Successful Cold Fusion/LENR is an Engineering Problem
Achieving successful cold fusion or low energy nuclear reaction is no longer a scientific challenge. Instead as Robert Godes of Brillouin has noted it is basically an engineering problem.
Despite the denials from some in the scientific establishment successful cold fusion reactions have been achieved hundreds perhaps thousands of times by dozens of different people since Pons and Fleischman. Creating a low energy nuclear reaction in a laboratory environment is the easy part even high school students can do it.
The problem is turning this event into a sustained reaction that can be harnessed as a successful power source. That’s the hard part and it is going to take a lot of engineering and a lot of hard work. As I see it there are three basic challenges to transforming LENR from an interesting science experiment into a practical power source. They are:
- Creating a low energy nuclear reaction that can be sustained for long periods of time. By long periods of time I mean weeks or months not just a few hours. Sorry Dick Smith your challenge doesn’t do this.
- Creating a reaction that can be controlled. That means being able to raise and lower the temperature the way you raise and lower the temperature in furnace with a thermostat. It also means being able to turn it on and off when you need it.
- Creating a reaction that can generate enough heat on a sustained basis for industrial, heating and other applications. To generate electricity with LENR you would need to heat water to around 400 degrees Celsius to make steam. You’d have to be able to keep that heat up on a constant basis to have a reliable source of steam to run a turbine to generate electricity.
Three different organizations; Godes’ Brilliouin, Andrea Rossi’s Leonardo Corp and Defkalion, claim to be close to being able to doing these things. Only Rossi has actually has come out in public and demonstrated a prototype that he claimed could achieve some of them. He then withdrew it and went back to the drawing board probably because he couldn’t achieve these things on a constant basis. My guess is that one of these organizations or one of their competitors will solve the problems at some point but it will take longer than some of us would like.
This brings us to another aspect of this dilemma real life as Dilbert cartoonist and brilliant philosopher Scott Adams has noted is not like Star Trek. Engineers are not magicians who can run into the workshop and instantly whip up solutions to problems. History proves that it can take years, decades and even generations of hard work and trial and error to solve engineering problems.
The first automobile was built in Germany in 1886 by Karl Benz. Yet it was over fifteen years before Mercedes was able to sell a crude auto to the public. It took nearly twenty years before Henry Ford was able to mass produce cars that average people could afford. It took nearly fifty years for the auto industry to produce cars that could be used as reliable transportation by the general public.
Computers took even longer to bring to market. The first electronic computer was built at the end of World War II in 1945. It took thirty years of development and engineering to create a personal computer small enough for everyday use. Then another twenty years to develop computers that were reliable and simple enough for the average person to use in his or her daily work.
We should also keep in mind that the engineering problems I mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg. There are probably a million other challenges to generating steam with LENR that I haven’t even thought of.
So what this means is that all the people expecting the UPS driver to deliver their shiny new LENR generator sometime next year are probably going to be disappointed. Cold Fusion is certainly a promising energy technology but it will take a lot more work and far more engineering to bring it to market.