Monday, March 23, 2009
U.S. Navy researchers claimed to have experimentally confirmed cold fusion in a presentation today at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting. Cold fusion was first reported in 1989 by researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then with the University of Utah, prompting a global effort to develop the technology. Normal fusion reactions, where hydrogen is fused into helium, occur at millions of degrees inside the Sun. If room temperature fusion reactions could be realized commercially, as Fleishchmann and Pons claimed to have achieved inside an electrolytic cell, it promised to produce abundant nuclear energy from deuterium--heavy hydrogen--extracted from seawater. Other scientists were unable to duplicate the 1989 results, thereby discrediting the work. Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task in 1989.
BOTTOM LINE: Nuclear fusion has held the promise of clean, cheap, plentiful energy for several decades now. After billions of dollars of research, however, we still are 20 year or more away from nuclear fusion reactors. The invention of cold fusion eliminates the need for duplicating the conditions on the surface of the Sun, where two hydrogen atoms are fused into helium releasing vast quantities of energy. However, despite the U.S. Navy's claim that it really does work, we are no closer to harnessing cold fusion for useful purposes as we are for duplicating the conditions on the Sun. Thus it will be at least 20 years, and probably more, before the promise of nuclear fusion is realized in real world applications.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 5:43 PM