- What is cold fusion?
- Storms, COLD FUSION: What is it and what does it mean to science and society?
- Storms, Technical Introduction to LENR-CANR
- Chubb, A Science Tutorial
Cold fusion is a nuclear effect discovered by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in the 1980s. They announced the discovery in March 1989 at the University of Utah.
Cold fusion occurs under certain conditions in metal hydrides (metals with hydrogen or heavy hydrogen dissolved in them). It produces mainly heat and helium. The helium is in the same ratio to the heat as it is with plasma fusion, which is why most researchers believe the effect is nuclear fusion. The effect also produces charged particles, and occasionally a very low level of neutrons. In some experiments the host metal has been transmuted into other elements. The cold fusion reaction has been seen with palladium, titanium, nickel, and some superconducting ceramics.
The heat from cold fusion in many experiments far exceeds the amount of heat that can be produced by chemical fuel. In some cases, cold fusion devices the size of a coin weighing a few grams have produced as much energy as several kilograms of gasoline.
Most of the research has been with palladium. The control parameters for palladium are well understood. They include mainly high loading, flux and current density. It is difficult to meet these necessary conditions, because many samples of palladium are flawed and do not load to high levels. However, when the conditions are met the effect nearly always occurs, as shown in Fig. 1. Heat appears at loading above 0.94, and it never appears below 0.90. When current density is raised, the heat responds proportionally (Fig. 2).
For more on these graphs, see this presentation.
In recent years, promising results have been obtained with nickel and many researchers are now focusing on this material. Nanoparticle palladium and nickel seem especially promising.
There is no widely accepted theoretical explanation for cold fusion. Several theoreticians believe they can explain it, but other theoreticians disagree with them. Many experimentalists feel that the theories proposed so far have not been a useful guide for further research.
Why this is called cold fusion, LENR, CANR and other names
Soon after the effect was first announced people began calling it cold fusion. Various other names have been proposed over the years including the Fleischmann-Pons effect, LENR (low energy nuclear reactions) and so on. LENR has become the most commonly used in recent years. All of these names mean the same thing.
Papers for the general reader
Most of the papers in the LENR-CANR library are written for scientists. They are confusing and contradictory because this is a difficult subject and it is poorly understood. The key findings of cold fusion have been replicated at over 180 laboratories worldwide in thousands of experimental runs. (See Storms, The Science Of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, Table 2). We do have some introductory papers for the general reader. As noted on the Home page, here are some of the popular ones:
Storms, E., What is believed about cold fusion? 2009, LENR-CANR.org.
Nagel, D.J., Scientific Overview of ICCF15. Infinite Energy, 2009(88): p. 21.
Rothwell, J., Cold Fusion And The Future. 2004: LENR-CANR.org. Chapter 1 of this book is a list of Frequently Asked Questions written by Rothwell and Mallove.
Here are some important reviews of the field:
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report on cold fusion: Technology Forecast: Worldwide Research on Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Increasing and Gaining Acceptance DIA-08-0911-003, 13 November 2009
McKubre, M.C.H., Cold Fusion (LENR) One Perspective on the State of the Science. Proceedings 15th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (Part 1). 2009. (The Forward to this book.)
Hagelstein, P.L., et al. New Physical Effects in Metal Deuterides. in Eleventh International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. 2004. Marseille, France. This paper references 130 other papers. Many are available in our library. See the list in our DoE Review Special Collection.
by Edmund Storms
Cold fusion is important because it promises to be a new source of pollution-free, inexhaustible energy. In addition, it is important because it reveals the existence of a new way nuclei can interact that conventional scientific theory predicts is impossible. What then is this phenomenon that suffers such promise and rejection?
Energy can be obtained from the nucleus in two different ways. On the one hand, a large nucleus can be broken into smaller pieces, such as is experienced by uranium in a conventional nuclear reactor and by the material in an atom bomb. This is called fission. On the other hand, two very small nuclei can be joined together, such as occurs during fusion of deuterium and tritium in a Hot Fusion reactor and in a hydrogen bomb. This process, called fusion, also takes place in stars to produce much of the light we see.
The fission reaction is caused to happen by adding neutrons to the nucleus of uranium or plutonium to make it unstable. The unstable nucleus splits into two nearly equal pieces, thereby releasing more neutrons, which continue the process. As every one now knows, this process produces considerable waste that is highly radioactive. The uranium used as fuel also occurs in limited amounts in the earth’s crust. As a result, this source of energy is not ideal, although widely used at the present time.
