Fuels paradise? Power source that turns physics on its head

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It seems too good to be true: a new source of near-limitless power that costs virtually nothing, uses tiny amounts of water as its fuel and produces next to no waste. If that does not sound radical enough, how about this: the principle behind the source turns modern physics on its head.

Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering
at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power
source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent
scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company,
Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring
the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.

The problem is that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the physics
that governs the behaviour of atoms, the idea is theoretically impossible. “Physicists
are quite conservative. It’s not easy to convince them to change a theory that
is accepted for 50 to 60 years. I don’t think [Mills’s] theory should be supported,”
said Jan Naudts, a theoretical physicist at the University of Antwerp.

What has much of the physics world up in arms is Dr Mills’s claim that he has
produced a new form of hydrogen, the simplest of all the atoms, with just a
single proton circled by one electron. In his “hydrino”, the electron
sits a little closer to the proton than normal, and the formation of the new
atoms from traditional hydrogen releases huge amounts of energy.

This is scientific heresy. According to quantum mechanics, electrons can only
exist in an atom in strictly defined orbits, and the shortest distance allowed
between the proton and electron in hydrogen is fixed. The two particles are
simply not allowed to get any closer.

According to Dr Mills, there can be only one explanation: quantum mechanics
must be wrong. “We’ve done a lot of testing. We’ve got 50 independent validation
reports, we’ve got 65 peer-reviewed journal articles,” he said. “We
ran into this theoretical resistance and there are some vested interests here.
People are very strong and fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory that
they use.”

According to Prof Maas, the first product built with Blacklight’s technology,
which will be available in as little as four years, will be a household heater.
As the technology is scaled up, he says, bigger furnaces will be able to boil
water and turn turbines to produce electricity.

In a recent economic forecast, Prof Maas calculated that hydrino energy would
cost around 1.2 cents (0.7p) per kilowatt hour. This compares to an average
of 5 cents per kWh for coal and 6 cents for nuclear energy.

“If it’s wrong, it will be proven wrong,” said Kert Davies, research
director of Greenpeace USA. “But if it’s right, it is so important that
all else falls away. It has the potential to solve our dependence on oil. Our
stance is of cautious optimism.”

Alternative energy

Cold fusion

More than 16 years after chemists’ claims to have created a star in a jar imploded
in acrimony, the US government has said it might fund more research. Mainstream
physicists still balk at reports that a beaker of cold water and metal electrodes
can produce excess heat, but a hardy band of scientists across the world refuse
to let the dream die.

Methane hydrates

The US and Japan are leading attempts to tap this source of fossil fuel buried
beneath the seabed and Arctic permafrost. A mixture of ice and natural gas,
hydrates are believed to contain more carbon than existing reserves of oil,
coal and gas put together.

Solar chimneys

Sunlight heats trapped air, which rises through a giant chimney and drives
turbines. Leonardo da Vinci designed such a power tower and the Australian company
Enviromission plans to build one. Despite being scaled down recently, the concrete
chimney will still stand some 700 metres over the outback.

Nuclear fusion

Turns nuclear power on its head by combining atoms rather than splitting them
to release energy – copying the reaction at the heart of the sun. After years
of arguments the world has agreed to build a test reactor to see whether it
works on a commercial scale. Called Iter, it could be switched on within a decade.

Wave generators

No longer a dead duck, the hopes of engineers are riding on bobbing floats
again. The British company Trident Energy recently unveiled a design that uses
a linear generator to convert the motion of the sea into electricity. A wave
farm just a few hundred metres across could power 62,000 homes.
David Adam

This was a Guardian
Special report on Renewable energy

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