Cold Fusion and the Future
Part 1 - Revolutionary Technology
by Jed Rothwell
(Originally Published January-February, 1997 In Infinite Energy
Magazine Issue #12)
heavy hydrogen in the seas can drive all our machines, heat all
our cities, for as far ahead as we can imagine. If, as is perfectly
possible, we are short of energy two generations from now, it will
be through our own incompetence. We will be like Stone Age men freezing
to death on top of a coal bed. . . .
"In this inconceivably enormous universe,
we can never run out of energy or matter. But we can all too easily
run out of brains."
C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, 1963,
chapter 12, "Ages of Plenty"
"All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough
energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big
drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so
used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and
"The Last Question," Science Fiction Quarterly, November 1956,
a description of a space-based solar energy collector
"Historians will look back on 1973 as the year the era
of cheap energy ended and Americans began to confront the illusion
that unlimited energy would always be available. It was also the
year we realized that cheap, abundant energy was the all-pervasive
factor in making the United States' success story the adventure
of the ages. For the United States, it would mark a turning point--a
new maturation and awareness of the bitter truth: we had overshot
and were making an overdraft on our own, and the world's, resources."
Udall, Charles Conconi, David Osterhout, The Energy Balloon,
Energy is the most abundant resource in the universe.
The sun produces 3.8 x 1026 watts,1,2 enough
to vaporize the earth in about a half-day. The energy crisis is
caused by ignorance, not by any natural shortage.
I do not see the energy crisis as a purely moral issue.
I disagree with the Spartan philosophy advocated by Udall, former
President Carter and Vice President Gore. The energy crisis is a
technical problem that should have been fixed decades ago. Americans
do not use too much energy. The problem is that our energy sources
are inefficient, expensive, dangerous and polluting. It does not
have to be that way. Energy is a moral issue only in the sense that
energy shortages cause terrible suffering in the third world. This
cannot be fixed by taking fossil fuel away from Americans and Europeans
and giving it to people in Africa and India. We would not be willing
to part with it, and they cannot pay to transport it, store it,
or use it effectively. There should be no need to conserve energy.
There should be no need to pollute the air or blight the landscape
with high tension power lines, or windmills or solar collectors.
Even so-called "green" energy technology is destructive. Hydroelectric
dams ruin the ecology, threaten to flood vast areas in Canada, and
destroy ancient artifacts in China and Egypt.
With pollution-free energy, the only limit to our
use of energy will be the capacity of the atmosphere to radiate
waste heat from machines into space without excessively heating
the surroundings. Cold fusion will not only eliminate pollution,
it will also reduce this waste heat. Today's electric generators
are about 30% efficient. Internal combustion automobile engines
are only 15 to 19% efficient.3 Carnot efficiency is poor
because the engines have to pump through copious amounts of air
to keep the gasoline burning. Cold fusion does not require oxygen,
so a heat engine will be able to extract more heat from the working
fluid. Internal combustion engines are also inefficient because
they cannot stop. When the vehicle stops, they idle, wasting energy.
At low speeds they are inefficient.4 Other heat engines
can store up energy when the vehicle is not moving. Steam and electric
engines are efficient across a broad range of operating speeds.
Pollution is misplaced resources. We need mercury,
but not in our water supply. We want ozone in the upper atmosphere,
not at ground level where automobile engines produce it. No law
of nature dictates that our energy sources must produce pollution.
Fossil fuel sources always produce carbon dioxide, which might lead
to global warming. Other sources, like wind and solar energy, produce
very little pollution: only the solid waste of used solar panels
and worn out windmills. Cold fusion energy will produce less junked
equipment than solar or wind, because it is highly concentrated.
There will be less solid waste when the machinery wears out. Under
some conditions cold fusion will create tritium waste, but I expect
these conditions can be avoided, and the danger of tritium eliminated.