The normal hot fusion reaction requires two deuterium or tritium nuclei to be smashed together with great energy. This is accomplished by raising their temperature. However, this temperature is so high that the reactants cannot be held in a solid container, but must be retained by a magnetic field. This process has proven to be very difficult to accomplish for a time sufficient to generate useable energy. In spite of this difficulty, attempts have been under way for the last 40 years and with the expenditure of many billions of dollars. Success continues to be elusive while the effort continues.
Cold fusion, on the other hand, attempts to cause the same process, but by using solid materials as the container held at normal temperatures. The container consists of various metals, including palladium, with which the deuterium is reacted to form a chemical compound. While in this environment, the barrier between the deuterium nuclei is reduced so that two nuclei can fuse without having to be forced together. Because the process causing this to happen is not well understood, the possibility is rejected by many conventional scientists. Difficulty in producing the process on command has intensified the rejection. While this difficulty is real, it has not, as many skeptics have claimed, prevented the process from being reproduced hundreds of times in laboratories all over the world for the past 13 years. As you will see by reading the reviews and papers in our Library, the process continues to be reproduced with increasing ease using a variety of methods and materials.
What is the nature of this process and why has it been so hard to understand? To answer this question, a person needs to understand the nature of the barrier that exists between all nuclei. Because all nuclei have a positive charge in proportion to their atomic number, all nuclei repeal each other. It is only the surrounding electrons that hold normal matter together, with the nuclei being at considerable distance from each other, at least on the scale of an atom. When attempts are made to push the nuclei closer, the required energy increases as the nuclei approach one another. However, when deuterium dissolves in a metal, it experiences several unique conditions. The surrounding metal atoms produce a regular array that is able to support waves of various kinds. These waves can be based on vibration of the atoms (phonons), vibration of the electrons, standing waves of electromagnetic energy, or a wave resulting from conversion of the deuterium nuclei to a wave. In addition, the high density of electrons can neutralize some of the positive charge on the deuterium nuclei allowing a process called tunneling, i.e. allowing passage through the barrier rather than over it. The mechanism of this neutralization process is proposed to involve a novel coherent wave structure that can occur between electrons under certain conditions. All of these wave processes have been observed in the past under various conventional conditions, but applying them to the cold fusion phenomenon has been a subject of debate and general rejection.
While the debate based on wave action has been underway, people have proposed other mechanisms. These include the presence of neutrons within the lattice. Normally, neutrons are unstable outside of the nucleus, decomposing into a proton, an electron, and a neutrino. Presumably, this reaction can be reversed so that neutrons might be created in a lattice containing many free electrons and protons. Having no charge, the neutron could then interact with various atoms in the lattice to produce energy. These neutrons might also be hidden in the lattice by being attached to other nuclei in a stabilized form, to be released when conditions were right. Several particles normally not detected in nature also have been proposed to trigger fusion and other nuclear reactions.
While search for a suitable mechanism has been underway, an understanding of the environment that triggers the mechanism has been sought, the so-called nuclear-active-environment. Initially, this environment was thought to exist in the bulk of the palladium cathode used in the Pons-Fleischmann method to produce cold fusion. It is now agreed that the nuclear reactions only occur in the surface region. Recent arguments suggest that this surface layer does not even require palladium for it to be nuclear-active. Nuclear reactions have now been produced in a variety of materials using many methods. The only common feature found in all of these methods is the presence of nano-sized particles of material on the active surface. If this observation is correct, four conditions seem required to produce the nuclear reactions. First, the particle must have a critical small size; second, it must contain a critical concentration of deuterium or hydrogen; third, it must be constructed of certain atoms; and fourth, it must be exposed to a source of energy. This energy can take the form of a sufficiently high temperature, a significant high flux of hydrogen through the particle, application of energetic electrons or charged particles, or application of laser light of the proper frequency. Until, the importance of these factors is understood, the effect will continue to be difficult to replicate.
by Edmund Storms
At low energies, the Coulomb barrier prevents nuclei from coming together and fusing to form a single nucleus. To initiate a nuclear reaction, several methods are used. Nuclear reactions are normally initiated by pushing two atoms together with enough force to overcome the Coulomb barrier by brute force, or by using neutrons which penetrate the nuclei without seeing a barrier. (Neutrons have no electrical charge, so the Coulomb barrier does not stop them.) These forces are normally provided by a high-temperature plasma or by accelerating ions to high energies. In contrast, LENR describes the mechanism and conditions that cause a variety of nuclear reactions to take place with a relatively low activation energy. These unique conditions reduce the need for excessive energy. The normal method forces the nuclei together, while the new method encourages them to come together. The challenge has been to understand the unique characteristics of the necessary solid structure such that this structure could be generated at will.
