Join 3,375 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Hell or Cold Fusion
August 9, 2011 9:03 PM   Subscribe

New Italian documentary updating Rossi's cold fusion claims (subtitles), featuring most of the scientists vouching for the process.

Additionally, it was recently announced that Francesco Piantelli, the discoverer of the nickel-hydrogen low-energy nuclear reaction, has resumed progress in the wake of Rossi's patent and planned industrialization of the process. Focardi was Piantelli's former collaborator, who is now working with Rossi. Only Rossi knows the secret catalyst that raises the heat output of Piantelli's invention from modestly low to explosively high (reportedly). NASA has acknowledged Rossi's visit and their full attention. Additional updates:

E-cat news which features background and current progress. Sign-up for bulletins.

Nytechnic's test of the device.

Someone's blog with lots of other links.

Rossi's own Journal of Nuclear Physics, where he answers questions, with warm regards.

An Italian blogger who has followed the device from the beginning and interviews the key players. (The current page addresses a counter-claim. See translate button.)

Note that the controversy is currently white hot in the comment sections. Naysayers can view critic Steven Krivit's video, to see the steam coming out of a tube that wasn't dry enough to convince him. On the other hand, hope is free for awhile, and if we're lucky, gasoline will once again become a cleaning solvent on the shelves of hardware stores.

Previously discussed on Metafilter (follow the tags or see below).
posted by Brian B. (47 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a general rule of thumb, "scientists" who publish their results (minus their own "secret ingredients", of course) in their own self-published "journals" are not to be trusted. Also, promises of enormous profits, imminent industrial applications and paradigm-changing advances are not to be trusted. We have been down this road way too many times.

The heart of pathological science lies not in atoms or quarks, but in the psychology of the human mind. Italy and Greece have fallen on hard times recently and people are clamoring for some uplifting news. Something to boost their prestiege. Something to be proud of again.

And why shouldn't they? We all need something to be proud of. But tabletop fusion (or whatever these guys are calling it) is not it. Nuclear physics isn't like the early days of chemistry or electricity where a clever man with a bit of dedication and elbow grease can make inventions that change the world in the comfort of his parlor. We are past that stage in human development. It's time to grow up.
posted by Avenger at 9:27 PM on August 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


Where is the patent?
posted by mullingitover at 9:44 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


...for days they had one of these cells, a small cell, producing in the 10 to 15 kW range which is far more than enough to boil water for tea. And they say this is weak interaction, it’s not fusion.
Huh. So they're not actually claiming to have cold fusion, but something using the weak nuclear force.

Anyway, I love this sort of thing. If it works, yay! If it fails, at least the public relations flameout will be interesting.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:45 PM on August 9, 2011


Oh, yes. The Rossi who spent time in prison for defrauding investors in an energy scheme? DEFINITELY LEGIT.
posted by atrazine at 9:46 PM on August 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


We all need something to be proud of.

That reminds me, Fleischmann is very pleased.
posted by Brian B. at 9:48 PM on August 9, 2011


Watching Rossi's video , I was extremely disappointed that he never once said, "Laugha while you can monkeyboy."
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:48 PM on August 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


Watching Rossi's video , I was extremely disappointed that he never once said, "Laugha while you can monkeyboy."

De overthrrruster is-a mine.
posted by hanoixan at 9:52 PM on August 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


*points to Poet_Lariat* Don't you see him? There, evil pure and simple by way of the 8th dimension!
posted by snwod at 10:03 PM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is this an appropriate time to say, "And we'll never hear about this again"?

Or will everyone ride the controversy train a little bit longer before disappearing into the dust?
posted by subversiveasset at 10:08 PM on August 9, 2011


Where is the patent?

Italy.
posted by Brian B. at 10:10 PM on August 9, 2011


Blue Blaze Irregular #73 reporting from The Peoples Republic-free Free Republic of Cascadia and Trees, sirs, because I think I heard something suspicious!

