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LENR - Frequently Asked Questions About Low Energy Nuclear Reactions and Cold Fusion History

By Steven B. Krivit x
 

What is LENR (What are LENRs)?
How does LENR work?
What is "Cold Fusion"?
What is the experimental evidence for LENR?
Have LENR papers been published in peer-reviewed journals, books and encyclopedias?
Is there a viable theory to explain LENRs?
Where does the energy come from in LENRs?
How are LENR experiments performed?
What is "excess heat"?
When will LENR be a commercial power success?
Are there any commercial LENR technologies now?
What impact will deuterium or hydrogen use have on our oceans?
Is LENR harmful to the environment?
What are other possible applications of LENRs?
Who discovered LENR or, as it was called initially, "cold fusion"?
Did Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons retract their claim of fusion?
Where did the term "cold fusion" come from?
What does Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (CMNS) mean?
What mistakes did Pons and Fleischmann make, and why was their claim initially thought to be a mistake?
What is the difference between the Pons-Fleischmann and the Steven E. Jones experiments?
What is Steven B. Krivit's scientific discipline, background and how did he become involved in LENR? (See IARPA interview, questions #1-3)
What have been the major turning points in the evolution of the LENR field? (See IARPA interview, question #7)
What have been the nature of the debates in the scientific community as LENR evolved as a science? (See IARPA interview, question #2a)
 
Real Journalism – LENR Facts

Original Online Content

Only at New Energy Times


What is LENR (What are LENRs?)
New Energy Times describes low-energy nuclear reactions, (LENRs) as “laboratory experiments that have the potential to produce nuclear-scale energy and nuclear products but without the harmful effects of conventional nuclear energy. LENRs entail weak interactions and neutron-capture processes that take place in nanometer-to-micron-scale regions on surfaces in condensed matter at or near room temperature. Although nuclear, LENRs are not based on either fission or any kind of fusion, both of which primarily involve the strong interaction.”

The word "low" refers to the input energies that go into the reactions; the output energies may be low or high. The term was chosen by its researchers to distinguish it from the field of high-energy physics.

According to New Energy Times, "the research suggests a possible new form of clean nuclear energy and nuclear transmutation processes. Early in the field's history, researchers called it 'cold fusion.' By 2008, strong experimental and theoretical support emerged that confirmed it was not fusion." (See related article LENR Is Not "Cold Fusion.")

New Energy Times states that "LENRs do not produce greenhouse gases, strong prompt radiation or long-lived radioactive wastes. The primary fuel may be deuterium or hydrogen, both of which are abundantly available in ocean water. LENRs produce highly energetic nuclear reactions and elemental transmutations but do so without strong prompt radiation or long-lived radioactive waste."

How does LENR work?
(Source: New Energy Times) Allan Widom and Lewis Larsen appear to have the clearest explanation for how LENR works; a four-step process that uses weak interactions and neutron captures to explain LENR from beginning to end. See our article "Widom-Larsen Theory Simplified."

What is "Cold Fusion"?
(Source: New Energy Times) "Cold fusion" is the historical term for this research and science controversy. When the field began in 1989, few researchers knew about weak-interaction processes; they knew only about nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. They knew that what was happening didn't look anything like fission, so fusion was their best, though limited, guess.

The early researchers speculated that somehow the laws of physics were working differently in these experiments. Mainstream physicists didn't think so. The "cold fusion" scientists thought that deuterons or protons were somehow overcoming high Coulomb barriers and engaging in charged-particle fusion reactions at or near room temperature.

The researchers had good evidence that something nuclear was going on, but they never saw any good experimental evidence to support that it was a "cold fusion" process. However, in 1989, the researchers lacked extensive experimental data and knowledge of weak interactions, so "cold fusion" was ther best guess. By the second decade of research, things became clearer.

What is the experimental evidence for LENR?
(Source: New Energy Times) See my 2012 American Nuclear Society slide presentation.

Have LENR papers been published in peer-reviewed journals, books and encyclopedias?
(Source: New Energy Times) LENR papers have appeared in many mainstream publications. See our list of Selected LENR Research Papers, LENR and Cold Fusion History Book Index and our LENR Encyclopedia Sources.

Is there a viable theory to explain LENR?
(Source: New Energy Times) Yes, but only one. The Widom-Larsen Theory proposes a complete, mathematically correct model based on conventional physics. Lewis Larsen came up with his first and only LENR theory in the late 1990s, then worked with Allan Widom to develop it to completion. Other theorists have tried dozens, even hundreds, of different ideas, each for more than two decades, but none has gained significant attention. In 2007, Yogendra Srivastava joined the group and helped to extend the Widom-Larsen theory from the condensed-matter realm to the magnetic-field realm.