Because the proposed method is unique, at odds with current nuclear theory, and is still difficult to reproduce, support for studies in many countries, but not all, has been very limited. Nevertheless, considerable information has accumulated over the last 13 years since Profs. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann showed the world the possibilities inherent in this phenomenon. Much understanding is buried in conference proceedings and reports that are not available to a serious student. This information will, as time permits, be made available on this site. Students of the subject are also encouraged to use this site to interact with other people in the field and provide objective critiques of the work published here.
PHENOMENA DISCUSSED IN SOME OF THE PAPERS
At least 10 ways have been demonstrated to produce anomalous heat and/or anomalous elemental synthesis. A few of these methods will be described here. For course, not all of the claims are worthy of belief nor are they accepted by many people. Nevertheless, the claims will be described without qualifications in order to provide the reader with the latest understanding.
The most studied method involves the use of an electrolytic cell containing a LiOD electrolyte and a palladium cathode. Current passing through such a cell generates D+ ions at the cathode, with a very high effective pressure. These ions enter the palladium and, if all conditions are correct, join in a fusion reaction that produces He-4. Initially palladium wire and plate were used, but these were found to form microcracks, which allowed the required high concentration of deuterium to escape. Later work shows that the actual nuclear reaction occurs on the surface within a very thin layer of deposited impurities. Therefore, control of this impurity layer is very important, but rather difficult. The use of palladium is also not important because gold and platinum appear to be better metals on which to deposit the impurity layer. This method is found, on rare occasions, to generate tritium within the electrolyte and transmutation products on the cathode surface. Different nuclear reactions are seen when light water (H2O) is used instead of D2O, although the amount of anomalous energy is less when H2O is used. These observations have been duplicated hundreds of times in dozens of laboratories, as described in several of the review articles available on this website.
Application of deuterium gas to finely divided palladium, and perhaps other metals, has been found to generate anomalous energy along with helium-4. Both palladium-black as well as palladium deposited as nanocrystals on carbon have shown similar anomalous behavior. In both cases the material must be suitably purified. Palladium deposited on carbon can and must be heated to above 200/260°C for the effect to be seen. When deuterium is caused to diffuse through a palladium membrane on which is deposited a thin layer of various compounds, isotopes that were not previously present are generated with isotopic ratios unlike those occurring naturally.
A plasma discharge under H2O or D2O between various materials generates many elements that were not previously present. When the electrodes are carbon and the plasma is formed in H2O, the main anomalous element is iron. This experiment is relatively easy to duplicate.
Several complex oxides, including several superconductors, can dissolve D2 when heated. When a potential is applied across a sheet of such material, the D+ ions are caused to move and anomalous heat is generated.
If deuterium ions, having a modest energy, are caused to bombard various metals, tritium as well as other elements not previously present are generated. These ions can be generated in a pulsed plasma or as a beam.
When water, either light or heavy, is subjected to intense acoustic waves, collapse of the generated bubbles on the surrounding solid walls can generate nuclear reactions. This process is different from the fusion reaction claimed to occur within a bubble just before it disappears within the liquid because neutrons are not produced in the former case, but are produced in the latter case. This method has been applied to various metals in heavy water using an acoustic transducer and in light water using a rotating vane which generates similar acoustic waves.
HOW TO EXPLAIN THE CLAIMS
A major problem in deciding which model might be correct is the absence of any direct information about the nature of the nuclear-active-environment. At this time, two important features seem to be important, the size of the nanodomain in which the reactions occur and the presence of a deuterium flux through this domain. The domain can apparently be made of any material in which hydrogen or deuterium can dissolve. Until the nature of the nuclear-active-state (NAS) is known, no theory will properly explain the effect and replication of the claims will remain difficult.
