47) Catalytic Fusion

Ludwik Kowalski (March 17, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

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Selected articles on cold fusion, from the "Infinite Energy" magazine, can be downloaded from:


You can find a 1998 interview with Martin Fleischmann and the description of the catalytic fusion, the so-called "Case effect." It is named after Dr. Les Case from New Hampshire. Let me summarize briefly this interesting effect. Case is a chemical engineer who searched and found a catalyst to sustain cold fusion. His approach is not based on electrolysis and it promises to be very efficient. The catalyst is commercially available "activated carbon doped with precious metals such as palladium."

About 50 grams of that material were placed in a closed vessel into which hydrogen gas was introduced. The material was heated at a constant rate to keep the constant temperature of 180 degrees C. Then, without changing the rate of heating, the hydrogen gas was replaced by deuterium. The temperature started to rise till the level of 215 degrees was reached, after about three days. That temperature remained constant for many weeks. The author interprets this rise of temperature as an indication of fusion of deuterium nuclei into helium nuclei. What else can be responsible for the fact that the temperature of deuterium is 35 degrees higher than in ordinary hydrogen? Neither the amount of gas nor the geometry were changed? The rate of heating the catalyst was also the same in two cases.

At the end of the experiment the deuterium gas was removed from the vessel and subjected to an analysis. It was found to contain helium. No helium was present in the gas before it was processed. The concentration of helium, after about one month of processing, turned out to be 11 ppm. This is significantly higher than the concentration of helium in air (5.2 ppm). If the initially pure gas were contaminated with 10% of air, which is highly unlikely, then the amount of helium would be 0.52 ppm. This is is about 20 less that what was actually measured. The author, a chemical engineer working in his basement laboratory in New Hampshire, wrote: "My objective always has been not to play around scientifically, because I am not a physicist, but to head toward commercialization." Then he elaborated on what would it take to make practical generators, first at the domestic 5 kW level and than at the level of 100 MW power plants.

A scientist from the SRI (Stanford Research International) laboratory, Michael McKubre, worked with Case equipment and used his own high resolution mass spectrometer (able to distinguish 4He from 4D2). After confirming accumulation of helium he makes a classical "scientific method" attempts to justify it presence by trivial factors, such as leakage or contamination. Failing to do this he arrives to a conclusion that helium is really PRODUCED in the chamber: McKubre wrote: “If we observe helium in our experiments it’s either because it leaked in from the atmosphere—we can rule that out by the blanks that we do and the fact that the helium signal that we have seen is larger than the helium in the ambient. It’s possible that the helium preexisted in the sample and was simply released to the gas phase with long term exposure. We can rule that out largely because we’ve analyzed the catalyst that we’re using and found that it contains no measurable levels of helium. The only possibility that remains, and remains to be checked, is that the helium is produced by a nuclear process. “ Is this analysis an example of pathological science? I do not think so; everything that I read in the article seems to be 100% scientific. On what basis could this serious and careful investigation of McKubre be accused to be pseudoscientific?

The scientist also makes an attempt to correlate the amount of helium produced with the amount of the excess heat generated. Expectations are not hard to formulate. It is well known the energy released from 2D+2D-->4He fusion is 23.8 MeV. In hot fusion this energy appears in the form of gamma rays, in cold fusion it seems to appear in the form of heat. That is one of the mysteries of cold fusion. Assuming the excess heat is generated at the level one watt, and using the above 23.8 MeV value, one can easily show that 2.62*1014 atoms of helium must be produced in each second. McKubre recognizes that his apparatus was not actually built to do very accurate calorimetry. But it is good enough to say that the rate of helium production is roughly consistent with what is expected. He plans to build a better apparatus and to return to this subject in the future. Is this pathological science? I do not think so. It is interesting to speculate how would cold fusion be received by the scientific establishment if Fleischmann and Pons did not announce the discovery of excess heat till the evidence for the commensurable amount of helium could be demonstrated.

The McKubre does not go away from recognizing weaknesses that must be overcome in order to convince skeptics that the effect is real. He wrote: ”One of the difficulties in the cold fusion field is the apparent lack of reproducibility of experiments: many people performing the same experiment get apparently different results; different experiments performed in the same laboratory give apparently different results. So it’s obvious that if you do the same thing you must always get the same result. What this is telling us is that there are some important parameters of our experiments that are not under our control. Some of them I know and understand, and still [we] can’t control some of these parameters we don't know about yet. We just don’t know what the process is that we are studying, so we don’t know what parameters we need to control in order to yield a consistent result. An experiment which always gives the same result --can be performed in several different laboratories to yield the same result -- would be very valuable to us, in part in helping to convince the remaining skeptical scientists in the world that there is a phenomenon to observe. But, in fact, in order to use the scientific method to observe scientific results, we have to be able to reproduce the results of our own experiments so that we can see what the effects of small changes are on these experiments.”

How does this differ from an investigation in so-called “mainstream science?” Preliminary results are always tentative and additional studies are conducted to reach the desirable level of control. After describing his investigations McKubre refers to another very convincing illustration of cold fusion. He describes the work of two Japanese scientists, Arata and Zhang, who also observed accumulation of helium in a very different experiment. McKubre does not hide the fact that this very sophisticated experiment was performed only in one laboratory in Japan.

He writes: “what we are attempting to do here is to produce their same results with their apparatus and with their help. This is a collaborative effort between Arata and Zhang and the SRI group, to produce in our laboratory the same results as they have obtained repeatedly over the years, which would indicate that we have some degree of mastery over the experiment. The experiment that we have running here, in fact, is relatively young; it hasn’t been operating for very long. One of the difficulties with Arata’s experiment is that it requires many, many months to produce a result, and quite literally we’re not very experienced with Arata’s methods, so we’ve had some difficulty getting his experiment set up and operational. Certainly, it’s caused me to have an increased level of respect for Arata and Zhang’s technical competence. They are very, very good scientists. Within a month or two, we hope to have reproduced their experiment faithfully and reproduced their result. And the benefit will be in part sociological. We will demonstrate that an experiment can be transported from laboratory to laboratory and yield the same result. It will also give us something that we can do again ourselves and define somewhat the parameter space in which these experiments yield excess heat and, apparently, helium-3 and helium-4.”

Why are experiments of that caliber not evaluated, or criticized, by those who decided, in 1989, as rapidly as possible, that cold fusion is “pathological science?” I view the Japanese experiment as a hybrid between electrochemistry and catalytic fusion. The palladium cathode in their experiment is not a rod, as in many electrochemical setups, but a thin walled vessel whose walls are penetrated by D atoms. The space inside the palladium vessel contains tiny grains of palladium power. Production of helium presumably occurs on the surface of palladium grains. A high resolution mass spectrometer was used to analyze the gas accumulating inside the vessel. The system is designed to establish a correlation between the excess heat and the amount of helium produced. Results are said to be highly reproducible. But the results must be reproducible by all qualified scientists, at least at the level of 20% accuracy, in order to become a firm proof of the reality of cold fusion.

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