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infinite energy

Cold Fusion and the Future
Part 1 - Revolutionary Technology
by Jed Rothwell
(Originally Published January-February, 1997 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #12)

continued from page 2

.Powerful new digging engines will take advantage of the improved power density and portability, and the ability to operate without oxygen. Another invention may be perfected: the thin film diamond coated cutting blade. Together they would make vast underground construction easier and cheaper on earth and, later, on the moon.

.Food factories, described below.

.Improved, low-cost desalinization and distillation of water will make the deserts of the world bloom, transforming the Sahara and the Gobi into forest or productive farmland competing with the food factories.

...Improved extraction of metals from ore. Clarke points out that in conjunction with large scale desalination projects, we might extract useful elements from sea water.19 He notes that a cubic mile of seawater (4 billion tons) contains 30 million tons of elements other than water, including 18 million tons of magnesium and 20 tons of gold.

Unfortunately, there are many potential military applications for cold fusion, which are discussed below.

...Medical applications include a cold fusion powered pacemaker that lasts for decades. Self powered prosthetic limbs and devices to assist muscles weakened by disease might become possible. Perhaps, if other problems can be overcome, a sealed, self-powered artificial heart might become possible. Portable monitors and intravenous pumps will become safer, smaller and more reliable, there will no longer be any fear of battery power running down. Microscopic, implantable monitors might be developed. Toxic chemical compounds can be destroyed by exposing them to high temperatures molten metal in a sealed container, which prevents the harmful emissions of conventional methods. A "superfund" toxic waste site could be converted into its base elements. This does not solve the problem of toxic elements, like arsenic, but it eliminates compounds made of nontoxic elements, organic chemicals, sewage, and medical waste. This approach is being pioneered by Molten Metals Technology, Inc., a $313 million company in Massachusetts.20
...Improved recycling of materials, to reduce landfill needs.

Transportation consumes 24% of world energy output, most of it in cars and trucks. The pace of progress in the development of automobile engines has been slow over the last fifty years. Manufacturers spent years developing diesel engines and rotary engines, only to abandon them later. General Motors spent approximately $300 million developing the rotary engine in the 1970s, but it never sold a single one.21 Cold fusion will not allow a long product development schedule. After people realize it is real, every manufacturer will have to work feverishly to bring fusion trucks and cars to market, or soon face bankruptcy.

There will be a period of experimentation with compact steam turbines, thermoelectric engines, Stirling engines, and a variety of other external combustion style heat engines.

Long distance trucks and railroad trains will be the first important transportation market for cold fusion. Trucks consume thousands of dollars each year on fuel. In a few years, any trucking company that still buys diesel fuel will go out of business.

Cold fusion automobiles will be popular, although there will not be as strong an economic incentive to buy a car as there will be with trucks. In a few years people will consider a gasoline powered car an obsolete, smelly nuisance. As gasoline cars wear out, they will be replaced with cold fusion powered ones.

Cold fusion cars will be large and heavy like expensive U.S. models. There will be no reason to make them lightweight. Consumers prefer heavier cars, because they handle better, they are quieter inside, and safer in an accident. Cold fusion cars will be cheaper to manufacture than gas powered models. They will have simple, steel bodies, which are easier to recycle. Designers will jettison antipollution devices; expensive lightweight aluminum and plastic body parts; expensive energy efficient oil pumps and air conditioners; and aerodynamic, molded light fixtures that are expensive to replace after an accident. They will dispense with the fuel tank, exhaust and muffler. They will cancel research to meet miles-per-gallon and pollution control standards.

Cars will be equipped with a solid state thermoelectric air conditioner/heaters, which the driver will leave running when the car is parked. Fusion powered vans will be equipped with energy intensive devices like refrigerators. Cars and vans will have heavy duty alternating current power outlets under the dashboard. People go for that kind of thing.

