What if there was a way to provide a limitless and environmentally friendly source for generating electricity? For a time, a handful of chemists around the world thought there was; it was called ‘cold fusion’ and its arrival turned out to be a lesson in how not to release research results.
But since this week is the twentieth anniversary of that premature announcement and the American Chemical Society is holding a national symposium called “New Energy Technology” complete with fresh results from experiments in re-branded cold fusion (now known as low-energy nuclear reactions), it might a good time to look back, even as we struggle forward.
The first report on “cold fusion,” presented in 1989 by Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons, was a global scientific sensation. Fusion is the energy source of the sun and the stars. Scientists had been striving for years to tap that power on Earth to produce electricity from an abundant fuel called deuterium that can be extracted from seawater. Everyone thought that it would require a sophisticated new genre of nuclear reactors able to withstand temperatures of tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit.
Pons and Fleishmann, however, claimed achieving nuclear fusion at comparatively “cold” room temperatures — in a simple tabletop laboratory device termed an electrolytic cell.
But other scientists could not reproduce their results, and the whole field of research declined.
Umm… so close, and yet I guess it’s good to know that some chemists haven’t given up on this elusive solution, quite the contrary. I guess when you spend most of your adult lifetime thinking about something wonderful and it just doesn’t work, no matter how logical it seems, I guess you’re powerless to convince yourself to give up on it.
Okay… if you were not made uncomfortable with the direction of that last statement, I politely suggest that you are spending too much time in front of the screen with the blue glow.