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No miracles in science: The story of the "energy catalyzer"

Antonio Turiel is a physicist working at the institute for marine sciences in Barcelona (CSIC) and he keeps the blog "The Oil Crash," (in Spanish). Here, he he examines the story of the "Energy Catalyser" ("E-Cat"); a device proposed by two Italian researchers, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi and purported to generate energy from a nuclear reaction occurring at low temperature. This text is an update in English a post published in Spanish on Aug 20, 2010. The conclusion is that the E-Cat cannot be what it is claimed to be; that is, a device that produces useful energy from nuclear reactions. The destiny of the "E-Cat" seem therefore to move to the category of "pathological science," as the contradictions and the lack of evidence involved in the concept become more evident. However, the E-Cat still enjoys a remarkable popularity in the media and has generated a group of faithful defenders. So, it is important to stress that there are no miracles in science, and the E-Cat, surely, does not contradict the rule.

From "The Oil Crash", a post by Antonio Turiel -
First version published in Spanish on Aug 20 2011, Updated version in English on Nov 29th 2011

1. The E-Cat story

A few weeks ago some readers asked me to comment on an invention devised by two Italians, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi. We are talking about the device known as "E-Cat" (Energy Catalyzer) which is supposed to produce energy from nickel, water and an unrevealed catalyzer. According to the claims of the inventors presented in January 2011, with an electric power intake of 400 watts (when at steady state), the device is supposed to produce an excess heat equivalent to an output power of 12,400 watts. This would imply an energy return on operation 31 times the input energy (not to be confused with the EROEI, as these figures do not account for the energy cost of building the machine, producing the nickel and the catalyzer, etc). Andrea Rossi has subsequently given different (and lower) ratios for the excess heat and, in later tests performed in October 2011, he claimed that other versions of the device could run in "self sustained" mode, even though he could not convincingly demonstrate that claim. At present, Rossi claims to be able to sell a 1MW power plant able to generate energy from low temperature nuclear reactions, even though no data are available on the actual performance of the device.

Despite these contrasting claims, there remains the fact that, if the device were really to produce a significant amount of energy from a low temperature nuclear reaction, we would be facing an energy revolution; all the troubles with Peak Oil will be over and even we will have at hand a magnificent economic stimulus. There is only one problem: the E-Cat cannot be what it is claimed to be. Apart from contradicting all known physics developed up to now, the promoters have never been able to demonstrate that nuclear reactions take place inside the device, and not even that it can produce useful energy.

I have been reading and studying in order to prepare this post and, to tell the truth, I have been almost overcome by a feeling of nuisance, of tedium, of waste of time. I have previously discussed exaggerated announcements about new wonderful discoveries; in most cases a simple series of factual arguments was enough to rapidly end the discussion. But in this occasion I cannot use simple arguments because the E-Cat story is based on the anxiety of so many desperate people, people who are keen to believe in any promise that would take out of their minds the bitter fact that no energy source will eliminate our oil dependence and that we will be forced to accept a more frugal life – although possibly happier!

The proponents of E-Cat put anyone approaching the device in front of a perverse dilemma: given the experimental facts (actually poorly documented) there are two possible explanations for the results of the experiment. The first is that they are measuring the output heat flux incorrectly (but, as I comment below, they do not measure that flux at all). The second possibility is that all the atomic and molecular physics developed during the last century is wrong and so some processes are taking place that should not happen. Also, some nasty side-effects that are usually a consequence of these effects do not occur. As such dramatic effects should have been observed long ago, a person with some education in physics will consider the first possibility as the most plausible one. But the fans of zero point energy and similar nonsense will promptly counter-attack by stating that the big problem with “official science” is its immobility and its lack of ability to accept new ideas. A scientist would reply that there is no problem in revisiting old paradigms, in reviewing things, updating them and sometimes even changing them at the root; that precisely this exercise is good for Science because that is the way in which it progresses the faster but all that requires time: a careful, exhaustive experimentation, controlling and measuring all the variables, isolating all the processes and describing and understanding them correctly, to make sure about how things actually work. Then, E-Cat defenders would reply that scientists are trying to block progress by raising stupid questions in an attempt of denying the reality of the great invention of 21st Century, and that with his narrow-mindedness scientists are unable to accept that there are phenomena beyond their understanding. The scientist may say then that we are not talking here of understanding but of describing in a precise way under which particular conditions we get a particular output (even if we are listing the reagents for a magic spell) and try to be sure that the phenomenon is repeatable and controlled. But at this point of the discussion, zero-point-energy fans usually switch their brains off. The carrot of a future fulfilling our more stupid hopes suspends our reason and make us prone to fall in the obvious trap.

