamics."  Such old concepts must now be abandoned in the face of this new evidence; in spite of the stiff opposition by the fossil fuels lobby, the renewables lobby, the Gnomes of Zurich and the Old Man of the Mountain. 

Professor Bardi said that the term "B-Cat" refers to a special nuclear catalyst located inside the hat-like object on top of the oscillating bar (and, no, not to the word "bird"). This catalyst creates a cold fusion reaction between hydrogen generated by the liquid located at the basis of the bar (whose composition has not been disclosed) and green kryptonite located inside the hat-like object. The rim of the hat is in lead and it completely screens the gamma rays emitted by the device, making it completely safe for home applications, such as salami slicing or self powered swinging chairs.

Bardi reports that NASA, Siemens, General Motors and the National Rifle Association have all expressed interest in performing research and development on the B-Cat. Patent applications have been filed with the Transylvania patent office and certifications of safe use and radiation shielding are being obtained by Elfin Laboratories inc. Bardi has also specified that a robotized factory that can produce one million B-Cats per year is being assembled in an undisclosed location above the Arctic Circle. 

The present B-Cat has a power of 1 kW. Further research on improving the device is in progress in collaboration with the university of Duckburg and a 1 MW B-Cat has been developed. The prototype is shown in this movie

* the drawing of the "drinking bird" is from the site of the California State University in Fresno, which is completely, definitely and absolutely not involved with anything mentioned in this 1st of April post. If you are missing the point of this story (but, in this case, you must have just returned from a desert island where you have been marooned for more than one year), you can read this post by Steven Krivit about Andrea Rossi's E-Cat or one of my previous posts on this subject, here, and here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nuclear fusion and the "three years law" of scientific research

As part of a mini-series on nuclear fusion on the Cassandra blog, here is a brief discussion on the status of the approach to fusion based on hot plasmas; the so called "tokamak" configuration. This technology is progressing at a very slow rate: the first energy producing plants are planned to appear not earlier than in several decades from now (if ever). Given the situation, we may be making a big communication mistake if we present this approach as the solution to the world's energy problems. At this rate of progress, many people have already lost their patience and are taking refuge in pseudoscience and outright scams. (image above from an article by Jean Pierre Petit). 

There is an unwritten law that rules industrial research and development. It says that you have to demonstrate that your idea can work in no more than three years. In exceptional cases, five years may be the limit but, normally, no industrial research project lasts more than that. If a project produces no useful results in five years, then there are good chances that it never will.

There are several examples of the "three years law" (or, maybe, "five years law").  Think of the Wright brothers: their first glider flew in 1900 and three years later they flew the first engine powered plane in the world. Think of nuclear fission; the Manhattan project was active from 1942 to 1946 and in less than three years it created both the first nuclear bomb and the first nuclear reactor. The law seems to hold independently of the ambition of the project: whether it is a bicycle or a spaceship, it has to show that it can work in a few years.

Conversely, consider the "War on Cancer", launched in 1971 by President Nixon. In more than 40 years, a lot of progress has been made in basic research on cancer, sure, but the war has not been won. Think of hydrogen as fuel. The idea of a "hydrogen based economy" goes back to the 1960s but, so far, nothing practical exists on the market. This kind of long range projects can generate good basic research, but it can hardly produce practical results.

So, let's examine the idea of controlled nuclear fusion in this light. We are still working, mostly, on the "tokamak" concept, proposed in the 1950s by the Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov. There is no doubt that tokamaks can produce nuclear fusions but, in more than 50 years of work, we haven't been able to reach the "breakeven" point, that is the condition when the ratio of the energy produced by fusion is the same as the energy needed to keep the plasma in steady state. The European ITER project on nuclear fusion is supposed to reach and exceed that point when it becomes fully operational in 2026, that is about 20 years after the start of the project. The whole ITER project should last until 2038. These are anomalously long times for an industrial research project. Consider also that, even if ITER attains its goals, we are orders of magnitude away from a device actually able to produce useful energy.

Now, of course, it is impossible to say that tokamaks will never produce useful energy. But look at the figure at the beginning of this post. Doesn't it make you wonder? It looks like we are just making the same machine bigger and bigger, in the hope that, eventually, it will work. Think if a 747 were to look just like the Wright plane, just bigger. It is not impossible to argue that we have taken a no way out road with tokamaks, as discussed in a recent article by Jean Pierre Petit. Other physicists, such as Luigi Sertorio, are also very skeptical about these nuclear fusion efforts.

