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116) A negative evaluation of cold fusion claims

Ludwik Kowalski (12/9/2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

Several days ago I received an e-mail message from Dr. Kirk Shanahan. Last summer he sent me a paper on calorimetry that was published three years ago. That paper (1), like several others, helped me realize that calorimetry can be very tricky. That is why I think that the most convincing arguments, either for or against cold fusion, are those based on products of nuclear reactions, not on the generation of excess heat. Excess heat, even when it is real, can be caused by non-nuclear processes. Production of neutrons, protons and heavier particles, on the other hand, can be due to nuclear transformations only. Thus, experimental findings of S. Jones et all (2 ), or A. Lipson et al (3), for example, are more convincing (about something unusual going on) than calorimetric arguments presented, for example, by E. Storms and M. McKubre.

But cold fusion was discovered via calorimetry and “excess heat” is still a major argument of those who expect CF to become a path toward new energy resources. That is why technical issues of calorimetry, raised by Dr. Shanahan, should not be ignored. I hope his paper (summarized below) will contribute to improvements of measurements, especially when excess heat is a small fraction of total heat generated in an experiment. Exchanges of e-mail messages between me and Dr. Shanahan, are worth preserving. That is the motivation for this item.

In looking over your web page(s) on cold fusion, I find no reference to my explanation of the effect. Why is that when I have sent you the paper? Did I miss it?

My recollection is that your paper is mostly about calorimetry, and possible systematic errors, rather than about cold fusion. It is one of many papers that I saw but not wrote about, mostly because I did not feel competent in that area.

You are correct. It is about a systematic error in calorimetry, but the point is that that is why people see excess heat in cold fusion experiments. In a nutshell, the paper makes the point that a simple calibration constant shift is fully capable of explaining how Ed Storms got 'cold fusion' from a platinum electrode. (Note that Pt does NOT hydride, thus Ed's getting CF from it clearly indicates that hydriding is not the primary controlling factor in CF. This means that concerns about bulk loading of Pd are not primary.) I have looked back through all the cold fusion literature and find the same problems present throughout, right back to F&P's 1990 paper. With a few exceptions then, I claim all reports of excess heat are mismeasurements. I would say that is a pretty powerful statement that you should consider if you want to claim you know the field.

Please send me a brief summary at a level appropriate for physics teachers.

OK... Whenever an experiment is calibrated, a descriptive equation with calibration coefficients is established. That equation is then used to 'translate' subsequent raw experimental data into results. However, the underlying assumption which must be true for this procedure to be correct is that the calibration equation must be applicable during the experimental time frame. My paper analyzes the expected results when this assumption is violated for a simple linear calibration equation in the specific case of excess power measurements. However, the problem is generic. Whenever an inappropriate calibration equation is employed, inappropriate results are obtained. Furthermore, there is no reason to expect any form of the calibration equation will avoid this problem. Simply put, if your experimental system is changing, it can't be calibrated.

In the paper, a set of data supplied by Dr. Edmund Storms which was used to suggest that Pt can produce 'cold fusion' is reanalyzed in light of the calibration constant shift problem. It is shown that _assuming_ no excess power produces run-specific calibration constants that statistically bracket the constants expected for a pure water value by about +/- 3%. In other words, it is implicitly suggested that the 'cold fusion' calorimeter is unstable to that level.

Thus, there is now a new proposition on the table regarding claims to have observed excess power from heavy water electrolysis cells. Namely, there seems to be some real physical/chemical process acting in the cells that causes an instability, reflected primarily through shifts in the calibration constants. In good science, when an apparently valid counterproposal is offered to explain experimental results, scientists are required to address the counterproposal, theoretically and experimentally if required.