In California, the antipollution laws will be amended to ban gasoline cars. Atlanta, New York and other large cities will follow. Once a quarter of the cars on the road are fusion powered, gas stations will begin going out of business in droves, because they operate on thin margins. In the oil price shocks of the 1970s, when consumption dropped a few percent, many gasoline stations went out of business. It will become more and more inconvenient to own a gasoline car. They will soon go out of production, and spare parts will become hard to find.

New Aircraft
The biggest safety threat in an air accident is fire, from burning fuel. Cold fusion will eliminate this. If a damaged cold fusion aircraft can crash land intact, it will not explode. The biggest performance limitation for an airplane is the distance it can fly on one tank of fuel. On a long distance flight the fuel can weigh as much as the payload. A cold fusion airplane could fly around the world on a cup of heavy water. The weight of the fuel can be replaced with payload.

Airplanes suffer from two related problems: they carry a small payload and they have to keep moving or they crash. Jumbo jets carry up to 500 people. Boeing is now floating a proposal for a 1,000 passenger airplane. Nobody has seriously considered building anything larger than that. The first ocean liner large enough to comfortably accommodate more than 2,000 passengers was the Great Eastern, launched in 1858. Conventional airplanes will probably never carry more than 1,000 passengers because of the second limitation: they cannot slow down, or stop and hover in the air. So they need runways, and they must remain kilometers apart in the air for safety. The bigger the airplane, the longer the runway it needs, and the more stress it puts on the runway and landing gear. An airplane with the capacity of the Great Eastern would require a gigantic runway, longer and wider than we can afford to build near most cities. But, a giant aircraft that can hover does not need a runway. It can land gently, near the terminal. Several tires strike the ground simultaneously, which puts no excessive strain on the concrete or landing gear. When air traffic is congested, the aircraft can slow down or even stop and wait high above the airport in a fixed position close to other stopped aircraft, like cars waiting at a traffic light. Airplanes waiting to land will not need to orbit in giant circles, with a gap of several miles between them. This will make the air traffic controller's job easier. So would multiple, decentralized airports and direct landing of freight in factories, shopping malls, and trucking yards. Traffic will no longer come through the bottleneck of one large airport.

Three kinds of large aircraft can hover:

  1. A hovercraft, also known as air-cushion vehicle (ACV), or ground-effect machine.
  2. An airship; a zeppelin.
  3. A vertical takeoff and landing airplane (VTOL), like the Harrier jump jet fighter.

Hovercraft and airships have trouble competing commercially because they are slower than airplanes. This is a problem on many routes for passengers, but it is not so important for air freight. They are faster and more flexible than ships. Hovercraft are widely used by the military, which likes them because they fly over water, sand, marshes, barbed wire or mine fields with equal ease, a meter or more up in the air. The U.S. Navy has a large fleet of armored hovercraft landing craft.

Gigantic rigid hot-air lift airships are zeppelins that use hot air instead of hydrogen or helium gas. They might use a combination of hot air and helium. Modern designs are described in the book The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed.22,23 Airships could transport thousands of tons of freight or raw materials from continent to continent. A large one might have the capacity of an ocean freighter. It could fly a hundred tanks and soldiers halfway around the world in a few days. It would not require an airport to land, just an open space. An airship might hover over uneven ground or a strip mine while loading ore.

Unless an anti-gravity machine is possible, airships are likely to remain the quietest form of air transport. Hydrogen-filled airships like the Hindenburg were dangerous, but helium and hot air ships are safe.

Changes to Infrastructure
Pollution free transport and access to massive amounts of energy will gradually change the appearance of our cities, buildings, factories and highways.

In Japan, tracts of level, open land are rare, and small, steep mountains are common. There are many tunnels along highways and railways. With cold fusion powered robot excavating machines, the country will begin to look like Swiss cheese. Eight lane highways might be built underground, four north lanes on the top level, four south lanes below that. The biggest problem will be to dispose of the excavated dirt and rock. The Japanese do this by filling in the ocean and Tokyo bay. They leveled off small mountains outside Osaka to build the new international airport. Eventually, excavation might get so cheap that factories and warehouses are built underground, and tall buildings have as many floors underground as they do above ground. Large underground shopping malls that seem to stretch for miles are already found around most major urban railway stations in Japan. Underground construction has a big advantage in Japan. It is impervious to earthquakes. People in the BART subway stations barely felt the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

Automobile tunnels and underground factories will be easier to engineer because ventilation will no longer be a major problem. Oil burning vehicles will be prohibited from the tunnels because they would asphyxiate passengers, just as a diesel railroad locomotive would in a tunnel designed for electric trains. Oil burning cars will also be prohibited because they are dangerous: they sometimes explode in accidents. Fusion cars might smolder after a severe accident, but they will not explode.

