Cold Fusion

Cool Fusion

Energy, Physics, and Soda Pop
by Declan McCullagh

May, 1999

BETHESDA, Maryland -- David Wallman deftly slides the dark glass shield into place in front of his carbon-arc machine and tells his audience to step away. "Don't look directly at it from the side," Wallman warns.

He flips a switch. The light is blinding. The machine begins to bubble and froth as 40 amps of current leap the gap between two carbon rods and electrify the sugar water that fills the tank.

Those very special bubbles -- Wallman calls them carbo-hydrogen gas -- will, he hopes, change the world.

When burned, the gas produces much less pollution than gasoline, and it may prove cheaper to manufacture. The former Hewlett-Packard electrical engineer rattles off a laundry list of possible uses by consumers and industry. A clean new fuel for cars. Revolutionary power generation. A supplement to solar panels for remote homesteaders.

But the most intriguing result of Wallman's demonstration is that it seems to violate the laws of physics by generating more energy than it consumes.

As any college chemistry student knows, that should be impossible. Your car's internal combustion engine wastes about three-quarters of the energy in the fuel it burns when you drive down the road. And it guzzles even more when you step on the gas. It never, ever creates more energy.

If Wallman's calculations are correct, the only explanation is that some form of a small-scale nuclear reaction is taking place inside that bubbling tank.

Serious scientists have admitted they can't explain the results in any other way, especially the presence of helium in the gas -- an element that didn't exist in the sugar-water solution. If it works, Wallman's process would not quite be cold fusion, since the temperatures in that brilliant carbon arc reach 7,200 F. Perhaps it's cool fusion instead.

Wallman is one of a legion of garage researchers who gathered Saturday in a ramshackle Holiday Inn in Bethesda, Maryland, at the first Conference on Future Energy. Some presenters are careful engineers hoping to attract investors. Others ooze the unwholesome patina of snake-oil salesman hoping to make a fast buck. Cold fusion advocates hope vindication is finally about to arrive. All believe the media, government, and academia ignore, either accidentally or deliberately, honest-to-goodness scientific advances.

Paul Pantone is more convinced than most. During his presentation he drops hints of a tenebrous conspiracy that has barred him from marketing a revolutionary power source that looks just like a metal doughnut wrapped in black electrical tape.

It can power a normal light bulb using "the energy around us," Pantone says, but "there's a specific pattern of north-south" with which it must be aligned. If there's anyone in the audience who wants to sign up as distributors, Pantone seems willing to talk. But there's a catch: To sell this new power source, you first have to sign up as a distributor and sell other Pantone products until it becomes available.

The other products? Well, there's Pantone's GEET engine. He says it runs off "junk fuel" -- various slurries of paint thinner, crude oil, gasoline, Sprite, or Mountain Dew. If you yank your carburetor and replace it with a GEET device, you may double your car's gas mileage, he says.

With the fervor of a reborn religious leader, Pantone denounces the powers that be that bar him from spreading the gospel of GEET beyond lectures at public schools near his Salt Lake City home.

"In the Christian community, you know what? They welcome you," Pantone says.

Someone who has followed Pantone's US$75 step-by-step conversion instructions has wheeled their GEETized lawnmower into the small hotel conference room. Copper tubing races crazily around the engine, dips into the exhaust pipe, and ends in a Mason jar stuffed with steel wool and gasoline. Pantone claims the hot exhaust creates a magnetic field and a "plasma reaction" that eliminates pollution.

He asks his wife Molley to explain the details of his discovery. She volunteers that she took a college-level physics class and received a C+. Then she realized that everything she learned was upside down. "These laws that are in our physics books are truly wrong," she says.

The audience is suitably impressed. "I am in awe!" one person exclaims.

Pantone stresses the virtues of his ostensibly pollution-free contraption. "We've got some vehicles where we have cleaner exhaust than the air around the vehicle," Pantone brags.

Then comes the demonstration. The lawnmower rattles and roars to life, belching fumes into the enclosed space. Mountain Dew is poured into the Mason jar, and the beleaguered motor splutters but keeps on running. The stench worsens, and some people cough and leave the room.

Much of the audience, though, is undeterred. They gather around the stinking, wheezing mower and stare at it as if it were an alien artifact recently recovered from Area 51. They are the perpetually hopeful, the uncritical -- the groupies of the future energy movement. Driven by a deep-seated conviction that officialdom is denying them the truth, they have become evangelists of better living through better energy. And if it stings when their ideas are ignored or ridiculed, they've found their own ways to cope.

Les Adam is a practical businessman, and his solution is as elegant as it is simple: Ignore the naysayers in the United States establishment. Other countries are more accepting.

Adam's company, AZ Industries, is gearing up to make a dirt-cheap electric car, and smog-plagued Mexican cities may be big customers. "If they don't do something in the city of Mexico City pretty soon, everyone will be dead there," Adam says.

His SKUUTR car resembles a slant-nosed dresser on wheels, with a frame built of lightweight-aluminum honeycomb covered by a composite shell. Inside are three pairs of off-the-shelf batteries in series that pump out 36 volts to the car's four motors mounted on the wheels. It will have a 200-mile range at speeds up to 80 mph, Adam says. The probable price tag: Just $15,000.

If that sounds too much like a golf cart with a windshield, Adam also is working on a vehicle powered by hydrogen peroxide. The engine relies on the heat produced when turning peroxide into water -- a simple process that happens every day when a bottle of the stuff is left uncapped. Adam says he's figured out how to speed it up with a ceramic-based catalyst.

The audience wants to know if he's encountered opposition from the military-industrial complex that relies so heavily on petroleum products. One member asks, "How would you dismantle the New World Order?"

It's a common theme at the conference, which has a short but unusual history. The event originally was going to be sponsored by the US State Department, then the Patent and Trademark Office. Both backed out at the last minute.

To some attendees, that was proof positive that Official Washington didn't want the discussions to take place. In one of the most popular sessions, called "Evidence for Free Energy Technology Suppression," veteran UFO-hound Steven Greer laid out the case for a widespread government coverup.

He said the same forces -- NRO, NSA, CIA, DOE -- that have hid evidence of UFOs also try to thwart new energy technologies. "It really is the same thing. They are identical issues.... The implication of having this information released is so vast, profound, and far-reaching that no aspects of life on earth would be unchanged." Greer said.

The relevance of all this to future energy? Not much. Greer just seemed glad to have an excuse to talk about the UFO coverup.

With the pride of an art collector showing off his Picasso collection, the former physician played a selection of fuzzy videotapes that purported to show spacecraft buzzing around. "There's a nice one in Ecuador," he said. "This is one that landed in Ontario."

A conference that includes Greer's conspiracy theories must seem like a recurring bad dream to engineers like David Wallman, who has carefully documented an apparently inexplicable process with results that any scientist can verify.

"It is repeatable 100 percent of the time," Wallman says. Unlike, one gathers, UFO sightings.

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