Cold Fusion Gets Cold Shoulder (and $200,000 Challenge)


Just over a year ago, two Italian researchers claimed to have found one of the Holy Grails of physics: They said they fused atomic nuclei at room temperature — essentially what is known as cold fusion.

If what researchers Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna claim is true, they have found a cheap, clean, and limitless energy source — possibly even something that could revolutionize space travel.


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They claimed their device produced 12,400 Watts of heat power with an input of just 400 W. In a move that raised eyebrows among research physicists, Rossi and Focardi initially declined to publish their results in a peer-reviewed science journal and instead took their discovery directly to the public. They also claimed that they would be starting mass production of their cold fusion devices by the end of last year; that failed to happen, and the chorus of skeptics has grown louder.

Among the most prominent skeptics is Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, who has offered $200,000 for proof that the Rossi “energy catalyzer” (e-CAT) actually works.

Smith, patron of Australian Skeptics, says, “It would be great if it’s true, but it’s more likely just a misconnection of the power lead. If one of the wires in the three-core power lead was accidentally misconnected, the actual measurements of current witnessed by two Swedish scientists would not be the total power going into the reactor, and there would be an apparent power gain. One of the scientists who observed an earlier test has now agreed this could be so.”

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Smith and a colleague, aerospace engineer Ian Bryce, found that in all six published tests up to July, a misconnected earth lead could funnel in up to 3 kilowatts, thus bypassing the power meters used and accounting for all the measured output power in the form of steam.

Smith issued a simple challenge to the researchers that should settle the mater: They should “recreate the March 2011 demonstration — surely it would only take a couple of hours and have an independent person actually measure the current in each of the wires in the three-wire power cord.”

David E. Thomas is a physicist who has examined free energy and cold fusion claims for years as head of the organization New Mexicans for Science and Reason. Thomas told Discovery News, “Given the background surrounding the dramatic claims for the Rossi e-CAT, and given knowledge of basic physics and thermodynamics, caution about investing in this device is indeed warranted.

“Claims of nuclear reactions, where the only evidence proffered is an increase in power, and not objective data like increased neutron flux, should be treated with caution.”

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Thomas said that Smith’s suggested test to rule out error or fraud in the e-CAT device was a good idea: “The Australian Skeptics’ approach of metering all power leads independently is an excellent method for addressing the question of where the ‘extra’ power is coming from.

“The only reason for Rossi e-CAT to refuse such a test is the knowledge that it will reveal fraud in their alleged over-unity system. If they do not agree to this reasonable verification, investors should become alarmed.”

Will these latest claims of cold fusion hold up under better-controlled tests and revolutionize world energy production? Or will they be just another false promise? Time will tell.

Image credit: Getty Images

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