Even if the exercise might turn out to be useless, let's analyze step by step the more evident contradictions of this story to now – much worse may be following. I will examine here the initial claims of Rossi for the tests he performed in January 2011. Later tests added no significant evidence and seemed to have been conceived just to muddy the waters and confuse the public.

In no public tests of the device, excess heat has been measured, it was just inferred. In the January tests, the heat was inferred examining the amount of vapor produced, assumed to be completely dry (that is, there is only water vapor in the exhaust, and no liquid water at all). Considering all the water that is observed to disappear from the device and assuming that all of it has been converted to vapor at 101 Celsius degrees, Rossi calculates the E-Cat output power and shows it to be a variable (depending on the test) number of times larger than the heat in input. The trouble with this approach is that this calculation is an indirect estimate in which the only processes assumed to take place are the temperature rise of the mass of water and its vaporization. But it is difficult to control all the variables. Normally, you should measure the output directly from the exhaust, trying to embed all the system in a closed circuit in which all inputs and outputs are controlled. However, nothing like this has been done by Rossi, neither in the January experiments, nor in the later one. As we have no useful data, all what we can do is to speculate, and I guess that Rossi (who seems to take all the weight of E-Cat promotion on him) counts on this approach to extend the suspense. We can however try to measure, with some degree of uncertainty, what is the real E-Cat energy output just by paying attention to the videos disseminated by Rossi. That's exactly what Peter Ekström, from Lund University, has done for the January experiments. His analysis, summarized in this brief document, shows that no excess heat is being produced and that all the energy entering the system perfectly explains what is observed: the thin vapor filament escaping E-Cat exhaust. Add to that that Rossi regularly manipulates the exhaust to remove “condensed water”, then we can think that part of the “evaporated water” is in reality purged in liquid form. It is likely that the same interpretation is valid also for the October experiments, where other versions of the E-Cat were supposed to run in "self-sustained" mode.

An important clarification: there is a huge difference between knowing something with a certain uncertainty, even it be large, and absolutely not knowing it (see here for a discussion). Peter Ekström's analysis, in spite of its large uncertainties, shows us that the generated excess power cannot be, not even close, the announced 12,000 watts, and that this excess power may perfectly be 0. As Ugo Bardi explains in a post about the E-Cat issue. In the face of this criticism, Rossi replies calling Ekström "a clown."  As you see, there is no attempt to seriously measure the generated power. And, as other researchers have pointed out, if 12,400 watts were actually dissipated to that office air during the hours that the machine is begin demonstrated a remarkable temperature increase should  be generated, easy to be perceived by the human beings inside the room.

Now, to go deeper into the issue, if the process is taking place according to the inventors' claims, it contradicts all known nuclear and molecular physics. As we have already said, this is not a serious objection in itself, provided that the facts are proven. But to that goal the first step is to present enough documented evidence about the process. I do not want to enter into the most complicated details, but let me state some facts about atomic and molecular physics in order to understand the size of the craziness implied by the E-Cat. If the E-Cat worked the way it is said to do, it would imply the existence of a machine not only capable of generating energy with a good EROEI; that's just the icing of the cake. If the involved processes were really nuclear fusion processes, we would have a machine capable to transmute elements (finally, the Philosopher's Stone!) and even, in the hands of an evil mind, it could destroy the entire planet.

What follows is a rather technical and detailed explanation which most probably is not interesting for the majority of readers; those who are not keen to scientific discussions can skip this section and pass to the following one.

