Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Company Claims To Have Developed The Ideal Power Source

Blacklight Power Inc. claims to have developed a variant of the hydrogen atom that potentially will provide the world with a very cheap, almost waste-free power source. Unfortunately, the companys claim flies in the face of conventional quantum physics and has the science community divided:

It seems too good to be true: a new source of near-limitless power that costs virtually nothing, uses tiny amounts of water as its fuel and produces next to no waste. If that does not sound radical enough, how about this: the principle behind the source turns modern physics on its head.

Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.

The problem is that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the physics that governs the behaviour of atoms, the idea is theoretically impossible. "Physicists are quite conservative. It's not easy to convince them to change a theory that is accepted for 50 to 60 years. I don't think [Mills's] theory should be supported," said Jan Naudts, a theoretical physicist at the University of Antwerp.

What has much of the physics world up in arms is Dr Mills's claim that he has produced a new form of hydrogen, the simplest of all the atoms, with just a single proton circled by one electron. In his "hydrino", the electron sits a little closer to the proton than normal, and the formation of the new atoms from traditional hydrogen releases huge amounts of energy.

This is scientific heresy. According to quantum mechanics, electrons can only exist in an atom in strictly defined orbits, and the shortest distance allowed between the proton and electron in hydrogen is fixed. The two particles are simply not allowed to get any closer.

According to Dr Mills, there can be only one explanation: quantum mechanics must be wrong. "We've done a lot of testing. We've got 50 independent validation reports, we've got 65 peer-reviewed journal articles," he said. "We ran into this theoretical resistance and there are some vested interests here. People are very strong and fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory that they use."

Rick Maas, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC) who specialises in sustainable energy sources, was allowed unfettered access to Blacklight's laboratories this year. "We went in with a healthy amount of scepticism. While it would certainly be nice if this were true, in my position as head of a research institution, I really wouldn't want to make a mistake. The last thing I want is to be remembered as the person who derailed a lot of sustainable energy investment into something that wasn't real."

But Prof Maas and Randy Booker, a UNC physicist, left under no doubt about Dr Mill's claims. "All of us who are not quantum physicists are looking at Dr Mills's data and we find it very compelling," said Prof Maas. "Dr Booker and I have both put our professional reputations on the line as far as that goes."

Dr Mills's idea goes against almost a century of thinking. When scientists developed the theory of quantum mechanics they described a world where measuring the exact position or energy of a particle was impossible and where the laws of classical physics had no effect. The theory has been hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest achievements.

But it is an achievement Dr Mills thinks is flawed. He turned back to earlier classical physics to develop a theory which, unlike quantum mechanics, allows an electron to move much closer to the proton at the heart of a hydrogen atom and, in doing so, release the substantial amounts of energy he seeks to exploit. Dr Mills's theory, known as classical quantum mechanics and published in the journal Physics Essays in 2003, has been criticised most publicly by Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency. In a damning critique published recently in the New Journal of Physics, he argued that Dr Mills's theory was the result of mathematical mistakes.

Dr Mills argues that there are plenty of flaws in Dr Rathke's critique. "His paper's riddled with mistakes. We've had other physicists contact him and say this is embarrassing to the journal and [Dr Rathke] won't respond," said Dr Mills.

While the theoretical tangle is unlikely to resolve itself soon, those wanting to exploit the technology are pushing ahead. "We would like to understand it from an academic standpoint and then we would like to be able to use the implications to actually produce energy products," said Prof Maas. "The companies that are lining up behind this are household names."

Dr Mills will not go into details of who is investing in his research but rumours suggest a range of US power companies. It is well known also that Nasa's institute of advanced concepts has funded research into finding a way of using Blacklight's technology to power rockets.

According to Prof Maas, the first product built with Blacklight's technology, which will be available in as little as four years, will be a household heater. As the technology is scaled up, he says, bigger furnaces will be able to boil water and turn turbines to produce electricity.

In a recent economic forecast, Prof Maas calculated that hydrino energy would cost around 1.2 cents (0.7p) per kilowatt hour. This compares to an average of 5 cents per kWh for coal and 6 cents for nuclear energy.

"If it's wrong, it will be proven wrong," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace USA. "But if it's right, it is so important that all else falls away. It has the potential to solve our dependence on oil. Our stance is of cautious optimism."

Alternative energy

Cold fusion

More than 16 years after chemists' claims to have created a star in a jar imploded in acrimony, the US government has said it might fund more research. Mainstream physicists still balk at reports that a beaker of cold water and metal electrodes can produce excess heat, but a hardy band of scientists across the world refuse to let the dream die.