Where does the energy come from in LENRs?
(Source: New Energy Times) The energy in LENR comes from neutron-capture processes and beta-decays, followed by conversion of gamma rays to infra-red. Take a look at our article Where Does the Energy Come From in LENR? and be sure to scroll to the bottom to see examples of possible reaction pathways. Widom and Larsen explain the gamma-ray conversion in their U.S. patent.

How are LENR experiments performed?
So glad you asked! See the New Energy Times Index of LENR Experimental Methodologies.

What is "excess heat"?
(Source: New Energy Times) A fundamental principle in electrochemistry is that, when one applies a certain amount of electrical energy to an electrolytic cell, one expects a commensurate amount of heat to come out of the cell.

In a standard electrolytic cell, calculating the amount of energy coming out of the system is normally straightforward.

However, what Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann discovered (see question below) was that the amount of heat coming out of the cell was a thousand times greater than it should have been, based on any known chemical reaction.

An excessive amount of heat was coming from the experiment. It did not, in any way, match the amount of electrical energy going in plus other accounted-for energy losses. And this was their fundamental historic discovery: Something within the cell was releasing a new, "hitherto unknown" (Pons-Fleischmann) source of potential energy.

When will LENR be a commercial power success?
(Source: New Energy Times) This is perhaps the most frequently asked question. Nobody really knows when LENR will be a commercial power success; it is the big mystery at the moment.

Simply, the science is still not sufficiently well understood. Although the research community knows a great deal about the related phenomena, it still does not know the factors necessary to bring it forward to a viable technology. Factors include how to consistently turn it on and turn it off, up or down.

Many researchers think that the greatest problem to be solved is a materials science issue. Researchers do not understand the specific atomic composition of the source materials - palladium or nickel, for example - that are required to make it work. The characteristic differences among batches appear to be at the nanoscale or atomic level. Consequently, this research is extremely difficult to perform without a large, well-equipped laboratory, and few researchers have had the means to study the subject properly.

The second-greatest challenge is to remove the enormous quantities of heat from the cells quickly enough. The heat tends to melt and deform the host metals, rendering them useless.

Are there any commercial LENR technologies now?
(Source: New Energy Times) No. Despite occasionaly hyped promotions in the last two decades, there are no commercial LENR devices. New Energy Times maintains a list of LENR Companies and Commercial New Energy Research here. The main problem is that the science is poorly understood. No technology can be developed until the science is understood.

LENR devices likely will be small and relatively inexpensive. These characteristics often lead people to expect that small companies can produce commercial devices now. However, even after the science is clearly understood, practical devices likely will require high technology to manufacture. Eventually, real commercial LENR devices will hit the market. Meanwhile, potential investors and fans should check facts carefully. New Energy Times has investigated several questionable science and technology claims in the field.

What impact will deuterium or hydrogen use have on our oceans?
(Source: New Energy Times) With the quantity of deuterium in seawater alone, the oceans can provide a nearly limitless supply of clean energy. Hydrogen or deuterium used in LENR can potentially provide thousands of times as much energy as the same amount of fossil fuel.

Steve Nelson, while an astrophysicist Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, performed a calculation which showed that the impact of deuterium extraction from ocean water, for the purpose of generating nuclear energy for the entire world, would lower the ocean surface by only 1 millimeter after several thousand years.

Is LENR harmful to the environment?
(Source: New Energy Times) The research indicates that LENR will be a clean form of nuclear energy; it produces no radioactive "waste." No greenhouse gases result from LENR processes. The fundamental process in LENR relies on the "weak force."

Conventional nuclear energy relies on the "strong force" and splits atoms through nuclear fission; it is a fundamentally different nuclear process from LENRs.

LENR experiments yield only very low levels of gamma rays and neutron emissions. Such low levels of radiation are found in at least some LENR reactions, but this radiation is usually absorbed directly in the experiments. Shielding, if required, likely will be easily manageable and suitable for industrial as well as residential applications.

What are other possible applications of LENRs?
(Source: New Energy Times) Several technical miracles, in addition to a new source of clean energy, could come from LENR:

  • LENRs may provide a way to take radioactive waste from fission reactors and convert it to nonradioactive elements.
  • LENRs may aid in transporting water great distances to irrigate barren lands to support agriculture for nations that are experiencing famine.
  • LENRs may provide unlimited quantities of drinking water, which in some countries is more precious than oil, by providing an improved method for desalinization of ocean water.
  • LENRs may enable new modes of transportation using magnetic levitation technology and transportation with previously unimaginable fuel efficiency.
  • And other breakthroughs beyond our imagination ... both big and small.

