We need more POWAAAAH!

Cold Fusion: Future of physics or phoney? (Wired UK).

Today is set to be the start of a new era of cheap power, as a new type of low-cost nuclear reactor goes live in front of an audience of scientists and media representatives in Bologna. Once the mystery customer who commissioned the device has confirmed that it really is producing one megawatt, they’ll pay the developer, Andrea Rossi.

Unless, of course, it all goes horribly wrong.

Rossi’s “energy catalyser” or E-Cat is based on a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction which produces vast quantities of energy from a few grams of hydrogen. Otherwise known as Cold Fusion, it’s a field largely shunned by mainstream physicists. Rossi’s work may have a significant number of followers, but  it’s still extremely controversial and some critics accuse him of outright fraud.

A demonstration earlier this month in Bologna with a smaller E-Cat was intended to answer some of the criticisms. Previously, Rossi had used the E-Cat to produce steam; this has led to arguments about the measurement method used to determine the weight and temperature of the steam. In a demonstration on 6 October, an E-Cat with a heat exchanger warmed a quantity of water. After initial electrical input from an external source, the E-Cat ran in “self-sustaining” mode for three and a half hours.

Just that. I really hope this works, because energy is the foundational bedrock to everything. That, and would really like to not have to pay for electricity.

What’s funny about me reading this article is that not two minutes earlier I was reading this on Life’s Little Mysteries about the challenges we face with rising energy costs:

Future energy

Currently, there isn’t enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. This means that humans will be forced to turn to a new energy source before the end of the century. However, it’s a mystery what that new source will be.

“Energy is the basic resource which underlies every other,” said Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. “And actually, technology is not quite ready to solve the [energy] problem. We know there’s plenty of energy in solar, in nuclear, in carbon itself — in fossil carbon — for probably 100 or 200 years (if we are willing to clean up after ourselves and pay the extra to make that happen). But none of these technologies are quite ready. Solar has its problems and is still too expensive.”

Carbon storage — a technology that prevents carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned — is still on the drawing board, though it looks possible, he added. “And lastly, nuclear energy: if we were betting on that, we may have just lost that one,” Lackner said, referring to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year.

“Let me just give you a feeling how big today our energy consumption is: In New Jersey, the energy consumption exceeds the photosynthetic productivity of the same area if it were left pristine,” Lackner said. “We have to have technology help us out. I am optimistic … that the technologies can be developed to solve these problems … but I am a pessimist because we lack the societal structures which would enable us to employ these technologies, and we could very well fall on our own faces.”

In short, the future will match one of these two pictures: Either some new, superior form of energy extraction (such as highly efficient solar panels) will be widespread, or the technology, or its implementation, will fail, and humanity will face a major energy crisis.

Assuming that this project goes well, I think we’ll be in good hands. Cheap energy for all. It will certainly revolutionize the entire world, and all of our preconceptions will have to change. For one thing, with this new source of power, I doubt the Middle East will be anywhere near as important for US interests in the future. Goodbye, OPEC. Since energy would also be drastically cheaper, expect shipping costs to go down, as well as damn near the costs of everything (since you need energy to manufacture new items.) I can’t even begin to think of what other things would change, either.

This, of course, assuming it all works, and doesn’t, yanno, blow up in your face.