Low-energy nuclear fusion (LENR) is a promising source of clean, very cheap energy free of regulatory hurdles.
In contrast to Fusion, which we like to call Hot-Fusion to distinguish it from the misnamed Cold-Fusion, LENR reactors are potentially five orders of magnitude cheaper with radiation output that is six orders of magnitude less. There appear to be no radioactive particles emitted, aside from tritium produced and consumed in an intermediate step in the reaction chain. While Hot-Fusion is always 10 years from breakeven, LENR has been producing more energy than the experiment consumes since 1989.
In contrast to Fission, the world’s conventional nuclear power source, LENR requires no radioactive or regulated materials, and produces none. Fission is incredibly reliable compared to typical LENR systems which sometimes exhibit frustrating non-linear behavior akin to slot machines– really unambiguous but irregular output.
However at the moment the detailed physical mechanism of LENR has not been narrowed down from a number of possibilities, so it is behind Fusion and Fission in our understanding.
Observations show that a metal hydride forced out of equilibrium by some stimulus can produce helium and heat energy in a similar ratio to that expected from fusion, but with far less high energy radiation than fusion. The number of successful well documented demonstrations made over the past two decades has been sufficient enough for a meta-study to compare them and describe an unexpected pattern correlated with success. The patterns that surfaced include significant excess heat without high energy radiation (with several different metals and with both heavy and light water) and helium output in proportion with heat output (Miles).
It is almost unbelievable that such a reaction would occur, but it is the simplest explanation for the observations. Sadly too many mathematician-physicists avoid confronting the lab data, instead taking the easy way out and invoke a massive conspiracy theory to explain away decades of consistent, though unexpected, results from independent researchers around the world.
LENR has the potential to meet increasing energy demands by providing useful nuclear energy with simple machines without producing dangerous radiation. This form of reaction, dubbed “cold fusion”, is difficult for theoretical physicists to accept because the observations are unexpected and there hasn’t been consensus on a supporting theory that matches the data.
Many experiments have produced much more heat than can be explained by experimental error, statistical noise, or chemistry. But over the years most of the experiments had serious uncontrolled variables or exhibited nonlinear output, most often demonstrating nothing out of the ordinary.
In recent years, many labs have been able to display the characteristic LENR excess heat phenomenon reliably. Startup companies such as BrillouinEnergy.com and JET energy’s NANOR are among the more solid.
Although the benefits of LENR are apparent, LENR has been plagued by the 1989 rush to judgement in 40 days by the popular press as described by Charles Beaudette.
As a result, the broader science community and vast majority of physicists have vehemently described LENR as a hoax or mistake. There isn’t a clear story about exactly what the mistake was however. All credible efforts to find a mistake in Pons and Flieshman’s energy balance measurements were themselves discredited. Popular attention moved elsewhere and many people remember the story where they left it and focused their attention elsewhere. Physicists tendancy to avoid expertise in calorimetery, in favor of high-energy particle detectors, helps preserve ignorance about reactions that produces heat and miniscule amounts of ash products and a million times less radiation than fusion would. Chemical and mechanical engineers are not too proud to measure heat-energy output and consequently have an easier time coming to grips with this phenomonen. There are excellent thoughts about the sociology of “political” or tribal behavior in this area that shows how and why LENR ressearchers are treated disrespectfully by many of their peers.
Over the last 26 years LENR workers (including physicists, chemists, and electrochemists) have persevered and continued to perform research and development, often demonstrating anomalous heat and claiming to be on the path to commercially viable products. They have formed the LENR Industrial Association. Such dedication in the face of adversity has resulted in hundreds of publications, as well as the commitment of dozens of organizations to make LENR a commercial reality. Sadly the top US journals do not review LENR papers as a matter of policy, as we have learned by speaking to the editors of Nature. However specialized journals and top journals abroad aren’t afraid to cover it– we found Current Science’s coverage useful.
LENR has continued to draw interest from serious federal institutions such as DARPA, the U.S. Navy, and NASA, which indicates mainstream acceptance. Aerospace companies cannot afford to ignore it because NASA has designated LENR at Technical Readiness Level 4, and suggest that it will be useful for powering aviation and spacecraft. Hence companies such as Airbus host public meetings and promote their answers to the question of physical mechanism.
Bullying by skeptics whose theoretical objections prevents them from seriously engaging with unexpected laboratory data constitutes a big hurdle for widespread acceptance. The US Patent and Trademark agency dragged its feet on LENR patents, but thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and a viligant patent law firm, the agency has been forced to abandon its abuse-prone policy of “special secret patent detention” known as SAWS. US Government labs and universitiy research directors get pressured not to threaten 100 million dollar hot fusion experiments for 5 million dollar LENR experiments, that call in to question the dominance of plasma physicists over all reactions that convert hydrogen to helium. Evidence from LENR experiments and PNNL simulations are suggesting that the laws of solid state quantum mechanics reveal another reaction path involving electrically controlled proton-electron capture, that avoids the giant colomb barrier to like-charge interactions in traditional fusion.