2 . Physics of nuclear reactions

I assume that you already know that ordinary matter is formed of atoms and that atoms consist of protons and neutrons (nucleons) in the nucleus, and electrons orbiting around the nucleus. Protons have a positive charge, electrons have an identical charge but of negative sign, and neutrons are electrically neutral and so they do not interact electrostatically with the other nucleons. In a non-ionized atom, the electric charge of the nucleus is balanced by the electric charge of the outer shell. That is, there are as many electrons in the shell as protons in the nucleus. The atom as a whole is thus neutral. Charges of opposite sign attract each other, so electrons tend to fall into the nucleus (protons are 2,000 times as massive as electrons so the effect of the attractive force is much smaller on them). However, electrons do not crash onto the nucleus. That can be seen as due to electrons orbiting the nucleus, analogously to what the Moon does around the Earth, or the Earth does around the Sun. It is an eternal fall trajectory which closes on itself and never allows collisions. Of course, this is just an outdated view that was abandoned when it was understood that a rotating charged particle should emit radiation and so the electrons should progressively lose energy until falling into the nucleus.

With the introduction of Quantum Mechanics we understood that the subatomic world is much more complex than it can be explained in a "solar system" model. Elementary particles are not in a precise physical state but they can be described as a probability cloud. Particles are not at a particular location but in a mix of all the possible ones, at some of them with greater probability that at other. This may sound confusing for some, but this is called the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics, which is the standard one. Despite being described as probability clouds, electrons cannot be placed anywhere but only in some particular volumes of space, the so-called atomic orbitals. These are the electron highways which go around the nuclei. These orbitals are the result of solving the basic quantum mechanics equation, Schrödinger's equation.

The number of protons in the nucleus is what determines the shape and the properties of the orbitals around it. Hence, this number defines the chemical properties of the atom, as we'll see. So, to know which chemical element an atom belongs to we just need to count the protons in the nucleus: 1 for hydrogen, 2 for helium, 6 for carbon, 8 for oxygen, 20 for calcium, 26 for iron, 28 for nickel, 29 for copper, … The number of neutrons may vary, and so there are iron atoms with different number of neutrons, but from the point of view of chemistry all of them will behave like iron. These are called isotopes, and differ only in their atomic mass, i.e., the total count of protons and neutrons; for instance, nickel-58 is a nickel atom (28 protons) with 30 neutrons (so its atomic mass is 58= 28 protons + 30 neutrons).

Chemical reactions, which we experience on a daily basis, are due to the recombination of atomic orbitals of atoms which have a certain affinity. These recombinations take place when the atoms are close together, and the result is the formation of new orbitals, now called molecular orbitals, around the ensemble which is now called a molecule. Indeed many atoms may combine together to form complex molecules. In spontaneous chemical reactions, molecule formation usually implies an energy release; that means that the new electron highways, the new orbitals which are now molecular ones, require less energy to exist than the atomic orbitals of each atom separately. During the process of molecule formation, this extra energy is emitted in the shape of photons (massless particles, the quanta or fundamental particles of electromagnetic field) which are usually quickly absorbed by other atoms and molecules and transformed into heat. This heat is just the disordered motion of atoms and molecules of a substance; the more they “vibrate” the warmer the body is. The molecular binding force is stronger when more energy is released during molecular formation.

We have so far spoken about the forces which act at the level of the electronic shell, which is the outermost part of atoms, but he have not yet discussed about the forces acting in nuclei. The phenomena that occur inside nuclei are still governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, but the forces involved are hundreds of times stronger than the electromagnectic force and hundreds of zillions of zillions stronger than the gravitational force. It is the strong nuclear force. It must be more powerful than the electromagnetic force and it must be attractive in order to keep protons inside the nucleus, because protons repel each other electrostatically. This force does not show at human scale because, contrary to gravitation or electromagnetism, it is very short ranged: it just reaches up to a quadrillionth of meter (one femtometer), which is just a bit more than the proton and the neutron radius. Because of this short range, the strong nuclear force only acts when two protons are really very, very close together, which is hard to achieve because protons repel electrostatically with a force which intensifies when they get closer.

