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infinite energy

Infinite Energy Device Update
Progress in Les Case's Catalytic Fusion
Published in IE Volume 4, Issue #23
by Gene Mallove July, 1999

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Editor's Note:
In the course of video-taping our forthcoming documentary about cold fusion (Cold Fusion: Fire from Water), our video team visited Dr. Michael McKubre this fall in his laboratory at SRI International in Menlo Park, California. These are some of his comments about the status of his group's experiments to verify the work of Dr. Les Case in the United States and Drs. Arata-and Zhang in Japan (see IE Issue No. 18 for Mike Carrell's summary of the latter). Though understated and cautious, as befits one of the field's foremost scientists, it is clear from what Dr. Mckubre says that much progress is being made.— EFM

Comments by Dr. Michael McKubre
The experimental apparatus here is really set up to see whether or not helium can be produced by exposing a carbon catalyst with palladium to deuterium at slightly elevated temperatures and slightly elevated pressures.

This experiment very much follows along the thought process of Les Case and behind me you see five different sets of apparatus. The big vessel here is one of Les Case's, he calls them "footballs," it's a stainless steel vessel— on a heating mantle set up in exactly the arrangement that Les Case himself is doing in New Hampshire.

What we have behind me are four different generations of the Case experiment. There's the original Case experiment in this "football," as he describes it— a cylindrical stainless steel vessel on a heating mantle, a very simple experiment in which you simply put deuterium gas in and monitor for helium production. The first attempt that we had at SRI was formed in these vessels we called "Vessel 1" and "Vessel 2," slightly more sophisticated vessels which you can't see. They are concealed in the stainless steel dewars for heat retention purposes. Originally we had Vessel 1 filled with hydrogen and Vessel 2 filled with deuterium, so we could see whether the helium we were observing was present in the deuterium cell or the hydrogen cell. As it happened this cell Vessel 2 produced something like 11 ppm of helium. Vessel 1 at no stage produced any helium, suggesting that our helium determination process and our leak-tightness was, in fact, satisfactory for this experiment.

The original experiment in Vessel 2, as I said, produced 11 ppm helium. The air that we are breathing in this laboratory now is 5.22 ppm helium, so there is very little opportunity for error. The helium in the vessel, apparently, was produced by some source within the vessel and did not come from the air that we're breathing.

We're running now a second generation of this experiment in these two vessels. It's early stages yet, but we're in the hopeful that we'll be able to reproduce our own result which was, of course, a replication of Les Case's result.

This is a more sophisticated experiment. The question is, does the movement of the deuterium gas play any role in the production of helium. Is convection an issue? Is temperature gradient an issue? In this experiment, which, again, is concealed inside this dewar flask and non-observable, we're simply recirculating deuterium gas over a bed of Les Case's catalyst in a continuous manner and sampling periodically for helium in the deuterium gas. Behind the bullet-proof [transparent] polycarbonate wall here is a high pressure experiment, and this is our most recent attempt to see what the parameter space is for the production of helium from deuterium and carbon catalyst. What is the pressure effect? What is the temperature effect?

Les Case has already explored the temperature dependence somewhat. He finds that the effect occurs in a range of 170°C up to about 270 °C. We have not explored the temperature domain, and until we get a lot more apparatus we won't do so. But we are able to explore the pressure domain somewhat better than Les Case is able to do because we have somewhat more sophisticated apparatus.

In the vessel on the floor, we have a high pressure deuterium gas at intermediate temperature about 200°C. This experiment, in fact, just started about two days ago. We have no reason to expect helium production as yet, and the analysis reveals none so far.

All of these experiments are connected to a common gas manifold. What we are able to do is take a sample of the gas from each of these cells periodically. Initially we did it daily, but now we are doing it every two days, in fact three times a week, so we submit a sample of gas from each of the cells for analysis to the mass spectrometer, a high-resolving, low-mass mass spectrometer. We're capable of separating the two masses of species, deuterium D2 and helium-4. The sole purpose of this experiment, the sole purpose of this apparatus, is to measure helium-4 in the presence of deuterium D2.

On the monitor you see displayed, in fact, the mass spectrum from one of these samples. This is a relatively high level of helium-4. The peak here is the helium-4 peak, the deuterium peak would normally appear here; it's completely absent. This particular example shows 10.5 ppm helium. We compare the samples each day that we perform the analysis, we compare the samples of gas from the various active cells and blanks with a sample of room air, which we have measured many, many times and know to be 5.22 ppm. And we have some standards, which we typically use— that is, gas samples of helium in deuterium and argon which we submit to the mass spectrometer for the purpose of calibration.

The mass spectrometer simply sweeps a mass from low mass to high mass, in this case from 3.96 mass units to 4.06 mass units, which encompasses the range in which helium is to be found. In fact, this peak is helium, and deuterium D2 is to be found which will be found somewhere in this region. We use a liquid nitrogen cooled carbon trap in order to remove D2 so that we're able to see quite low levels of helium. We're accurate to probably 0.1 ppm helium and we can clearly resolve the presence of deuterium D2 and helium-4. This spectrum is, in fact, the sum of a number of spectra that the mass spectrometer simply sweeps for the period of time that we pre-program, and this is the cumulative signal representing the integral of all helium which was present in the sample when we submitted it for analysis. To acquire this spectrum takes us about five minutes.

