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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 4

Food Factories in the Future
Food factories will eventually make farms obsolete. They take up a fraction of the land of farms they replace, because crops in them can be grown in shelves one or two meters apart. Suppose a food factory covers 100 hectares (250 acres), like a shopping mall or a large office park. It is 25 stories high (80 meters), and grows vegetables on 40 layers of shelves two meters apart. That gives it about as much growing area as a 4,000 hectare farm. There is no winter in the building, and according to the Yomiuri article, it takes about a month to grow a head of lettuce, roughly half the time needed by field-grown lettuce, so the growing season is at least four times longer than a regular farm. There are no insects in the building, no deer, few rodents, no weeds, drought, or floods, and there is always the right amount of light and fertilizer, so little food is lost to spoilage. Automation is much easier. There are no rocks, hills or irregular areas, so robots can process the crops. Robots cannot work in the hills of Pennsylvania or the paddies of Japan. Overall, the 100 hectare facility is at least as efficient as a 16,000 hectare (40,000 acre) farm.

The total land area of the U.S. is ~917 million hectares. Forty seven percent, ~430 million hectares, are used for agriculture, including ~161 million hectares for crops.30 The other 269 million hectares are used for livestock, including arid land not suitable for crops. Roughly a quarter of U.S. food is exported. Someday this agricultural land might be crammed into an area thousands of times smaller in giant complexes of buildings hundreds of stories high nestled in the Rocky Mountains, on the moon, or in some other location where land is cheap. Or, you could cover the five boroughs of New York City (800 square kilometers; 80,000 hectares) with buildings as tall as the World Trade Center towers (411 meters), which would produce as much food as ~66 million hectares of crop land, enough to feed about half the U.S. population.

As old fashioned two dimensional outdoor farms become obsolete, a tremendous amount of land will be freed up. It will be used for houses, or reforested and returned to nature. Agriculture is the most destructive industry on earth. It causes deforestation and erosion. It depends on pesticides and fertilizer. Monocultured crops reduce genetic diversity. The sooner farms are replaced by compact enclosed factories, the better it will be for the ecology.

People may object to food factories, regarding them as dehumanized or unnatural. Farms and greenhouses look unnatural to me, but they are inviting places. It will be spring year-round in part of the food factory, with blossoms, honeybees, and bright artificial sunlight. Food factories in the far north will do a lively business during the winter hosting people hungry for a touch of spring, summer or fall, or all three the same afternoon. Acres of grass and trees might be set aside as a park, with artificial brooks and real fish.

In the distant future, indoor farms may be supplanted by food synthesizers. This will require new discoveries and new biotechnology. Cold fusion is likely to come into widespread industrial use long before these technologies can be applied radically, or traditional agriculture done away with altogether.

The Dangers of Cold Fusion
There are legitimate concerns about the dangers of cold fusion. They fall into two categories: radiation, and long term environmental threats from the irresponsible use of cheap energy.

Some scientists believe that cold fusion is not fusion per se, it is zero-point energy, or shrinking hydrogen atom "super-chemistry," or some other exotic phenomenon. Even if one of these hypotheses turns out to be correct, there is no denying that cold fusion includes a nuclear component. Cold fusion produces helium and transmutes cathode metals. Occasionally it produces tritium. Autoradiographs show that some used cathodes are radioactive. Perhaps these nuclear transmutations are a side-effect of zero point energy, or perhaps the "conventional" cold fusion nuclear theories are correct and the transmutations are the sole source of energy. Either way, nuclear reactions and radiation are inherently dangerous, and must be treated with respect. It would be foolish to treat a cold fusion cell like a solar cell or some other source of energy with no possible side effects. A cold fusion engine will not be as dangerous as an internal combustion engine, which requires explosive fuel and produces deadly carbon monoxide. But it may require some shielding, and possibly a radiation alarm that could trigger an emergency cutoff switch--unless the process could be tuned and certified not to produce ionizing radiation. A fully developed theory to explain the cold fusion reaction might give us pinpoint control, and it would give us increased confidence that cold fusion motors cannot produce large, uncontrolled bursts of radiation under any circumstances.

Some people fear there may be a hidden, long term threat to the health of people who work in close proximity to cold fusion reactors. So far, nobody has detected dangerous levels of x-rays or other emissions from a cold fusion cell. The autoradiographs prove that cold fusion does produce low levels of radioactivity, but the levels are so low that scientists have difficulty detecting them with sensitive instruments. Compared to the radiation from televisions and the natural background of radiation from space, radon and other sources, cold fusion radiation seems likely to remain so low as to be nearly undetectable. Still, cold fusion might conceivably produce some unknown form of radiation or some other deleterious effect. We will have to make sure this is not the case, by exposing rats and other laboratory animals to unshielded cold fusion reactors, and by carefully monitoring the health of the first group of people who work with the reactors every day.