To get two protons glued by the strong nuclear force we would need to send them head on with their centers perfectly aligned with the trajectory and at a very large speed, which should be close to the value required to have the protons to almost touch each other but not much more than that, because otherwise they would simply bounce back. That is nearly impossible almost anywhere in the universe, except in stars, with two protons fusing together in particular conditions and with the intervention of a further element which is the weak nuclear force which transforms one of the two protons into a neutron while emitting a positron. In this case, since neutrons are chargeless and also experience the strong nuclear force, the result is a stable nucleus. The process is similar to a chemical reaction, but with interaction distances a million times smaller and with forces a trillion times more intense. As a consequence, the released photons are much more energetic, carrying some millions of times more energy. These are the dangerous gamma rays.

Nucleus stability depends on the difficult equilibrium between the strong nuclear force, which is attractive, and the electromagnetic force, which for protons is repulsive. Let the reader imagine a typical nucleus in the following way: protons repel electrostatically, but they are linked by very short but very strong chains (the strong nuclear force). In order to increase the stability of the nucleus it is convenient to have enough neutrons which separate the protons and so their electrostatic repulsion decreases. At the same time, neutrons create bonding links by means of the strong nuclear force with other neutrons and with the protons nearby. As we consider larger nuclei, with a larger amount of protons (heavier chemical elements), the nucleus becomes more and more unstable, and at some point it tends to spontaneously decay. In this case, typically it emits high energy particles and photons: it is a radioactive nucleus. Radioactive emissions (alpha particles -which are identical to helium nuclei, with two protons and two neutrons, beta particles – identical to electrons -, neutrons and gamma rays) may destabilize other nuclei by impacting them and so inducing a nuclear fission chain reaction, but that is a different story.

3. The E-Cat and real nuclear physics

So far so good, the overview of the general theory is now over. Mr. Rossi and Mr. Focardi claim that nuclear fusion reactions are taking place inside their device. That is, small atomic nuclei are being absorbed by large atomic nuclei, producing atoms with a larger atomic number. And here we have the first significant problem. According to the description provided, Rossi and Focardi's machine, the "E-Cat," produces hydrogen by water electrolysis and then this hydrogen (a nucleus with only one proton – the other natural isotopes appear in negligible quantities), thanks to the special design of the machine, is absorbed by the nickel nuclei (symbol Ni, atomic number 28) to form copper nuclei (symbol Cu, atomic number 29). The nickel inside E-Cat is assumed to be natural nickel which consists of Ni-59 (68%), Ni-60 (26%) and the remaining 6% of other isotopes (1). After the absorption of the hydrogen nucleus (just a proton) we should find a 68% of Cu-59, a 26% of Cu-61 and a 6% of other isotopes; but, as Ugo Bardi explains, it has been reported that the produced copper has the same isotopic composition as natural copper, which according to Wikipedia is 69% Cu-63 and 31% Cu-65, without other isotopes in significant quantities. Copper is very close to the nuclear stability valley, which defines the most stable nuclei, that is those nuclei which exist at the lowest energy level. Nuclear stability rules are a bit complex in general and particularly in that valley. The fact is that, in the case of copper, just to compensate this extra proton with respect to nickel a minimum of four extra neutrons are required. Indeed, the Cu-59 and Cu-61 isotopes are so unstable that they have never been observed. How to solve this flagrant contradiction? If you have read the interview made by Ny Teknik to Kullander and Essen you already know that Rossi states that there is not only one nuclear fusion reaction, but eight or nine, each one with successive beta decays, sometimes emitting positively charged beta particles (positrons, the antiparticles of electrons). And here we enter the crux of the problem.

By design, it is sure that the E-Cat electrolyzes water, that is, it splits the water molecule into its constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. That is nothing extraordinary, it is a process known for more than a century. You have electricity flowing through water and you get hydrogen at cathode and oxygen at anode, of course at an energy cost. I say that the E-Cat is performing water electrolysis because this can be seen in the following diagram in the E-Cat patent:

As commented by Steven Krivit in the New Energy Times (the diagram above is from this source) this diagram is very similar to that of a 1995 patent by Francesco Piantelli, who had also proposed a low-temperature nuclear fusion device and who, by the way, is a friend of Sergio Focardi. The diagram in Rossi's patent is a poor copy of the original:

So, it seems that the design of E-Cat and the use of a mysterious and yet-to-be-revealed catalyzer (I bet that it is a copper compound) favor the massive and continuous absorption of hydrogen nuclei by nickel powder.