In short, the ITER project is not an industrial research project: it is a basic research project. Of course, there is nothing wrong in studying nuclear fusion, very high temperature plasmas, and the like. It is good science performed by competent people and we can learn a lot of useful things from this work. And, in doing that, we might even find the way to obtain useful energy. But we can't think of ITER (or similar fusion research efforts) as something directly aimed at solving the world's energy problems.

The problem is that few people may know the "three years law" of scientific research, but there are limits to human patience. From the dawn of the "nuclear age," people have been told that science can solve the world's energy problems with nuclear fusion. But they haven't seen anything that works in 50 years. Now, they are being told that they have to wait for several decades more. At this point, it is not surprising that we see so many people seeking refuge in pseudoscience and in the outright scams of the recent craze on "cold fusion." That's a disaster, because people become easily convinced that there are miracle solutions to the energy problem and they tend to neglect technologies, such as renewables, that are not so glamorous but that do produce energy. But there are no miracles in science and we must do with what we have now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The sinking of the E-Cat

This post is a modified version of a post by the author which appeared in Italian on "NuoveTecnologieEnergetiche"

Above: the cruise ship "Costa Concordia", Italian technological marvel, sunken after hitting a reef in front of the "Giglio" Island in January 2012. Recently, we saw the sinking of another pretended technological marvel from Italy, the cold fusion reactor called "E-Cat;" destroyed by its own contradictions.

It was Captain Kirk of the starship "Enterprise" who said that it is not a good idea to put oneself in a no-win situation. Good advice that was not taken by Mr. Andrea Rossi, inventor of the "E-Cat," the cold fusion device that he claimed to be able to solve the world's energy problems. After having been unable to show that his device produces energy, Mr. Rossi stated that he didn't need any more tests because he could now proceed to market it in millions of pieces. But, in reality, Mr. Rossi had simply placed himself in a no-win situation. The E-Cat is now fast sinking, hit by the contradictions of its inventor.

Let's start with what Rossi himself had declared about his E-Cat. He said that it is based on the fusion of hydrogen and nickel nuclei (see Rossi's patent) and that gamma rays are produced during operation (see here) so that lead shields had to be placed inside the device. Rossi also said that he was building a factory in the United States where he would produce E-Cats by the millions; to be sold as water heaters for people's homes. According to some recent statements by Rossi, the device had been undergoing safety testing for months at Underwriters Laboratory. 

It couldn't go unnoticed in Florida that someone was claiming to be producing nuclear reactors in large numbers. On February 24, an officer of the State of Florida Bureau of Radiation Control went to investigate what was going on in the pretended "E-Cat factory" in Miami. There, he found no factory, but an apartment and Andrea Rossi in person. Questioned on the E-Cat, Rossi declared that "no nuclear reactions occur inside the device." Rossi also stated that all the facilities for testing and production are "overseas," and that safety certification with Underwriters Laboratory will be arranged in the future. The officer then left, writing in his report that his bureau has no jurisdiction over a device which has nothing nuclear inside. (The complete documentation is here, comments can be found here and here. Rossi himself confirmed the story here.)

No matter how we want to see this story, it is clear that Rossi has been victim of his own "no-win" strategy. First, he claimed that he had developed a nuclear device, but he never could provide convincing proof. So he said that he didn't need proof because he could just produce and sell the device - the market would judge it. But if he wanted to produce and sell the device, then he would have to obtain the necessary certifications. And how to obtain the necessary certifications after having declared that the device is based on nuclear reactions and it emits gamma rays? Surely, Rossi's word is not enough to prove that shielding with lead foil is sufficient to remove gamma rays. Maybe there are arcane reasons (as claimed in this paper) that reduce, or even eliminate, gamma ray emission. But just the possibility of such an emission would required extensive investigations and years of work in order to provide the necessary certifications. So, you see? If it is nuclear, Rossi can't sell it. If it is not nuclear, who would buy it? A classic no-win situation. 

