Is Cold Fusion Making a Resurgence?

I recently stumbled on a video about Cold Fusion. It struck me as overblown and absurd with serious CT overtones.

There was a reference to a series of talks given at MIT, so I checked them out. (LINK to the ~3 hour opening lecture; there are three days worth of lectures on this topic.)

Everything after about the first Power Point slide was beyond me. I simply have no way to judge if this is corny Conspiracy Theory or one of those cases where the mainstream scientific establishment labelled a divergent theory as “crackpot” and rejected it too quickly.

The basic Wiki and related articles still label Cold Fusion as a rejected concept. A search of the SDMB turned up only indirect references.

So, is Cold Fusion making a resurgence? If so, is it yet another CT returning from debunking hell, or is it valid? If it is valid, will I really get my flying car, finally, or is this more of a “lab discovery” with very little practical world impact.

Cold fusion never had a surgence in the first place. Now, as then, if anyone wants to be taken seriously on the topic, they need to show some actual results, which nobody ever has.

The makers of the video lost me as soon as they mentioned that it was the fault of the media by doing a witch hunt against Pons and Fleischmann, in reality the media did go with a lot of optimistic articles but it was when other researchers could not replicate or find the excess heat and other reactions that Pons ans Fleishman reported that the a backlash took place.

As for the research going on, even the most optimist ones that claim that there is an effect there can not avoid running into the problem of the practical use part.

Does CT mean conspiracy theory? Not all things that are false are conspiracy theories, you know. (And, come to that, not all theories to the effect that there is a conspiracy afoot are false.) If someone is saying that the only reason we haven’t got cold fusion is that The Man is suppressing information about it, then that is a conspiracy theory, in the bad sense, I guess. Is that what some people are saying? It is funny how these conspiracies are always so bad at shutting down people’s YouTube channels, though.

Otherwise, what Chronos said.

You don’t need more than a high-school science education to understand why cold fusion (at least the electrochemical variety) is very unlikely.

Calculate the electrostatic repulsion between two protons located about the width of a helium nucleus apart, using Coulomb’s Law. To find the equilibrium temperature needed for the protons to have that much kinetic energy (so when they smash into each other they can overcome the electrostatic repulsion and get close enough for the strong nuclear force to make them fuse), set the energy you get equal to kT, where k is Boltzmann’s constant and T is the temperature in kelvins. You can convert to degrees Celsius if you want, but the answer won’t change much.

One of the reasons the business persists among people who aren’t actual quacks is that there is a bit of a workaround: if you can somehow screen the electrostatic repulsion so it’s much shorter range – not less strong, mind you, but just dies off fast – then you can get the protons at a low temperature close enough that one can tunnel through the barrier. (This is sort of the reverse of radioactive decay, in which an alpha particle tunnels out of the nucleus at temperature far lower than would be required to overcome its attraction, via the strong force, to the rest of the nucleons. This works because the strong force intrinsically has a very short range.)

So how could you shorten up the range of the electrostatic force? A well-known process is electrostatic screening, which happens when opposite charges get between similar charges. The obvious example is a hydrogen (H2) molecule. In this case, two protons are located quite close to one another, such that their mutual electrostatic repulsion would make them fly apart at high speed. But between them are two electrons, and these two electrons ‘screen’ the repulsion between the protons. The physical process is that the two protons are mutually attracted to the electrons.

Can you get negative particles between protons, to screen the repulsion sufficiently to let tunneling take over? Not if you use electrons – we already know how close electrons can get protons, and the answer is the H2 bond length, which is not close enough to allow significant tunneling. (It does happen, however; every now and then an H2 molecule will collapse into an He atom when one proton tunnels into the other.) However, if you use much heavier negative particles – the classic case is negative muons – then you can get the protons much closer. So in fact there is such a thing as muon-catalyzed cold fusion: a stream of muons will form hydrogen-like “molecules” consisting of two protons and two muons, and the two protons will be close enough that one tunneling into the other is fairly common. So you have fusion, and at room temperature. The problem with this is that muons radioactively decay quickly, and can generally only be made by high-energy nuclear reactions, e.g. a nuclear reactor.

