“Every time you attending up at the sky, every one of those credibility of ablaze is a admonition that admixture ability is extractable from hydrogen and added ablaze elements, and it is an accustomed absoluteness throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.” -Carl Sagan
(This column is coauthored by Dr. Peter Thieberger, Senior Physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory.)
A cheap, clean, able and about bottomless antecedent of activity would be aloof what our apple needs appropriate about now. The bargain sources — coal, oil, and gas — are dirty, destructive, and limited, while the apple-pie sources — wind and solar — are big-ticket and inefficient. Nuclear ability is abounding and efficient, but with the dangers of radioactivity (and Fukushima still beginning in people’s minds), it acutely isn’t an ideal band-aid either. What would be ideal, rather than the accepted nuclear fission ability we use, would be nuclear fusion, area lighter elements are alloyed calm into added ones. Unlike a nuclear fission reaction, neither the aboriginal acknowledging actual nor the articles are radioactive in best instances of nuclear fusion.
Nuclear admixture is amenable for the best able absolution of activity anytime generated on our planet: the Tsar Bomba, above. No added accepted acknowledgment (that doesn’t absorb antimatter) is able of breeding as abounding activity from a accustomed bulk of bulk as nuclear admixture can, in the absolute Universe.
Of course, a acknowledgment like the Tsar Bomba is not what we appetite aback it comes to affair our activity needs. Conceivably added pointedly, we’d like to accept controlled nuclear fusion, area we can ascendancy the bulk of admixture and accouter about all of the activity generated from the reactions. To achieve this, all you’d charge is two diminutive nuclei whose antecedent states accept added absolute accumulation than the final alloyed basis will — which is accessible acknowledgment to bounden activity — and you can, in principle, accept nuclear admixture amid those two elements.
Image credit: David Darling.
Nuclear admixture happens all about us in the Universe: it’s the actual action that admiral every distinct brilliant arresting to your naked eye in the sky.
Image credit: Wally Pacholka of TWAN; bang for an amazing panorama.
This alike includes our own Sun! By accumulation hydrogen atoms into added isotopes and again into helium, one bald milligram of hydrogen admixture in the Sun generates as abounding activity as over 300 pounds of TNT! Of course, this is adamantine to do: you charge the temperature in the bulk of your brilliant to acceleration aloft 8 actor Kelvin in adjustment to agglutinate hydrogen into helium, and you’d charge temperatures alike college than that (on the adjustment of 100 actor Kelvin) to agglutinate helium into added elements!
Image credit: Phil Anderson, St. Rosemary Educational Institution.
All of our acknowledged attempts at breeding nuclear admixture actuality on Earth crave analogously aerial pressures and/or temperatures to those activate at the bulk of anniversary and every fusion-powered star. In boilerplate physics, there are three types of setups absolute to actualize nuclear fusion, all of which are alive appear the (metaphorical) angelic beaker ambition of the breakeven point. If you can ability and go aloft that point, you’ll aftermath added accessible activity from your bureaucracy than you put into it in adjustment to actualize the admixture reaction.
But recently, attempts to actualize nuclear admixture with a almost low-pressure, low-temperature agreement — what’s frequently accepted as algid admixture — accept been authoritative a lot of noise.
Image credit: Focardi and Rossi with their e-Cat, retrieved from Brian Wang.
In the past, claims of algid admixture accept been clumsy to be scientifically reproduced beneath controlled conditions, but it is universally accustomed that if algid admixture could be achieved, it would be amazingly advantageous as a clean, cheap, safe, abounding activity source. Last week, this armpit bidding some advantageous skepticism about the latest amazing claims apropos Andrea Rossi’s claimed algid admixture device: the Activity Catalyzer, or e-Cat.
Briefly, here’s what the e-Cat claims to do.
Image credit: Schematic of Rossi’s e-Cat reactor, retrieved from peswiki.com.
They alpha with nickel crumb — accustomed nickel as activate on Earth — and amalgamate it with hydrogen gas beneath bashful pressure. You will see claims that this is aerial pressure, but in the apple of physics, the claimed 25 times our accustomed atmospheric burden (or alike 100 or 1000 times) isn’t annihilation spectacular. (For comparison, inertial bonds admixture compresses hydrogen to be about a agency of 20 denser than solid advance to access fusion, in band with well-understood physics.)
The nickel and hydrogen mix, beneath pressure, is acrimonious through simple electrical currents in the attendance — it is claimed — of a “secret mix” of catalysts.
Image credit: retrieved from nickel hydrogen = energy.
And it’s claimed that a nuclear admixture acknowledgment takes abode amid the nickel and the hydrogen, bearing copper! The accordant allotment of the alternate table of the elements is apparent below.
Image credit: retrieved, accent and circumscribed from ptable.com.
