E-Cat Passes Test

Andrea Rossi, an Italian inventor, has constructed a version of his E-Cat invention — a new source of energy — that produces 1 gigawatt/hour. A test to verify this claim satisfied an unknown customer, who bought the device. This is easily the most impressive physics/chemistry news of my lifetime. It remains to be determined how long the device can run on a given amount of fuel (supposedly the fuel is cheap), but the evidence that a new source of energy has been found is much better (in my eyes) than anything else I have ever heard. The (previous) evidence for cold fusion, for example, never came anywhere close to this. (More I learned more after writing this and no longer take E-Cat seriously. For details see end of post.)

The recent BBC documentary Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity (great, by the way) tells of one big misleading demonstration: Edison’s demonstration of direct current near Wall Street. As everyone knows, the world uses alternating current, not direct current. But Edison’s demonstration was far less astonishing than Rossi’s.  Edison’s misleading demonstration was no engineering miracle. It was just costly. Again and again, the documentary tells of inventions and demonstrations that appeared miraculous (the battery, wireless transmission) based on the common knowledge of the time. They turned out to predict the future.

According to Wikipedia, Rossi has a doctorate from Kensington University, California, a diploma mill. His nonsense-doctorate is in chemical engineering. His discovery is not chemical engineering. But who better than me to ignore this? My doctoral degree, although real, came from research on animal learning, which is quite different than weight control, mood, sleep, nutrition, all the stuff I claim to have learned new things about. And now I am commenting on physics! What I have learned from my experience of science is that major discoveries require knowledge and freedom — freedom to try a thousand things. It appears that Rossi — who wasn’t a professor at a major university, worrying about his next grant — had both.

More Stop the presses! Having read this and this (thanks, expedient), I have much greater doubts about Rossi’s claims and would not have written this post had I read them earlier.



10 Replies to “E-Cat Passes Test”

  1. Your blog posted excited me greatly. Unfortunately, after doing a bit of reading, I am pretty sure Rossi’s device is a scam. Several reasons, but this Quote from Wiki is a good start:

    As Ny Teknik reports, Peter Ekström, lecturer at the Department of Nuclear Physics at Lund University in Sweden, concluded, “I am convinced that the whole story is one big scam, and that it will be revealed in less than one year.”[34][24] He cites the unlikelihood of a chemical reaction being strong enough to overcome the Coulomb barrier, the lack of gamma rays, the lack of explanation for the origin of the extra energy, the lack of the expected radioactivity after fusing a proton with 58Ni, the unexplained occurrence of 11% iron in the spent fuel, the 10% copper in the spent fuel strangely having the same isotopic ratios as natural copper, and the lack of any unstable copper isotope in the spent fuel as if the reactor only produced stable isotopes.[34] He later added in New Energy Times that the steam velocity in a videotaped test appears to be way too low for the reported energy production, and that some liquid water might be exiting the system via the drainage tube.[35]

  2. Endorsing this scam seriously damages your credibility. If there were something useful here, its creator would either avoid talking it up to the press, or would provide details. The only reason for not discussing details would be if he knew that someone would take those details and use them to write up an explanation of why the idea won’t work.

    As for what the actual mechanism is, it could be any exothermic chemical reaction. But, in order for it to actually be useful, it would have to use inputs that can be gathered in quantity from nature, without using more energy to mine/refine them than is produced in the reaction. If this isn’t a scam, then it’s almost certainly a confused person who’s failed to grasp this point, and used a chemical input without knowing how much energy it took to gather or produce in the first place.

    As for academic credentials, I think it makes sense to look at it from a Bayesian perspective: how likely is it that a piece of research is good, conditional on its author having a relevant degree, an irrelevant degree, no degree, or a fake degree? This depends on the amounts of valid and invalid research produced by each group. Your point that the good-to-bad research ratio isn’t significantly better for people with relevant degrees than for people with an irrelevant degree or no degree is well taken. The existence of good research by people without relevant degrees is explained by people wanting to do research but not wanting to pay the high cost of getting one. But a fake degree is something else entirely, because someone who just wanted to do research wouldn’t bother; they’d rather be uncredentialed. Which makes having a fake degree strong evidence against someone being credible, in a way that lacking a degree isn’t.

  3. Seth,

    When reading the summary I noticed a mention that the device was still hooked up to the grid with the assurance that no electricity was going through the cables.

    Why, oh why, would somebody trying to convince some customer of the validity of their claim allow any type of doubt to remain by leaving a cable hooked up to this machine is beyond me… And a red flag.



  4. Don’t forget the point is to assess things on their merits, not on their credibility.

    I find this a useful test case to separate out merits from red herrings, by comparing it to biological heresies. They’re similar in that they’re both not what Scientists would expect, but can also be reliably tested on the cheap, for the first-hand observers. (They’re like NP-complete: deriving them is hard but checking the solution is easy.)

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