A new controversial energy source, the cold fusion reaction, has been making the scientific community fall off their horses for a while now. While some sceptics think of it as pseudo-science, others actually think of it as the revolutionary solution to the world’s problems.
Fusion is a very old process by which the universe has been illuminating its dark recesses since as long as time began. The way we humans have explored it so far, nuclear fusion is a process happening at a very high temperature, in which two nuclei merge into a heavier one releasing a lot of energy and ionising radiation. Here, high temperatures is the key, since these reactions mostly occur in the core of stars. For such a reaction to initiate, a lot of heat is required.
Cold fusion, it is claimed, is a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) that surprisingly requires no initial radioactive material (unlike nuclear fission, the technology behind nuclear reactors and atom bombs), no high temperature or pressure conditions and it does not release any ionising radiation (unlike nuclear fission or fusion). The basic underlying principle being transmutation of nickel to copper through hydrogen atoms. Transmutation is changing the atom of one element to another either by nuclear reaction or radioactive decay. A person familiar with basic high school physics would tell you that two hydrogen nuclei would under normal circumstances repel each other. The reason why hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium in the sun’s core is due to the extreme temperature and pressure prevailing there. Read more about cold fusion intro and cold fusion and the future.
Andrea Rossi, an Italian inventor who has a Doctor’s Degree in Philosophy from Milan University 1975 claims, that he has devised an energy catalyzer that can create energy from the fusion of nickel and hydrogen using the energy provided by the mains supply and under a pressure of 25 atm (read more here). However, Andrea Rossi has not been able to prove his claims. On a blog on scienceblogs.com, Ethan Seigal explores the physics behind why Rossi might be bluffing. In his words,
If you want to create copper from any of these elements by adding a proton (hydrogen nucleus) to them, here are the reactions you’re looking for:
- 58Ni + 1H → 59Cu*,
- 60Ni + 1H → 61Cu*,
- 61Ni + 1H → 62Cu*,
- 62Ni + 1H → 63Cu*,
- 64Ni + 1H → 65Cu*.
That doesn’t look so prohibitive, does it? Of course, there is the fact that you’ve got to overcome the tremendous Coulomb barrier (the electrical repulsion between nickel and hydrogen nuclei), which — according to our knowledge of nuclear physics — requires temperatures and pressures not found naturally anywhere in the Universe. Not in the Sun, not in the cores of the most massive stars, and (to the best of our knowledge) not even in supernova explosions!
You can read the entire blog here.
However, despite the lack of a formal scientific explanation supporting cold fusion, it is happening nonetheless. Andrea Rossi has pushed E.Cat into production. So unless Rossi has found the Philosopher’s Stone, or a tech stolen from the future its difficult to explain how he is doing it.