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article imageEssential science: Google is running cold fusion experiments

By Tim Sandle     Jul 8, 2019 in Science
Researchers working at Google (together with academic institutions) are investigating the so-called “cold case” of cold fusion. This is for an energy source and for other areas, which could also benefit other areas of science and technology.
The Google scientists are making the case that those who dismiss work on cold fusion are doing so prematurely cold fusion could become the key to future power sources. This is despite there never having been any reproducible experimental evidence for cold fusion.
The idea of cold fusion is enticing – a clean, reliable energy source that won't run out any time soon would solve our energy problems and revolutionize the world. The topic also revives considerable scientific interest, with the 22nd International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science taking place in 2020. But is cold fusion possible?
What is cold fusion?
Cold fusion is a type of nuclear reaction taking place at room temperature (hence the reference to ‘cold and contrasting to the "hot" fusion which papers within stars or as part of hydrogen bombs). The reality, characteristics and potential utility of the process have been assessed from three decades of global research.
In general, cold fusion describes a form of energy generated when hydrogen interacts with various metals like nickel and palladium. The following video delves into the process:
Cold fusion should not be confused with studies into fusion in general, such as those conducted by NASA, or to nuclear fission. Fission, which creates huge amounts of heat by splitting larger atoms into smaller atoms (as with today’s nuclear reactors). Fusion, in contrast, is about creating vast amounts of energy by fusing atoms of hydrogen together.
The most well known studies in cold fusion were reported in 1989, when two men claimed to have discovered the energy of the future. These were Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, in a paper titled “Electrochemically induced nuclear fusion of deuterium”. The two used palladium, a rare metal, as a key ingredient to separate hydrogen from deuterium. While a level of success was reported, many scientists criticized what was seen as a lack of thoroughness as well as the quality of the work. Further, many scientists tried to replicate the experiment with the few details available, and without success. The idea stalled.
However, research continues. George Miley, who edits Fusion Technology magazine told Wired: "There's very strong evidence that low-energy nuclear reactions do occur. Numerous experiments have shown definitive results - as do my own."
In nuclear physics  nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei come close enoug...
In nuclear physics, nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei come close enough to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons and/or protons). The difference in mass between the products and reactants is manifested as the release of large amounts of energy.
Kjerish (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Several scientists continue to explore the potential of cold fusion, where there is a generally a preference to use phrases like ‘low-energy nuclear reactions’ or ‘condensed matter nuclear science’.
It came to light in June 2019, reported by the Financial Times, that Brad Pitt, Steve Jobs' widow, and Britain's best-known fund manager have invested in a fringe nuclear energy startup - focused on cold fusion – which was valued at close to $1 billion. The investors were seeking to help crack the technology and with it the promise of endless and cheap energy.
Google studies
As reported by Physics World, Google together with several research institutes in the U.S. is reported to have reopened what they call the “cold case” of cold fusion. Despite the many failures to observe cold fusion, the scientists contend that the case is not yet closed, and that cold fusion energy is indeed achievable. Google are investing $10 million into the project and there are thirty scientists involved.
So far, Google researchers believe they have made advances in measurement and materials-science techniques which pave the way for more detailed energy research (this is outlined in the paper “Revisiting the cold case of cold fusion”, published in May 2019). The outcome is a new insight into new insights into highly hydrided metals (metals which have been bonded to hydrogen to form a new compound) and low-energy nuclear reactions.
Cooling tower of the Emsland nuclear power plant.
Cooling tower of the Emsland nuclear power plant.
ChNPP (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Such analysis of how hydrogen is absorbed by palladium is something that is relevant to energy storage, catalysis and sensing, meaning that the researcher may not unearth the secret to cold fusion but they cold create applied research that is beneficial to other fields of energy generation and storage.
However, Frank Close, a theoretical physicist at the University of Oxford, U.K. is challenging the value of the research states: “There is no theoretical reason to expect cold fusion to be possible, and a vast amount of well-established science that says it should be impossible.” Thaw probability of atoms fusing at much lower temperatures is thought to be incredibly small.
Google researchers are not necessarily holding out much hope either. According to a separate [i]Nature[/i] editorial: “the project might help responsible research in this general area to become less taboo, even if the chances of achieving cold fusion still look extremely remote.
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week the topic was world’s first artificial intelligence created universe simulation to examine the effect of dark energy on an expanding universe.
The week before, we learned about the development of so-called 'Universal Memory', which has the potential to replace Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and flash drives. The new computer memory system will lead to ultra-low energy consumption.
More about Cold fusion, Fusion, Nuclear fusion, Nuclear power, Power
 
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