What's all this going on, then? Is it a hoe-down or a hootenanny?

I want to believe.
posted by loquacious at 10:12 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look, folks, big science ain't that hard. 1. submit exhaustive description of experiment and results to peers; 2. wait for disinterested third party to analyze your results and reproduce them. 3. trumpet claim in journals, magazines, and newspapers. If you skip either of the first two steps, you ain't doing big science: you're doing a stage show.
posted by introp at 10:14 PM on August 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yeah, so many red-flags. It may indeed work, and I hope so. But I'm not optimistic, and I know a bit of Teh Physics.

The thing is...why all the showmanship? Why the videos and the press releases?

It boils down to this. There are two good ways a revolutionary idea proves itself.
-Commercial: If it Already Works, then you build it you sell it we buy it. This is the most common and most successful path. You don't have to (and you shouldn't) give a damn what the scientific community thinks. Keep it a secret. If it's charging priuses (Prii? Priem?) at $0.02/kwh, nobody cares if your secret catalyzer is made of kittens . But you have to actually build and run it.

-Scientific: If it doesn't already work enough for industry but might be huge with work, then you need more time more money more brains. So you open up and you appeal to the scientific community to validate and pursue the subject. That means you gotta play by science-rules. That means no secret-kittens in the reactor, and it means no dodging science questions by saying "oh it will be proven by industrial demonstration" (which, conveniently, were recently derailed).

Rossi is playing a half-and-half game. He refers the scientists to pending industrial demonstrations without giving them answers, but yet still cries foul that he's being given the cold-shoulder by the scientific community. And industry is not too impressed either. Why all they delays? I'm no energy company - but if I possessed a single working 20kW surplus LENR reactor, I'd be selling energy back to the grid WITHIN THE WEEK.

My take: this is the standard dog-and-pony show of the charlatan.
posted by TomStampy at 10:17 PM on August 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


Well, that and I have a hard time trusting a scientist who sits there with an unlit pipe to gesture with in one hand and a pencil in the other like a puppet.
posted by loquacious at 10:19 PM on August 9, 2011


I demand a cut!
posted by CarlRossi at 10:20 PM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The whole posing in front of an array of commercially available bench equipment with fancy graphs up on your flat panel on it is pretty cheesy, too.

BEHOLD! SCIENCE!
posted by loquacious at 10:21 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everything about this screams "scam".
posted by mr_roboto at 10:25 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting. A convincing critic's primary objection of this device appears to be that Rossi is not actually measuring how much water is actually being converted to steam. The critic believes that a significant amount of water may be simply flowing down the drain tube, not as steam, and thus the alleged energy machine's device's output could be off by an order of magnitude or more. Rossi apparently has not and will not use a measurement technique called condensing calorimetry that would accurately measure the actual amount of steam produced.

So.... no overthruster for you.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:28 PM on August 9, 2011


The Italian navigator has crashed short of the runway.
posted by jamjam at 10:32 PM on August 9, 2011


I demand to see Rossi's electricity bills for the last 5 years.
posted by vidur at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2011


hah. Loquacious, while I agree with you, I can tell you from experience it's not the scientists choice. Producers/directors/filmers/whatnot put you in absurd positions over and over. They love cheesy. And you have no idea/control over what even makes it into final cut. For camera, I've written math on a window with a grease-pen - and I'm not even a theorist!
posted by TomStampy at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


First I'd heard of this, and after reading TomStampy's derailed link, I'm pretty sure I want my 40 minutes back, entertaining shaggy-dog story though it was.