This affirmation is fabricated for two reasons:
Right here, this actual armpit claimed that these after-effects were apparently faked, and now we’re activity to appearance you the physics of why these claims are absolutely untrue.
Image generated application the chargeless graphing software at nces.ed.gov.
There are bristles accepted abiding isotopes of Nickel, and actuality on Earth they are activate in the percentages apparent in the blueprint above. These isotope ratios are the aforementioned on Earth as they are in meteorites and in the Sun, and are appealing accepted to any sample of nickel artlessly activate actuality on Earth.
If you appetite to actualize chestnut from any of these elements by abacus a proton (hydrogen nucleus) to them, actuality are the reactions you’re attractive for:
That doesn’t attending so prohibitive, does it? Of course, there is the actuality that you’ve got to affected the amazing Coulomb barrier (the electrical abhorrence amid nickel and hydrogen nuclei), which — according to our ability of nuclear physics — requires temperatures and pressures not activate artlessly anywhere in the Universe. Not in the Sun, not in the cores of the best massive stars, and (to the best of our knowledge) not alike in supernova explosions!
From both an astrochemistry and a nuclear physics standpoint, we can achieve that these reactions are not happening, and that they’re absolutely not accident at the abundantly low energies claimed by the e-Cat team. Let’s attending at the astrochemistry first.
Image credit: SOHO/LASCO consortium, ESA / NASA, retrieved from beyondweather.ehe.osu.edu.
This is the Sun, accepted to accommodate a cogent affluence of nickel, and to primarily be composed of hydrogen. Accustomed the pressures and temperatures present in the Sun, you ability apprehend any or all of the admixture reactions mentioned aloft to happen. But aback we attending at the Sun, we see that there is a abounding beyond bulk of nickel than copper, with no affirmation that any of the Sun’s nickel has, over the 4.5 billion years of the Sun’s life, been alloyed into copper; there’s article like added than 100 times as abounding nickel atoms as chestnut atoms.
Image credit: Catherine Michelle Deibel’s Ph.D. Thesis.
But it is account acquainted that there are stars that anatomy chestnut from nickel, but they do not do it by abacus protons. Aback our Sun runs out of hydrogen fuel, it will expand, acceptable a red giant, and activate afire helium atoms into the aspect carbon. While the Sun will be able of creating a few elements added than carbon, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and (probably) neon, that’s the end of the band for the Sun. But decidedly added massive stars can go farther.
Image credit: the one-minute-astronomer.
If a brilliant is at diminutive eight times as massive as our Sun, not abandoned are copious amounts of neon produced, but the pressures and temperatures are aerial abundant to bake neon into still added elements. By accumulation a helium basis with the aspect neon, these actual massive stars can aftermath the aspect magnesium additional a chargeless neutron. Those neutrons, aback they’re uncharged (and do not accept to argue with the abhorrent Coulomb force amid diminutive nuclei), can collaborate with a nickel nucleus, which can abduction it. Two of these cases are actual important: area Nickel-62 and Nickel-64 abduction a neutron. Here’s why.
Add a neutron to Ni-62 (or Ni-64) and it becomes Ni-63 (or Ni-65). But both of these isotopes are unstable, and will β-decay, basic copper. Added specifically, they abide the reactions apparent below.
where ν ̅e is an anti-electron neutrino. This is basic for copper, because these are the abandoned abiding isotopes of chestnut in the Universe, and because this is the primary way the Universe’s chestnut is made!
Image credit: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester.
When these stars again go supernova, they banish these elements out beyond the Universe, and that’s area — to the best of our ability — all of the chestnut on Earth comes from. And it comes in a 70-30 ratio: 70% copper-63 and 30% copper-65, naturally.
In added words, alike the best massive stars, at the absurd pressures and temperatures activate at their cores, cannot agglutinate nickel and hydrogen nuclei together. From the point of appearance of astrophysics, the claims of algid admixture do not authority up.
But who knows; maybe there is some “magic abstruse catalyst” that could accomplish this acknowledgment happen? It couldn’t be annihilation like an atom, an diminutive nucleus, an electron, a neutrino, or annihilation abroad present in the Sun, because again it would appear there, too. (However, it’s account acquainted — at this point — that Focardi’s aboriginal agreement claimed to accept no catalyst, which agency Ni p → Cu should accept absolutely happened in the Sun for at diminutive one of the isotopes, alteration the isotopic affluence from what is observed.)
Image credit: Rossi, Kullander, Essen and the e-Cat, retrieved from energydigital.com.
But it isn’t happening, and the aloft account appealing abounding proves that it isn’t happening. Here’s why. Bethink the believable nuclear reactions we talked about, above, for nickel fusing with hydrogen? The botheration is, for all of the bristles isotopes, the artefact is ambiguous (which is why they were apparent with asterisks), and will radiate. Let’s accomplishment the reactions, and appearance how:
So three of these academic reactions — which, remember, represent over 95% of the absolute antecedent nickel — will adulteration aback into nickel, absolution β particles (i.e., positrons), gamma application and neutrinos, while the added two will aftermath abiding copper, forth with γ-radiation.
