from Infinite-Energy Website
Originally Published January-February, 1997
in Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #12
The heavy hydrogen in the seas can drive all our machines, heat all our cities, for as far ahead as we can imagine. If, as is perfectly possible, we are short of energy two generations from now, it will be through our own incompetence.
We will be like Stone Age men freezing to death on top of a coal bed...
Energy is the most abundant resource in the universe.
The sun produces 3.8 x 1026
watts,1,2 enough to vaporize the earth in about a
half-day. The energy crisis is caused by ignorance, not by any
The problem is that our energy sources are inefficient, expensive, dangerous and polluting. It does not have to be that way. Energy is a moral issue only in the sense that energy shortages cause terrible suffering in the third world. This cannot be fixed by taking fossil fuel away from Americans and Europeans and giving it to people in Africa and India. We would not be willing to part with it, and they cannot pay to transport it, store it, or use it effectively.
There should be no need to conserve
energy. There should be no need to pollute the air or blight the
landscape with high tension power lines, or windmills or solar
collectors. Even so-called "green" energy technology is destructive.
Hydroelectric dams ruin the ecology, threaten to flood vast areas in
Canada, and destroy ancient artifacts in China and Egypt.
Cold fusion will not only eliminate pollution, it will also reduce this waste heat. Today's electric generators are about 30% efficient. Internal combustion automobile engines are only 15 to 19% efficient.3 Carnot efficiency is poor because the engines have to pump through copious amounts of air to keep the gasoline burning.
Cold fusion does not require oxygen, so a heat engine will be able to extract more heat from the working fluid. Internal combustion engines are also inefficient because they cannot stop. When the vehicle stops, they idle, wasting energy. At low speeds they are inefficient.4 Other heat engines can store up energy when the vehicle is not moving.
Steam and electric engines are efficient
across a broad range of operating speeds.
Other sources, like wind and solar energy, produce very little pollution: only the solid waste of used solar panels and worn out windmills. Cold fusion energy will produce less junked equipment than solar or wind, because it is highly concentrated. There will be less solid waste when the machinery wears out.
Under some conditions cold fusion will create tritium waste, but I expect these conditions can be avoided, and the danger of tritium eliminated. In that case, the only measurable reaction by-products from cold fusion will be tiny amounts of helium, and probably small levels of metal transmutations in the cathodes.
These may include more precious metals than unwanted, dangerous elements. In any case, the cathodes will be inside permanently sealed heat cells, in engine blocks, impervious to all but the most severe accident. Some U.S. spacecraft employ thermoelectric generators powered by fissioning uranium oxide. In one case, a rocket went out of control and was detonated on launch.
Divers found the thermoelectric
generator on the ocean floor in perfect condition. It was installed
in a replacement satellite and launched into space.5
Cold fusion with nickel appears to work as well with ordinary water as with heavy water. I expect nickel will become the dominant cathode material, in which case the fuel cost will be as close to zero as any fuel imaginable.
Even heavy water fuel would be cheap. Heavy water costs about $1000 per kilogram retail, even though it is ubiquitous (it is 1 part in 6000 in every drop of water on earth). It is expensive because a lot of energy is required to separate it from ordinary water, and because demand is limited, so new separation technologies have not been developed.6 But you get a fantastic amount of energy out of a fusion reaction.
Even at $1000 per kilogram, heavy water would be thousands of times cheaper than oil. In a heavy water cold fusion economy, a fraction of a percent of the fuel would have to be recycled to keep the heavy water separation plants working, whereas today 7% of oil goes to refinery use and loss.7 There are some indications that the cathode metal itself plays a role in the reaction. It may be transmuted, in which case it would be used up. A cold fusion reactor may require new metal from time to time, the way a fission reactor requires new uranium.
Palladium and nickel are cheaper than
uranium, and all three produce energy cheaper than oil does.
Actually, it is probably more complicated than hot fusion, but broadly speaking it releases energy on the same scale, with roughly the same amount of fuel, and it does produce helium. Worldwide annual production of all fuels, converted to an equivalent mass of oil, equals approximately 6.8x1013 kilograms of oil.8,9
This produces 2.7x1015 megajoules (at 40 megajoules per kilogram). A kilogram of heavy water contains 200 grams of deuterium. Converted to helium in a d-d fusion reaction, this produces 1.2x108 megajoules, with 1.3 grams of matter annihilated.10
Thus, present world energy needs could be met with 2.3x107 kg of heavy water, or ~24,000 metric tons. Actually, as I pointed out above, Carnot efficiency is likely to improve with cold fusion, so less fuel will be needed. Byproducts would include 18,800 tons of free oxygen and 4,700 tons of helium.
Thirty tons of mass would be annihilated, the same amount we lose today with chemical fuel, which also obeys Einstein's mass-energy equivalence law. To put it another way, a kilogram of heavy water has as much potential energy as 2.9 million kilograms of oil.
The earth has ~2x1013 metric
tons of heavy water,11 enough to last 851 million years
at this rate, and there is plenty more in Rings of Saturn and
elsewhere in the solar system.
If condition one is not met, the technological revolution will be canceled. Without two and three it might be incomplete. We might end up with large, centralized cold fusion power reactors that make cheap energy.
This will gradually reduce pollution,
after electric automobiles are introduced.
Today, Edmund Storms spends months laboriously testing palladium samples to winnow out the ones that are likely to work.12
That process must be automated. Ways must be found to fabricate cathodes that always meet his most stringent standards, and then the standards must be raised. Today, cold fusion experimental results are inconsistent. Heat flares up and gutters out, like flames from green, wet firewood. When we learn to control the reaction, we will scale up the type of cold fusion we want.
We will not scale up the uncontrolled, on-again, off-again heat, or tritium production.
Once we learn how to build this new kind
of fire, we will make only clean, hot reactions, just as we only
build clean, properly vented, smoke-free coal fires.
Even a needle pulling thread uses energy provided by you. Nearly every machine on earth can be improved with cold fusion, but four categories are critical. Their performance depends on efficient energy consumption, and they consume more fuel than all others combined.
If cold fusion energy can be used in
these four categories, it will replace almost all of the energy used
by mankind, and it will reduce air and water pollution drastically.
If it turns out that cold fusion can only be used for large electric
generators, then it will gradually replace other energy sources. We
will use electric space heaters and heat pumps. Automobiles will use
batteries, or energy derived from electricity, such as hydrogen from
Machines like televisions, telephones, computers and x-ray machines use little energy. Cold fusion may improve their portability and reliability, but this will contribute little to conservation. The Energy Star computer standards have made laudable contributions to conservation, but things like electric motors and lighting consume much more energy than computers.
Electric motors consume 50% of
electricity. Lighting consumes 20% directly, and another 5% in air
conditioning to remove waste heat from the light fixtures.13
A farm is an outdoor factory, like an oil refinery. Putting a farm outdoors has one big advantage: free energy, the light and heat from the sun.
Unfortunately, it has many disadvantages. You get too much light and heat, or not enough. Things go catastrophically wrong. Insects and rodents eat the food. Crops must compete with weeds, and fight bacteria. Floods wash away seeds and fertilizer, and cause mildew. Farms suffer from droughts. Crops are reduced when it does not freeze hard enough in the winter, or wiped out when it freezes too late in the spring...
With cold fusion, we can eliminate these
problems by bringing food production inside. This will save an
immense amount of land, it will reduce water pollution, and it will
let us grow unlimited amounts of cheap, organic, wholesome, natural,
clean, fresh food. This will be one of the biggest bonuses of cold
fusion. It is discussed in detail below.
In summer, you would let 70% or 80% of
the heat go into the atmosphere, wasted, as you do today with your
The ramifications of cold fusion also take time to sink in. It is surprising how many experts overlook them at first. I have discussed cold fusion with petroleum experts several times. They begin by saying that it will not matter in the long run if the market for oil fuel dwindles away, because oil has many other uses as an industrial raw material for things like plastic.
At present, 19% of oil is used in
non-energy applications, but experts say that the market will grow
in the future.
He paraphrased them:
With all due respect, I think they were kidding him.
I cannot believe these executives would be so sanguine at the prospect of losing 81% of their business. They get the same amount of money per barrel whether people burn the stuff or make nylon out of it. Why should they care what the customer does? In any case, I think they are wrong. They will lose 100% of their market. Oil will be worth nothing.
I have asked experts:
They say yes, but it would take fantastic amounts of energy.