If you're a free energy con man, what's your endgame in a scam like this? Plastic surgery and a secluded mansion in the Bolivian jungle? How can you expect this to end well?
posted by mumkin at 12:36 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


It must be pointed out that Andrea Rossi has, to put it mildly, some previous form. Before cold fusion "Low Energy Nuclear Reaction" , he "invented" a method for allegedly converting waste into oil, which ended up with some 50,000 metric tonnes of toxic waste dumped all over Northern Italy (probably inspiring this novel) and a truck with 2 metric tonnes of gold of dubious provenance intercepted by Italy's "Guardia di Finanza". After a spell in jail, he emigrated to the US (I wonder how he got his visa, considering his conviction) and "invented" a thermoelectric element supposedly three times as efficient as anything before. That tanked as well: most of the elements he supplied for testing didn't work at all, and those which worked had a drastically lower efficiency than the competition.

Add to that the fact that the paternity for his current "invention" is disputed by Piantelli, and that Rossi's engineering "degree" is from an infamous diploma mill, and you get the full picture: if something seems too good to be true, then it generally is too good to be true.

Ah, lest I forget: if Rossi's device really depends on a "secret catalyst", then his pending patent application isn't worth the paper that it's written on. To be valid, a patent must disclose the invention sufficiently to enable the skilled person to reproduce it. If Rossi hasn't disclosed the catalyst, then the patent, if it is ever issued, is more likely than not to be invalid.
posted by Skeptic at 1:06 AM on August 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


Also, there's a granted Italian patent, but getting a national patent in Italy is just a matter of filing the papers: there's no actual examination of patentability. Rossi is currently attempting to get a European and a US patent but the full examination is still to be performed.
posted by Skeptic at 1:20 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those with enough patience and curiosity may like to check Moletrap, a forum initially set up to discuss the remarkably similar (in form if not in detail) claims of Steorn, the Irish free energy lot with their rotating coil-and-magnet show. As that ran out of steam, discussions naturally turned to other extant entertainments of which Rossi's has currently the highest profile.

But it is all tiresomely familiar. Huge uncheckable claims that endlessly morph, larded about with non-disclosure and tomorrow-jam; appeals to science with a toddler's grasp of narrative, logic and consistency; the rolling-out of supportive experts who can't back up their enthusiasm; fearsomely enthusiastic fans who deploy sarcasm while patronising critics as scaredy-cats who can't encompass the Awesomeness of the Breakthrough; and a central showman who forever skips ahead while laughing and farting and waving a bladder on a stick.

It's more medieval theology and court jestering than anything post-Enlightenment, and the attentive will find plenty of examples of other 'commercial' endeavours with the same modus operandi over the past few years. Tech has its share: Silk Road and its amazing multi-polarized photons, xG and its astonishing wireless data encoding that broke the Shannon limit (oddly, five years of its history trying to sell this with no products, no testable demonstrations and no cogent physics has been removed from its site and from its Wikipedia page, now it's selling something else), and... well, there are plenty more.

There is a story here, but it's about the perpetual appeal -- and marketability -- of pseudoscience.
posted by Devonian at 1:31 AM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Huh. So they're not actually claiming to have cold fusion, but something using the weak nuclear force."
You'd expect something involving the weak force to have protons changing to neutrons or something - quarks changing flavours. Stuff like beta decay. Adding a proton to nickel to make it copper is obviously not that. It'd be cold fusion by definition, and have to involve the strong force, wouldn't it?

Regardless, I don't believe it either, for all the reasons above and probably more I could think of if I wanted to devote the energy to thinking about it, which I don't.
posted by edd at 1:35 AM on August 10, 2011


Those with enough patience and curiosity may like to check Moletrap, a forum initially set up to discuss the remarkably similar (in form if not in detail) claims of Steorn, the Irish free energy lot with their rotating coil-and-magnet show. As that ran out of steam...

Heh.
posted by spectrevsrector at 1:53 AM on August 10, 2011


Thankfully I put all my alternative energy money on Joseph Newman back in the 1980s and I'm rich, beautiful, and fart rainbows as a result.
posted by maxwelton at 2:19 AM on August 10, 2011


Can you say Orbo?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:39 AM on August 10, 2011


Dr. Rossi, may I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional cold fusion breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined.
posted by Zonker at 4:52 AM on August 10, 2011


"while laughing and farting and waving a bladder on a stick."

