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
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.
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:
- A hovercraft, also known as air-cushion vehicle
(ACV), or ground-effect machine.
- An airship; a zeppelin.
- 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
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.
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
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