An Interview with Mats Lewan,
Author of An Impossible Invention
IE: You have faced criticism from skeptics and detractors about your ongoing coverage of Rossi, and your close involvement with many of the tests. You write on p. 195 that under this pressure, you still maintained, “I basically had no other stance than that the technology had such potential that I had to continue to monitor it, provided it was not proven to be based on mistake or fraud.” Can you speak a bit about the general reasons you feel so strongly about covering the cold fusion field, and what its impact could be?
LEWAN: It’s quite straightforward: Cold fusion or a process with similar properties could bring fundamental change to the world and solve a series of important problems on Earth, starting with clean water to everyone. The reason is that it seems to be a nuclear reaction, and thus has an energy density roughly a million times higher than all chemical reactions, and yet it doesn’t seem to have any of the problems we have with the only two nuclear reactions for energy production we know so far—fission (nuclear plants) and fusion (in the sun but not yet on Earth in controlled forms)—which both require big plants and produce huge amounts of dangerous radiation, and also radioactive waste or contaminated material.
Consequently CF/LENR would be a very compact and versatile energy source, which is both clean and virtually inexhaustible. You just cannot ignore such a possibility, if there are signs that it actually exists.
Furthermore, I believe that we in the future will find many other ways to harness the enormous amounts of energy that are stored in matter, according to E = m*c2 (which explains all energy gains in exothermal reactions, be it chemical or nuclear, but nuclear are much more effective). There’s really no energy problem in the universe—it’s just a technical problem to transform matter to energy!
Nuclear physics is such a young discipline—only roughly 100 years old—so it would be strange if there wouldn’t be a lot to discover yet.
IE: Excess Heat author Charles Beaudette, in a recent paper presented at the MIT Cold Fusion Colloquium, criticizes science journalists as not being capable of properly referencing cold fusion scientific papers or interpreting experimental data. It seems that you have done a great deal of said research. Did you begin following the cold fusion field before Rossi’s first announcement, or was the potential onset of a commercial device the impetus for you to look closely at the field?
LEWAN: I had an eye on cold fusion before, but basically I accepted what was being served to me through other sources—that it probably was an error of measurement or a result of wishful thinking. Not until I noted Rossi’s experiment in January 2011, and received such a strong reaction of interest from our readers, did I start to study all that happened in 1989 and the following years. With my basic knowledge in physics (having a Master’s degree in Engineering Physics), it was not difficult to understand that it was a possible process, and that other factors probably had influenced what was reported, and how.
IE: Beaudette also spoke of the lack of good science reporting that exists at major publications. He said science reporters “do not have the scientific education or the background of experience that comes from a career practice in science. So how do they manage to make a career of reporting with a high order of accuracy (cold fusion notwithstanding) concerning new developments in various fields of science?” You have been closely involved with numerous tests conducted on the E-Cat, and your engineering background was very useful in making measurements. Have you at other times in your journalism career utilized your science background so extensively (hands on) in your science reporting?
LEWAN: No, never before so much hands-on. I have daily use of my understanding of physics and science, talking with inventors, scientist and entrepreneurs, and it’s often appreciated that I make informed questions based on a certain knowledge.
I believe that many journalists in many sectors stick to the method of referring to what different parties express and then let the public valuate and make conclusions. It often works, but when you approach a subject where you start to believe that opinions are biased, that what most people say might not be an accurate picture of reality—be it science or attitudes towards immigrants, just to give examples—then you have to make a choice: Either you stick to the referring method, which then starts to be some kind of hiding, or you try to unfold another version of the situation. I chose the second way, and there are many other journalists who do the same thing better than me in other areas. That’s why I tried to call my method investigative science journalism. In the end science and technology journalism shouldn’t be different from other kinds of journalism, but maybe it is, out of tradition. People don’t expect science journalists to investigate. They should trust scientists who know so much more.
IE: You catalog in the book the many meetings you have had with Rossi, and some of the frustrations you have encountered with his approach to testing. On p. 193 you highlight many of the attributes that innovators often have which can be negatively interpreted by others. Which of these do you think is the most detrimental to allowing a new technology to come to market?
LEWAN: The belief that a good technology sells itself.
IE: What lessons could other inventors and innovators learn from the Rossi story, as presented in your book?