Dr. Edmund Storms and I have had extensive communications where he has tried to rebut my explanation, but in my estimation he has never succeeded in debunking my proposal. Instead he proceeded to conduct further experimentation without figuring in the problem, and produced another set of data (presented at ICCF10) that still shows the same basic problem, albeit now with a quadratic calibration and resultant quadratic excess power curves. He has also shown that a highly localized application of heat via a laser to the cathode maximizes the error, which supports my basic
physical/chemical mechanism for how a calibration constant shift might occur. I have commented extensively on this in the Usenet newsgroup sci.physics.fusion [s.p.f.], and many of Dr. Storms comments were posted there with his permission as well.

See messages:


for a quick example of where I was discussing the issues with Jed Rothwell. You should do a Google search on my name as author in s.p.f. There are over 300 hits there, not counting all the replies, going back to 1995.

I would also be interested in your overall views on cold fusion, in light of what you know now.

You can get lots of details on all these from my s.p.f. posting. In short:

- no excess heat, it's a calibration constant problem

- no transmutation, is failure to interpret data from surface analysis techniques
adequately, combined with failure to recognize active leaching/deposition processes
- no He products - it's bad mass spectrometry (see papers by W. Brian Clarke, et al)
- no radiation detection by film - it's hypering and heat
- not enough tritium results available to decide, but interferences and contaminations
are suspected (by me)

Where are you now and what is your current level of commitment to cold fusion?

I work in the Hydrogen Technology Section of the Savannah River Technology Center of the Savannah River Site. . . I am a physical chemist who studies aging effects of tritium on metal hydrides and polymers, and who supports the tritium isotope separations processes as needed. Those processes use metal hydrides, including Pd, Ti, La-Ni-Al alloys, and many others. When researchers claim they have induced 'cold fusion' in such hydrides, they directly threaten my and my coworker's health and safety by implying that we could be unknowingly being irradiated and subjecting ourselves to a potential explosion/ radioactive material contamination from a leak arising from an unexpected heat excursion in our closed vessels that contain radioactive and flammable tritium gas.

I have been involved in hydrides since 1995, and I also began studying the cold fusion area at that time. I have concluded that it is in all probabilities not real. I have most definitely concluded that the scientists conducting CF research are sub-par, typically ignoring any information that is inconsistent with their predetermined conclusions, and generally not conducting adequate work to support their claims. On the other hand, many vocal skeptics of the cold fusion claims are likewise guilty. I try not to be, and I feel I can adequately defend my position, and have done so on Usenet and elsewhere.

OK, I've tried to hit you hard here, because I see that you are 'connected' with the CFers. I am hoping you are a good scientist and teacher, and will take the time to assess my claims, which includes discussing any issues you see with me and others. You will find the CF community considers me a 'crackpot', but I assert to you that that is an unjustified attempt to marginalize what I say. 'Crackpots' don't present well-thought-out, technically defensible proposals. I hope that you will incorporate my thinking into what you teach your students, because it seems quite a shame to miss the primary lesson of cold fusion, that it is very easy to let your desires and wants override good science.

Thanks Kirk: I will think about your long e-mail message received this morning (12/9/03). It helped me to understand your paper better, I think. You provided more food for thought that can possibly be squeezed into one short item.



In reading statements about excess heat I saw descriptions of cases in which excess heat was much larger than Pin. Such cases would be highly convincing that excess heat is real; no refinements described by Kirk would be necessary to justify this. What I have in mind is the episode described in Muzino’s book (5), or the following piece of information posted by Eugene Mallove.

“INFINITE ENERGY Magazine of Concord, New Hampshire will sponsor an all-day Cold Fusion/New Energy Symposium on January 20, 1996 at the Cambridge Marriott Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. . . . One of the many high points of the gathering will be presentation of the latest findings on the Clean Energy Technologies, Inc. (CETI) Patterson Power Cell, which recently achieved record excess power production levels for a cold fusion process -- in one test greater than 1,300 watts thermal output for about 1.4 watts DC input electrical power.” I met the inventor of this cell in August 2003 and asked about the event. He smiled and did not want to talk about it. Muzino wrote that he also could not reproduce the episode described in the book. The overall situation seems to be as follows:

a) Reasonably reproducible excess heat power, but very small in comparison with
Pin, has been reported by many qualified researchers. But many of them do not
offer enough information to rule out possibilities of experimental errors, or to
rule out a possibilities that excess heat is real but not nuclear. That seems to the
main point of Kirk’s messages. He keeps emphasizing that “almost all reports of
observed excess heat” suffer from errors in calibration.