When fusion is initiated using conventional methods, significant tritium and neutrons are produced. In addition, when other elements are generated, they tend to be radioactive. This is in direct contrast to the experience using low energy methods. These products are almost completely absent and, instead, helium-4 is produced. When radiation is detected, it has a very low energy. This contrasting behavior, as well as the amount of anomalous energy, has made the claims hard to explain using conventional models. This difficulty has been amplified by a failure of many skeptics to recognize the contrasting effect of the environment, a plasma being used in the older studies and a solid lattice of periodic atoms being present as the new environment.
Over 500 models and their variations have been proposed, some of which are very novel and some are variations on conventional ideas. Most models attempt to explain the nuclear reaction once the required environment has been created, without addressing what that unique environment might be like. These models involve conversion of a proton (deuteron) to a neutron (dineutron), creation of an electron structure that is able to neutralize the barrier, conversion of deuterium to a wave which interacts without charge, and the presence of otherwise overlooked neutrons and/or novel particles. Many of the models will have to be abandoned or seriously modified once the nature of the nuclear active environment is understood.
by Peter Hagelstein
Many of us recall the controversy surrounding the announcement of claims of observations of fusion reactions in a test tube that were made in 1989. At the time, these claims were greeted with considerable skepticism on the part of the physics community and the scientific community in general.
The principal claim of Pons and Fleischmann
The principal claim of Pons and Fleischmann in 1989 was that power was produced in palladium cathodes that were loaded electrochemically in a heavy water electrolyte. The evidence in support of this was a measured increase in the temperature in the electrochemical cell. There was no obvious evidence for nuclear reaction products commensurate with the claimed heat production. Fleischmann speculated that perhaps two deuterons were somehow fusing to He-4 through some kind of new mechanism.
Rejection by the physics community
This claim was not accepted by the physics community on theoretical grounds for several reasons:
First, there was no mechanism known by which two deuterons might approach one another close enough to fuse, since the Coulomb barrier prevents them from approaching at room temperature.
Second, if they did approach close enough to fuse, one would expect the conventional dd-fusion reaction products to be observed, since these happen very fast. Essentially, once two deuterons get close enough to touch, reactions occur with near unity probability, and the reaction products (p+t and n+He-3) leave immediately at high relative velocity consistent with the reaction energy released. To account for Fleischmann’s claim, the proposed new reaction would seemingly somehow have to make He-4 quietly and cleanly, without any of the conventional reaction products showing up, and would somehow have to arrange for this to happen a billion times faster than the conventional reaction pathway. Most physicists bet against the existence of such a magical new effect.
Third, the normal pathway by which two deuterons fuse to make He-4 normally occurs with the emission of a gamma ray near 24 MeV. There was no evidence for the presence of any such high energy gamma emission from the sample, hence no reason to believe that any helium had been made.
Finally, if one rejects the possibility that any new mechanisms might be operative, then the claim that power was being produced by fusion must be supported by the detection of a commensurate amount of fusion reaction products. Pons and Fleischmann found no significant reaction products, which, given the rejection of new mechanisms, implied an absence of fusion reactions.
An alternate explanation is proposed
The physicists decided in 1989 that the most likely reason that Pons and Fleischmann observed a temperature increase was that they had made an error of some sort in their measurements. When many groups tried to observe the effect and failed, this led most of the physics community to conclude that there was nothing to it whatsoever other than some bad experiments.
The claim of Jones
A second very different claim was made at the same time in 1989 by Steve Jones. This work also involved electrochemistry in heavy water and the observation of reaction products corresponding to the conventional dd-fusion reactions. The initial publication showed a spectrum of neutron emission that Jones had detected from a titanium deuteride cathode loaded electrochemically. The response of the physics community was skeptical, as the signal to noise ratio was not particularly impressive. Given the polarization of the physics community in opposition to the claims of Pons and Fleischmann (which were announced essentially simultaneously), the physicists were not of a mood to accept much of any claims that fusion could happen in an electrochemical experiment at all. Jones went to great lengths to assure fellow scientists that his effect was completely unrelated to the claims of Pons and Fleischmann, and was much more reasonable.
Physicists had reason to be skeptical. Theoretical considerations indicated that the screening effects that Jones was relying on were not expected to be as strong as needed to account for the fusion rates claimed. As this experiment could not seem to be replicated by others at the time, it was easy for the physics community to reject this claim as well.
