Frequently Asked Questions:
WHAT IS NUCLEAR FUSION?
In the process of nuclear fusion, two light nuclei are fused into a heavier one. In such nuclear reactions, before the light nuclei can be combined, their mutual Coulomb repulsion must be overcome. Through this process the Sun and other stars are releasing their energy. Fusion reactions can be divided into two groups; hot and cold fusion.
- In hot fusion the particles emitted from the deuterium-tritium fusion reactions are transferring their energy to the nearby atoms. This generates heat that can be converted to electricity through conventional methods. However, the devices should maintain and confine the high temperature (15 million degrees) of deuterium-tritium fuel for a long time, which is very difficult. Both deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen, where tritium is a radioactive isotope. Moreover, the hot fusion reactions produce a lot of neutrons, which must be safely absorbed to avoid the buildup of radioactivity in the whole installation. This is also difficult. The neutrons will be used to breed further tritium to feed the hot fusion reactor.
- In cold fusion, reported for the first time by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann in 1989, the fusion is occurring at a moderate temperature, involving the electrolysis of heavy water using palladium electrodes. Initiated by these claims, research at the scale of nanotechnology begun, continuing on low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) involving high hydrogen or deuterium concentration in a catalytic layer and reaction with metal, in which the energy is released.
These two processes are subjects to intensive research to deliver techniques in which the number of reactions becomes large enough that the energy output is comparable to that of a fission reactor (109 W scale).
WHAT IS COLD FUSION?
Cold fusion is a type of nuclear reaction that can occur at moderate temperatures, contrary to thermonuclear fusion which occurs at very high temperatures for example, in the core of stars or in the very hot plasmas generated by tokamaks, stellarators, or other nuclear fusion research facilities. Cold fusion is claimed to have been observed under specific conditions when hydrogen isotopes are incorporated in some metals. Quantum mechanics phenomena like the tunnel effect and the electron screening effect are believed explain and allow one to obtain a noticeable rate of fusion events. Cold Fusion has most likely been observed experimentally with exothermic reactions and some transmutations. Those can produce different types of elements and represent a crucial field of research for future sources of energy. However, much more research is needed to put LENR on solid ground.
WHAT IS LENR?
LENR stands for Low Energy Nuclear Reactions. This term was created to underline the fact that cold fusion is not similar to thermonuclear hot fusion. In particular the quantities of neutrons observed are very low, contrary to hot fusion reactions, which produce many neutrons. The mechanisms are different, hence require a different theoretical background.
WHAT KIND OF EXPERIMENTS ARE RELATED TO COLD FUSION RESEARCH?
Cold fusion can be studied in many different experiments; using different set-ups. One branch of the CleanHME project is connected to the gas-loading experiments in which the anomalous heat excess is being generated and carefully studied. Another branch concerns the accelerator-driven experiment, in which the nuclear reactions at very low collision energies are being studied in detail to understand the probability of such processes in this energy range. A further branch is represented by the hydrodynamic cavitation of iron salt solutions, which are passed through a cavitator producing nano-bubbles. The implosion of these extremely small bubbles produces THz phonons triggering LENR.
WHAT KIND OF MATERIALS ARE BEING STUDIED IN EXPERIMENTAL LENR RESEARCH?
The best materials to generate energy in LENR are able to dissolve some hydrogen and allow the movement of protons inside the crystalline solids. At the origin of this science the metal preferred for the experiments was palladium because this metal absorbs large quantities of hydrogen. Because of its high cost, palladium is now only used for scientific research purposes. Nowadays most work is done with materials containing mainly nickel. Preferably these are in a powder form to facilitate the access of the hydrogen inside the solids. Other elements which favour the reactions are also considered.
The simultaneous presence of hydrogen and metallic atoms is not sufficient to obtain cold fusion. For example, no cold fusion occurs in the metallic hydrides found in some types of batteries. Further conditions must be satisfied. For instance, some sort of excitation is necessary, it could be temperature, electrical, magnetic, and others.
In the accelerator studies different hydrogenated or deuterated metallic targets are investigated, in which the probability of nuclear reaction is higher than in other materials.
WHAT APPARATUS IS NEEDED TO STUDY LENR IN GAS-LOADING EXPERIMENTS?
LENR experiments are usually quite difficult to perform. In these experiments it is necessary to measure heat production, which can be done with a calorimeter. It is also necessary to measure both the input energy and the output energy. It is most common that the input energy is electrical, and the output energy is often in the form of heat. One should measure the by-products of the reaction as well. These are transmutations and particle emissions in low quantities difficult to distinguish from the natural background.
WHAT APPARATUS IS NEEDED TO STUDY LENR IN ACCELERATOR-DRIVEN EXPERIMENTS?
A small linear accelerator is enough to run the study in LENR field. The energy range for inducing the low energy nuclear reactions ranges from a few keV to dozens of keV. The accelerator should have an ion source, providing the beam of incident particles, a target chamber equipped with a metallic target and a charged particles detector. The experiments are usually driven in high or ultra-high vacuum conditions.
WHAT IS STILL UNRECOGNIZED IN THE STUDY OF LENR?
Most scientists worldwide are not yet aware of the importance of LENR and of its already obtained achievements. Our goal is to provide an indisputable proof of its reality and its potential. Finding the best material for heat generation, along with the necessary operating conditions, will allow to develop a new energy source for humanity. The fuel materials and their activation technology are both still subjects of scientific efforts.
HOW WE CAN USE THE RESULTS OF LENR RESEARCH?
The energy generated in the gas-loading experiments can be used in our everyday life. Presently, the experimental energy generators are rather small, designed for lab-scale validation (TRL-1). To use the energy generated in such experiments on a larger scale, large scale generators will have to be developed. Once we gain replicable control over these reactions, the energy sources can be designed in any size, including large or small units, even much smaller ones than conventional nuclear power plants. Such scalability of reactor size is an anticipated advantage of this technology. This source of energy has the potential of supplanting most of the other primary sources of energy, from electricity generation to deep space exploration.
IS THIS TYPE OF ENERGY GENERATOR SAFE?
Yes: in all experiments that produce energy, the quantity of radiation and particles measured outside of the reactor is hard to distinguish from the level of background radiation or cosmic rays. While it is too early to state with absolute certainty that no radiation is generated by the reactions, this type of energy generator has all the advantages of the fusion technology, yet it is a much cleaner pathway of production of energy. This type of reaction does not promote any nuclear process that would create a runaway chain reaction. The scalability of such technology is also a very compelling argument in favour of this technology, with implementations that can take place in portable devices. The energy generators used in LENR studies are controlled by adjusted cooling and the control of the operating conditions such as the gas pressure or the electrical activation. Additional emergency cooling can be designed for a large-scale generator. In the case of complete loss of control of the reactor, the worst case scenario results in the self-destruction of the active core without any detrimental effect beyond the reactor itself.