There are other approaches: you don’t have to rely on merely heating the protons to get them to the required velocity: you could, for example, accelerate them with an electric field. A potential difference of a megavolt should do the trick nicely. But how do you collect and direct through your apparatus enough of them to make macroscopic amounts of energy? You can also rely on the tiny fraction of protons that, in any room-temperature equilibrium, are already moving at fast enough speeds. Generally, it’s no real trick to make a few dozen H atoms per second fuse – and it gets you no noticeable amount of energy. The trick is to get 10^20 H atoms (milligrams of hydrogen) to fuse per second – now we’re talking power you can sell to the grid. So far, nobody has thought of a way other than simple heating plus compression (the compression makes collisions between the H atoms happen much more often, compensating for a low probability of fusion on each collision).

It doesn’t seem impossible that someone could figure out some clever nanotech way to manipulate protons to make them fuse. But what does seem unlikely is that anyone is going to do it with a macroscopic approach, like putting the hydrogen into an electrochemical cell. Pretty much by definition, any macroscopic approach has the system in thermodynamic equilibrium, and in thermodynamic equilibrium the rate of fusion is necessarily miniscule. Cold fusion can only be accomplished by some highly nonequilibrium process.


Also yes. But the linked video indicated that there “might” be an explanation (for the ignorance of Cold Fusion) in the vast wealth accumulated by the CEOs of certain energy companies.

There were those who never gave up believing that one flawed experiment “proved” CF existed. Just like there are those who still argue vociferously that a UFO crashed at Roswell and that Uri Geller bent spoons right in front of their eyes. Dressing up the old arguments with new woo-speak doesn’t make them any more true.

Thank you for that! I often don’t know even basic search terms.

I will note that one approach mentioned is ‘nano.’ (Sorry, I don’t remember the term.) …the idea being to expose surface area…

I get what you’re saying, but I don’t see the ‘woo-speak’ you mention. I would miss it, because I am not physicist, but where is it in a lecture like THIS? (I don’t expect anyone to watch even a half-hour lecture to find inaccuracies, but if they are total bunk, I suspect they are immediately apparent.)

“Nano” is the word of the hour. If something is proven conclusively impossible using known tech, then some form of nanotech must be able to get around that limitation.

I’m not a physicist. But CF was clearly based on one anomalous event very, very likely caused by a short in the probes. Since it has never been replicated, with or without nano tech… I don’t think increasingly elaborate arguments add anything to the debate.

Cold Fusion is an excellent product! I use it daily!
(Cold Fusion is a web development platform specialized for database query and reporting.)

What the hell kind of high school did *you *go to? I got out of high school physics with a 107 average, and while I’ve heard almost every word you used in that paragraph, I have no idea what they mean when you string 'em together like that.

Granted, it’s been almost thirty years since I went to school, but still…

I use a Christian Science Monitor in my backyard to be sure atheists aren’t sneaking up on me!

Popular Science keeps featuring articles on CF and never outright says it’s impossible.

Not the PopSci that says Moller’s AirCar is going to be on sale in a few years… every few years… since about 1968?

I can not reproduce this result.

The lack of great wealth of physicists falsifies this, since if it were possible the inventor would be rich enough so that the energy company CEOs would be coming to her for a loan.
CF was a great example of science at work. The discoverers with their wishful thinking neglected to consider all the reasons they could have gotten their results, and others not so starry-eyed were unable to reproduce it.

There was an initial surgence. On the first day, Edward Teller was quoted on national TV saying it might not be false. There was a great deal of excitement, among physicists and the general public. Fleischmann was a world renowned electrochemist, not known for flaky science. Most physicists were highly skeptical, but followed the daily news with great interest. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both published articles about cold fusion every day, for months (in my recollection). We all wanted to believe it was true. I thought it would only take a few days to confirm or refute it. The results (published in haste) were calorimetry measurements showing only a tiny effect, but big enough that the radioactive particles would be easy to see. In a few days, it became clear that the authors were claiming two simultaneous miracles: 1) cold fusion, 2) look Ma, no neutrons. That is when I knew it was bunk.

The field followed the classic pattern described by Irving Langmuir in his decades-earlier seminar about “Pathological Science.” Belief peaked quickly, then tapered away very slowly; so 25+ years later, there are still people who believe it.

Probably? I haven’t see any of those articles, though.

I have a high-school science education.

I have absolutely no earthly idea what you just said.