LEWAN: That’s a difficult question. There is lots of good advice to inventors and entrepreneurs around. What makes the Rossi story particular is the tremendous potential of his invention if it works, and thus a strong interest for others to gain access to the underlying secrets and take advantage of him. This occurs from time to time with important inventions, but this is kind of at an extreme level. And I believe that maybe Rossi’s previous experiences as well as his particular personal traits and character in the end might have helped him in this situation. We don’t know this yet, but it’s possible. On the other hand I’m not so sure that these aspects of Rossi would be an advantage when trying to develop a more common invention and bring it to market. Yet, maybe the book gives a perspective on the various difficulties you face when inventing new technologies and trying to develop them.
IE: Your book notes that Rossi is no longer interested in conducting independent tests of the E-Cat. But, if you could suggest the perfect conditions and parameters for one more definitive test, what would you recommend be done (differently, or the same)?
LEWAN: Lots of good suggestions have been made, most of them regarding the old E-Cat which was boiling water. One easy thing that could have been done would be to sparge the steam in water and measure the increase in temperature. That would have eliminated discussions on steam quality.
Another obvious thing that has never been performed well is a clear dummy test where you run the reactor without charge or with another gas than hydrogen first, and then the same set-up with an active reactor.
But there will always be discussions, since the result is so controversial. When you measure your weight on a bathroom scale you immediately trust the result, within a certain margin, because it’s not controversial. Even though it would be easy to manipulate the scale. When you on the other hand measure something like the E-Cat, there will always be objections. Furthermore, as I write in the book, I’m not sure that Rossi really wanted to make a perfect demo. I think Jed Rothwell’s comparison with Edison, which I quote, is good. Edison had to balance between showing enough to attract interest from customers and investors, but not too much which could help or incentivize competitors. In that way he gained time to pick low hanging fruit in intellectual property.
IE: Jed Rothwell posts fervently on various LENR-related forums. He has said of the various test failures: “In a strange way these failures bolster my belief that Rossi cannot be a hoax…If he is a confidence man, he is the most incompetent one on earth. He inspires no confidence in anyone, especially when he does tests that fail drastically for obvious reasons…Why would a con man go around doing these things? It is not difficult to arrange a fake energy device that seems to work perfectly…So why would you set up a fake energy device that looks like it is not working? Why would you spend vast sums of money and years of effort making a pretend 1 MW reactor with 51 complicated boxes in it?” Your book supposes that Rossi may be comfortable with skepticism, to keep competitors at bay or for a myriad of other reasons. Do you think this has been a good strategy for Rossi?
LEWAN: Yes, as I said before, I believe Rothwell’s analysis might be accurate, and Rossi also admits this in the book (even though sometimes when he answers questions I suspect that he might choose the answer which the person who asks the question wants to hear). But you can hide behind this Edisonian strategy only up to a certain point in time. Sooner or later you need to show hard facts and products on the market, and I believe Rossi’s getting close to that point now.
IE: The level of effort and funds he expended are unlikely to have been done by someone trying to scam others. But, did you ask Rossi or ever get any sense why he would sell the rights to certain countries for as little as $10,000?
LEWAN: No, I never asked this. I basically thought that there were too many uncertainties regarding the financial aspects of the story to be able to report on them, except in a few cases when I had several sources. However, I think it’s interesting to note that Rossi has now offered to buy back those commercial licenses. Some of the licensees have confirmed this to me, and at least one has accepted, if I remember right.
IE: During the 1 MW reactor testing in October 2011, there were no measurements shown to the media, and the only data available was what Rossi offered at the end of the test. Did anyone ask to see the actual data collected in the LabView monitoring system?
LEWAN: I don’t know if anyone asked, but my impression was that that data would not be presented to any external person.
IE: Also during that same test, why did Rossi continue to operate the large 600 KW diesel generator throughout the whole test, when he was through the heating phase, but only producing 470 KW of net heat, but could easily have shut off the big generator and run the pumps and blowers on his “house” power system? This was one of the biggest credibility elements in that test, which he could have easily addressed to overcome the skepticism.
LEWAN: I don’t know. It could have been a requirement by the testers to have all electricity delivered from one point. In any case it shouldn’t have been difficult for those persons to make sure that electricity to the heaters was cut off. Regarding the credibility towards us who were observing from outside there were too many unknowns anyway. Changing the source for the pumps wouldn’t have changed much. Also the electrical heaters could in part have been fed in another way, and it was still difficult or impossible for us to verify the calorimetric measurement.
IE: You spend only a few pages near the end of the book discussing the 100 hour tests of the E-Cat in Uppsala and Bologna, which many believe is the most compelling evidence of the E-Cat’s functionality and promise. Do you share this view?