Who discovered LENR?
(Source: New Energy Times) The research goes back all the way to the 1920s and 1930s, but it wasn't called either LENR or "cold fusion" back then. It was rediscovered in the mid-1980s by electrochemists Stanley Pons, chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Utah, and Martin Fleischmann, a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Pons and Fleischmann were aware of the controversial nature of the research, and they initially carried it out secretly, worried that its announcement would cause chaos in the scientific community. They were right.

Eventually, circumstances with their perceived competitor, physicist Steven E. Jones, at Brigham Young University, prompted Pons, Fleischmann and the University of Utah to hold a press conference. On March 23, 1989, the two scientists and university administrators announced their discovery.

The term "cold fusion" was not chosen by Pons or Fleischmann. The Pons and Fleischmann research was confused by the media in 1989 with earlier research in the field of muon-catalyzed fusion, and the term was misapplied to their work.


Did Fleischmann and Pons retract their claim of fusion?
(Source: New Energy Times) Within a year, Fleischmann and Pons backed off on their claim that their experiment showed evidence of fusion, but they did not retract their claim that their experiment revealed something new and inexplicable. They wrote the following in their 1990 paper:

"The preliminary note was to have been published under the title 'Electrochemically Induced Fusion of Deuterium?' but the all-important question mark was omitted. It is our view that there can be little doubt that one must invoke nuclear processes to account for the magnitudes of the enthalpy releases, although the nature of these processes is an open question at this stage.

"It is hardly tenable that the substantial number of confirmations of the calorimetric data using a variety of techniques can be explained by a collection of different systematic errors nor that tritium generation can be accounted for by any but nuclear processes."

By 1994, Fleischmann and Pons wrote in Il Nuovo Cimento that D-D fusion was unlikely to be the explanation:

"’We conclude that all theoretical attempts that concentrate only on few-body interactions, both electromagnetic and nuclear, are probably insufficient to explain such phenomena."

In 2009, Fleischmann said in a recorded interview with Steven B. Krivit that LENRs must be caused by neutron-catalyzed reactions rather than by fusion.

Where did the term "cold fusion" come from?
(Source: New Energy Times) The term was first in the scientific literature in 1958 in an article called "'Cold' Fusion of Hydrogen Nuclei," published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute, by an unidentified author about muon-catalyzed fusion. As the article stated, as the case has been ever since, "the experiments show that although it is possible to make [muon-catalyzed fusion], the process cannot be used as a practical source of power. ... The short life of the mu meson and other properties of this method of producing fusion required putting in more energy that could be withdrawn and the reaction."

What does condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS) mean? (Source: New Energy Times) Condensed matter nuclear science is a term that LENR researchers decided to use in 2002 instead of the term "cold fusion." It has not caught on widely.

Researchers define CMNS as nuclear effects in and/or on condensed matter, targeting its application for portable clean nuclear sources. It is an inter- and multidisciplinary academic field encompassing nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, surface physics and chemistry, and electrochemistry. CMNS applications involve many other fields, as well, including nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, laser science and engineering, material science, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

The term “condensed matter nuclear science” evolved from the discussion and input of many individuals during the May 2002 ICCF Advisory Committee meeting in Beijing, China.


What mistakes did Pons and Fleischmann make, and why was "cold fusion" initially thought to be a mistake?
(Source: New Energy Times) Pons and Fleischmann brought a new field of science to the forefront. It didn't belong to physics; it didn't belong to chemistry. It was somewhere between them.

Their "N-fusion" claim, as they called it, contradicted known nuclear physics theory. Also, nuclear reactions at room temperature and pressure were generally unheard of before Pons and Fleischmann. Few people at the time, including Pons and Fleischmann, had any knowledge of electroweak interactions. In the absence of this knowledge, the Pons-Fleischmann claims were viewed as inconceivable, impossible. Science authorities at the time thought that the two men suffered from incompetence and delusion.

Pons and Fleischmann were bold enough to think that they might be able to create a nuclear fusion reaction using chemistry. They were right about the nuclear part but wrong about the fusion part.

Although they were on shaky ground with their hypothesis of and evidence for fusion, they were strong in their core competency, calorimetry. They used methodologies appropriate for their expertise: electrochemistry and calorimetry. They measured heat production from their experiment that was at least 1,000 times greater than any possible chemical reaction.

Their experimental results, however, brought them into unfamiliar territory: nuclear physics. Several prominent physicists accused Pons and Fleischmann of scientific fraud.

Someone in Pons and Fleischmann's group made questionable changes to the gamma spectrum they reported. Unfortunately, these suspicious changes led some early critics to dismiss the entire set of observations, including the claim of excess heat.