I'm currently looking for a new job, and this will be my new interview technique.
posted by Mcable at 5:01 AM on August 10, 2011


According to this link his previous business venture resulted in 56 trials. He brags that he was found innocent in 51 of them.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:02 AM on August 10, 2011


Nobody's actually claiming it is cold fusion. It is a "weak interaction" based on the standard model of quantum mechanics. It isn't cold, and it isn't fusion.
posted by Shike at 6:10 AM on August 10, 2011


It is, however, weak.
posted by ardgedee at 6:11 AM on August 10, 2011


Shike, he is claiming to transmute nickel into copper.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:14 AM on August 10, 2011


It works much better if you substitute mayonnaise for the salad oil.

Also: what no N-rays? Where is Robert Wood when you need him?
posted by warbaby at 6:16 AM on August 10, 2011


an unlit pipe to gesture with in one hand and a pencil in the other

BEHOLD! SCIENCE!
posted by gjc at 6:21 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


for days they had one of these cells, a small cell, producing in the 10 to 15 kW range which is far more than enough to boil water for tea.

If they had that, they've already won. 10-15kW is small house-powering range (A US house with a 100A feed has 24kW max draw.) Assume that small means one cubic meter. Two of these, so 2mx1mx1m (6'x3'x3') powers a house.

That's in the range to work -- not in cities, but anywhere else, sure? It's not quite at car level -- you'd want 50kW/m3 at least, and preferably over 100kW, but 15kW is ~75 HP, and given that you don't need a transmission or a drive train (motors at wheels) and avoid those losses, and the much different torque curve of electric motors, you'd be surprised at how well 75HP would move a car. The big question, of course, is weight -- if the cell/motor combo weighs less than the engine/tranny/drivetrain you're replacing, that's a performance gain as well.

So, on the basis of that statement, I don't believe them. If they truly had something on the order of a cubic meter putting out 10-15kW, they wouldn't be trying to get published, they'd be working on scaling up production to make a truly stupid amount of money.
posted by eriko at 7:47 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nobody's actually claiming it is cold fusion. It is a "weak interaction" based on the standard model of quantum mechanics. It isn't cold, and it isn't fusion.
posted by Shike at 6:10 AM on 8/10
[+] [!]


It's worse than that. It's alchemy.
posted by Avenger at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shike: so he's not suggesting proton+Ni->Cu, but some sort of induced beta decay?

Not leaving me any more convinced.
posted by edd at 8:40 AM on August 10, 2011


2. wait for disinterested third party to analyze your results and reproduce them. 3. trumpet claim in journals, magazines, and newspapers. If you skip either of the first two steps, you ain't doing big science: you're doing a stage show.

Most modern science is a stage show, then, I guess.

How many experiments whose results get published do you think are actually reproduced, let alone reproduced prior to publication?
posted by kenko at 9:21 AM on August 10, 2011


How many experiments whose results get published do you think are actually reproduced, let alone reproduced prior to publication?

Well the order is actually the other way around. If you have a really interesting result, someone will usually try and duplicate it because they want to build on your work.
posted by atrazine at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2011


How many experiments whose results get published do you think are actually reproduced, let alone reproduced prior to publication?

Many, though not all, of those that make particularly extraordinary claims or present extremely novel findings will get reproduced post-publication, because people want to ride those coat tails and get something relatively high impact out of their finding. A big question is how often these reproductions fail, why that happens, and what the consequences are. It's often said that about 50% of papers published in Science or Nature will eventually turn out to be wrong in a critical way, but we don't see 50% retractions; these papers either will never be followed up on (not great, because some good research never gets followed up on), or the subsequent literature will 'correct' around the original defects (better).