In that case, the only measurable reaction by-products from cold
fusion will be tiny amounts of helium, and probably small levels
of metal transmutations in the cathodes. These may include more
precious metals than unwanted, dangerous elements. In any case,
the cathodes will be inside permanently sealed heat cells, in engine
blocks, impervious to all but the most severe accident. Some U.S.
spacecraft employ thermoelectric generators powered by fissioning
uranium oxide. In one case, a rocket went out of control and was
detonated on launch. Divers found the thermoelectric generator on
the ocean floor in perfect condition. It was installed in a replacement
satellite and launched into space.5
How Much Heavy Water?
Cold fusion with palladium requires heavy water
(deuterium oxide). Cold fusion with nickel appears to work as well
with ordinary water as with heavy water. I expect nickel will become
the dominant cathode material, in which case the fuel cost will
be as close to zero as any fuel imaginable. Even heavy water fuel
would be cheap. Heavy water costs about $1000 per kilogram retail,
even though it is ubiquitous (it is 1 part in 6000 in every drop
of water on earth). It is expensive because a lot of energy is required
to separate it from ordinary water, and because demand is limited,
so new separation technologies have not been developed.6
But you get a fantastic amount of energy out of a fusion reaction.
Even at $1000 per kilogram, heavy water would be thousands of times
cheaper than oil. In a heavy water cold fusion economy, a fraction
of a percent of the fuel would have to be recycled to keep the heavy
water separation plants working, whereas today 7% of oil goes to
refinery use and loss.7 There are some indications that
the cathode metal itself plays a role in the reaction. It may be
transmuted, in which case it would be used up. A cold fusion reactor
may require new metal from time to time, the way a fission reactor
requires new uranium. Palladium and nickel are cheaper than uranium,
and all three produce energy cheaper than oil does.
How much heavy water would it take to run the world
economy, and what byproducts would it produce? Let us assume that
cold fusion works like plasma fusion (hot fusion), converting deuterium
into helium and releasing energy. Actually, it is probably more
complicated than hot fusion, but broadly speaking it releases energy
on the same scale, with roughly the same amount of fuel, and it
does produce helium. Worldwide annual production of all fuels, converted
to an equivalent mass of oil, equals approximately 6.8x1013
kilograms of oil.8,9 This produces 2.7x1015
megajoules (at 40 megajoules per kilogram). A kilogram of heavy
water contains 200 grams of deuterium. Converted to helium in a
d-d fusion reaction, this produces 1.2x108 megajoules,
with 1.3 grams of matter annihilated.10 Thus, present
world energy needs could be met with 2.3x107 kg of heavy
water, or ~24,000 metric tons. Actually, as I pointed out above,
Carnot efficiency is likely to improve with cold fusion, so less
fuel will be needed. Byproducts would include 18,800 tons of free
oxygen and 4,700 tons of helium. Thirty tons of mass would be annihilated,
the same amount we lose today with chemical fuel, which also obeys
Einstein's mass-energy equivalence law. To put it another way, a
kilogram of heavy water has as much potential energy as 2.9 million
kilograms of oil. The earth has ~2x1013 metric tons of heavy water,11
enough to last 851 million years at this rate, and there is plenty
more in Rings of Saturn and elsewhere in the solar system.
What it Will Take for Cold Fusion to Succeed
Three conditions must be met for cold fusion
to succeed in every energy sector:
1. Cold fusion devices must be made safe and nonpolluting.
Most scientists believe that before this can happen we must understand
the physics of the reaction. Others say there are gaps in our theoretical
understanding of related technologies like catalysis, yet we can
make safe, effective catalytic processes.
2. Cold fusion generators, motors, heaters and
other devices must have high power density, so they can be roughly
as compact as competing motors. Data from some experiments shows
that high power density can be achieved. In a few cases power density
has been better than a conventional nuclear fission reactor. This
kind of performance must become routine in all experiments.
3. It should be possible to build a wide range
of devices from thermoelectric pacemaker batteries, to automobile
engines, to marine and aerospace engines.
If condition one is not met, the technological revolution
will be canceled. Without two and three it might be incomplete.