Now, remark how difficult it is for a proton to get close to an atomic nucleus due to electrostatic repulsion. Some time ago Rossi invoked the possibility of a tunnel effect to explain how the proton was able to overcome the Coulomb barrier (that is, the electrostatic repulsion). However, there is a small detail not taken into account: the small cross section of nickel nuclei to be hit by slow hydrogen nuclei. In simpler words: nickel nuclei are a small and far target. The tunnel effect, in itself, will happen with a very small probability but, additionally, it is very hard to aim at the tiny nickel nuclei in the middle of the interatomic space. Notice that the radius of the nucleus is hundreds of thousand times smaller than the radius of the atom. Even without making a calculation, (that should take into account a very unlikely tunnel effect multiplied by an absolutely insignificant cross section) it is obvious that the probability of impact by a proton and transmutation of a nickel nucleus is horrifyingly small.

To balance this problem, Rossi explains, in the words by Kullander and Essen, that a kind of mini hydrogen atom is created in the process, with the electron almost embedded in the proton. The ensemble could thus not be repelled by the nucleus and reach it. Once this “virtual neutron” is in the nucleus, it would get rid of its mask and the electron would continue its trajectory outside the nucleus while the proton would get stuck inside (this theory is a heir of another one, older, called the "hydrino" theory, known to be wrong). Absorbed protons will experience positronic beta decay to neutrons and the process will go on until forming the desired copper isotopes with the exact ratio, something as convenient as unlikely.

There are huge problems with this weird description of the facts. Once a nucleon (that is, either proton or neutron) gets absorbed in the nucleus, gamma radiation must necessarily result, and even more so if several absorptions take place in cascade until arriving to the final products, Cu-61 and Cu-65. However, there is no gamma ray emission at E-Cat (lacking of an appropriate device to measure it, we have a significant hint: Rossi and all the people attending the demonstrations are still alive). Additionally, there should be significant emissions of positive and negative beta particles which, among, other effects should cause important effects on any electronic device nearby, including the E-Cat itself. Even if we pretend that most of these radiations are absorbed by the machine and used to generate output heat, by a simple application of statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics rules, we can state that a significant part of them should escape the E-Cat (which, actually, has no significant shielding). That would cause well known lethal effects. On the other hand, the energy involved by those radiations and the rate at which they should be produced imply a power of tens to thousands times greater than the reported 12,400 watts. It is impossible that all that the gamma and beta radiations could be absorbed by the materials of the device but, in case they were, the output power should  be monstrous, it will vaporize all the water content of the E-Cat in seconds and immediately afterwards it will kill all the attendants. As nothing similar to that has happened, the obvious conclusion is that the conjectured nuclear reactions are not happening.

There is already some tradition of studying low-temperature nuclear fusion reactions, that is, those reactions in which the atoms to be fused are at room temperature and not at the millions of degrees required by facilities such as ITER, and nevertheless we have had no success yet. Why? Well, we should be thankful to God for this. Because ordinary matter is extremely stable. To manipulate atomic nuclei by macroscopic means is not easy. Consider how tiny these nuclei are, the extraordinarily strong forces acting on them, and the tight confinement of electrons inside atomic and molecular orbitals. If nuclei were simple to manipulate, most likely nuclear reactions would spontaneously happen in nature, just by chance. Rossi's proposed mechanism could be applied not only to nickel, but to other atoms. So, similar processes would be common, not to mention what would happen to the intrinsically unstable radioisotopes or radioactive isotopes of some elements. Chain nuclear fission reactions would be usual in Nature, as well as electron capture by protons. In such case, protons would be commonly turned into neutrons. In the end, our planet and all the matter in the universe would tend to become a mass of neutrons, which would disintegrate in almost-free protons and electrons that would be quickly recombined intro neutrons. This is an extreme view, taking Rossi's theory to its ultimate consequences. I'm sure that he would argue that the actual processes are not so radical and for that reason nothing similar to what I have just described is happening in our world. I am not a specialist in nuclear and molecular dynamics, but I am convinced that introducing his theory in the numerical models we would finally arrive to a state not compatible with what we actually see. Anyway, under its more benign presentation, Rossi's theory effectively represents a fifth fundamental interaction to be added to the other four well-known, extensively experimented ones, and even worse, this new interaction would be a strong, long-range force.