Cold fusion, weighed and rejected with prejudice
Cold fusion, as the two different claims were termed, was dismissed with prejudice in 1989. The initial claims were made near the end of March in Utah, and the public refutation of the claims was made at the beginning of May. It only took about 40 days for the physics community to consider the new claims, test them experimentally, and then announce loudly to the world that they had been carefully weighed and rejected.
Following this rejection, physicists have treated cold fusion rather badly. For example, Professor John Huizenga of Rochester University was selected to be co-chair of the DOE ERAB committee that met to review cold fusion and issue a report. Shortly afterward, he wrote a book entitled Cold Fusion, The Scientific Fiasco of the Century, in which he discusses the claims, the experiments, and the extreme skepticism with which the new claims were greeted. Robert Park discusses the subject in his book entitled Voodoo Science. You can find many places where physicists and other scientists happily place the cold fusion claims together with claims of UFOs and psychic phenomena.
By Talbot Chubb
First it is important to recognize that there are four distinct types of energy production:
1) chemical energy, that powers our cars and most of our civilization
2) nuclear fission energy, as used to generate about 15% or our electricity
3) hot fusion nuclear energy, which powers the sun and most stars
4) cold fusion nuclear energy, which appears as unexplained heat in a few experimenter’s laboratory studies and which most scientists believe is impossible.
The three types of nuclear energy produce 10 million times as much heat per pound of fuel than occurs with chemical energy. How do these types of energy differ? To understand this question you need to know some chemistry and physics.
Nature has provided us with two types of stable charged particles, the proton and the electron. The proton is heavy, normally tiny, and has a positive charge. The electron is light, normally large and fuzzy, and has a negative charge. The positive charge and the negative charge attract each other, just like the north pole of a magnet attracts the south pole of a magnet. When you bring two magnets together with the north pole of one facing the south pole of the other, they pull together, bang! When they bang into each other they release a little bit of energy in the form of heat, but it is too small an amount to easily measure. To pull the magnets apart you have to do work, which is another way of saying you have to use up energy. It’s almost like pulling a rock back up a hill. Rolling the rock down a hill actually creates a little heat, and pulling the rock back up the hill takes energy. In the same way the positive charge of the proton pulls on the negative charge of the electron and they stick together releasing energy in the process. The result is a hydrogen atom, designated H. A hydrogen atom is nothing but a fuzzy electron hugging a compact proton. The proton is the nucleus of the hydrogen atom. If you knock the electron off the hydrogen atom you get a positive ion H+, which is nothing more than the original proton. An ion is the name applied to an atom or molecule that has lost or gained one or more electrons, hence is no longer electrically neutral.
Nature has provided us with more than one type of atom. We have oxygen atoms, nitrogen atoms, iron atoms, helium atoms, etc.. How do these atoms differ? The answer is that they all have different types of nuclei (plural of nucleus, from the Latin). And these different nuclei all have different numbers of protons inside them, which means they all have different plus charges. The nucleus of the helium atom has 2 protons inside it, hence has plus 2 charge, and requires 2 electrons to neutralize its charge. When 2 electrons stick to it, it becomes a helium atom. The oxygen nucleus has 8 protons and has charge 8. When 8 electrons stick to it, it becomes an oxygen atom. The nitrogen atom has 7 electrons, and the iron atoms something like 26. But all the atoms are built more or less the same way, with a compact positively charged nucleus embedded in a cloud of fuzzy electrons. The difference in size between the compact nucleus and the fuzzy electrons is enormous. The sun has a diameter only about 100 times that of the earth. The electron cloud on an atom has a diameter which is about 100,000 times that of the nucleus. Cube these numbers to get the difference in volumes.
