Today in Italy, a new energy technology called the E-Cat is undergoing its first independent test of energy output. The E-Cat supposedly uses low-energy nuclear reactions to produce massive amounts of cheap and clean power, and if it works, it could completely revolutionize our entire society. If it works.
For the last several years, the E-Cat concept and prototypes have been bouncing around the nuclear energy community. Its method of operation has never been accepted in a peer-reviewed journal, all of the testing has been conducted by Andrea Rossi, the guy who designed the device (never a good idea), and nobody's ever gotten a good look at the system itself, since it's contained inside a sealed black box.
The Story So Far
From a scientific perspective, this is all extremely sketchy. What the E-Cat purports to do is turn a little bit of input energy, plus hydrogen, into a huge amount of output energy (heat) using a nickel catalyst with only copper as a byproduct: somehow, hydrogen combines with nickel to create copper while giving off heat. So technically, it's not cold fusion, but a low energy nuclear reaction.
Some calculations of one test run showed an output of 30 kilowatt-hours after an initial input of only nine kilowatt-hours, and the final generator should produce energy at a rate of six to one. This isn't "free" energy — hydrogen is being used up. But only a tiny amount of hydrogen is used, relative to the amount of energy being produced, and there are no carbon or radioactive outputs at all.
At least, this is what we've all been told is going on. But nobody knows for sure, and this weekend will be the first independent verification of the power input and output of a one megawatt reactor based on E-Cat technology.
If It Works?
So what happens if it turns out to work? Well, it's going to be huge. It has the potential to change our entire society in a generation. Consider how much time and money are spent producing power in general, and how much you personally pay for access to that power in the form of gasoline and electricity and various taxes. Also consider how much we abuse the environment producing all of this power, both before and after we actually use it.
If the E-Cat comes to fruition and very cheap, very clean power becomes available for everyone, we could forget about oil, we could forget about coal, and we could forget about nuclear power. Electricity would be dirt cheap. Transportation would be dirt cheap. And everything that depends on electricity or transportation (i.e. almost everything everywhere) would have its costs slashed. It would be incredible.
Of course, most people don't think that the E-Cat does what it says it does. There's extreme skepticism in the scientific community, which is why this test is so important. Odds are, it's not going to work, but as with most things that depend on wild odds (like the lottery), the consequences if it does work are so enormous that it's worth paying at least a little bit of attention to.
We'll keep you updated.
Via Wired UK