It would be the most uneconomical
chemical plant on earth. It does not occur to them, at first, that
this would not be the case if energy costs nothing. I believe it
will eventually be safer, more convenient and cheaper to synthesize
petrochemicals at the plastics factory where they are needed, rather
than digging them out of the ground and transporting them over great
Only a millionaire could have run a
computer game on a mainframe computer.
The first cold fusion powered automobiles will look like today's models. They will have the same kind of body, tires, controls and electronics. Years ago, automobiles came in many different shapes and sizes. Because of safety regulations and aerodynamics, they all look about the same now. The cold fusion car will look the same externally. Under the hood it will have a smaller engine that develops more power.
There will be no exhaust pipe or muffler, no pollution controls, no gas tank or fuel gauge. A car will come with a permanent supply of fuel built in: a cupful of water. This water may have to be changed out annually to reduce contamination. Or it may last for years, like the acid in an automobile battery. During the lifetime of the car, only a tiny fraction of the water will be used up.
The rest will be disposed of when the
car engine is scrapped. Although heavy water is toxic when drunk in
large quantities, when it is mixed with ordinary water it rapidly
disperses to its natural concentration (1 part in 6000). It is
hygroscopic. When exposed to air it absorbs ordinary water and
gradually returns to the natural concentration.
The designer will take out the
coal-fired boiler, put in a cold fusion heated boiler, and leave the
steam turbine and other components unchanged as much as possible.
Engineers prefer tried-and-true designs; they only innovate when
they have to. Space heaters will attach to the same hot air ducts or
radiators. They will be subject to the same safety and installation
laws. Electric generators will be connected to the fuse box where
the power company line now comes.
New materials are sometimes literally interwoven with the old, like the iron in 19th century wooden ships:
New technology often starts out imitating older forms, even when it would work better if it did not.
Early Chinese clay pots were modeled to look like woven baskets. The first plastic household objects and furniture were made to look like wood, wicker, and other traditional materials. In the 1960s plastic chairs began to look like plastic. Years ago I saw a demonstration of a word processor designed to look like a typewriter.
New text appeared only on the bottom line of the screen, the cursor did not move around. To change a line you had to "roll" the text down, like an imaginary sheet of paper. With great ingenuity, the limitations of the old technology were imposed on the new. The salesman explained that this would make secretaries feel at home with the machine.
Electric power plant control rooms have unnecessarily large controls built like old-fashioned J-handle ("pistol-grip") switches to press small electric contacts. In older plants these controls had to be large because they were mechanically connected to the equipment they actuated.
An official study concluded that this was one of the contributing factors to the Three Mile Island accident.
New technology can cause social change, or it can prop up obsolescent technology and social customs.
Antebellum slavery in the U.S. was declining until Eli Whitney introduced the cotton gin, making cotton more competitive with other fibers. Many observers feel that modern Japanese orthography is too difficult for the average reader.16
For a while it appeared to be in decline. People forget how to write the more complex characters. They substitute syllabary (kana) instead. Young people watch television and read comic books with simplified writing, instead of reading novels and newspapers. But the boom in low cost word processors has turned the situation around, at least temporarily.
People's ability to write characters by
hand is probably at an all-time postwar low, but everyone can churn
them out with word processors that are as cheap as electronic
typewriters in the U.S. The machines are so addictive some people
write grocery lists with them.
Steam engines first prolonged the age of sail, then slowly brought it to an end. People will try to prop up the electric power companies with cold fusion, by developing large, central power generators with cold fusion in place of coal or fission.
In the long run they will fail, for five reasons:
Let us look closer at some of these points.
A hurricane can cause millions of dollars in damage to the power distribution network, and black out whole cities for days. Skilled crews of highly paid workers maintain the network and repair damage. Eight percent of electricity is lost in transmission across the network.17
With cold fusion there will be no
network to maintain, and no economic losses from massive power
failures. Individual generators will break occasionally, as do
refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces today.
Home generators will not be scaled-down
power plants. They will be based on simpler designs. They will be
fully automatic and maintenance-free for long periods of time.
Eventually, they will have no moving parts, like the thermoelectric
generators used in spacecraft, which work reliably for decades
without maintenance. Central generators will also evolve into
maintenance free machines, but they will lag, just as mainframe
computers have never been as easy to use and maintain as small
A million distributed gas or oil
cogenerators would be the responsibility of a million householders.
People would neglect them, just as they neglect automobiles. The
cogenerators would produce more pollution than a central generator
generating an equivalent amount of electricity. But a cold fusion
generator will produce no pollution, no matter how much the
homeowner neglects it.
It would cost thousands of dollars to install enough generating capacity in your house to meet peak demands. With central generating, you share capacity. Large customers use electricity at night at lower rates. With individual generators, every house, shopping mall, and factory would waste most generator capacity most hours of the day. This is true but irrelevant to the consumer.
We waste the unused capacity of our automobiles when we leave them parked most hours of the day.
We could take a train or taxicab instead, which would conserve equipment, but it would waste our time, which is more valuable. The homeowner will find it more economical to purchase generating equipment and leave it idle most of the day, rather than renting a smaller share of a central generator.
There are two reasons:
Homeowners will leapfrog the power companies because they do not have an installed base of equipment.
Assume a cold fusion co-generator costs the same as a gas-fired one: $8,500.18 Assume it lasts 15 years and saves $200 per month on average, offsetting both gas and electric bills. It would pay for itself in three and half years, and save an additional $27,500 before it wears out. That is $1800 per year over the life of the machine, a 22% return on investment. (It is 28% if you factor in the money you would have to spend for a furnace anyway.)
The power company cannot offer you the
same savings because it cannot scrap its installed base of equipment
overnight. Massive power generators take years to plan, approve, and
install. A household appliance can be replaced in a week, on a whim.
The decision is made by a homeowner without hearings or committees.
These advantages will disappear with
Many could be made today but they would not be economically practical. Others would be impossible. Here are some of my favorite possibilities. Many are borrowed from Clarke's Profiles of the Future. Some of these will require breakthroughs in other areas, like thermoelectric chips and spacecraft propulsion.
Cold fusion will act as a spur to these breakthroughs.
It will enable rapid development of these other machines, the way steam locomotives spurred the development of air brakes.
Unfortunately, there are many potential military applications for cold fusion, which are discussed below.
The pace of progress in the development of automobile engines has been slow over the last fifty years. Manufacturers spent years developing diesel engines and rotary engines, only to abandon them later. General Motors spent approximately $300 million developing the rotary engine in the 1970s, but it never sold a single one.21
Cold fusion will not allow a long
product development schedule. After people realize it is real, every
manufacturer will have to work feverishly to bring fusion trucks and
cars to market, or soon face bankruptcy.
Designers will jettison antipollution devices; expensive lightweight aluminum and plastic body parts; expensive energy efficient oil pumps and air conditioners; and aerodynamic, molded light fixtures that are expensive to replace after an accident. They will dispense with the fuel tank, exhaust and muffler.
They will cancel research to meet
miles-per-gallon and pollution control standards.
They will soon go out of production, and
spare parts will become hard to find.
Cold fusion will eliminate this. If a damaged cold fusion aircraft can crash land intact, it will not explode. The biggest performance limitation for an airplane is the distance it can fly on one tank of fuel. On a long distance flight the fuel can weigh as much as the payload. A cold fusion airplane could fly around the world on a cup of heavy water.
The weight of the fuel can be replaced
Conventional airplanes will probably never carry more than 1,000 passengers because of the second limitation: they cannot slow down, or stop and hover in the air. So they need runways, and they must remain kilometers apart in the air for safety.
The bigger the airplane, the longer the runway it needs, and the more stress it puts on the runway and landing gear. An airplane with the capacity of the Great Eastern would require a gigantic runway, longer and wider than we can afford to build near most cities. But, a giant aircraft that can hover does not need a runway. It can land gently, near the terminal. Several tires strike the ground simultaneously, which puts no excessive strain on the concrete or landing gear.
When air traffic is congested, the aircraft can slow down or even stop and wait high above the airport in a fixed position close to other stopped aircraft, like cars waiting at a traffic light. Airplanes waiting to land will not need to orbit in giant circles, with a gap of several miles between them.
This will make the air traffic
controller's job easier. So would multiple, decentralized airports
and direct landing of freight in factories, shopping malls, and
trucking yards. Traffic will no longer come through the bottleneck
of one large airport.
Hovercraft and airships have trouble competing commercially because they are slower than airplanes.
