Rossi energy catalyst – a big hoax or new physics?

Posted on April 11, 2011

(This is a translation of my blog in Swedish)

As a professor in physics I have been asked to comment on what “Ny Teknik” (a weekly newspaper on technology in Sweden) called “Rossi’s energy catalyst” and it will be a pleasure to do so because I will have to revisit my skills from the time when I was doing research on various nuclear reactions. It will be a fairly detailed review.

First I would like to mention that Professor Sven Kullander – who is chairman of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Energy committee, since the beginning of the year – is also a professor emeritus in my research group at Uppsala University. He sits in the room next to mine so Rossi’s experiment has come up every time we have met in recent weeks. I always try to be as critical as possible, but at the same time it is exciting to be pretty close to the center of something that is either a hoax or something new and exciting. There are scientists who criticize Sven for associating himself with the experiment, but also many that think he is doing the right thing. As scientists we have a responsibility to investigate whether a reported phenomenon is real or a hoax. Sven’s involvement is quite natural since he is chairman of the KVA’s energy committee, but if anyone thinks that he has simply accepted the results then they are completely wrong. By attending and examining the experiment, he also has the opportunity to confirm or reject. As a researcher, you want an explanation for what is happening and right now there appears to be no suitable explanation with the knowledge we currently have in chemistry and physics. This means that it may be entirely new physics that must be explained or it may be a scam that must be explained and exposed.
The biggest problem is that there is a “black box” in the center of the experimental setup. Sven and I talked about the experiment before he left for Italy and today we again discussed what they saw and recorded. You can read the trip report here. To calculate how much energy it takes to heat water to boiling point and how much energy it takes to evaporate the water required only elementary thermodynamics. I think the amount of produced energy is OK. It is time to take a closer look at the black box.

When Rossi was in Uppsala some weeks ago he brought with him two samples. One was the nickel powder as it looks like before it is placed in the black box and the second was a sample which reportedly had been used as fuel in the energy catalyst for two and a half months. Energy effect during this time was stated and the total amount of energy can be calculated. Researchers at Angstrom have examined what the spent fuel contained in addition to nickel and it was concluded that there was 10% copper and the isotope ratios of copper was about the same as in natural copper, 70/30. Known chemical reactions cannot explain the amount of energy measured. A nuclear reaction can explain the amount of energy, but the knowledge we have today says that this reaction cannot take place. It’s time to revisit my nuclear physics skills.

Nickel is an element with 28 protons and the number of protons determines the charge that the nucleus has, +28. Hydrogen has the charge +1 and the Coulomb force makes the two positively charged particles to repel each other. This means that in a test where there are hydrogen and nickel and in which hydrogen is moving with thermal energy it cannot be a nuclear reaction. The energy measured can be explained by a nuclear reaction, but the knowledge we have about nuclear reactions does not allow for the nuclear reactions that can explain the amount of energy. These facts are of course something that Sven also know and he thinks that the isotope composition must be studied more. Those of you who have followed my struggle for Peak Oil know that I am not afraid of a challenge, but then I am a nuclear physicist, I must be critical and try to explain everything that shows that it cannot be true.

The fact that Nickel has 28 protons makes the nucleus extra stable and we have many nickel isotopes that are stable, they do not undergo radioactive decay. The stable nickel isotopes are Ni-58 (68.1%), Ni-60 (26.2%), Ni-61 (1.1%), Ni-62 (3.6%), Ni-64 (0.9%). In the trip report which is available on the “Ny Teknik” website, we read that in the sample that Rossi brought with him to Uppsala there are 10% copper by isotopic distribution 70/30. Copper has two stable isotopes, Cu-63 and Cu-65, and these two isotopes can be formed from nickel if the hydrogen nucleus, which has the mass unit 1, merged with the Ni-62 and Ni-64. If the original sample is natural nickel, then Ni-62 and Ni-64 together are 4.5% of the sample, and if all these nickel isotopes are converted to copper, you get only 4.5% copper and not 10% as measured. If all the Ni-62 and Ni-64 is converted to copper the isotope ratio would be 80/20 which is close to the natural ratio 70/30.

To make stable Cu-63 from stable Ni-58 the following must happen. Ni-58 picks up a hydrogen nucleus to form Cu-59 which decays to Ni-59, which in turn picks up a hydrogen nucleus to form Cu-60 which decays to Ni-60, which in turn picks up a hydrogen nucleus to form Cu 61 which decays to Ni-61, which in turn picks up a hydrogen nucleus to form Cu-62 which decays to Ni-62, which in turn picks up a hydrogen nucleus to form Cu-63 which is stable. If this reaction chain would be true even though none of the reactions that I mention can be made with the knowledge we have today, then the isotopic distribution Cu-63/Cu-65 must be greater than 80/20, probably closer to 99/01. Right now, my conclusion is that the isotope distribution measured and the fact that the sample had 10% copper indicate that it is contaminated with natural copper. Of course I am willing to change my opinion if you can prove me wrong.

If the reactions discussed here will happen in reality, there will be products that are highly radioactive and these radioactive products will decay and emits heat. These are the similar process that gives rise to the excess heat in a nuclear reactor and the meltdown of the Japanese nuclear reactors, but the difference is that it only takes some hour before “the new reactor” cools. The fact that there is lead around the heart of the plant may indicate that we have radioactive decay that have deposit heat in the lead so it will be hot and this heat warms the water. If I could mount up Rossi’s energy catalyst in the basement of the Ångstrom Laboratory, mount the appropriate detectors so that one can directly measure the “pulse of the heart” of the plant, then it would be easy to record the gamma-ray energies that the test should produce. The radioactive isotope that can be formed, especially Cu-59, decays by beta plus decay and this decay has always the gamma energy 511 keV, an energy that is easy to detect. So far has the gamma ray has not been detected.

What will be the final comment? The water that passed the heart of the facility has been heated so that the flow is evaporated to steam (Sven was allowed to check the seam) and there are currently no chemical processes that can explain this energy flow if the heart contains the components that Rossi states. He has not told the whole secret. The nuclear reactions that in principle can explain the energy, but physically not possible cannot explain the amount of copper with the isotopic composition measured. If there is a capture of a hydrogen nucleus, which with today’s knowledge is not possible, then, there will be radiation in the form of gamma rays. With known technology it would be easy to detect this radiation.

Let us finally play with the idea that Rossi has found a new way to boil water, how can this affect the future supply of energy? Today we use fossil fuels and uranium to boil water. In a nuclear reactor we get the energy from the motion of the fission fragments when uranium is split and from radioactive decay of fission fragments, the so-called residual effect. What we are discussing here can be compared with the residual effect, that is 10-15 percent of the energy of a nuclear reactor in operation. To get an energy flow of meaning, there must be facilities of a nuclear power plant size and the number must be quite a few.

What shall we do as scientists? Shall we say madness as many do today, or should we try to understand what is happening? I myself have nothing against to reveal a scam, or join in and verify something that no one could imagine. Both extremes belong to that which makes life as a researcher incredibly interesting.

(Comments by anonymous persons will be removed. This important issue should be discussed by persons that stand up for their opinions. Professor Sven Kullander will not answer questions on this blog).

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