In the News
Thursday, December 2, 2004
Evidence on Cold Fusion Remains Inconclusive,
New Review Finds
By KENNETH CHANG
In a new review of cold fusion - the
claim that energy can be generated by running electrical current
through water - the Department of Energy released a report yesterday
that says the evidence remains inconclusive, echoing a similar report
15 years ago.
Over the past several months, 18 scientists reviewed
research in cold fusion, and two-thirds of them did not find the
evidence for nuclear reactions in the experiments convincing. Almost
all of them, however, said that aspects of cold fusion merited consideration
for further research.
"I think the new review has shed some light on
the status of research that has been done over the last 15 years,"
said Dr. James F. Decker, deputy director of the science office
in the Energy Department who agreed to the review at the request
of several scientists involved with cold fusion research.
Dr. Decker said the department was open to proposals
for cold fusion research, but added that was not new. "We have
always been open to proposals that have scientific merit as determined
by peer review," he said. "We have never closed the door
to cold fusion proposals."
Cold fusion briefly appeared to promise an unlimited
energy source in 1989 when Drs. B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann
of the University of Utah announced that they had generated fusion
- the same process that powers the sun - in a tabletop experiment
using a jar of water containing deuterium, a heavier version of
They claimed that an electrical current running through
the water pulled deuterium atoms into two palladium electrodes,
generating heat. The speculation was that the heat was coming from
the fusion of the deuterium atoms.
Other scientists, however, had trouble reproducing
the findings, and at the end of 1989, a review by the Energy Department
recommended against a specific cold fusion research program, although
it did support further investigation into some aspects.
After that, most scientists regarded cold fusion as
a discredited farce, but a small group of scientists continued work
in the field. Measurements have become better, but cold fusion experiments
still produce heat at best half of the time. At the end of last
year, several cold fusion scientists approached Dr. Decker, asking
for a review. Dr. Decker agreed.
In the review, nine scientists chosen by the Energy
Department considered a paper submitted by the cold fusion scientists.
Another nine listened to oral presentations by cold fusion scientists
"This was a very, very scientific, very level-headed,
review by everybody," said Dr. Kirby W. Kemper, vice president
for research at Florida State University and one of the reviewers
of the oral presentations. But Dr. Kemper said, "I don't think
we've made much progress since '89 in really nailing down the parameters
that make it reproducible."
He said there were interesting scientific questions
on the behavior of hydrogen within metals that merited research,
and he said his comments tried to offer a future research path.
Dr. Michael McKubre, a scientist at SRI International,
one of the scientists who approached Dr. Decker last year, said
the conclusions were at least "mildly positive" in endorsing
consideration of further research.
"All we set out to demonstrate was there
were serious issues of science that had to be developed further,"
Dr. McKubre said. "If you look through the materials, the majority,
if not the entirety, agree on that point."