We might end up with large, centralized cold fusion power reactors
that make cheap energy. This will gradually reduce pollution, after
electric automobiles are introduced.
Perhaps other over-unity devices like magnetic motors
or the Correa device will pan out. Some of these would be superior
to metal-lattice cold fusion (the Pons-Fleischmann effect). They
would eliminate the need for heat engines and thermoelectric chips,
thus reducing waste heat even more than cold fusion, especially
when coupled with heat pumps. The broad technological and economic
impact of these machines would be similar to that of cold fusion.
Before cold fusion can be commercialized, today's
best, precious few laboratory prototypes must be made available
to thousands of labs. Sustained boiling reactions have only been
seen in one or two labs. They must be produced on demand, in any
lab. Today, Edmund Storms spends months laboriously testing palladium
samples to winnow out the ones that are likely to work.12
That process must be automated. Ways must be found to fabricate
cathodes that always meet his most stringent standards, and then
the standards must be raised. Today, cold fusion experimental results
are inconsistent. Heat flares up and gutters out, like flames from
green, wet firewood. When we learn to control the reaction, we will
scale up the type of cold fusion we want. We will not scale up the
uncontrolled, on-again, off-again heat, or tritium production. Once
we learn how to build this new kind of fire, we will make only clean,
hot reactions, just as we only build clean, properly vented, smoke-free
The Big Four
All machines use energy. Even a needle pulling thread uses energy
provided by you. Nearly every machine on earth can be improved with
cold fusion, but four categories are critical. Their performance
depends on efficient energy consumption, and they consume more fuel
than all others combined. They are:
1. Automobiles, trucks, railroad locomotives
2. Space heating and other furnaces
3. Electric generators
If cold fusion energy can be used in these four
categories, it will replace almost all of the energy used by mankind,
and it will reduce air and water pollution drastically. If it turns
out that cold fusion can only be used for large electric generators,
then it will gradually replace other energy sources. We will use
electric space heaters and heat pumps. Automobiles will use batteries,
or energy derived from electricity, such as hydrogen from electrolysis.
These four have the largest impact on the environment,
and they consume most of the world's energy. Other critical machines
like airplanes use a lot of fuel, but there are relatively few of
them, so they consume only a small percent of the world supply.
The issue is complicated by some machines like blast furnaces and
railroad locomotives, because some use electricity and some burn
fossil fuel directly. Machines like televisions, telephones, computers
and x-ray machines use little energy. Cold fusion may improve their
portability and reliability, but this will contribute little to
conservation. The Energy Star computer standards have made laudable
contributions to conservation, but things like electric motors and
lighting consume much more energy than computers. Electric motors
consume 50% of electricity. Lighting consumes 20% directly, and
another 5% in air conditioning to remove waste heat from the light
The fourth "machine" on the list is the farm.
Few people think of a field of lettuce as a solar energy powered
production line, but that is one way to look at it. (Clarke described
it that way years ago; he thought of everything.) A farm is an outdoor
factory, like an oil refinery. Putting a farm outdoors has one big
advantage: free energy, the light and heat from the sun. Unfortunately,
it has many disadvantages. You get too much light and heat, or not
enough. Things go catastrophically wrong. Insects and rodents eat
the food. Crops must compete with weeds, and fight bacteria. Floods
wash away seeds and fertilizer, and cause mildew. Farms suffer from
droughts. Crops are reduced when it does not freeze hard enough
in the winter, or wiped out when it freezes too late in the spring
. . . With cold fusion, we can eliminate these problems by bringing
food production inside. This will save an immense amount of land,
it will reduce water pollution, and it will let us grow unlimited
amounts of cheap, organic, wholesome, natural, clean, fresh food.
This will be one of the biggest bonuses of cold fusion. It is discussed
in detail below.
Cold fusion is ideal for heating and electric
power generation. It might provide both from a cogenerator. In summer,
you would let 70% or 80% of the heat go into the atmosphere, wasted,
as you do today with your automobile.