First, let’s booty a attending at what positrons do.
Image credit: PET physics.
Since they’re actuality created central of accustomed bulk — which is fabricated up of nuclei and electrons — these positrons will abate with electrons, bearing two high-energy photons of 511 keV of activity (kilo-electronVolts) apiece, or two gamma application (γ-rays).
In added words, in abbreviate order, all of the accessible admixture reactions will aftermath γ-radiation. While the γ-rays from these reactions can appear in a advanced array of energies in theory, from as baby as a few dozen keV up to a best of a few MeV (Mega-electronVolts), we are affirmed that we will at diminutive be bearing copious amounts of 511 keV γ-rays. And what does it booty to stop γ-radiation?
Image credit: Cameco.com.
Unlike α-particles, your bark won’t do it. Unlike β-particles, a attenuate area of aluminum (or alike lead) antithesis won’t do it. For actual active particles like γ-rays, you charge a lot of careful to assure you from them, because the abandoned way to absorber yourself from γ-rays is to put abundant actual amid the antecedent of these γ-rays and yourself to abundantly abate the intensity.
It commonly takes a abundant bulk of actual — whether it’s a bottom of lead, a beat of concrete, or a few meters of baptize — to abundantly assure you from high-energy γ-rays. For example, in ample nuclear fission reactors, there’s usually a big bureaucracy like this.
Image credit: Peter Barendse at Boston University.
Why is all this necessary? A huge bulk of careful is bare so that this aerial activity γ-radiation doesn’t brighten you. Without any shielding, γ-rays can biking through abounding kilometers of air unimpeded. And you apperceive what happens aback you get hit by ample amounts of γ-rays?
Image credit: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Paul Reinman and Artie Simek.
Right, you’ll about-face blooming with behemothic muscles!
Or, perhaps, if you don’t alive in a banana book, you’ll alpha experiencing the furnishings of astute radiation syndrome, an acutely awful way to go. So in these e-Cat abstracts of Rossi and Focardi, how abounding careful are they using, and how acceptable is that careful adjoin γ-rays?
Image credit: Rossi’s e-Cat, retrieved from the blog Nickel Hydrogen = Energy.
With abandoned 2″ of advance shielding, it is accurate that added than 96% of the γ-rays will be blocked. But that is abhorrent for nuclear physics; if added than 3% of the γ-rays were to get through the shielding, they would be calmly apparent with alike archaic equipment, and baleful to a animal eyewitness aural minutes. But the accepted γ-radiation was not detected — alike with acute accessories — during these tests!
So what’s been activity on here? Afterwards all, they claimed to aftermath chestnut from nickel and hydrogen, and they claimed to accept detected ample amounts of balance calefaction that cannot be explained by the ascribe ability alone. Accept the laws of nuclear physics been baffled on both the reactants ancillary and on the articles side?
Image credit: okokChina.com’s chestnut powder.
Or was the accomplished affair faked, with accustomed chestnut crumb added to accustomed nickel crumb and anesthetized off as “products” of the reaction? (Remember, from above, that chestnut is artlessly activate with 70% Cu-63 and 30% Cu-65 isotopic abundance.) What do you accept was the arrangement of chestnut “created” by this e-Cat? Analysis of the “final sample” showed that it independent the exact aforementioned 70-30 breach of copper-63 to copper-65 activate in nature. If you’re not assertive that this is actual apprehensive as well, you may additionally appetite to accede that alike if 100% of the antecedent nickel-62 and nickel-64 was alloyed with hydrogen into copper, you’d get beneath than bisected the chestnut (4.5%) in your articles compared to what was claimed (10%). Furthermore, — bold hydrogen was the ammunition — no added than 1% of the absolute final sample could accept been transmuted into copper-65 accustomed any believable alternation acknowledgment involving nickel nuclei and hydrogen, compared to the claimed 3%.
In fact, the absolute “observed” aftereffect of accepting your arrangement abide to accomplish calefaction alike afterwards it’s been angry off is appreciably simple to rig.
Much easier than ambuscade a being central a automatic chess machine, don’t you think?
With added companies now aggravating to capitalize off of this speculative, counterfeit and awful arguable claim, it’s time for the e-Cat’s proponents to accommodate the provable, testable, reproducible science that can acknowledgment these aboveboard physics objections. Independent analysis is the cornerstone of all accurate analysis and experiment, it’s how we edger out all sorts of errors from miscalibration to contamination, and how we assure ourselves from arrant swindles. Accustomed aggregate that we know, as others additionally authenticate (thanks, Steven B. Krivit), it’s time to set abreast the delusion of Nickel Hydrogen admixture and get aback to assignment award absolute solutions to our activity and ecology problems.
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