We now are in a position to understand what chemical energy is. The atoms, all electrically neutral, can actually join with each other and release more energy. This is another way of saying that they can join into more stable configurations. The electrons in an atom try to configure themselves so as to get as close as possible to their nucleus, but their fuzzy nature requires that they take up a certain volume of space. However, if they join together with the electrons of another atom they can usually find a tighter configuration that leaves them closer to their beloved nuclei. For example, 2 hydrogen atoms can join together into a more compact configuration if each hydrogen atom contributes its electron to a 2-electron cloud, which the separate protons share. In this manner they form a grouping of the 2 electrons in a single cloud, together with the 2 isolated protons spaced apart from each other but still within the electron cloud. The result is a heat-producing chemical reaction H + H => H2. (The => means “goes to” or “becomes”.) The H2 configuration is the hydrogen molecule, and when you buy a tank of hydrogen gas, H2 molecules is what you get. Furthermore, the 2 electrons of the H2 molecule and the 8 electrons of the O atom can find a still more compact configuration by combining their electrons to create the water molecule H2O, plus heat. The water molecule is really a single cloud of electrons in which are embedded the three point-like nuclei to form a minimum energy configuration. So when we burn oil or coal we reconfigure the electrons to produce more stable configurations of point-like nuclei embedded in electron clouds, liberating heat. So much for chemical energy.
We have slid over one point in the above discussion. How does Nature make a nucleus containing two or more protons in the first place. After all, each of the protons has a positive charge, and the positive charges repel each other very strongly when they are separated by a tiny distance, equal to the distance across a nucleus. The repulsion of like charges is just like the repulsion between the north poles of two magnets when they are pushed together the wrong way. Something must overcome this repulsion, or else the only kind of atoms we would have would be those of hydrogen. Fortunately, this is not what we observe. The answer is that there is a second kind of force which acts on protons. This is the nuclear force. The nuclear force is very strong but requires particles to almost sit on each other to have any effect. Also, there is a second kind of heavy particle, which is just like a proton, except that it has no positive or negative charge. It is not pushed away by the proton’s plus charge. This other kind of particle is called the neutron, since it is electrically neutral. A peculiar fact of life is that it exists in stable form only inside a nucleus. When not in the nucleus it changes into a proton, an electron and a very light anti-neutrino in about 10 minutes. But it lasts forever inside a nucleus. Anyway, the neutron and the proton very strongly attract each other once they get close enough together, and then they combine to form a highly stable pair called a deuteron, which we designate D+. The single deuteron, when it combines with a single electron, forms the heavy hydrogen atom called deuterium, designated D. A second nuclear reaction occurs when two deuterons make contact. When they can be forced together so as to make contact, the 2 deuterons fuse, making a doubly charged particle. The grouping of 2 protons and 2 neutrons is even tighter than the proton-neutron grouping in the deuteron. The new particle, when neutralized by 2 electrons, is the nucleus of the helium atom, designated He. Larger groupings of neutrons and protons exist in nature and serve as the nuclei of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and iron, etc. atoms. All of these groupings are made possible by the very strong nuclear force, which is felt between particles only when they are in contact or share the same nucleus-size volume of space.
We can now understand normal nuclear energy, which is really nuclear fission energy. During the early history of the universe massive stars were formed. In the explosion of these massive stars, lots of different types of nuclei were formed and exploded back into space. Second and later generation stars and planets were formed from this mix, including the sun. In the explosion process probably every possible stable configuration of protons and neutrons was produced, plus some almost-stable groupings, such as the nucleus of the uranium atom. There are actually 3 different types of uranium atom nuclei, called uranium-234, uranium-235, and uranium-238. These “isotopes” differ in their number of neutrons, but they all have 92 protons. The nuclei of all uranium atoms can go to a lower energy configuration by ejecting a helium nucleus, but this process occurs so rarely that the Earth’s uranium has already lasted over 4 billion years. But the uranium nuclei are unstable in another way. In general, groupings of protons and neutrons are happiest if they have about 60 protons-plus-neutrons. The uranium nuclei contain more than three times this number. So they would like to split in two, which would release a lot of heat. But nature doesn’t provide a way for them to split apart. They have to first go to a higher energy configuration before splitting in two. However, one of the three forms of uranium nucleus found in nature called uranium-235 and designated 235U, gains the needed energy if it captures a neutron. The energized nucleus that results from neutron capture then splits apart with the release of an enormous amount of energy, and incidentally with release of additional neutrons. The additional neutrons can then split more uranium-235 nuclei, keeping the reaction going. This is what happens in nuclear power plants, where the heat, which is the end product of the nuclear splitting process, is used to boil water, generate steam, and turn electrical generators. (One also gets lots of radioactive products, which are a nuisance to dispose of safely.)
