Is Low Energy Fusion Real?

September 28, 2015

Fusion, the big hardware kind, is one of those miracle promising technologies that always seems to be 30 years away.
In the late 1980s, claims about low energy (cold) fusion reactions were lambasted as huge blunders.
A small but persistent cohort of scientist and investors are more and more going public about the possibility of a game changing energy resource.

I’m just sayin’.

Fortune:

Tom Darden, the founder and CEO of the $2.2 billion private equity fund Cherokee Investment Partners, made his mark by acquiring and cleaning up hundreds of environmentally contaminated sites. Today he is also an early stage investor in clean technology, having put his own money into dozens of companies in areas ranging from smart grid to renewable energy, and prefab green buildings. More recently he’s backed a new approach to fusion, a potentially abundant and carbon-free form of energy that would operate at a much lower temperatures than big government projects around the world, which require temperatures of 100 million degrees centigrade and more.

This new technology, called Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) is related but very different from the cold fusion technology that in 1989 researchers Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann claimed to have licked when they revealed to the world a simple tabletop machine designed to achieve a fusion reaction at room temperature. Their experiment was eventually debunked and since then the term cold fusion has become almost synonymous with scientific chicanery.

What does Darden, a no-nonsense, investor with a sharp eye on the bottom line and a successful track record, see in this new, risky technology? Fortune’s Brian Dumaine spoke to him to find out.

Q: How did you get involved with low-temperature fusion?

A: Well, I thought the issue was moot after scientists failed to replicate the Fleischman and Pons initial cold fusion experiments. I was literally unaware that people were working on this in labs. I’ve made about 35 clean technology investments, and I thought that if someone’s doing this I should have heard about it. Then three years ago I started to hear about progress being made in the field and I said, “Damn, you have to be kidding, it doesn’t make sense.”

As it turns out, many of those early efforts to replicate cold fusion did not correctly load the test reactors or attempt to properly measure heat. The scientists trying to replicate the work of Fleischman and Pons were mainly looking for nuclear signals, like radiation, which generally are not present. They missed that heat was the main by-product. In addition, I learned that there have been nearly 50 reported positive test results, including experiments at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, EPRI, and SRI.

Q: The conventional wisdom is that LENR violates the laws of physics.

A: That’s right. To create fusion energy you have to break the bonds in atoms and that takes a tremendous amount of force. That’s why the big government fusion projects have to use massive lasers or extreme heat—millions degrees centigrade—to break the bonds. Breaking those bonds at much lower temperatures is inconsistent with the laws of physics, as they’re now known.

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Oh My God.

As I’ve been posting for some time, Shell’s drilling in the Arctic was an exercise in very expensive futility, given the price of oil. Whoever gambled that oil prices were going to pop back up, and that some amazing discovery would make it all worthwhile, just lost to the Gambler in Chief.

I’ve said before that the President’s game is not three dimensional chess, as is so often asserted, but poker. Green campaigners who have been beating the president up over the Arctic decision might take a step back and ask themselves if in fact, given the Congress we have, and the political climate, whether they were a little too quick to judge an executive who plays the long game.

Reuters:

Royal Dutch Shell has abandoned its Arctic search for oil after failing to find enough crude in a move that will appease environmental campaigners and shareholders who said its project was too expensive and risky.

Shell has spent about $7 billion on exploration in the waters off Alaska so far and said it could take a hit of up to $4.1 billion for pulling out of the Chukchi Sea for the “foreseeable future”.

obamagambThe unsuccessful campaign is Shell’s second major setback in the Arctic after it interrupted exploration for three years in 2012 when an enormous drilling rig broke free and grounded.

Environmental campaigners and shareholders have also pressured Shell to drop Arctic drilling. Some are worried an oil spill would harm protected species while others are concerned about the cost after oil prices more than halved in a year.

“Shell has found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration,” Shell said in a statement on Monday.

It said the decision to withdraw from the area reflected the results from the exploratory well, the project’s high costs and the unpredictable federal regulatory environment in the area off the U.S. state of Alaska.

“The entire episode has been a very costly error for the company both financially and reputationally,” said analysts at Deutsche Bank, who estimate the Shell’s Arctic exploration project could cost the company about $9 billion.

In the looking-glass world of the energy companies, of course, the ironic thing is that even a huge drilling success would, paradoxically, have been a disaster as it would have had a tendency to keep oil prices lower, longer, and further undermine the efforts of major oil companies to tap the world’s remaining reserves, most of which are very difficult and expensive to extract, ie Tar sands, deep water, arctic, etc.

The desired outcome for oil companies, of course, is to keep you addicted to, and dependent on, fossil fuel, for which they can charge ever higher prices, to extract ever more expensive oil from ever more sensitive environments.  In this, for now, they have been frustrated – so chalk one up for the good guys.

USAToday:

Charles Ebinger, senior fellow for the Brookings Institution Energy Security and Climate Initiative, said a successful Shell well would have been “a terribly big deal,” opening an area that U.S. officials say contains 15 billion barrels of oil.

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Description:

Sep 25 — Brian Deese, a senior advisor to President Obama, discusses China’s commitment to a national pollution-trading system to cut global warming emissions on “With All Due Respect.”

We already knew this, but more polling confirms – climate denial is going the way of cannibalism, slavery, child labor, female circumcision, homophobia,  and various other barbaric practices.

Reuters:

NEW YORK, Sept 25 (Reuters) – A majority of Americans agree with Pope Francis’ call for world leaders to do more to combat climate change, with more than twice as many supporting the pope’s message on the environment as opposing it, according to a poll released on Friday.

Some 61 percent of U.S. adults polled this month said they supported the pontiff’s call to climate, which was the subject of a July encyclical which was the first major writing of any pope focused on the environment. Just 26 percent of the 1,832 adults polled Sept. 17-21 said they disagreed with Francis’ call.

Support was higher among respondents who said they had no religion, with 74 percent supportive, than among Catholics, where 67 percent were supportive.

In his address to Congress on Thursday – the first by any pope – Francis cited his July missive, titled “Laudato Si (Praise Be)” in urging action.

“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” Francis told the Republican-dominated chamber. “I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”

Below – even young conservatives call for Climate Action:

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Should we call climate deniers “climate deniers”? or something else.

Surprising sparks fly as the Associated Press’ Seth Borenstein is pressed by NPR “On the Media”s  Bob Garfield as to whether it makes sense to call a denier a denier.

I made this decision when I launched the Climate Denial Crock of the Week series in 2009.  At that time, I was being cautioned against using the “D” word, since, number one, it has the automatic association with “Holocaust Denier”.  It’s said this serves climate denier’s natural tendency to play the victim card.

But at that time, having met enough “skeptics” first hand, and having them lie baldly right in front of me, I felt that only “denier” could capture the true essence.  Now it’s standard usage for Obama, so I think that horse, no matter how hard AP may try, is out of the barn.