The tunnels will be shielded from the weather. Driving conditions in them will always be optimum. The roads in them will never have to be torn up to install sewers or power lines, because these will be run in separate, smaller tunnels, closer to the surface. Sensors and cameras will be added to catch speeders, as well as antennae for radio, television and cellular telephones. Since the tunnels will be protected from weather, and the vehicles will not pollute, the high tech equipment will last longer than it would on old fashioned surface roads. These roads will be well suited to fully automated, self driving, computerized automobiles.

Highway congestion will be relieved by increased use of aircraft. Many of the trucks on the highways are already being replaced with airplanes, with the growth of overnight delivery services. Cold fusion will make air transport much cheaper. As noted above, if VTOL aircraft can be perfected, goods can be shipped directly from factories to grocery stores and shopping malls in VTOL craft, that land in the parking lot or on the roofs of the buildings.

I cannot envision a conventional aircraft or hovercraft capable of landing in an urban neighborhood. A flying moving van would make too much wind and commotion. For that, we will need something like a silent, antigravity machine if such a thing is possible. Cold fusion powered airplane engines will probably be quieter than conventional engines, but as long as we use jets of air to push aircraft, they will not be suitable for densely populated neighborhoods. In rural and wilderness areas in places like Alaska, private family airplanes are common. Their use will increase as cold fusion, better air traffic control, and global positioning satellites combine to make them safer and easier to fly.

Military Applications
Cold fusion will play a crucial role in future military technology, even if it can only be used for prosaic items like the motors and electric power supplies used in civilian consumer applications. Many crucial military technologies originated as ordinary civilian technologies, for example, railroads played a crucial role in the U.S. Civil War and in the First World War. In Crusade in Europe,24 Eisenhower wrote:

...four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to regard as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2fi ton truck, and the C-47 [DC-3] airplane. Curiously, none of these is designed for combat.

Many other civilian technologies played crucial roles in World War II, including high octane gasoline, radio, and penicillin.

High performance cold fusion engines in helicopters, tanks and trucks will change the nature of these weapons. This will extend the operating range indefinitely. If the pilot and copilot could stay awake long enough, a cold fusion-powered helicopter could take off anywhere on earth and fly anywhere else, nonstop. It could fly at top speed, which is about 400 km/hr (250 mph) for today's helicopters. There is no need for a "cruising speed" to reduce fuel consumption. Ships, tanks, helicopters, and transport aircraft will go for months without refueling, just as fission powered aircraft carriers and submarines do today. One of the biggest headaches in tank warfare is logistics and fuel resupply. The Allied invasion of Europe was stalled in the fall of 1944 partly because of fuel shortages. The German tank armies were stopped in the Battle of the Bulge when they ran out of gas. Fuel, fuel depots, and transporting fuel were a tremendous logistical headache during the recent Gulf War. A cold fusion-powered tank will run until the treads fall off without refueling. Armored hovercraft tanks would have unlimited range.

Jet and ramjet aircraft will fly at many times the speed of sound for as long as the crew have food and water. Cold fusion will not give rockets infinite operating range, because rockets must carry propellant. Cold fusion can extend the range of rocket powered space vehicles by lifting them high into the atmosphere with conventional turbine motors. A rocket-plane might leave the atmosphere, cruise through space, and re-enter at will. With a cold fusion-powered rocket, water might be the best propellant, because it cannot explode. It would be expelled as superheated steam. Today's rockets use explosive chemical fuel, which serves as both fuel and propellant.

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