We are now also in a position to understand hot fusion nuclear energy. As mentioned in lesson 5, the groupings of protons plus neutrons is most stable when the numbers of neutrons and protons approximate those found in the nucleus of an iron atom. Just as uranium has too many neutrons plus protons to be comfortable, so the light elements like hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen have too few. If the nuclei can be made to make contact under proper conditions, they can combine to create more stable groupings, plus heat. This is the process of fusion. Nature has found a way of doing this in stars like the sun. All Nature has to do is heat compressed hydrogen hot enough and wait long enough and hot fusion will occur. If Nature were to start with deuterium, which already has a paired proton and neutron, the task would be relatively easy in a star. Temperature is a measure of how much speed an atom of a given type has as it bangs around inside a cloud of such atoms. The higher the temperature, the higher the speed and the closer the atoms get to each other momentarily during a collision. In a star the temperatures are high enough that all the electrons quickly get knocked off the atoms, so one is really dealing with a mixed cloud of electrons and nuclei. At very high temperature the nuclei occasionally get close enough during collisions for the pulling-together short range nuclear force to turn on. Then the nuclei can stick together and go to a lower energy grouping of protons plus neutrons, releasing heat. Hot fusion nuclear energy is an attempt to carry out this process in the lab, using deuterium and mass-3 hydrogen (whose nucleus is a compact grouping of 1 proton and 2 neutrons) as the gas. Hot fusion requires that the gas be contained at temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees, which can be done with the help of magnetic fields, but only for 1 or 2 seconds. The hope is to contain the gas for longer times. During the period of high temperature containment nuclear reactions occur during collisions. The main form of energy release is ejection of high energy neutrons and protons. The proton energy quickly converts to heat. The neutron energy can also be converted to heat but makes the equipment highly radioactive. It then becomes difficult to repair the equipment, which could make hot fusion a poor candidate for commercial power production. In any case hot fusion power is a dream that is still probably at least 50 years away. But most scientists view hot fusion as the only way to achieve fusion power. Hot fusion produces less radioactivity than fission power, is environmentally benign, and has a virtually limitless fuel supply on earth. (many millions of years at present energy usage rates).
So now we come to cold fusion. Cold fusion may provide an easier and non-radioactive way of releasing nuclear fusion energy. Cold fusion relies on a different way of letting the protons and neutrons in one nucleus make contact with those in another nucleus, so that the nuclear force can bring them into a more stable configuration. The requirement for any nuclear reaction to occur is that the reacting nuclei occupy the same volume of space. This condition is called particle overlap. In hot fusion particle overlap is brought about briefly by banging the nuclei together so as to overcome momentarily the repulsion of the two positive charges which try to keep the particles apart. In cold fusion particle overlap conditions are achieved by making deuterium nuclei act as fuzzy objects like electrons in atoms, instead of like tiny points. When either light or heavy hydrogen is added to a heavy metal, each hydrogen “atom” occupies a position inside the metal where it is surrounded by heavy metal atoms. This form of hydrogen is called interstitial hydrogen. With interstitial hydrogen the electrons of the hydrogen atom become part of the pool of electrons of the metal. Each hydrogen nucleus oscillates back and forth through a negatively charged electron cloud provided by the electrons of the metal. They can be thought of as moving back and forth like the pendulum in a grandfather clock. This vibration exists even at very low temperature, due to a peculiarity of a branch of physics called quantum mechanics. The vibration is called zero point motion. The nucleus then becomes a fuzzy object, like the electrons in an atom. But this amount of fuzziness is not enough to permit a hydrogen nucleus to make contact with another hydrogen nucleus. To get two or more hydrogen nuclei to share the same volume one most go one step further. In a metal electrical current is carried by electrons that act more like vibrating matter waves than like point particles. If electrons did not become wave-like inside solids, there would be no transistors and no present day computers. This wave-like kind of electron is called a Bloch function electron. The secret of cold fusion is that one needs Bloch function deuterons. One needs wave-like deuterons inside or on the surface of a solid in order that two or more deuterons share the same volume of space. But once the Bloch function deuterons are created, the nuclear force comes into play and the protons and neutrons making up the deuterons can rearrange themselves into the more nuclearly stable Bloch function helium configuration, with release of heat. To study cold fusion the experimenter has to force deuterons to assume the wave-like form and keep them in the wave-like state. Cold fusion experiments demonstrating release of excess heat show that this can be done. But at present no one knows how to do it reliably. Since cold fusion promises millions of years of energy without the problems of global warming or radioactivity, a real effort should be made to learn how.