Methane hydrates

The US and Japan are leading attempts to tap this source of fossil fuel buried beneath the seabed and Arctic permafrost. A mixture of ice and natural gas, hydrates are believed to contain more carbon than existing reserves of oil, coal and gas put together.

Solar chimneys

Sunlight heats trapped air, which rises through a giant chimney and drives turbines. Leonardo da Vinci designed such a power tower and the Australian company Enviromission plans to build one. Despite being scaled down recently, the concrete chimney will still stand some 700 metres over the outback.

Nuclear fusion

Turns nuclear power on its head by combining atoms rather than splitting them to release energy - copying the reaction at the heart of the sun. After years of arguments the world has agreed to build a test reactor to see whether it works on a commercial scale. Called Iter, it could be switched on within a decade.

Wave generators

No longer a dead duck, the hopes of engineers are riding on bobbing floats again. The British company Trident Energy recently unveiled a design that uses a linear generator to convert the motion of the sea into electricity. A wave farm just a few hundred metres across could power 62,000 homes.

article by David Adam, Guardian Unlimited.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Xbox 360 - Hype Suspected As Shops Sell Out Even Before The Console Release

A friend of mine was positively drooling as he told me how he will be receiving his pre-ordered Xbox 360 on 2nd December. "Why aren't you getting one?" he asked, as if to question my very sanity. What a short memory he has, forgetting when the original Xbox was released. Does no one remember the hype and the sudden shortage of consoles, with massive publicity suggesting that it really must be an awesome product if demand is so crazy? The fact that the hype was (allegedly) orchestrated by Microsoft and high street outlets and the stock deliberately kept down for the initial rush seems to have slipped some peoples minds.

Well here we go again. A similar strategy appears to be unfolding, with the hype aimed at the children who are more than able to close the deal with the end purchaser - the parent(s) - by hounding them from now 'til Christmas. As reports:

"Senior Xbox chiefs have also admitted they might not have opted for a worldwide debut had they known the supply issues they would be faced with, especially given the amount of marketing the launch will be accompanied by. Indeed, some sources in the games industry are now beginning to look at the upcoming shortages as an actual strategy on Redmond's part. A sell-out debut, so the theory goes, could create the impression that the system is incredibly desirable and sort-after, rather than merely inadvertently under-supplied." (see here for the complete article)

So I strongly recommend that you do what I'm doing - tell the kids that they'll have to make do with their two Xbox consoles, the PS2, PC and Gameboy Advance and wait until next summer, when (hopefully) the Xbox 360 will be adequately stocked by retailers, there will be a greater choice of games, there will be greater competition (don't forget the impending release of the PS3!) and maybe the prices will be lower. Plus I may get it at about the same time as my friend who pre-ordered it months ago. I myself am a marketing manager but would never employ the same short-term dirty trick twice (actually, not even once). Well Microsoft probably will get away with it (the lowest common denominator determines much of what the powerful get away with these days, be they politicians, trans-global corps or whatever) but they won't be getting my hard-earned cash. Well, not yet anyway.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Iraq: Proving The Lies Behind The War

The reasons for war in Iraq were fabricated and everyone knows it, but just can't prove it. In the UK the 'dodgey dossier', the outing of weapons inspector David Kelly (and his subsequent 'suicide'), the mauling of the BBC for their Iraq reporting and various other incidents have shown that the British government had a hidden agenda and lied completely about why we went to war. Now in the US the Valerie Plame case is giving us a similar glimpse into how the Bush administration threw up fabricated excuse after excuse while their train just kept on steaming down the track. I. Lewis Libby is the one chosen to fall on the sword after keeping the investigators at arms length during the election period. The weak and toothless Democrats are attempting to fully prise open a door which special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has left invitingly ajar but, from recent form, they don't have the strength or skill to do it. Rove and Cheney both have reasons to hide and look busy, but with the well-timed announcement of Samuel Alito to replace Harriet Miers as the new Supreme Court nominee , the Iraq thing is temporarily out of the public eye. It seems the US media can only concentrate on one big story at a time (convenient for the Bush administration).

Personally I don't think anyone will uncover the truth while this administration is still in power. If Bush was impeached as part of a cleansing 'truth and reconcilliation' exercise maybe we would get somewhere, but there are many 'dark actors' involved in this affair, most of which are not elected, accountable and are hugely protective of their own interests. As long as they are left to their own devices we will have to live with a destiny determined by them and not us.