LEWAN: So far yes. That I spent only a few pages was maybe in part because I felt I was finishing the book and couldn’t add much more detail, in part because the result speaks for itself, and in part because I wasn’t present personally.
IE: If the E-Cat claims had not been “supported” by people like Levi, Kullander, etc. would you from your own direct experience with testing be as convinced, or has the support of well-known scientists bolstered your belief in the claims a great deal?
LEWAN: First, the basic support of the physical possibility of LENR processes by numerous scientists is important to me. I can see that they are experienced and qualified scientists, having made experiments and assessments that I could never do. Second, that Essén and Kullander went down and witnessed a test was not of fundamental importance, since that experiment had several weaknesses, but their positive travel report increased my interest. Finally, the Levi, Essén et al. report on the HotCat was important, since it was the first measurement with good accuracy. As time has gone by, listening to all critics and skeptics, I have often considered the possibility of measurement errors and fraud, and without the support of these scientists I would probably have been less convinced.
IE: Many, including you, seem to give more credence to Rossi’s E-Cat than to Defkalion’s Hyperion. Some suggest that their lack of confidence in Defkalion is based partly on the fact that they have not published many papers (though Rossi only did on his own site), or that they have not had as many independent tests performed and published. But, when one looks at the test protocols used in the known Hyperion and E-Cat tests, do you (as someone who was involved with tests for both parties) feel that the instrumentation and collection of data by Defkalion has been more thorough, professional and standardized? If so, was it simply the results of E-Cat tests that were more definitive, or the general behavior of the parties, that lends to one being more believable than the other?
LEWAN: I still have great doubts about Defkalion. During the whole story they have behaved much less transparently with me, and also the only measurement at which I have been present—the one in Milan last year—was less transparent than the ones I have witnessed with Rossi’s technology. Their polished way of collecting data and presenting protocols is more of a surface to me. Speaking with people who have been involved with them has increased my doubts. In my blog, which I refer to in my book, I stated after the Milan demo, “If you believe the values presented…” and that is the basic problem, whether you can believe those values, because they are just presented to you.
IE: You have published the E-Cat story before a commercial product has been released. What was your rationale for that? Is it your plan to write another book as the story unfolds further, or are there other aspects of (or inventors from) the new energy field that you might consider writing further about?
LEWAN: I really don’t know yet if there will be another book. First we’ll have to see how this story unfolds. If I start writing another book depends on whether I think I have enough unique information or analyses to have something interesting to offer the reader. My basic idea behind this book was that I thought that it was a story that had to be told, and I also hope that it might contribute to increased public attention for this field.
IE: One problem faced by the field has been the lack of younger people becoming involved. There has been a shift in the past few years of more young scientists becoming part of the community. Are there certain efforts that the field is not pursuing which might appeal to young scientists?
LEWAN: Having new skilled researchers is always good. You can never predict what ideas they will come up with, and as you say, the lack of new people has been a fundamental problem for this field. And again, if my book can contribute to a greater attention, and as a consequence also a decreased risk for young researchers who would choose to get involved, I’d be more than happy. It’s absurd that researchers would have to avoid interesting research because of the risk of being criticized or accused!
IE: Do you think Rossi will ultimately be thought of as the primary “inventor” of LENR devices, or maybe Piantelli, or one of the Japanese like Mizuno?
LEWAN: Even if his invention turns out to be real I doubt he will be considered the main inventor of the technology. There’s so much politics and various influence from opinion leaders in the scientific community in deciding who is the most important inventor or researcher. I also still know too little about fundamental contributions in the field to have an informed opinion.
IE: Do you have any recent information about the Rossi agreement with Industrial Heat, i.e. are things moving along as planned? Do you sense that there could be some “conflict of interest” between the Rossi agreement with Ampenergo and that with Industrial Heat?
LEWAN: I know very little about Rossi’s agreement with Industrial Heat. IH has not responded to my requests for contact. However, I don’t think that there’s any conflict of interest with regard to Ampenergo. As I describe in the book, Ampenergo was involved at an early stage in discussions with a company that I believe must have been Industrial Heat/Cherokee Partners. As far as I know Ampenergo has a commercial license which would give right to royalties on sales of products based on Rossi’s technology in North and South America. That could still be valid.
IE: When you released the book, you sent a personal statement to interested parties, in which you write: “Just as I’m writing these words I’m receiving new information on events that strengthen some pieces of the story in the book, and also some information that add to my doubts regarding certain stakeholders.” Can you expound on that in any way, generic or specific?
LEWAN: Not yet. I’ll share updates on what I know as soon as I can.
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