This is a problem on many routes for
passengers, but it is not so important for air freight. They are
faster and more flexible than ships. Hovercraft are widely used by
the military, which likes them because they fly over water, sand,
marshes, barbed wire or mine fields with equal ease, a meter or more
up in the air. The U.S. Navy has a large fleet of armored hovercraft
Airships could transport thousands of tons of freight or raw materials from continent to continent. A large one might have the capacity of an ocean freighter. It could fly a hundred tanks and soldiers halfway around the world in a few days. It would not require an airport to land, just an open space.
An airship might hover over uneven
ground or a strip mine while loading ore.
The Japanese do this by filling in the ocean and Tokyo bay. They leveled off small mountains outside Osaka to build the new international airport. Eventually, excavation might get so cheap that factories and warehouses are built underground, and tall buildings have as many floors underground as they do above ground. Large underground shopping malls that seem to stretch for miles are already found around most major urban railway stations in Japan.
Underground construction has a big
advantage in Japan. It is impervious to earthquakes. People in the
BART subway stations barely felt
the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.
Fusion cars might smolder after a severe
accident, but they will not explode.
Since the tunnels will be protected from
weather, and the vehicles will not pollute, the high tech equipment
will last longer than it would on old fashioned surface roads. These
roads will be well suited to fully automated, self driving,
A flying moving van would make too much wind and commotion. For that, we will need something like a silent, antigravity machine if such a thing is possible. Cold fusion powered airplane engines will probably be quieter than conventional engines, but as long as we use jets of air to push aircraft, they will not be suitable for densely populated neighborhoods. In rural and wilderness areas in places like Alaska, private family airplanes are common.
Their use will increase as cold fusion,
better air traffic control, and global positioning satellites
combine to make them safer and easier to fly.
Many crucial military technologies originated as ordinary civilian technologies, for example, railroads played a crucial role in the U.S. Civil War and in the First World War.
In Crusade in Europe,24 Eisenhower wrote:
Many other civilian technologies played
crucial roles in World War II, including high octane gasoline,
radio, and penicillin.
There is no need for a "cruising speed" to reduce fuel consumption. Ships, tanks, helicopters, and transport aircraft will go for months without refueling, just as fission powered aircraft carriers and submarines do today. One of the biggest headaches in tank warfare is logistics and fuel resupply. The Allied invasion of Europe was stalled in the fall of 1944 partly because of fuel shortages.
The German tank armies were stopped in
the Battle of the Bulge when they ran out of gas. Fuel, fuel depots,
and transporting fuel were a tremendous logistical headache during
the recent Gulf War. A cold fusion-powered tank will run until the
treads fall off without refueling. Armored hovercraft tanks would
have unlimited range.
Cold fusion will not give rockets infinite operating range, because rockets must carry propellant. Cold fusion can extend the range of rocket powered space vehicles by lifting them high into the atmosphere with conventional turbine motors. A rocket-plane might leave the atmosphere, cruise through space, and re-enter at will.
With a cold fusion-powered rocket, water
might be the best propellant, because it cannot explode. It would be
expelled as superheated steam. Today's rockets use explosive
chemical fuel, which serves as both fuel and propellant.
Small cold fusion cruise missiles will have unlimited range and endurance. With Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) navigation, they will take off from any spot on earth and fly anywhere else.
They can search for a target for days, or months. They will weave up and down the landscape, loitering, waiting for a truck, train or convoy to pass, or above the sea waiting for a ship. They might circle around a target indefinitely, waiting to attack on command, or keeping tabs on it, reporting its position back to headquarters.
Pilotless propeller aircraft could also
carry cameras for mapping, reconnaissance, and spying. An autonomous
cold fusion torpedo will be similar to a cruise missile. You could
launch it anywhere. It could cross an ocean and cruise around an
enemy coast waiting for a ship to come along, and then attack it.
They have suggested that a kind of "mechanical limpet mine" or "suckerfish" could be used to keep track of nuclear submarines. These small, robot devices clamp onto the bottoms of passing submarines and continually report their position back to headquarters.
The sailors in the submarine or surface ship might realize the limpet was attached. According to the late Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin, experts in the Royal Navy are trained to dive under ships stopped in mid-ocean and remove such mines.26
In wartime this would be a hazardous
undertaking for both the diver and the ship, which would be
vulnerable to attack. Cold fusion makes the limpet idea easier to
implement, and more effective. It would be difficult to remove one
or two such mines; imagine trying to remove a hundred of them with
cold fusion power supplies and computers programmed to detect divers
and scuttle away from them to a new spot on the hull. The limpet
might not need to attach itself. It might swim along next to the
A school of drones might follow a submarine, reporting its position, speed, and bearing every ten minutes back to headquarters. One of the problems with the limpet scheme is that you cannot easily broadcast a radio message from underwater. However, if you had a school of a hundred tag along torpedoes, several of them could be assigned to stack up in a column above the submarine, each staying in contact with the one below it.
The top one would dart to the surface every ten minutes to broadcast a report via satellite, and then return to join the school. A hundred drones would cost a lot of money, but nowhere near as much as the manned submarine they are assigned to follow. They would be programmed to cross the ocean and return home for maintenance at regular intervals, in relays.
This constant surveillance would render the submarine useless.
A submarine's only advantage is its
ability to hide. Surrounded by drones, it would be as "visible" as
any surface ship is to radar and satellite. If the enemy knows
precisely where a submarine is, where it is headed, and what the
captain said to the first mate a half-hour ago, it might as well be
a surface ship or a shore installation under satellite
reconnaissance. A nuclear missile submarine is a deterrent only
because its location is secret.
Even if a dozen were assigned to follow
one ship, they would still be cheaper to build and maintain than the
smallest seagoing manned vessel.
Let us hope they are right.
Cold fusion devices are cheap. If a cold fusion bomb is possible, someone might be able to mass produce thousands of devices the size of shoe boxes, each with the power of the Hiroshima bomb, costing a thousand dollars apiece. They would be undetectable. They might become as common as Stinger Missiles, which are reportedly available in the third world weapons bazaars.
It is cold comfort, but terrorists have
never used a Stinger Missile against defenseless civilian aircraft.
They have, however, put a powerful bomb in the World Trade Center.
If they had acquired a small thermonuclear fusion bomb from the
arsenal of the former Soviet Union, the result would have been
There are some indications that if you
let a cell overheat, the reaction can quickly increase to high
levels until the metal melts. This would destroy the lattice and
instantly quench the reaction. It does not seem to be a practical
way to make a bomb.
Automobile engines catch on fire;
overheat. Helicopter engines can lose lubricant and explode. Perhaps
on rare occasions cold fusion engines will go out of control and
perhaps even melt down. Before these engines come into widespread
use, it will be necessary to test them by deliberately disabling
safety features to find out what happens during a catastrophe.
Furthermore, it is an essential ingredient for a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb. You cannot make a bomb without tritium, and you cannot make tritium without a massive, expensive reactor. The only U.S. facility capable of making it is the Savannah River Plant, which has been shut down indefinitely. The half-life of tritium is 12.3 years.
If the Savannah River plant is shut down permanently, the U.S. supply of tritium will fall by half every 12.3 years. For a while, old tritium can be scavenged out of decommissioned warheads, which are in oversupply thanks to the arms reductions treaties. Eventually, the natural decline will begin automatically squeezing down the number of warheads, unless a replacement for the Savannah River plant is built.
Some policy makers have welcomed this as a mechanism for automatic scheduled arms reductions. It is difficult to hide a massive tritium reactor facility from satellite reconnaissance. If the Russians, Chinese and others agree to shut down their tritium production, we can be certain they will have to throw away half of their remaining warheads every 12.3 years. Cold fusion may disrupt this automatic arms reduction scheme.
Occasionally, cold fusion reactions generate copious amounts of tritium.
Most create no measurable amounts of tritium at all. Nobody knows why yet. We will have to find out before cold fusion generators and automobiles can be built. Some set of physical laws govern tritium production. Once we understand those laws, or, at least, once we establish reliable empirical means of prediction, it should be possible to ensure tritium-free heat production. Unfortunately, this means it will also be possible to enhance tritium production, although nobody can predict to what extent.
A third world country might be able to
construct a small, hidden, cut-rate version of the Savannah River
If we can get as much light and heat indoors, at zero cost, we can do much better growing things indoors. Outdoor farms suffer from a long list of problems like drought, floods, erosion, insects, storms, and so on. "Outside" is a terrible place for a production line which is what a row of corn really is. You would not think of producing shoes, potato chips, or computer chips in an open field. It is not a good place to produce food either.