The primary measurement tool used by Pons and Fleischmann - calorimetry, the science of measuring heat - was unfamiliar to nuclear researchers at the time. To nuclear physicists, calorimetry was inadequate to support Pons and Fleischmann's claim of a nuclear reaction. For example, nuclear physicists wanted to see evidence of helium, tritium, neutrons, isotopic shifts and transmutations. These data were not immediately available, but they came later.

Making matters worse for Pons and Fleischmann were numerous problems with the way they and the University of Utah administrators introduced the discovery to the world. Scientists are expected to be cautious and conservative, particularly when public trust is an issue. Nuclear physicists were incredulous when Pons stated at the March 23, 1989, press conference, "We’ve established a sustained nuclear fusion reaction."

Their failure to sufficiently inform and share information with their peers caused an enormous amount of animosity. They also extrapolated their heat measurements, and this resulted in an exaggeration of their energy claims.

Fleischmann and Pons also made it sound like the experiment was easy; this couldn't have been further from the truth. Consequently, thousands of scientists around the world hurried off to try to make "Utah fusion," and when they failed, their anger fueled the already-burning hostility against Pons and Fleischmann.

Other human issues also were a significant factor in the cold fusion controversy. Thermonuclear fusion researchers had tried unsuccessfully for 38 years to create practical energy from their experiments. That research program at one time was funded by the U.S. government to the tune of $1 billion per year and had been on a steep decline when Pons and Fleischmann proposed their much simpler and less expensive alternative. So when the state of Utah asked Congress for money from the thermonuclear fusion budget, things didn't go so well, to say the least.

In the years following the Utah announcement, the bulk of the science community focused on the mistakes, both real and imagined, by Pons and Fleischmann. Critics neglected to consider and recognize the core aspects of the Pons and Fleischmann discovery that were valid.

The basic and most significant claim of Pons and Fleischmann, that of excess energy in the form of heat, was never disproved, despite myths to the contrary. However, the fusion hypothesis that Pons and Fleischmann proposed was clearly wrong. Initially, this discouraged many scientists from paying further attention to the field.


What is the difference between the Pons-Fleischmann and the Jones experiments?
(Source: New Energy Times) The Pons-Fleischmann experiment (University of Utah) used heavy water in a lithium-dioxide electrolyte. Pons and Fleischmann had a very clear and distinct intention for their use of palladium and deuterium, derived from many years of study in that domain, as Fleischmann explained in his paper "Background to Cold Fusion: The Genesis of a Concept."[1]

Steven E. Jones' (Brigham Young University) intention was to replicate what he believed was a fusion reaction occurring in the earth. Jones’ electrochemistry was based on a mixture of elements he thought were present and/or related to the volcanic sites.

Excess heat was the primary objective of the Pons-Fleischmann experiment. Jones did not expect to see excess heat and did not even attempt to measure it.

In a congressional hearing in 1989, Jones compared the trivial amount of energy claimed in his experiment to that claimed in the Pons-Fleischmann experiment. He said the comparison was like comparing a dollar bill to the national debt.

Jones reported an experiment in 2003 [2] which produced 57 neutrons per hour; however, he has been inconsistent with his neutron claims. He initially claimed to see neutrons in 1989, but according to author Charles Beaudette [3], he retracted them in 1993.

The power from the Pons-Fleischmann experiment, if fusion neutrons were produced in the experiment, would have produced 1012 neutrons per second. Instead, the rate of neutron emissions from the Pons-Fleischmann experiment was negligible.

Early in cold fusion history, these differences were not well-understood, and many people attempted to draw direct comparisons between the Pons-Fleischmann experiment and the Jones experiment.

Jones' congressional testimony about the trivial amount of energy that was produced by his experiment was widely reported; however, the significant differences between the two experimental configurations, as described here, were not as well-reported in the media. As a result, the public, assuming both groups were working on the same idea, developed a perception that Jones' more modest claims were more believable and credible than those of Pons-Fleischmann.

1. Fleischmann, M., "Background to Cold Fusion: The Genesis of a Concept," American Chemical Society Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Sourcebook, Marwan, J. and Krivit, S. eds., Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-8412-6966-8 (Fall 2008).

2. Jones, S. E., Keeney, F. W., Johnson, A. C., Buehler, D. B., Cecil, F. E., Hubler, G. Hagelstein, P. L., Ellsworth, J. E., Scott, M. R., "Charged-Particle Emissions From Metal Deuterides," Proceedings of 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion, Cambridge, Mass. (2003).

3. Beaudette, C., Excess Heat and Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed (2nd ed.), South Bristol, Maine: Oak Grove Press, p. 41 (2002).