b) Totally unconfirmed stories of very high excess heat power, even after Pin became
zero, have been told. But such stories can not be taken seriously. It is OK to be
motivated by anecdotal evidence but it is not OK to accept it without serious

Shanahan is not the only qualified scientist claiming that a nuclear origin of excess heat has never been demonstrated. According to Steven Jones (4): “It is high time to strongly question claims of cold fusion based on crude techniques and to demand tests at a rigorous scientific-proof level. . . . Different detectors must give signals which agree qualitatively. . . . Otherwise, the researcher may well be chasing noise, and probably making noise as well. (Hyping questionable results in the media seems to be a characteristic practice of those claiming excess heat, which we never did.) I have not seen any compelling evidence for any “cold fusion” effects, to date.”

It is clear to me that the term “cold fusion” is used by Jones as a reference to any nuclear phenomenon able to produce a measurable amount of excess heat. Low level nuclear phenomena discovered by Jones (see item 113 on my list) do not generate measurable excess heat; he would probably not call them “cold fusion.” Most scientists, however, would disagree; they would say that Jones’ research belongs to the field of cold fusion. Fortunately, this kind of disagreement is not important.

Let me end with an additional quote from (4); it shows a dilemma faced by all cold fusion researchers. “What should a scientist do with an anomalous experimental result (one which flies in the face of prevailing theories), which is statistically significant (at the five sigma + level), yet which cannot be repeated at will? This is the problem which plagued us early on in our non-plasma or "cold" fusion experiments which began in spring 1986 at Brigham Young University, 2.5 years before we heard of the ostensibly-related work of Drs. Pons and Fleischmann. It is a question which haunts us still. I invite the reader to seriously consider the question posed above: what would you do with such data?

If you walk away from an anomalous result, you could miss something important. Indeed, is it scientifically honest to ignore such data? One can argue that scientific instruments often show "glitches," and this is probably just one of these. Quite possibly. But what if the "glitch" is not only statistically significant, but also has interesting characteristics, such as the correct energy (2.5 MeV) for neutrons from deuteron-deuteron fusion, and the expected signal-width? What if other data runs which are individually significant only at the 2-sigma level also contribute this peak? Well, what would you do? Keep trying to find the trigger mechanism, if any? How many months would you be willing to spend/waste? Would you continue if all grants dried up for this project and if virtually everyone thought the effect was non-existent and laughable?. . . “

I think that above question can be asked about any cold fusion area, including excess heat. Perhaps conditions favoring high level of excess heat will soon be identified and practical applications will become reality. For the time being, however, cold fusion researchers should study what seems to be reproducible (even if it is not yet 100% reproducible) and learn more, like in any other area. Constructive criticism of calorimetric methodology, offered by Dr. Shanahan, seems to be valid to me; I would like to know what research scientists think about it.

1) Kirk Shanahan, “A systematic error in mass flow calorimetry demonstrated,”
Thermochimica Acta 387 (2002) pages 95–100. This article is also
downloadable from (scroll down to the LIBRARY
button to access a long list of downloadable documents. Files are
organized alphabetically, by the first author.)
2) See my summaries in item 113.
3) See my summary in item # 28
4) S.E. Jones, “Chasing Anomalous Signals; The Cold Fusion Question.”
Accountability in Research, 2000, 8: p 55. This article is also downloadable
from (scroll down to the LIBRARY button to
access a long list of downloadable documents. Files are organized
alphabetically, by the first author.)
5) H. Mizuno, “Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold Fusion,” Infinite
Energy Press, Concord, New Hampshire, 1998.

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