Farmers sometimes lose half of their crops to frost, drought, or insects. In any other industry this would be considered disastrous performance. An auto plant, a computer chip or a potato chip factory that lost half of its annual output because of a late frost would face bankruptcy. Farms are subject to the whims of nature, so we are forced to accept large losses, unpredictability, and overall low efficiency.
Sunlight is the only pollution-free,
zero cost source of energy abundant enough to grow food for everyone
People like it because it is "totally pesticide free."
There are no insects in the factory, so no need for pesticides. Factory grown food is "more natural;" it ought to appeal to people who want organic, pesticide-free diets, once they get over the shock of that idea. During the spring and summer factory grown vegetables are about 50% more expensive than field grown ones, but in winter they are 30 to 40% cheaper.
Food factories make economic sense in Japan, where land prices and strawberries are expensive. They would be even more economically attractive if the electricity was free. In Iceland, food factories are warmed by volcanic hot springs, another zero-cost source of energy, like the sun, or cold fusion. In the Netherlands, flowers worth $1.8 billion per year are grown hydroponically in greenhouses.
Flowers are grown, cut, packaged, auctioned, and air shipped to cities all over the world from a gigantic indoor complex the size of 100 football fields. Rose bushes grow "for four years without touching soil" in water filled with an ideal mixture of fertilizer and plant food. Computers control levels of light and nutrients to meet peak demand on Mother's Day and at other times of the year.28
A company in Massachusetts grows 900,000 striped bass in an aquiculture factory on an acre of land.29 The fish are healthier and better tasting than fish grown in the wild, or in aquiculture ponds. The machines produce a rapid current, forcing the fish to swim vigorously twenty miles per day, which improves the flavor of the meat. The fish grow to market size in nine months, half the time it usually takes.
The water discharged by the factory
"exceeds numerous drinking water standards," according to state
Produce would never be shipped more than
a few hundred meters, straight up, and no fruit or vegetable would
be less than perfectly vine ripe. Alternatively, it might be more
economical to build the factories in out-of-the way locations where
land is cheap: deserts, inaccessible mountain ranges, or the moon.
Perhaps robot driven VTOL aircraft and spacecraft will ship garbage
from cities to the food factories, and bring back produce.
In a food factory, food is grown from seeds and livestock, like a conventional farm. The production line throughput is one to six months. Factories producing automobiles and consumer goods generally move products from start to finish in days or weeks, so they require less floor space than food factories. Food factories have large inventories and slow production lines. We have always had some kinds of food factories, including breweries and cheese factories.
Some take months to produce a batch of goods.
Some take years.
The factories would not need enough capacity to feed the entire population. They would stop incipient famines by stabilizing supplies. Most famines are not caused by the weather or by natural disasters, because these are limited in geographic scope. In an organized society, relief supplies can always be shipped in. Famine is caused by economics, politics, war, or poor government planning.
Famines are triggered when a bad harvest
or a war disrupts the food supply. People panic, and hoard food.
Prices shoot up, and the famine begins. Sometimes, as people starve,
unsold food rots in warehouses. It is too expensive for poor people.
Chaos disrupts transportation. If the people can be assured that
adequate emergency supplies exist in food factories, panic will not
set in, prices will remain stable, and famine will be averted.
It would reduce U.S. exports of food, hurting our balance of payments. Once the factories are developed, I cannot imagine why they would not become increasingly cheap, gradually supplanting outdoor farms and disrupting agricultural employment worldwide.
No human can work as cheaply as a robot.
They take up a fraction of the land of farms they replace, because crops in them can be grown in shelves one or two meters apart. Suppose a food factory covers 100 hectares (250 acres), like a shopping mall or a large office park. It is 25 stories high (80 meters), and grows vegetables on 40 layers of shelves two meters apart.
That gives it about as much growing area as a 4,000 hectare farm. There is no winter in the building, and according to the Yomiuri article, it takes about a month to grow a head of lettuce, roughly half the time needed by field-grown lettuce, so the growing season is at least four times longer than a regular farm. There are no insects in the building, no deer, few rodents, no weeds, drought, or floods, and there is always the right amount of light and fertilizer, so little food is lost to spoilage. Automation is much easier.
There are no rocks, hills or irregular
areas, so robots can process the crops. Robots cannot work in the
hills of Pennsylvania or the paddies of Japan. Overall, the 100
hectare facility is at least as efficient as a 16,000 hectare
(40,000 acre) farm.
Roughly a quarter of U.S. food is
exported. Someday this agricultural land might be crammed into an
area thousands of times smaller in giant complexes of buildings
hundreds of stories high nestled in the Rocky Mountains, on the
moon, or in some other location where land is cheap. Or, you could
cover the five boroughs of New York City (800 square kilometers;
80,000 hectares) with buildings as tall as the World Trade Center
towers (411 meters), which would produce as much food as ~66 million
hectares of crop land, enough to feed about half the U.S.
Monocultured crops reduce genetic
diversity. The sooner farms are replaced by compact enclosed
factories, the better it will be for the ecology.
Acres of grass and trees might be set
aside as a park, with artificial brooks and real fish.
Cold fusion is likely to come into
widespread industrial use long before these technologies can be
applied radically, or traditional agriculture done away with
They fall into two categories:
radiation, and long term environmental threats from the
irresponsible use of cheap energy.
Autoradiographs show that some used cathodes are radioactive. Perhaps these nuclear transmutations are a side-effect of zero point energy, or perhaps the "conventional" cold fusion nuclear theories are correct and the transmutations are the sole source of energy.
Either way, nuclear reactions and radiation are inherently dangerous, and must be treated with respect. It would be foolish to treat a cold fusion cell like a solar cell or some other source of energy with no possible side effects.
A cold fusion engine will not be as dangerous as an internal combustion engine, which requires explosive fuel and produces deadly carbon monoxide. But it may require some shielding, and possibly a radiation alarm that could trigger an emergency cutoff switch - unless the process could be tuned and certified not to produce ionizing radiation.
A fully developed theory to explain the
cold fusion reaction might give us pinpoint control, and it would
give us increased confidence that cold fusion motors cannot produce
large, uncontrolled bursts of radiation under any circumstances.
The autoradiographs prove that cold fusion does produce low levels of radioactivity, but the levels are so low that scientists have difficulty detecting them with sensitive instruments. Compared to the radiation from televisions and the natural background of radiation from space, radon and other sources, cold fusion radiation seems likely to remain so low as to be nearly undetectable.
Still, cold fusion might conceivably
produce some unknown form of radiation or some other deleterious
effect. We will have to make sure this is not the case, by exposing
rats and other laboratory animals to unshielded cold fusion
reactors, and by carefully monitoring the health of the first group
of people who work with the reactors every day.
The destructive side effects of
technology in 2000 BC were as bad as they are today.
If people act irresponsibly, and laws are not established to protect the ecosystem, we will end up destroying the earth no matter what tools we use. Our only hope is that people will act wisely, and they will treasure and protect nature. That job will be far easier with nonpolluting cold fusion.
We can use this wonderful new tool to
eliminate pollution and clean up the earth if we choose to, or we
can destroy everything with it. It is up to us. Our destiny has
always been up to us.
A Look at Economics and Society
in Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #13-#14
In Part 1 (above), I described some of the gee-whiz technology we can look forward to with cold fusion.
In this issue, I would like to consider more nebulous questions. How will this affect society and the economy? Will it cause an economic boom, or massive unemployment? I think it could go either way. The outcome will depend on policies shaped by business leaders, politicians, and voters. Cold fusion may cause more unemployment than any previous labor-saving invention. It will eliminate jobs in energy, the biggest industry in the world.
I fear that cold fusion will cause
social disruption, because people are better at inventing new
machines than they are at devising new social institutions.
People are mesmerized by the gigantic profit potential of cold fusion. Martin Fleischmann may have set a new record here when he estimated the value of a successful cold fusion device at "about 300 trillion dollars" over an unspecified period. I presume this is based on the cost of the fossil fuel we will consume if we do not adapt cold fusion.
I disagree with his estimate. In spite of today's gigantic energy industries, in the long run I do not think cold fusion will earn much money, certainly not trillions of dollars.