Actually doing experimental science is kind of an epistemic mindfuck, especially as you get better at reading the literature and doing experiments. In school we are taught that the scientific method is a process by which objective observation leads to the determination of truth. In fact, objectivity and truth don't correlate so much, and one finds oneself less and less able to define things as universally true. The only truths I can confidently report involve individual experiments I've already performed; any extrapolations off of these into the future are predictions, wrapped in fuzzy edges of probability and limited by the inherent artificiality of the manner in which my experiments are conducted, my internal cognitive biases as expressed in the experimental design, and the errors and uncertainty in my measurements. And the same thing is happening to everyone else.

That said, screw these guys. First off, they're obviously running a con and it doesn't take publication to see that. Second off, they're deliberately avoiding the sort of scrutiny that would disprove their claims- taking measures to avoid the sort of inquiry that, even if it doesn't happen because people have better things to do with their time than waste it on an obvious con, could offer better proof of the working (ha) or non-workingness of their claim.
posted by monocyte at 11:16 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually doing experimental science is kind of an epistemic mindfuck

Damn, QFT-and-a-half, but it does ultimately lead one to a better understanding of the stochastic nature of the world.
Oh, and, yes - con.
posted by overyield at 12:58 PM on August 10, 2011


Rossi is currently feuding with Defkalioin Green Technologies, based in Greece via a Cyprus owner, Praxen, who are probably anonymous and shielded by Cyprus law as a financial haven. Rossi terminated their contract and Defkalion is begging him to come back. Defkalion has long announced their testing of the e-cats, called Hyperions, and according to one inside email sent out, which has been denied by Defkalion (although not publicly repudiated) the insider unequivocably states that Defkalion produces far better e-cats than Rossi, and uses better equipment, and has exceeded all expectations of Rossi. Furthermore, it states that the Greek government has tested it and may publish it if Defkalion allows it. The unofficial reason form the insider seems also to be logical, that Rossi's American partners want it all.

Either way, if this information about Defkalion's progress ever got out to Rossi, it would sour such a relationship, since Rossi was apparently keeping secrets. Or, maybe the payment was withheld because they don't need to know his secret catalyst any longer, and that's what they think they are buying with it. If Rossi was holding onto the secret catalyst to get something in payment, then his termination of the contract at this stage may be too late. Rossi is denying that Defkalion knows anything, although Defkalion has been making their progress claims for a while now without Rossi objecting.
posted by Brian B. at 5:47 PM on August 10, 2011


Brian B. To me, all that Rossi's feud with Defkalion indicates is that he asked them for more money and they weren't willing or able to pay. This is something that often happens in this type of scam when the con artist becomes too greedy and the mark demands results. The only "secret" that Rossi keeps, in my opinion, is that the e-cat simply doesn't work. As for Defkalion's own extravagant claims, one must consider that they don't look exactly like innocent lambs either. As a Cyprus-registered company with a Montenegro banker in their board, they are pretty shady. Both Cyprus and especially Montenegro are well-known money-laundering hubs for the Russian mob. If I was Rossi, I'd now be more than a little concerned about my physical safety.

BTW, this appears to be your third FPP in less than a year concerning Rossi's e-cat. I'd suggest laying off the subject for a while, it's starting to look a little Pepsi Blueish.
posted by Skeptic at 11:12 PM on August 10, 2011


Some interesting links of late, before the thread closes.

Alan Fletcher's analysis of possible methods of fakery, concluding that a the e-cat if probably real, but not beyond a reasonable doubt (to paraphrase someone else).

Note that Fletcher also examines the qualities of steam, referencing all known demonstrations of the e-cat, and concludes that Krivit's critique of the steam was probably indicating a much higher energy output that he gave it credit for.

Finally, for context, Krivit's other area of criticism include his efforts to set the record straight on cold fusion itself, pointing out that it was never disproved, yet derided and mis-branded by competitive interests.
posted by Brian B. at 4:38 PM on September 6, 2011


« Older This is a zoetrope (previously). It's a device tha...  |  A face as seen from inside a c... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments