It is safe to say that cold fusion, if followed through in all its implications, has the potential to unleash revolutionary developments in many fields of science and technology. Moreover, it is likely that cold fusion is only one of a much broader family of nuclear reactions – Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) – occurring in dense materials, which can generate energy without dangerous release of radiation and might be realized by relatively simple, compact devices.
Judging from the ICCF-22 conference and relevant research literature – and disregarding various sensational, but dubious claims that continue to muddy the waters – it is reasonable to expect that the first commercial applications will emerge over the next five to 10 years in the domain of heat generation in the temperature range up to 200° C.
Early applications could include the heating of rooms and buildings – already a very large market – as well as heat production for various industrial processes. Advantages would include small size, operation over long periods – perhaps years – without refueling and complete absence of CO2 emissions. Even where refueling might be needed, the availability of hydrogen is virtually unlimited and its price is low.
Here one must bear in mind that cold fusion has already proven its ability to release hundreds of times more energy per gram of supplied hydrogen than does chemical combustion. When optimized, the factor may grow to tens of thousands of times or even hundreds of thousands times more energy.
The results of Japanese research into materials for cold fusion reactors also suggest that they could be made quite inexpensive. These prospective advantages rest on the assumptions that the level of heat generation can be regulated in a safe manner and that the host material will not need to be replaced too often. At this point I see no reason not to be optimistic.
The higher the temperature, and the greater the power density that cold fusion reactors can provide, the wider will be the range of potential applications. In compact and portable form, cold fusion devices might prove suitable in the future for powering cars and airplanes, for example. But I shall not attempt to speculate further here.
Where Asia stands
With Japan appearing to be the leading nation in the world today in the field of cold fusion experiments and relevant technology, what about the other Asian countries? What about India and China?
From discussions at ICCF-22 I got the impression that cold fusion research is only barely alive in India today. This is surprising given that the late PK Iyengar, one of the fathers of the Indian nuclear program and director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at the time of the Fleishmann-Pons experiment, became a great supporter of cold fusion research.
Under his leadership BARC carried out a variety of important experimental investigations, verifying the essential phenomena of cold fusion and demonstrating their nuclear origin. Already by the end of 1989, the Indian Atomic Energy Agency published a book by Iyengar and his colleague M Srinivasan entitled BARC Studies In Cold Fusion. At the height of cold fusion research in India, research groups all over the country were involved.
What happened? In 1990 Iyengar left BARC to become chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. His successor at BARC was, it seems, bitterly opposed to cold fusion and wasted no opportunity to shut down any work in this field.
As in so many other countries, Indian cold fusion research has suffered greatly from the rejection of cold fusion by the mainline scientific community of the US, and the resulting stigma associated with work in this direction
The good news is that since 2016 cold fusion has picked up again in India. Among other things India’s National Thermal Power Corporation is reportedly sponsoring a cold fusion effort at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. A dozen or more other research groups are also active in cold fusion, and there appears to be significant excitement among young researchers. Nevertheless, the level of funding still remains low.
What about China? Research activity has been going on more or less continuously, with China’s top academic institution, Qinghua University playing the leading role. But as far as I can see, the effort has long remained low-key, most likely out of fear of losing face in the international scientific community. In a 2015 report on “Nuclear Developments in China” the nuclear engineer Guo Wentao characterized the prevailing attitude toward cold fusion with the following words:
In China, the research on LENR is still at the beginning stage. China is still holding back to see whether the international LENR field will have a breakthrough. China’s attitude towards LENR is to wait until there is a reliable message indicating that there has been a real breakthrough in this field. LENR supporters regret that this also means that China is probably to miss the best chance to develop LENR technology in case this phenomenon can be used commercially.
From what I can gather, this attitude has continued up until recently. It will be interesting to see whether the developments reported in this article, will wake up the dragon.
Maybe that has already happened. The next international conference on cold fusion – ICCF 23 – is scheduled to take place in China next year.
Jonathan Tennenbaum received his PhD in mathematics from the University of California in 1972 at age 23. Also a physicist, linguist and concert pianist, he’s a former editor of FUSION magazine. He lives in Berlin and travels frequently to Asia and elsewhere, consulting on economics, science and technology.