The individual scientists, engineers and venture capitalists who perfect the technology may become wealthy, but corporations devoted to cold fusion will never play a large role in the economy the way oil and coal companies do today. Instead, I predict the energy sector will wither away. The total market value of energy per annum worldwide in the next century will be zero.
Visionaries like Haldane, Von
Neumann and Clarke are often ridiculed for predicting
that nuclear power would become "too cheap to meter," but in the
long run they will be vindicated.2
People will generate as much as they need, when and where they need it. You cannot charge a customer for something he makes himself with his own machine. There is no practical way to meter use or collect revenue. It would be like trying to charge a person every time he watches a video tape of his family vacation.
You can only collect money for cold fusion once, when you sell the machine. At first, manufacturers will sell cold fusion powered machines at a premium, but competition will soon push down the price. Eventually, cold fusion automobiles, refrigerators, furnaces and other equipment will cost no more than today's fossil fuel models. Cold fusion will be a gold mine, but only for consumers, not manufacturers. Nobody will earn $300 trillion selling cold fusion energy.
The $300 trillion which would otherwise have been spent on fuel will be spent on a broad range of things instead, from consumer goods, to gambling, education, and the military.
Perhaps it will not be spent on
anything, and the world economy will shrink by $300 trillion.
When first introduced, it is a high-tech toy for hobbyists and people who enjoy playing with frivolous, novel, unpredictable, unstable, and generally useless gadgets, like the automobile circa 1900 or the personal computer in 1977. The first personal computers came without disks or even video monitors in some cases.
The first automobiles were toys for wealthy young men with a talent for roadside repair. In stage two the machine becomes a luxury item. It is still inordinately expensive, but more reliable. It no longer takes an expert to operate. It has many advantages over the older technology. By 1905, automobiles could be operated by untrained people. They were faster than horses, reasonably comfortable to ride in, and weather-proof. In the third stage the machine is perfected, mass produced, and made safe and idiot-proof. It becomes a necessity to most people.
The automobile entered this stage on August 12, 1908 when Ford introduced the Model T for $850.3
Personal computers gradually entered it in the late 1980s. Finally, in stage four, the cost of the machine falls dramatically and it becomes so reliable that it replaces the older technology. The U.S. horse population peaked in 1929 and declined rapidly after that.4 Sometime around 1992, computers spread to every business.
Manual bookkeeping with handwritten ledgers became a lost art. As a machine passes these stages, social attitudes toward it change in predicable ways. In the beginning people attack it as elitist or belittle it as impractical. ("Get a horse!")
Later, they cannot imagine how they
lived without it.5
The Houston Post showed the baby new year "1900" riding in on one. But they did not touch the lives of ordinary people. Many people had never seen one. An automobile was the star attraction at a fair in Emporia, Kansas in 1899. By 1900 there were approximately 8,000 in the United States, including a hundred taxies in New York City.6
The voluminous 1908 issue of the Sears, Roebuck Catalog has 59 pages devoted to buggies, wagons, harness and veterinary supplies for horses, but it lists only a few small items for automobiles, including men's driving gloves, a recommended grade of oil, and a do-it-yourself handbook advertised as,
Buggy makers did not worry about the competition. When the Apple, Northstar and Radio Shack microcomputers went on sale in the late 1970s, they were more obscure than the early automobiles.
Few people realized how important they
would soon become.
Even the cost of non-renewable energy has been falling, in defiance of many predictions since the beginning of the oil age. In real dollars the price of gasoline in the U.S. has declined from $1.60 per gallon in 1947 to about $1.10 today, with one short price spurt that ended abruptly in the early 1980s with the collapse of OPEC.8
Many other goods that were expensive luxuries not long ago now cost little, including fresh vegetables in winter, pearls, automobile tires, computer memory, and ice. In northern states, people used to cut ice from frozen ponds in winter. They stored it under sawdust to be used in summer or transported south by ships, where it was a valuable commodity. In cities, icemen delivered it in blocks to housewives, who preserved food in iceboxes.
Mechanical refrigeration was invented in 1834 and became practical in 1881. Ice was manufactured in large, central factories in cities, and delivered to houses with horse drawn wagons. General Electric introduced the first refrigerators for home use in 1920. They were luxury items, costing $600. (Twice as much as a Model T Ford, which was down to $290 by this time.)
Ten thousand refrigerators were sold in 1920, 75,000 in 1925. Freon replaced ammonia in 1931, making refrigerators safer and cheaper. By 1937 sales reached $3 million, and the iceman was out of business.9
The last holdout customers were forced
to buy refrigerators. When the last gas station in your neighborhood
closes down, holdouts will be forced to buy a cold fusion car. When
the power company goes bankrupt, they will have to buy home
He invented an ammonia ice-making machine, one of the first primitive refrigerators in the U.S. If you had told an ice merchant that in a hundred years people in Florida will make as much ice as they want with their own miniature Gorrie machines, the merchant would not have said, "someone will earn a hundred million selling all that ice!" He would understand that when that happens, the bottom will drop out of the market and ice will be worth nothing.
Projecting a $300 trillion future value
on cold fusion is like using the cost of 1842 pond ice to
extrapolate what we pay to make ice in our kitchens, with our own
Today these companies manufacture gasoline engines for automobiles and electric motors for appliances.
Someday they will equip all types of machines with cold fusion engines instead, but they will not earn more profit. In the long run, competition ensures that a manufacturer can only make a moderate profit above the cost of materials and labor, and these costs will be the same (or less) than they are with today's motors. Cold fusion motors will not require particularly expensive materials, difficult manufacturing techniques, or close tolerances.
Even a palladium-based cold fusion engine may not cost much. It might require roughly as much thin film palladium as you find in the catalytic converter. When cold fusion automobiles are first introduced, they will be sold at a premium. The first companies to sell them will make a windfall profit. Then competition will drive the price down, and cold fusion will become the standard.
It will be an invisible item included in
the base price, along with windshield wipers, electric head lights,
and cabin heating. (These three were optional, extra cost features
when they were first introduced.)
I doubt that any one manufacturer will be able to monopolize the market for cold fusion, or dominate it the way IBM once dominated the computer business. One inventor will not patent a device that all manufacturers will be forced to license.
This is unlikely for three reasons:
Cold fusion may be obsolete already.
Other excess energy devices have been reported, like the Correa and Griggs machines, and various over-unity magnetic motors. Unlike cold fusion, they have not been independently replicated, so we cannot be absolutely sure they exist. If they are real then the money being poured into legal battles to patent cold fusion is a total waste.
Companies spending money on these battles ought to be anxious to verify the competing claims.
They belittle and ignore the claims
instead, as if that will make them go away.
With the money they save on gasoline, consumers may buy new carpets, education, or a vacation in Rio. The money Exxon no longer earns will be spread out over many different industries.
For consumers, cold fusion is about saving money, not spending it. In the early stages of its development, cold fusion will benefit the consumer with lower prices more than it benefits industry with higher sales or increased profit margins. New technologies like medical CAT scans, computers, and the Internet encourage the consumer to spend money in ways he had never imagined before.
Cold fusion produces energy, something we have always had. In the third world, there is a terrible shortage of energy in daily life for things like cooking, space heating, pumping water, and transportation. But in developed nations the consumer market for energy is close to saturation. It is already so cheap that people use as much as they want.
People keep their houses at a comfortable temperature, turn on as many lights as they like, and drive as much as they please without worrying about the price of gasoline.
Traffic congestion limits driving more
than the cost of fuel.
It may spur a price war or encourage
many new companies to enter these businesses. When the cost of
computer memory and other microelectronics plummeted, it did not
help IBM or the minicomputer makers. New companies like Compaq
sprang up and took advantage of the "commodity pricing."
Homeowners ought to do this. They would if they understood economics.
You can put $200 in the bank and earn 5% interest, or you can put it in the stock market and earn 10% if you are lucky, or you can invest it in ten compact fluorescent light bulbs, which you use to replace 100-watt incandescent bulbs as they burn out.
The fluorescent bulbs cost more but they last 9 to 13 times longer, so you end up spending an extra $103 on equipment. They consume 75 to 80% less electricity. At 10 cents per kilowatt hour that saves $107 per year, a gigantic, risk-free return on investment. Plus, you do not have to bother changing burned out bulbs for the next seven years.
As one expert put it,
The Potential for Disruption
They will require massive investment, new factories, and years of research. Cold fusion itself will take time to perfect, but the spin-offs will take longer because they are more complex, and because large scale research on them will not begin until cold fusion is commercialized. Indoor farming with robots might take 30 to 60 years to develop. It is cost effective for some crops already: flowers in the Netherlands, tomatoes in Tokyo, aquaculture in Boston.