4. Conclusion

Basically, all the theory used to justify the claims by Andrea Rossi about the E-Cat is a mere extravaganza which does not agree with the real physical world. That should be evident to a physicist with experience in this field. That leads us to consider other aspects of this case.

Faulty scientific communication: Maybe because Rossi knows that his arguments are weak he has not tried to publish his results in a scientific journal. For those of you who do not how it works I'll tell you: in order to have an article published in a specialized scientific journal, typically two anonymous reviewers, scientific "peers", must read and criticize the paper highlighting its weakest points. The paper is then modified and the weak points revised. Sometimes, if the work is too poor to be corrected, the paper is rejected, although this does not prevent it to be resubmitted to the same journal after a thorough revision; or to be sent to a different journal. From the more than 40 papers I have published during my scientific career so far, about a third were previously submitted for their consideration in another journal, where they were rejected in most of the cases because the paper was not considered adequate, because of its style or subject, for that journal. Occasionally, it was rejected because of serious criticisms to its content (sensu stricto that has never happened to me). Rossi and Focardi claim that their paper has been rejected by several journals because the kind of science they are proposing is too novel and the gurus of conventionalism do not want it to be accepted (or at least they leave the people reading their blog with this feeling). But as Steven Krivit explains, Rossi recognized that they have never submitted the paper describing E-Cat to any journal, only to a very popular preprint database, ArXiv, and according to them the paper was rejected. This is surprising, to say the least. Unless ArXiv has changed a lot since the last time I used it, no paper is rejected there: ArXiv is just a huge database where no paper is actually reviewed. In fact, the simple fact of uploading a paper to ArXiv is not considered a scientific publication, it is of no value as such. We should recognize that Rossi and Focardi's behavior is quite bizarre if they really wanted to communicate the science behind E-Cat. But, in fact, they do not want to communicate all of it because of the patent, right? Wrong answer for two reasons: first, because a patent is a publication, as I'll explain in a moment; and second because Rossi has created a blog named Journal of Nuclear Physics, where he publishes whatever he wants although it presents the blog as if it were an actual scientific journal (a casual glimpse to the “papers” inside is very instructive; you will find a lot of nonsensical claims, some of them in contradiction with the hypotheses supporting the E-Cat...). Indeed there is no serious review process for the papers being published in that pseudo-journal, and that deters Rossi's already scarce credibility as a scientific researchers.

Vain invocation of the patent: It is a commonplace to claim that the existence of a patent makes the dissemination of the discovery, and even its commercial exploitation, impossible. This is far from the truth. To begin with, a patent is a publication. The patent claimer intends to make the details of a method or system with industrial interest public; obviously, not because of altruistic reason but in order to defend in a court that the inventor (needs not to be the same as the claimer) discovered the method and so anyone willing to commercially exploit the invention must pay for it some royalties or buy an usage license. In order to allow the rest of the world to know what is protected under patent and what is not patents are public (there are internet patent databases, which although public are not free). So that, let us insist on it, with a patent you cannot either secure the details of an invention or hide its details or anything at all, not even while the patent is pending of evaluation. In fact, evaluation processes last for years, but this does not prevent the patent to be licensed and exploited; anyone who wants to use the patented invention must pay the claimer for it. If, finally, one or more of the claims in the patent (that is, the different parts of the invention that the inventor claims to have discovered) are not recognized, anyone could replicate those parts without paying a dime. So that, there is no reason for Rossi and Focardi's secrecy about the E-Cat. Even worse, if the famous secret catalyzer is not a part of the patent itself, then it is not protected, and hence as soon as somebody takes a sample and analyzes it that person could make a design slightly different from that of E-Cat but using the same unprotected catalyzer without paying any money to Rossi and Focardi. Hence, the secrecy about the catalyzer is against Rossi and Focardi's interests, contrary to what some people may think.

