Science : new energy sources : a new hydrogen


Richard Moore


Fuel's paradise? Power source that turns physics on its head 

    ·Scientist says device disproves quantum theory 
    ·Opponents claim idea is result of wrong maths 

Alok Jha, science correspondent 
Friday November 4, 2005 

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

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."

Rick Maas, a chemist at the University of North Carolina
at Asheville (UNC) who specialises in sustainable energy
sources, was allowed unfettered access to Blacklight's
laboratories this year. "We went in with a healthy amount
of scepticism. While it would certainly be nice if this
were true, in my position as head of a research
institution, I really wouldn't want to make a mistake. The
last thing I want is to be remembered as the person who
derailed a lot of sustainable energy investment into
something that wasn't real."

But Prof Maas and Randy Booker, a UNC physicist, left
under no doubt about Dr Mill's claims. "All of us who are
not quantum physicists are looking at Dr Mills's data and
we find it very compelling," said Prof Maas. "Dr Booker
and I have both put our professional reputations on the
line as far as that goes."

Dr Mills's idea goes against almost a century of thinking.
When scientists developed the theory of quantum mechanics
they described a world where measuring the exact position
or energy of a particle was impossible and where the laws
of classical physics had no effect. The theory has been
hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest achievements.

But it is an achievement Dr Mills thinks is flawed. He
turned back to earlier classical physics to develop a
theory which, unlike quantum mechanics, allows an electron
to move much closer to the proton at the heart of a
hydrogen atom and, in doing so, release the substantial
amounts of energy he seeks to exploit. Dr Mills's theory,
known as classical quantum mechanics and published in the
journal Physics Essays in 2003, has been criticised most
publicly by Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency.
In a damning critique published recently in the New
Journal of Physics, he argued that Dr Mills's theory was
the result of mathematical mistakes.

Dr Mills argues that there are plenty of flaws in Dr
Rathke's critique. "His paper's riddled with mistakes.
We've had other physicists contact him and say this is
embarrassing to the journal and [Dr Rathke] won't
respond," said Dr Mills.

While the theoretical tangle is unlikely to resolve itself
soon, those wanting to exploit the technology are pushing
ahead. "We would like to understand it from an academic
standpoint and then we would like to be able to use the
implications to actually produce energy products," said
Prof Maas. "The companies that are lining up behind this
are household names."

Dr Mills will not go into details of who is investing in
his research but rumours suggest a range of US power
companies. It is well known also that Nasa's institute of
advanced concepts has funded research into finding a way
of using Blacklight's technology to power rockets.

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

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 
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005 


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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