But it will be a long time, if ever, before we grow wheat more cheaply indoors than on the Great Plains. The change to automated indoor farming will occur gradually, giving displaced farm workers time to find new jobs. The energy production industries oil, gas, coal, and the electric power companies are another matter. The potential for chaotic disruption here is very great, because the transition will be swift and it will be in one direction only.
All jobs will be lost, none will be
Cold fusion will be applied to these within months of its introduction, and it will quickly sweep these markets. Fossil fuel companies will lose most of their business in the time it takes to replace the automobile fleet (four to eight years). I fear that cold fusion will abolish old jobs more quickly than it creates new ones.
It will cause a burst of unemployment. It will not be like the unemployment in the 1920s when automobiles gradually displaced passenger trains, or in the 1990s when computers finally began reducing the ranks of middle managers forty-five years after ENIAC.
Automobiles and computers are so complicated, it took decades before they produced a large impact on employment. Automobiles required breakthroughs in motors, tires, quick drying paint, automatic starters, and so on. They required years of massive investment in factories and supporting technology like highways and refineries.
Cold fusion will be implemented quickly
by substituting cold fusion engines for gasoline engines, and
leaving the rest of the vehicle alone. (Later models will be
re-engineered to better exploit cold fusion's advantages.) A home
generator will be a plug-in replacement for the power lines.
Consumers will be ready to take advantage of it the day it goes on
As gasoline automobiles wear out, more and more of the fleet on the road will be powered by cold fusion. When a quarter of the automobiles no longer consume gasoline, gas stations go bankrupt in droves.
Retail gasoline profits margins are thin. In the 1970s oil crisis, consumption fell by less than 10% but this drove many stations out of business. It forced others to consolidate, and it led almost all of them to modernize, install self-service pumps, and set up convenience stores. When consumption drops by 20, 30 and then 50%, this will drive more than half of the gas stations out of business.
At some point it will become difficult to find a gas station still in business. People will be stranded on highways. Commuters will have to drive miles away from their neighborhood to find one of the last remaining gas stations in the city. This will force the holdouts to trade in their cars for cold fusion-powered models. Not only will it become difficult to find fuel, it will be difficult to find spare parts and mechanics qualified to repair the old models. The shift in space heaters, water heaters, stoves and electrical equipment will be accelerated for the same reason.
Normally, home appliances last 20 to 25 years. But when most have been replaced by cold fusion models, you will not be able to find a repairman or spare parts for the old models. It will be like trying to fix an electric typewriter in the age of personal computers.
The gas and electric utility companies
will begin filing for bankruptcy, and they will stop delivery. It is
not economical to run a gas or electric power distribution network
when only a small scattered fraction of the houses in a city are
Cold fusion requires no labor, that is, no extracting or hauling fuels, opening dam sluices, monitoring pollution controls, or repairing power lines after a storm. It does require mining and metal refining, but the metals are already mined for use in gasoline engines. We may need more palladium than we use today, but this will still take millions of times less labor than we expend drilling for oil and mining coal. Nobody on earth will ever again lift a finger to fuel a machine or transmit electricity.
We will have no more oil wells, coal mines or pipe lines; no oil trucks or coal trains; and no power lines, or dams. Contrary to some oil industry executives, I do not think there will be any market for oil as a chemical feedstock.14
Enterprising companies will devise cold fusion powered machines to synthesize oil from air and water (or garbage and water). This will be cheaper, easier, and far safer than pumping oil from the ground and transporting it in ships and trucks. People who mine coal will not be mining palladium or nickel ore; the miners already digging this ore will not need much extra help. The plants at Ontario Hydro already produce more heavy water than the entire world would need with cold fusion.15
Nobody will sell heavy water in a
roadside gas station. A small amount of heavy water, perhaps a
kilogram, will be permanently sealed in the motor when it is
manufactured, the way acid is sealed in a battery.
In the larger sense, cold fusion will not cost anyone anything - no resources and no work.
We must build engines anyway to replace the old ones as they wear out. We use nickel, steel and palladium in gasoline engines, and we will use them in cold fusion engines. People get the impression that cold fusion will be expensive because experimental cold fusion cells are expensive and they take a terrific amount of work to make. But so do prototype gasoline engines. Cold fusion will be about as difficult to mass produce as batteries, computer RAM chips, or catalytic converters.
These are physically similar to cold
fusion devices, and they require similar production techniques,
cleanliness and handling.
Oil companies are the most important players in the energy business. Oil and gas wells together supply about 52% of energy worldwide,17 and 65% of U.S. energy.18
Oil is important because it is a military strategic necessity. It powers most vehicles and weapon systems. Oil is easy to blockade. Oil refineries are more vulnerable to attack than coal mines or hydroelectric dams. Oil deposits are not as evenly distributed around the world as coal, so oil concentrates wealth in some countries and in the southwest United States.
Oil has a flamboyant history. It played a major role in both World Wars, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Gulf War. Changes in oil prices and periodic oil shocks have had a profound effect on the economy and stock markets.
As Yergin says in the conclusion of his definitive history The Prize:
Information on U.S. and European oil companies is readily available, but OPEC and Russian oil companies are secretive.
In 1984 OPEC appointed accountants to police quotas and maintain the cartel.
I asked a spokesman at the American Petroleum Institute,
He said overseas producers tell you only what they want you to know, and their financial numbers cannot be trusted.
However, their production figures can be verified with reasonable confidence. The oil they ship to Europe and America is carefully tallied.
Here are production figures in millions of barrels per day:
U.S. employment in the oil industry is staggering. As of July 1996, 314,000 people worked in petroleum, natural gas extraction. Ninety-nine thousand worked in refining. Pipelines, distribution, wholesale and retail sales add another 1,011,800, to give a total of 1.4 million people.21
Compare this to:
That is 1.1 million people at the big three automakers, and roughly 1.4 million at all six companies.
The impact of these six going out of business in a short time is hard to imagine. This does not even take into account the demise of coal and electric power companies. It does not take into account the impact on the other companies that supply oil companies with everything from drilling equipment to health insurance.
You get a sense of the total impact of
the industry from this advertisement published by Mobil Corporation
on the editorial page of the New York Times in 1995 (see Infinite
Energy Issue #13-#14, p. 38.). In 1994, the year the advertisement
refers to, Mobil employed 50,400 people. As shown here, over five
years it paid out $10 billion in salaries ($40,000 on average per
year), and billions more in pensions, dividends, taxes, and
purchases of goods and services from other companies.
The 1.4 million people still working in the industry are among the best trained, most highly skilled workers in the world. As energy industries are phased out, these people must be channeled into new industries, especially large scale environmental clean up. It is unfair to say this, but they are experts in causing pollution. Oil is the largest source of air pollution.
Spectacular refinery explosions and oil tanker spills are a symbol of environmental destruction. Yet the oil companies are not to blame. Oil is inherently dirty; it used to be much worse. It has improved thanks to the skill of these workers and the billions of dollars in pollution abatement equipment purchased by the oil companies.
Mobil spent $3.8 billion on environmental activities. After the oil business collapses, perhaps Mobil will re-emerge as a company that sells environmental expertise to other industries. Cold fusion will eliminate about 70% of air pollution. That will leave 30% of air pollution and most water and ground pollution still to be cleaned up. I hope we can devote a large part of the money we save on energy to this task. We must re-engineer industrial plants, highways, and solid waste disposal.
With cold fusion plus the technology
already in hand, I believe we can reduce pollution in all categories
by 95% or more.
Here are 1996 earnings from six of the top 35 oil companies.
These are American or European companies, which publish reliable income statements:
Rank is from World Oil Editorial, www.gulfpub.com.
Revenue data from Hoover's Company Capsules, CompuServe, Inc., and corporate annual reports. The smallest of the top thirty-five is YPF Sociedad Anonima.
It earns $5 billion per year, it has
9,000 employees, and it is the largest company in Argentina. Total
revenue for the six listed here is $361 billion, compared to $463
billion for six representative automotive and computer companies.
Beyond the top thirty-five there are hundreds of smaller oil
companies, and thousands of companies that sell drilling equipment,
pipelines, gasoline delivery trucks, gas station pumps and countless
other goods and services.
We must have social welfare. We must have retraining and rapid investment in new industries spawned by cold fusion.
