Imagine a heating system that is the size of a melon, yet powerful enough to heat a whole house for half a year, without the need for fuel other than some tiny pulses of power. When the six months have passed, you can keep on heating by just replacing a cartridge with some more metals - roughly the same way you replace ink in an inkjet printer.
The difference is that this «printer» supplies huge amounts of heat. The invention would also be useful in all imaginable industries, from transport to agriculture, without giving rise to climate emissions.
Great interest in the demonstration
These are quite realistic perspectives, if it turns out that Andrea Rossi, who is currently sitting down in front of his reactor on the podium in the Wallenberg Hall in a Stockholm meeting room, is right.
A group of around 70 participants are gathered. At least two are seasoned professors in physics at Swedish universities. A number of investors and other interested parties from several countries crowd the room. Aftenposten is the only major medium invited to the demonstration, regarded as a possible world event by several participants. This is due to the fact that the newspaper is one of the very few mainstream media that have previously covered this research.
It should be impossible
Most physicists believe cold fusion (often called LENR for Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) to be impossible. Today's prevailing physics theories indicate that nuclear fusion requires millions of degrees, and is completely impossible to implement in a small «desktop reactor».
But over the last couple of years, more and more startup companies and research have begun wondering if there is really something completely sensational hidden in nature around us.
And it is not just Aftenposten that covers the story. In January this year, CNN sent a big story covering the technology of the Brilliant Light Power company, which also has a small device that they claim releases energy in the same way as the sun, only their version also fits inside a small reactor that can sit on an ordinary desk. The product should be ready for commercialization in 2019, the company claims. The startup Unified Gravity claims to have a related technology that will also give the world a new, clean energy source. Another company that says they are approaching a solution is Brillouin Energy.
Several similar endeavours
Several physicists have in recent years launched theories about what kind of process this could be. And then we have Andrea Rossi (67), who received a US patent on his technology in 2015. He has been working toward this goal since the 90's.
Now he believes he is in front of the big breakthrough.
On the table in front of him sits a small pot of water. From there, a pipe passes through a pump and into the reactor. He explains that inside are three small, so-called Ecat QXs.
These tiny reactors create heat at 2600 degrees Celsius using plasma, each being the size of a small finger tip.
If the contents of the reactors correspond to his patent, the reactors contain, among other things: Hydrogen, nickel and lithium.
When the metals are supplied with special electric pulses, they immediately develop a fierce heat that is so powerful and so long lasting that it is completely impossible that the reactors can contain chemical fuels such as gasoline.
What he wants to show with the demonstration in Stockholm is simply that he manages to heat the water with the reactors. The goal is to attract resources and expertise enough to develop the technology further, in order for the finished product to reach the market. This would be, according to his plan, the first and last public demonstration before the product is ready for launch.
But first, he must convince the world that what he claims is not just wishful thinking, measurement error or even fraud.
He receives a start signal from the controller present and starts the reactor by pressing a button. The temperature meter that shows the effect of the reactor starts to rise. Slowly, but surely, a pump passes the water past the energy generator.
In an hour, the temperature and the amount of heated water should be registered so that the energy that the experiment generates can be calculated.
The Italian explains what is happening and how a separate test protocol has been set up by others to check that everything is done as it should, and also to ensure that the inventor does not make mistakes himself.
However, Rossi is not willing to show everything. He is afraid that competitors will copy the invention, even though he actually has a patent on it in the United States. On the table there is therefore a white box with unknown content. It is said to contain the electrical pulse control system that activates the reactor.
It is in this box, in addition to in the exact composition of the fuel, that the secret lies.
For an hour, the water trickles out. Aftenposten sticks a finger into the water. At least it´s warmer than it was when going in. We can see that steam condensates. Finally the water is weighed: 1 kg. The external controller, senior engineer William S Hurley, says that for every 1 watt the device used, it produced an amazing 506 watts.
The effect is so huge that if it's real, the energy cost of such a device would be less than a tenth of today's cheapest energy sources. We could clearly be standing ahead of an energy revolution on the level of the discovery of oil - if the measurements are not based on some error.
University researcher believes this is real
But is the experiment credible? Plasma physicist Elisabeth Rachlew of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden is one of those present. She follows closely. The 73-year-old is professor emeritus, but still holds her place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She is currently actively working on research at the European hot fusion experiment JET in the UK. Her subject field is plasma physics - exactly the same as Rossi claims he utilizes.
– I've never seen Rossi's work before, so I thought this was exciting to look at. It was sensational that the device was so small. Some of what he did I know a lot about, and I could see that he did things right, she says. Rachlew thinks there is an energy source on the table.
But is it producing dangerous radiation?
– But it's not as simple as he thinks to exploit it. It seems likely that neutron radiation is created from the experiment. As soon as this is detected and measured, this research will have to be carried out with much stricter security measures. Therefore, I do not think that LENR could be used in small reactors that fit into cars or inside the house of people, says Rachlew.
