B.E. Mechanical Engineering
1989 – Two of the prominent electrochemists of the time, Martin Fleischman and Stanley Pons, reported that their electrolytic apparatus had produced excess heat and they speculated that the excess energy must be nuclear by-product.
What was the excess heat believed to be? What was for us from that result? And, what was it actually?
The report of that lab experiment became an amusing news for news media and other scientists. If their claim of excess heat as a nuclear by-product was true, the world would go to a new phase of post-modern era, many laureates believed. Because, if it was not to be a mere conjecture, it would solve the energy crisis in the world as it would give us the method of infinite energy through fusion, and all that in room temperature.
Scientists have always been trying to emulate nuclear fusion reaction on lab. Since we cannot attain the extreme temperature and pressure like that of stars here on earth, the possibility of the creating fusion on earth is largely limited. But, the other side of the story is that, what if the boundary of extreme temperature and pressure is reduced to room temperature? We could meet the incomprehensible. That’s where cold fusion would happen.
Cold fusion is, supposedly, the nuclear reaction that would occur at room temperature. However, it was not Fleischman and Pons who would write their names in history. Their experiment was the electrolysis of heavy water with Palladium as the electrode. Other scientists started mimicking their experiment with the limited information they had. None of the results favoured the claims of the two electrochemists. The experiments even took the flaws of the original experiments in surface. Scientists abandoned the experiment and later, the cold fusion even gained the name of ‘pathological science’. But, it didn’t cluster discredits only, it also raised the hopes of infinite energy and scientists were more enthusiast on some miraculous discovery.
The want of infinite source of energy has emerged as a quest since the entrance of science into the modern world. Theoretical and lab scientists have been in researches after we have known no conventional source of energy can fulfill the ever-lasting demand of human. Stars are the only known bodies that produce infinite energy and the process of reaction occurring there is nuclear fusion, which can be referred as hot fusion in contrast to our topic. Two hydrogen atoms fuse together under high pressure and temperature to give a helium atom with the release of a high amount of energy and nuclear radiation. Research has shown that the Sun has converted 0.03% of its mass into energy over this 4.5 billion years. (Yes, the Sun’s mass decreases while it releases energy, and E = mc2 applies here.) But, interestingly enough, it takes the temperature of 4 million Kelvin to fuse two proton, each from two hydrogen, together. And, that’s where we are delimited. “Progress has been made on the fronts of magnetically confined fusion and inertial confinement fusion, where either powerful magnetic fields or a series of lasers are used to confine and compress a plasma, causing nuclei to fuse together, over the past few decades. More and more energy has been extracted compared to what needs to be inputted in these reactions, but we’re still a long way away from the breakeven point: where more energy comes out of the reaction than is required to start the reaction in the first place.” [Source: Forbes]
How Cold Fusion might work?
Cold fusion would work in similar ways like hot fusion. Its main idea is to limit the requirement of high temperature environment. Recently, the work has been rebranded as Low-Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) and Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (CMNS). “Although there are many scientists — many fringe scientists, some armchair scientists and some serious scientists as well — working on cold fusion or LENR devices, there is only one type of experiment that has met the scientific set of criteria for being robust, reproducible science: muon-catalysed fusion. Hydrogen atoms are made out of protons and electrons, and because electrons are so light, they typically have a physical size of around 10-10 meters. You can bring multiple atoms close together, but their nuclei, which only have a size of about 10-15 meters, never get close enough at these low temperatures for their quantum wave-functions to overlap enough that fusion occurs. But if you replace the electron with a muon, an unstable particle with a lifetime of just 2.2 microseconds, the hydrogen atom becomes hundreds of times smaller. And then the wave-functions can overlap, and low-energy fusion occurs.” [Source: Forbes]
Scientists also are working on transmutation effect, which means transforming one element into another. Now, new energy scientists are able to create new elements in their labs using LENR techniques. These new elements have the advantage of muonic hydrogen that is a light as an electron and can readily be used in the experiments. Research has also shown that radioactive materials can be transmuted to benign elements, promising a path to ridding the planet of thousands of tons of radioactive waste.
Cold fusion or LENR is a hope for the future. Only would it not promise cheap source of energy in our houses and industries, it would also provide us a clean source of energy. Also, no radioactive materials would be used on cold fusion, as the research findings go. LANR uses tiny protons, neutrons and electrons of hydrogen that interact and release energy slowly, in form of heat and photons, without the risk of radiation. The radioactive waste is also zero in this form of cold fusion.
Although MIT have declared this an unsound goal, the hope are still alive If everything is to work out, the technological advancements that are facing the problem of limited energy to run can also be overcome. We could also host inter-galactic programmes also and who knows, like the fiction movies have made us believe, it can also prove space voyage true in real world.