Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cold Fusion

There has been a lot of talking on the internet about cold fusion in the past six weeks. Once I read about for the first time this year, I has a lot of negative preconceptions about cold fusion. I don't even know where they come from, as they are really old prejudices. Thanks to slashdot though, I became curios. It is now enough to look for cold fusion on Google News to understand what all the fuss is about. Apparently, by the end of the year a new technology to produce energy will enter the market in direct competition with oil and renewable energies. With the simple difference that this is going to be like the democratization of nuclear power.

How can this be and nobody is talking about it? I think an analogy to VoIP technology is good for understanding. VoIP technology has been a reality for maybe more than 10 years. If used correctly, nobody would consider reasonable paying for phone calls at the moment. And yet, most people still do pay or they use a technology called Skype which in my opinion is a step back. I have been using VoIP for over three years now. It looks like a phone, it works like a phone, and yet is as cheap as it can get, i.e., I call regularly over sea and I pay nothing. All the benefits and no compromises.

I believe cold fusion is the same. It is a technology with little market. I believe that the two inventors and their investor, even with their patents, will not make in twenty years what a single oil company makes in a year. Nobody in the business of energy is going to be happy about this. It will be catastrophic, as soon nobody will want to pay for energy. And yet, most people don't want to believe it. Just try to mention the subject at dinner with your friends. How does that make sense? What makes these news about cold fusion legit? I don't have an answer to that question, but I urge people to read about cold fusion on the internet. There is not much scientific evidence against cold fusion, mostly just a lack of economical interest. I find that hardly surprising.

I have been reading the book "Fire from Ice" from Eugene Mallove about the beginning of cold fusion. The picture in the book points to a view of a great lack of understanding of the physics behind cold fusion, which seems to be still present at the moment, together with some clear evidence of it being a scientific reality. Nevertheless, it seems that funding choices were made thirty years ago by few people mainly driven by opinions rather than by scientific facts. I don't find it surprising, as in academia, where fact matters, a lot of decisions are driven by opinions that too often are hard to change even in front of evidence. I do believe that the cold fusion misconception is mainly a direct descendant of the opinion that grew up for forty years before, that fusion was a process only achievable in the way stars achieve it. But nobody ever said that it has to be so.

I believe that big changes in the world lie ahead. I believe that cold fusion is real because this is the most parsimonious explanation of what I read. And I am really curios to see what is going to happen, as this technology is for sure going to upset quite a few people. Carlo Rubbia, Italian nobel prize in physics, said that if cold fusion was real, then God has been really nice with us. Cold fusion is supposedly going to be clean, scalable, and virtually unlimited. Sounds to good to be true. And yet, why not?

When a molecule of methane mixes with two molecules of oxygen, approximately 9eV of energy are released, but when a Nickel atom fuses with a few hydrogen atoms, it releases approximately 35MeV of energy. More than six orders of magnitude of difference. Like applying Moore's law for more than 30 years. We grow believing that energy is something that comes at a high cost, economically and environmentally. But there is no law that says this has to be the case. Let's go beyond the opinions and be ready to believe again.