Two further details to finish this part of the discussion. First, as we have already commented in previous posts, patents are valid for 20 years only. Some months from now, when the facts will be evident, some persons will claim that “E-Cat has been silenced by Big Oil by buying the patent” or something similar, but that claim will be ridiculous. At most, for 20 years the firm controlling the patent could prevent its commercial use, but they could not prevent people from building E-Cats in their garages using the public information available. And, once 20 years have passed, anyone could sell E-Cat without paying the claimant. Second, Rossi's patent was presented in May, 2008, and internationally extended in 2009. So, we are not talking about something which has just been patented. Most likely, Rossi needs to pay the maintenance rights, which are probably quite expensive taking into account that the patent has been extended to the whole world.

The odd commercial plan: A Greek enterprise, Defkalion, was announced at first as the contractor for the first E-Cat power plant, foreseen for October, to be built there, in Greece: a curious country to start the worldwide development of E-Cat. During August, a crisis: Rossi announced that due to financial disagreements his relation with Defkalion was broken; during those days I was documenting this post and I entered by chance Defkalion's web. The first thing you could see was a pop-up window with a message stating that some persons had acted on Defkalion's behalf without being legally authorized to do so, and any interested visitor was asked to enter into contact with Defkalion's headquarters. A few days later, Rossi announced that the plans with Defkalion had been resumed and that the Greek plant goes ahead. Later on, in October, Rossi has claimed that his company is able to manufacture 1 MW plants and to sell them to customers whose name is kept secret. What has actually happened, and is happening, here only time will clarify it, but as everything else involved in this story, it stinks.

Rossi had also announced that at least 100 E-Cat plans will be built in the United States. It should be remarked that if the processes inside E-Cat were actually nuclear processes, as the operating scale is changed (Rossi claims that the plants will be able to produce 1Mw of output power) some effects which are presently negligible with the 12,400 watts prototype could become really significant, so the risk of nuclear reactions with important gamma ray emission will be very large. It seems a somewhat imprudent move to launch a commercial exploitation plan with a non-demonstrated technology, and I really doubt that US Administration would authorize the construction in its own territory of 100 potential thermonuclear bombs... unless the US Government considers that there is not even the slightest danger on that account. Indeed, nothing is being heard any longer about this hypothetical facility in the US.

Rossi's criminal file: I have left this part for the end of my post to avoid giving the impression that I am attacking the the man to discredit the work, but I think that some facts about Andrea Rossi cannot be ignored. The details about Rossi's file can be found in Steven Krivit's article; they can be summarized as follows:

According to Rossi, in 1979 he received a B.Sc. in chemical engineering by Kensington University in California, a well-known diploma mill  that was closed some years later. In 1990 he created an enterprise, Petroldragon, with the goal of converting waste in fuel. Things ended badly, the enterprise went bankrupt and Rossi went to jail charged for environmental damage. The waste he collected was not adequately processed and polluted the atmosphere and the water table. According to Rossi, local mafia induced the Italian Government to prosecute him. By the early 90's Rossi had promised the US Army to provide them with thermoelectric devices with an output power of between 800 and 1,000 watts. The prototypes he sent for testing to New Hampshire University had only one tenth of the promised output power. Before Rossi could manufacture more devices, his factory in Atlanta was destroyed by an unexplained fire. Rossi then moved to Italy, but the devices he made in Italy just had an output power of a ridiculous 1 watt. In 1995 he went to jail charged with illegal gold traffic. All that, of course, has no direct relevance for the validity of the claims about the E-Cat, but I think it should be told to give to the reader a complete picture of the person behind the claims.

So far that's all about E-Cat. It seems to be an extremely resilient story and Rossi has managed to keep suspense alive with his various announcements of larger and better systems, of mysterious customers, of military secrecy, of agreements with major universities and companies. It is probable that this bubble will progressively lose air and eventually deflate completely but, most likely, Rossi will gain a niche in the High Temple of Free Energy, side by side with Nikola Tesla (who beyond the grave must be cursing all those who invoke his name in vain) and many others who appointed themselves as the rescuers of Humankind with inventions that, subsequently, utterly failed to deliver their promises. This is the misery in the human condition.

In summary, dear readers, you probably have already a good idea about what is going on here. Apart from the painful show of the various “pseudo-demonstrations” of a device that is supposed to operate outside the known laws of physics, what is plainly absurd is the amount of space that this story has taken in the web and the amount of time that it has taken in terms of useless discussions, preventing us from focussing in what is really important, that is, preparing the unavoidable transition.

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