Some of the moneys you save not buying gas you will have to contribute help the unemployed, until society has adjusted to the changes. The Federal government will probably be forced to bail out defunct oil company pension funds. It bailed out railroad pension funds in 1933 for similar reasons. Automobiles reduced rail passenger traffic.
The railroads could no longer support the huge base of retired employees. Government had a responsibility to help because it was building roads, which promoted the use of automobiles. Cold fusion will call for massive economic restructuring on the scale of the reunification of Germany, with the same moral imperatives.
The Germans had to proceed whatever the cost - not reunifying would have been unthinkable. The nation had a moral obligation to help the former East Germans, and everyone understood that in the long run the benefits would outweigh the problems. The same can be said of cold fusion: everyone knows that people are dying for lack of energy and that pollution is a scourge.
Whatever the social cost may be, not
adapting cold fusion would be unthinkable.
People say that if a cold fusion prototype engine is ever demonstrated in public, powerful organizations will conspire to send "Men in Black" to kill the inventor and suppress all knowledge of the machine. Something like this may have happened to the Farnsworth Fusor, the last invention of Philo T. Farnsworth, one of America's greatest scientists.23
There has been unrelenting opposition to cold fusion by bureaucrats at the DOE, MITI and EPRI. The Patent Office refuses to grant patents for most cold fusion devices, citing as evidence popular press reports from 1989. Academic scientists, especially rivals in the hot fusion program, have attacked cold fusion with dirty tricks, planted newspaper stories, fake data, ridicule, and threats.
They have fired scientists and barred senior scientists from the lab, forcing them to work as stock clerks. Cold fusion has been repeatedly ridiculed and attacked by leading science journals like Nature and Scientific American, and by major newspapers in the U.S., particularly the Washington Post and the New York Times. Despite all this, I do not think the establishment has held back cold fusion much, and I do not think it can stop it. Establishments are overrated. In a democratic, capitalistic society, an established corporation or government agency has little permanent power.
Cold fusion has been held back mainly because of the stupidity and self-destructive behavior of the scientists who are working on it.
Years ago they could have demonstrated the effect, sold prototype devices, and engaged in an effective public relations campaign. Had they done so, we would have prototype cold fusion automobiles by now, and the pioneering inventors would be multimillionaires. They complain they have no funding, yet they are sitting on a commodity worth billions of dollars.
A typical cold fusion inventor acts like
a paranoid old miser who refuses to leave his house. He huddles
protectively over a chest of gold while he starves to death. He has
only himself to blame for his predicament.
The establishment not only rejects innovation, it usually belittles and underestimates it.
In 1979, I was working for a mainframe computer manufacturer. I suggested that the newly invented microprocessor might eventually hurt business. The management of the company thought the idea was ridiculous. So did the management at IBM, DEC, Data General and all of the other established computer companies.
IBM was finally goaded into making a personal computer in 1980. It expected to sell 200,000 machines during the life of the product.
This is the Achilles heel of the
establishment: it will not take a threat seriously until it is too
late. By the time the DOE and OPEC realize they are doomed, cold
fusion will be unstoppable. Consumers will demand it. General
Motors, Ford and Toyota will invest hundreds of millions in crash
development projects to commercialize it. Cold fusion has powerful
enemies, but it will have powerful friends, too.
Fear is the essential motivation in business. Long after Compaq and others began seriously hurting IBM's market share, IBM executives still belittled and ignored these upstart companies. They treated Microsoft in a condescending manner.
They thought they had nothing to learn
from the upstarts, and nothing to fear from them.24
The keynote speaker in the 1908 annual meeting of the National Association of Carriage Builders said:
Imagine you have cornered this speaker after he steps down from the dais.
He would not be able to give satisfactory answers. He would have no logical basis for his beliefs.
History and technology were moving at a rapid pace in 1908. Electric lights, telephones, record players, the X-ray and many other inventions had recently been introduced. Belief in the benefits of progress was universal. Inventors like Edison and Bell were heroes, and that autumn the Wrights would become international media stars.
The speaker was ignoring history and popular culture. He was kidding himself because he did not want to face the fact that his industry was obsolete and he would soon be out of a job. The buggy manufacturers were never a threat to automobiles. Neither were the railroads, even though in the 19th century they were the most powerful industry in the country.
IBM never tried to stop microcomputers.
In any event, what could it have done?
We are not substituting palladium ore for coal; you do not need to mine tons of palladium every year for each customer. Any scientist should know this. Top oil company executives told Hal Puthoff they would not mind losing the energy portion of their business to cold fusion because oil is worth more as feedstock than fuel.
It never occurred to them that with zero cost, unlimited energy customers will synthesize petrochemicals from air and water. This will be safer and cheaper than buying natural oil. They should have realized that! These men are petroleum experts. They understand pricing, markets, customer requirements, safety, petroleum chemistry.
I know little about these subjects, but the moment I considered the problem I realized that synthetic oil would have many advantages in a cold fusion economy. It is common knowledge that the Germans synthesized oil from coal on a large scale during the Second World War. I assumed that oil can be synthesized from other sources of carbon. I asked some experts and they quickly confirmed my assumption.
The point is, I am nothing special. Any
businessman or Wall Street stock analyst would realize this. The oil
company executives have the most knowledge, they are the best placed
to understand synthesis, and it would affect them more than anyone
else, yet they do not see it. Perhaps they cannot bear to think of
The IBM people had vast experience in marketing computers. They had prestige, and millions of satisfied customers. They had billions of dollars at a time when Jobs financed his venture by selling a used Volkswagen. If they had allocated one percent of their research and marketing budgets to personal computers, they could have crushed Gates and the others. Today they would own the business.
But they would have cannibalized their own mainframe and microcomputer business. They could not bring themselves to do that until it was too late. They forgot that it is better to cannibalize your own market than to let the competition do it to you.
If the executives at Exxon or Penzoil would look at the overwhelming experimental evidence for cold fusion, wake up, and act like rational businessmen, they would realize this is life or death.
They would launch crash development
projects. They would sell cold fusion motors and license the
technology. They would even sell self-contained oil synthesis
plants. With their expertise in petroleum refining they could shut
the other chemical companies out of that business. They would put
themselves out of business and stage a rebirth in a new line of
But in 1925, ocean liner executives and ship captains were experts in these subjects, yet they published statements like this:26
Why shouldn't aircraft hold such assurance, eventually?
Engine reliability was improving year by year. Why did this expert think that the ratio of payload to power was fixed forever, when it was improving by leaps and bounds?
The comment about "human endurance" is particularly irrational. Anyone could see that airplanes would soon be large enough to carry extra crew members as well as more passengers, so pilots could work in shifts, just as sailors do. Here is the familiar pattern. The expert acknowledges that the innovation is (or soon will be) "perfectly feasible."
He understands what will be needed to make the innovation practical: better engines, a bigger crew, better payload ratios.
He understands the technical details. He keeps up with the latest engineering developments. Yet he cannot bring himself to draw the obvious conclusion: that he will soon face serious competition. Regular transatlantic zeppelin service began in 1928.
The first Pan American Clipper flying
boat transatlantic flight was in 1937.
The computer experts said,
Anyone who read the trade magazines could see that small hard disks were a few years away.
Today the hot fusion physicists, oil company executives and government bureaucrats who oppose cold fusion are just as obtuse. Here is a classic example of their thinking, in a letter from a high government official to Chris Tinsley:
This letter contains a number of astounding errors:
One wonders how Munday could have become so confused.
Tinsley never claimed that the energy releases from cold fusion would only be beneficial for small energy devices. He might have said that experimental cold fusion cells are small. He might have said that cold fusion will allow small, cost effective, decentralized generators. But that does not mean cold fusion is limited to such devices.
Why should it be? In 1992, Pons and Fleischmann showed that a 0.5 gram palladium cathode can generate heat with the same power density as the fissioning uranium in a power plant.27
If the reaction can be scaled up to make
"heating systems and small generators" then it stands to reason that
it can be scaled up again to make large generators. If it cannot be
used for small generators because of technical problems or
economics, it would not be feasible on a large scale either. It is
an all-or-nothing situation. Either cold fusion will work for any
device, on nearly any scale, or it will not work at all.
Duracell batteries are a good choice for flashlights, but too expensive for a laptop computer or an automobile. Windmills and small hydroelectric turbines are cost effective in an isolated farm miles away from the power lines, but they are not practical in urban areas.