She believes the main problem with LENR at the moment is that it is far from a commercial product, and that it may take many years before something is ready for use.
Does not dare to talk to Aftenposten
Physics professor Bo Höistad at Uppsala University has been following Rossi for several years, and has been interested in repeating his experiments.
– The potential of the technology is obviously tremendous. But: My task is to show that this experiment really works by repeating it. Replication is not possible because there is too much that is kept hidden. In order to awaken the interest of scientists, he must publish something that can be verified and repeated. There may be an unknown source of energy here, but the truth is that we do not know if that is the case, says Höistad.
Among those who believe that there is something here are the Swedish physics professors Rickard Lundin and Hans Lidgren at the Swedish Institute for Astrophysics in Kiruna. They conclude this in a report: «Applied correctly, this process has the potential to become a huge and virtually unlimited energy source without any long-term radioactive waste.»
The entire LENR field is however extremely controversial, and the Swedish professors clearly represent a minority among physicists. A Norwegian physics professor Aftenposten has been in contact with would not at all not have his (or her) name mentioned in connection with this story, for fear of being associated with the research in one way or another. One important reason may be that the two reputable researchers who claimed to have discovered cold fusion in 1989 got their careers ruined when others failed to repeat the trials immediately.
Another professor does not believe in it
It seems immediately to good to be true that there could exist a relatively simple and environmentally friendly solution to all the world's energy problems. One man who believes that to be the case, and dares to talk about it, is physics professor Dieter Röhrich at the University of Bergen.
He works, among other things, at the particle accelerator CERN. Röhrich has at the request from Aftenposten looked at several of the new theories launched in various parts of the LENR field.
– I see no reason why I should begin researching this field after this demonstration. If this process had been possible at such low temperatures as this allegedly goes on at, we would see it elsewhere in the universe too.
Does not want to say it's nonsense
He points out that, according to one of the theories, neutron radiation should be seen from the experiment.
– Why did not they set a meter so we could see if there was radiation from the experiment? This is trivial to set up. I do not want to say that LENR is just nonsense. I just want to point out that those who believe in it must show us an experiment, of high scientific quality, that can be verified and confirmed. It is the LENR supporters who must convince me and the rest of the physics world, not the other way around, Röhrich points out.
Rossi has his own theory
Obviously, Rossi himself is on the same side as the believing professors when he meets Aftenposten after the experiment is over.
- What do you want to say to those who think that what you demonstrated cannot happen?
– To them I would just like to say that today I have had a public demonstration for the first time, and that it has shown that we have a device that used 0.09 watts and which produced about 20 watts.
In addition, consumption was only cyclical for three seconds at a time before it was turned off for 4 seconds - to avoid overheating. That's basically all I want to say. The numbers are the only thing that matter.
– A major problem in LENR research has been that the process has been unstable. An unstable source of energy can not be sold. How stable do you think that the process is now?
– What I have shown today is the same as I've done every day of the past year. We now experience that the reactor fails in less than one of a million attempts. The result today also showed a lower effect than I usually use. I ran it at 30 percent of full capacity because I would like to be absolutely sure that nothing would go wrong during the demonstration.
Thinks about aircrafts and heating
– How do you look at the development of your technology going forward?
– It is still necessary to improve the control system and get a better cooling of it. Here in Scandinavia you have many central heating systems, and I see them as one of the first applications. Another good application is within turbines. Therefore, both trucks, cars and aircrafts are good targets for the technology. In the field of transport we work to produce electricity via steam and a so-called stirling engine.
– Why did not you set up a meter that could show if the process generates neutrons, as critics wish?
- Our process does not generate neutrons. This is precisely what makes it an anomaly. Therefore, we did not set up a meter. See our theoretical explanation for more about this.
– If it turns out that you are right and you have an opportunity to save the world from a climate disaster, should you not share the it with everyone to speed up the development?
– In the 80's I shared some of my waste recycling patents. It was a big mistake, because the technology was not further developed. Nobody was interested in it. Philosophically, I agree with the idea of sharing, but in reality, you must retain the rights if you want to develop technology, Rossi says.
Aftenposten has previously written several times about cold fusion / LENR (Norwegian)
Read about a Norwegian attempt to develop LENR: Is this the heir of oil?
Several Norwegian professionals became familiar with the
theme at an international seminar.
You should also know this: In the 90s Andrea Rossi ended up in prison in Italy after several charges claimed that he tried to recover waste without the proper permits.
This case is discussed in Mats Lewan's book, «An Impossible Invention» (2014).
Lewan points out that one of the men who lead the prosecution of Rossi was later imprisoned for co-operation with the mafia. Upon Aftenposten´s question, Rossi claims that the case ended with his complete acquittal afterwards. He claims to have posted all the documents of the case at www.ingandrearossi.com