In the end, lacking experimental proof, the idea that the E-Cat produces energy rests only on Rossi's statements that say, basically, just "trust me". But after the Florida story, it is clear that this is, also, a no-win strategy. How can you trust Rossi after so many contradictions? Where is the E-Cat factory that he said was in the US and then, no, it is overseas? And where is the safety testing (not) being done? Incidentally, if, hypothetically, the E-Cat were really producing nuclear reactions, we should think of Rossi as a dangerous criminal who lied to the Florida officer about his plans to produce and sell without the necessary safety certifications a device that generates gamma rays. That Rossi can't be trusted has been clearly perceived also by Rossi's supporters, who have been abandoning the sinking ship: for instance Sterling Allan. The University of Bologna had wisely disengaged from Rossi already in January.

So, the E-Cat has reached the end of the line. It still maintains some faithful supporters, but, most likely, it will soon fade away in the darkness of pathological science, where it belongs. There remains a question: how is it possible that so much time and energy has been lost in this incredibly story?  Well, there has to be something wired wrong in the human mind but, at least, from this story we can learn what mistakes we should avoid. As Captain Kirk said, never put yourself in a no-win situation by believing without proof in salvific inventions.

Other posts on the E-Cat story on "Cassandra's Legacy"

The E-Cat loses steam (July 2011)
Peak E-Cat (Dec 2011)
 The Anti-Cassandra Curse (March 2012)
The E-Cat horror (March 2012)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The E-Cat Horror

In a horror movie, when a young lady decides to undress and take a shower while alone in the house, well, you know exactly what's going to happen to her. It is the predictability of horror.  (above, from the 1960 movie "Psycho")

Some things, in life as in fiction, are highly predictable. One of these is the plot of horror movies. As the story moves on, you know exactly the destiny of the young lady who decides to undress and take a shower while alone in the house. And you know exactly what's going to happen to the hapless character who, while exploring the haunted house, says, "Hey! I heard a strange noise coming from the basement. You stay here, I'll go down there to investigate". It is part of the fascination of this kind of movies: rational judgment is suspended as the plot unfolds and you keep watching without asking yourself why exactly those people found themselves at midnight in that cemetery, in the moonlight, while a horde of zombies is approaching.

It is with the same kind of fascination that you may have been watching the plot of the "Energy Catalyser," or "E-Cat" unfold, the weird device that Andrea Rossi claimed to be a nuclear reactor, able to solve all the energy problems of humankind. A real horror movie set in Bologna, Italy, where plenty of hapless characters have been sucked in and metaphorically devoured by the E-Cat horror. The plot has followed all the predictable steps for this kind of stories. First, in January 2011, there was the announcement of the discovery of the home-made nuclear reactor. That attracted plenty of hopeful people looking for a solution for the energy crisis just as, in movies, old haunted houses attract scantly clad young ladies.

Then, the plot moved on, according to well known rules. We saw plenty of scenes in which inventor Andrea Rossi attempted to demonstrate how his device was supposed to produce energy. He looked very much like Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein", while trying to revive the monster (Image by Renzo B, from 22passi: Frankenstein and Igor on the left, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi on the right). And what we heard from Rossi about the innards of his machine sounded very much like the introduction speech about space vampires in the famous movie "Plan 9 from outer space"

Some of the cheap effects of the movie were easy for everybody to detect. Just think of the gas heater used to warm the factory when the nuclear reactor was supposed to do the job alone. Nevertheless, the interest in the movie never waned: with plenty of twists in the plot, evil characters, monsters, conspiracies, mysteries, the military, secret services, and more.

Still, even a good horror movie must end at some moment: after a couple of hours, you go home and you forget about zombies and vampires. So, the E-Cat movie arrived to a close, with recent events leading to the final showdown. The villain has confessed his crime, the secret has been revealed. Is it the end of the E-Cat horror?

Maybe it is the end, but we can't really say. Maybe there will be a sequel. It will have new twists in the plot: most likely, we'll see how the efforts of the savior of mankind have been  thwarted by the evil conspiracy of oil companies or the lobby of renewable energy. The E-Cat horror still lurks in the shadows! 

In case you are interested in the real world, rather than in fiction, you can read an excellent confutation of Andrea Rossi's claims about the E-cat in an article by Antonio Turiel. The recent events, in which Rossi confessed that his device is not a nuclear reactors are described here and here. The complete documentation can be found here. Rossi himself confirmed everything here here.  

h/t to Antonella for providing the inspiration for this post.