They cannot be made compact, because power density is limited and the energy is intermittent so it must be stored. Many energy systems only work well on large scale, like uranium fission, which is limited by safety requirements. Hot fusion Tokamak reactors can only function on a large scale. Combustion is our most flexible energy source.
It works for everything from vehicles and space heating to large scale power generation. Coal, oil and gas fired electric generators are more cost effective and less polluting on a large scale, but small co-generators and small generators for isolated communities are available. Every indication is that cold fusion will be as flexible as combustion.
Perhaps Munday assumed that cold fusion is limited to a small scale for some technical reason, the way hot fusion is limited to a large one. He must have assumed so; nothing in the literature or Tinsley's letter would give that impression.
I expect that Munday sat down and dictated a response containing whatever random thoughts popped into his head, based on fragmented impressions of cold fusion. Perhaps he is an expert on energy. In that case, he is flummoxed; he has temporarily forgotten what he is doing; his conclusions do not follow from the premises. This describes the state of mind of the ocean liner executives and the computer experts.
They knew better, but they could not
admit to themselves what they knew.
We can always use more computer memory,
and people seem to enjoy ever-more-elaborate blockbuster movies. But
what family needs more than one automobile per driver? Who could use
five dishwashing machines? Who would want to travel on airplanes ten
hours a day, seven days a week?
As of July 1997 the stock market has been rising for years and it is at breathtaking highs. Unemployment is the lowest it has been in a generation, even though automation is more widespread than ever, computers have recently replaced millions of middle managers, and large corporations have eliminated hundreds of thousands of workers in downsizing.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution people have dreaded the effects of automation, fearing it will cause permanent widespread unemployment. It would have, if we had not reduced the work week from eighty hours to forty. Most innovations take a long time to develop, giving society time to adjust to them by reducing the work week or inventing new industries. From time to time a new invention that is easy to implement has spread swiftly, causing a burst of unemployment.
A famous example is the spinning jenny,
which led to the revolt of the Luddites and the speech by Lord Byron
Top management and skilled experts earn far more than ordinary workers. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says this could become a "major threat" to the economy.28
Perhaps these problems are caused by greed or cruel social policies, but automation also plays a role. We need experts to design robotic machines. We do not need factory workers to operate them; they operate themselves. It is astounding how few people it takes to run a modern factory. The supertanker that ran aground in Tokyo Bay on July 2, 1997 had a crew of only 25. AT&T and MCI have replaced their long distance collect call operators with voice response computers. Jobs have been "dumbed down."
It takes little skill to operate a supermarket checkout line compared to a push-button cash register, so clerks cannot demand higher wages.
Customers do their own work, operating machines themselves. One supermarket recently began letting customers scan their own goods, with one clerk to keep an eye on four checkout lines. Gas station attendants have been replaced with self service pumps. People even do semiskilled work like computer typesetting on their own machines.
A front page article in the Wall Street Journal is titled "A Slide in Factory Jobs: The Pain of Progress."29
It quotes Lester Thurow at MIT,
A New York Times 30 article, "Do Computers Eat Our Paychecks?" says:
Cold fusion will cause dislocations far
greater than these.
He points to the example of agriculture in Britain.
Before the industrial revolution nearly everyone worked in agriculture, yet food production was barely enough to sustain the population. The population exploded in the 19th century, and became dependent on imports. By the 1930s the proportion of the population working in agriculture was much lower, efficiency was up, but some food was still imported.
Today, the population is higher than ever, a mere 1% of the population works in agriculture, but Britain is a net exporter of food. This gradual transition has not caused permanent massive unemployment. It has not concentrated power or great wealth in the ranks of the few remaining farmers. Furthermore, in the 1970s and Œ80s large British industrial corporations relentlessly automated and shed workers, leading to an implosion of manufacturing jobs even more severe than the rest of the industrialized world, yet unemployment remains lower than most European nations.
Today, hardly anyone seems to work for the (formerly) large corporations. Self-employment, home-offices and cyber-commuting are booming. People start their own companies providing innovative (and often apparently pointless) new services, from home design to frivolous travel and entertainment.
Tinsley feels that as long as money and
prosperity surge through society, people will find clever ways to
snag it for themselves.
For two hundred years the economy has been growing as we consume more and more goods and services. We assume that consumer demand has no limits. People will always want more goods, more appliances, more radios, automobiles, dishes. But this cannot be true.
As my mother used to say,
The famous 1949 exponential jump in television sales had to slow down eventually. You cannot watch fifty television sets.
There is a limit to how much we want to consume, and how much we are physically able to consume. Most people have no place to park to a dozen automobiles in front their house, or dig five Olympic swimming pools. You cannot eat thirty gourmet meals a day.
People in the third world are nowhere near the limits, but in the developed world it is difficult to imagine that our per capita consumption can increase by a factor of 10 or 100, or 1000. A prizefighter in Atlanta recently built himself a giant mansion. It sits in isolated splendor with a theater, a bowling alley, room for dozens of automobiles, giant closets bulging with clothes, and on and on. I suppose some people envy the fellow and would like to live that way, but I would find it a nightmare.
Cold fusion powered food factories may double our available land by eliminating outdoor agriculture. Cold fusion may ultimately allow us to move our factories to the moon, freeing up even more land. We might build mansions, or shopping malls, or sprawling private parking lots to store our collections of Rolls Royces. I hope that most people have more sense and better taste.
I hope that most of the freed up land
can be returned to nature.
Up-and-coming classical musicians cannot find work, because they cannot compete with famous dead musicians. Today, home renovation calls for a licensed architect who makes a good living. Someday one architect will do the work of many, using a computer program that generates detailed floor plans certified to conform to the building codes.
The architect will sit down with the customer to design a new house or renovation. He will bat out a finished floor plan an hour later, and twenty other architects will be unemployed. I do not think the demand for home renovation will increase by a factor of twenty. High technology seems labor intensive and highly rewarding. Politicians love to think so.
But it has a nasty habit of imploding, or killing itself off. It has always been this way. In an earlier article I mentioned that the chronometer makers perfected their art so well between 1800 and 1920 that they put themselves out of business.32 With proper maintenance their instruments lasted for decades, being passed from one ship to another.
By the early 1900s there was only one
manufacturing firm left, which was enough to keep up with demand for
new clocks and replacements.
They may never be able to perform
critical tasks without guidance by human experts. But airplanes
already fly on autopilot. Computer controlled lasers already perform
delicate eye surgery. They will go much farther, even in our
Ask a man "what are you," and he replies that he is a carpenter or an accountant.
Losing a job is a traumatic experience for most people, even in European countries with extensive long-term unemployment benefits. When people are incapacitated by illness or accident, and find themselves unable to work, they are often devastated by the loss of social status, the loneliness, the lack of structure and purpose.
This happens to rich people who retire
with no loss in income. It even happens to people who win millions
in the lottery and quit their jobs. So what will it be like on that
distant day when all labor is automated? Money will lose most of its
meaning. For many people life may lose its purpose.
Their labor serves higher social purposes, just as they say. It spreads wealth, pays for pension funds, provides security. Mobil is not just selling oil, it is selling a vision of society happy, prosperous, and hard at work. Unfortunately for Mobil, with cold fusion we will have no use for any of that stuff. The customer wants a tankful of gas.
He does not give a hoot about economic stability or pension funds. When cold fusion comes, he will stop paying for gas and not think twice about pension funds. Nobody will pay the people at Mobil to do useless labor with obsolete tools. That would be like paying them to cut wood with a handsaw. Even a demeaning, low-paying job collecting garbage or cleaning toilets can give a person a sense of self respect. But the moment any job is automated, it is no longer fit for human beings. It becomes worse than slavery.
There is no dignity in a man doing
something a machine can do faster and better at a fraction of the
cost. There is no meaning in it. It is like fighting a war after
your side surrenders.
Work is already fading in importance. Money is not as important as it once was. People no longer starve when they are penniless. In developed countries, everyone has access to clean water, primary education, and public libraries. In every developed country except the United States, free health care is considered the birthright of every citizen.
This does not demoralize people, or rob them of their sense of purpose. Someday, unlimited food, housing, education, health care, travel, books, television and Internet access will be the birthright of every person on earth. Arthur C. Clarke described how we might live when this comes about, if we are wise enough to build a society worthy of our technology.
He describes a
replicator, the ultimate labor
This means that the greatest problem of
the future is civilizing the human race; but we know that already.