It's clearly not possible to produce helium from a chemical process. If we observe helium in our experiments it's either because it leaked in from the atmosphere— we can rule that out by the blanks that we do and the fact that the helium signal that we have seen is larger than the helium in the ambient. It's possible that the helium pre-existed in the sample and was simply released to the gas phase with long term exposure. We can rule that out largely because we've analyzed the catalyst that we're using and found that it contains no measurable levels of helium.

The only possibility that remains, and remains to be checked, is that the helium is produced by a nuclear process. If the helium is produced by a nuclear process, then necessarily there will be an associated release of heat. Although these experiments were not initially set up to be rigorous calorimeters, we have monitored them with a sufficient number of temperature sensors that we can know, to some degree with some confidence, whether or not heat is being produced and at what time heat is being produced.

From the best of my ability to analyze the thermal record, it appears that, yes indeed, in the vessel that was producing helium there was some evidence of excess heat and that the amount of heat produced was approximately quantitatively correlated, that is, the right amount of heat was produced compared to that of a nuclear process involving deuteron-plus-deuteron producing one helium-4 nucleus which releases 23.8 meV.

I'd like to re-state that the calorimetry was largely retrospective, this experiment was not set up as a calorimeter and, therefore, the calorimetry is not rigorous, but the temperature record quite clearly indicates in these experiments, as it does in Les Case's experiments, that there is an unexplained source of heat and the magnitude of that source of heat is approximately the right value to account for the observed helium.

Part of this generation of experiments is to improve the calorimetry and the central question in the cold fusion field is: "Is there excess heat?" If "Yes," then, "Is that heat the result of a nuclear process?" So the central question that we're all seeking to answer is: "Is there a quantitative and temporal— is there a quantity-related and time-related correlation between the appearance of anomalous excess heat and the appearance of the product of a nuclear reaction such as helium-4?"

So the thrust of our work is very much to find the heat and quantify it accurately and find the nuclear process and quantify it accurately so we can correlate the appearance of these two products.

We have determined that there is excess heat and we have to do a better job of measuring it with accuracy. This laboratory here is really set up to do highly accurate calorimetry. That work has largely been associated with the electrochemical experiments, such as Arata's experiments and our own experiments. So we are quite capable and willing to do the calorimetry. We just haven't applied those skills fully yet to the Case experiment, but this is obviously our plan.

One of the difficulties in the cold fusion field is the apparent lack of replicability of experiments: many people performing the same experiment get apparently different results; different experiments performed in the same laboratory give apparently different results. So it's obvious that if you do the same thing you must always get the same result. What this is telling us is that there are some important parameters of our experiments that are not under our control. Some of them I know and understand, and still [we] can't control some of these parameters we don't know about yet. We just don't know what the process is that we are studying, so we don't know what parameters we need to control in order to yield a consistent result.

An experiment which always gives the same result— can be performed in several different laboratories to yield the same result— would be very valuable to us, in part in helping to convince the remaining skeptical scientists in the world that there is a phenomenon to observe. But, in fact, in order to use the scientific method to observe scientific results, we have to be able to reproduce the results of our own experiments so that we can see what the effects of small changes are on these experiments.

The Arata-Zhang Experiment
One experiment which has been reported to produce consistent and reproducible results is that of Professors Arata and Zhang, both of them are very, very experienced and very well recognized scientists in Japan. They performed a very careful experiment, reproduced it apparently a number of times in their own laboratory— producing both anomalous excess heat in fairly significant levels and helium-4 and, perhaps more interestingly, helium-3. The helium-3 to helium-4 ratio that they observed in their experiments is different from that in the air that we're breathing. [Editor's Note: This isotope ratio is off by a huge factor— see the Carrell review in IE Issue No. 18.— EFM]. Sufficiently different to indicate that there is clearly an anomalous nuclear reaction occurring. The difficulty only with Arata and Zhang's experiment is that it's only been performed by them and only in their laboratory. What we're attempting to do here is to produce their same results with their apparatus and with their help. This is a collaborative effort between Arata and Zhang and the SRI group, to produce in our laboratory the same results as they have obtained repeatedly over the years, which would indicate that we have some degree of mastery over the experiment.

The experiment that we have running here, in fact, is relatively young; it hasn't been operating for very long. One of the difficulties with Arata's experiment is that it requires many, many months to produce a result, and quite literally we're not very experienced with Arata's methods, so we've had some difficulty getting his experiment set up and operational. Certainly, it's caused me to have an increased level of respect for Arata and Zhang's technical competence. They are very, very good scientists. Within a month or two, we hope to have reproduced their experiment faithfully and reproduced their result. And the benefit will be in part sociological. We will demonstrate that an experiment can be transported from laboratory to laboratory and yield the same result. It will also give us something that we can do again ourselves and define somewhat the parameter space in which these experiments yield excess heat and, apparently, helium-3 and helium-4.

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