When cold fusion was announced in 1989, A. Lovins, J. Rifkin and others said they hoped it is not real because mankind would do great harm with such a powerful tool.

31 People compare cold fusion to giving a baby a machine gun. I do not understand this logic. We can easily destroy the earth with the technology we already have. We do not need cold fusion, nuclear bombs or any advanced technology. We are using fire, our oldest technology, to destroy the rain forests. The ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans deforested large areas and turned productive crop land into desert. The destructive side effects of technology in 2000 BC were as bad as they are today.

Cold fusion could become a powerful force for evil. Used unwisely, or with malice, it could exacerbate social problems ranging from boom boxes to unemployment and environmental destruction. But that is true of every technology. Unless it can be used to make cheap nuclear bombs, cold fusion will not threaten our future any more than fire or automobiles already do. If people act irresponsibly, and laws are not established to protect the ecosystem, we will end up destroying the earth no matter what tools we use. Our only hope is that people will act wisely, and they will treasure and protect nature. That job will be far easier with nonpolluting cold fusion. We can use this wonderful new tool to eliminate pollution and clean up the earth if we choose to, or we can destroy everything with it. It is up to us. Our destiny has always been up to us.

  1. A. C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future, (Bantam, 1972) p.144
  2. R. Levine, "Sun," Microsoft Encarta, 1996 edition; 3.8x1033 ergs/sec
  3. Hydrogen Program Plan FY 1993 - FY 1997, US Department of Energy, NREL, June 1992, Appendix A
  4. An internal combustion engine can be combined with a generator and battery to solve this problem. This is how diesel - electric railroad locomotive works. This also allows effective regenerative braking. An experimental automobile works on similar principles. See: A. Pollack, "Toyota to Sell Hybrid-Power Car in Japan," New York Times March 26, 1997"
  5. Interview with NASA scientist, National Public Radio, november 23, 1996
  6. Private communication, R. Machachek, Product Manager - Heavy Water, Ontario Hydro
  7. Refinery use and loss account for 11 million barrels per day out of 59 million total production. See: G. Davis, "Energy for Planet Earth," Scientific American,September 1990, p. 59
  8. G. Davis, ibid.
  9. R. Stobaugh, D. Yergin, "Energy Supply, World," Microsoft Encarta, 1996 Edition
  10. Sources: R. Petrasso, Nature, 350, (1991), 661; private communication R. Heeter, PPPL, and B. Merriman, UCSD
  11. A. C. Clarke, ibid, p. 1555
  12. E. Storms, "How to Produce the Pons-Fleischmann Effect," Fusion Technology, March 1996
  13. A. Fickett, "Efficient Use of Electricity," Scientific American, September 1990, p. 66, citing and EPRI study
  14. W. Baker, "The Hull," The Lore of Ships, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963) p. 19
  15. D. Ford, Three Mile Island, (Penguin Books, 1982), p. 115
  16. J. M. Unger, The Fifth Generation Fallacy, (Oxford University Press, 1987)
  17. Hydrogen Program Plan FY 1993 - FY 1997, US Department of Energy, NREL, June 1992, Appendix A
  18. Price quote from Inelligen Energy Systems, Inc., 98 South Street, Hopkinton MA 01748
  19. A. C. Clarke, ibid, p. 148-149
  20. Http:// S. Florman, Blaming Technology, (St. Martin's Press, 1981), p. 15
  21. S. Florman, Blaming Technology, (St. Martin's Press, 1981), p. 15
  22. J. McPhee, The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1981), originally published in the New Yorker Magazine, 1980
  23. E. L. Andrews, "60 Years After Disaster, A Zeppelin is Set to Fly," New York Times, April 22, 1997
  24. D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, Doubleday & Co., 1948, p. 164
  25. F. Dyson, Weapons and Hope, (Harper and Row, 1984), p. 47
  26. Private communication, 1993
  27. "Shokubutsu koujousan no yasai ga ninki," ("Food factory-grown vegetables are popular"), Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16, 1994
  28. R. B. Woodward, "Business is Blooming," New York Times magazine, May 9, 1993
  29. H. B. Herring, "900,000 Striped Bass, and Not a Fishing Pole in Sight," New York Times, November 6, 1994
  30. "Agriculture," Microsoft Encarta, 1996 edition
  31. E. Mallove, Fire from Ice, (Wiley, 1991), p. 86

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