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Energy Insights: Energy News: The Peak Oil Crisis: The SunCell

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The Peak Oil Crisis: The SunCell


By Tom Whipple

Last week Randell Mills, the CEO of BlackLight Power, gave his second public demonstration and briefing in a month on the progress his organization is making in developing a new source of energy. This new source is based on converting the hydrogen in water into a lower energy form of hydrogen which Mills calls a hydrino.

The conversion takes place when a tiny quantity of water inside a metallic powder is zapped with a jolt of high amperage electricity and a small detonation takes place as the hydrogen in the water is turned into hydrinos accompanied by the release of large amounts of energy mostly in the form of light. As the metallic powder which acts as a catalyst for the reaction is not changed during the detonation, it can be reused indefinitely after the addition of more water. A rough analogy to Millís device might be an internal combustion engine which initiates thousands of small explosions per minute to produce pressure which turns a crankshaft. In Millís device the thousands of tiny detonations produce mostly light which can be turned into electricity by photovoltaic cells.

The claims that Millís makes in his latest presentation are quite extraordinary and would bring about major changes in the manner the world produces its energy once the claims are fully verified and reliable production devices developed. Mills says that after 20-some years of R&D his discoveries are now ready to be turned into commercially useful devices which will produce electricity using water as the consumable fuel, without any form of pollution or hazardous waste, and at a cost of less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour.

If this science/technology proves out, it would take the worldís electric power, transportation, and many other industries about a nanosecond to adopt cheap, non-polluting devices that run on water rather than fossil fuels. Obviously the implications of such a technology would be without precedent for it could completely eliminate harmful emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, allow inexpensive desalination of water, provide increasing food production, and ameliorate many other global problems. This disruption of the existing order would also be massive for coal, gas, and oil would no longer be needed except as petrochemical feed stocks; the electric grid could disappear or change radically; and buildings could become self-contained with gas, water, electricity, and sewage service no longer needed.
 The key question which we should all be asking is whether Mills and his new source of energy is ó a scam? Totally nuts? A case of inventor over-optimism? And finally can we really expect to see this technology come into widespread use in our lifetimes or at least in time to stop global warming and compensate for declining fossil fuel production?

There are several issues to be considered in answering this question. If we are really about to see a completely new source of energy emerge from so many years of R&D, why has this received close-to-zero coverage in the media? Is the underlying science of Millís technology, a new form of hydrogen, for real or, as many say, a misinterpretation of data or wishful thinking?

To understand the reluctance of the media to engage with this story it is important to understand that Millsí assertion that another form of hydrogen exists undercuts some teachings of mainstream physics, especially quantum mechanics, and of chemistry. Call nearly any credentialed scientist, and he or she will tell you that hydrinos canít possibly exist. The Wikipedia entry on Mills and his hydrino recounts a litany of various distinguished scientists denouncing the theory as rubbish from the day Mills first proposed it back in 1991. Some went so far as persuade the Patent Office to cancel Millsí patent on the grounds that a lower energy form of hydrogen could not possibly exist.

Another aspect to all this was the cold fusion furor of 25 years ago which still makes mainstream media editors shy of grappling with controversial issues that are too technical for most to understand. The bottom line is that there is no evidence proving that Millsí hydrinos do not exist, there are simply people saying that based on what they have heard or what other scientists are saying, it contradicts current scientific understanding about the nature of the atom.

There is really no need for any of us to accept or reject Millsí assertions or those of his detractors at this point. The definitive validation of this technology will come only when Mills can demonstrate a device that takes in small amounts of water and sends out commercial amounts of electricity. As with the Wright Brothers flying machine or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all arguments as to the validity of the technology will cease.

When will we see a working device? Actually, Mills already has one ó the BlackLight Power website contains numerous videos of laboratory prototypes zapping water to flash electric lights. To some these demonstrations are a proof of the concept, if you believe that Mills is telling the truth about what he has developed. If you donít, then demonstrations and videos of them are meaningless as they are easily faked. Arguing about this gets us nowhere.

On July 21, Mills announced that the system engineering for a complete electric generator design has been completed and that his engineering contractor estimates that it will take another 16-18 weeks to build a small 100 kW generator using his technology. We all know that R&D inevitably takes longer than initial estimates so that if a working electric generator emerges for public demonstration, it could be 18 months or more rather than 18 weeks. Mills however claims that every engineer who has looked at the design for a working prototype, which will largely be built from off-shelf-technology, foresees no particular technical difficulties. This says that if Mills and his hydrinos are for real, then we should be seeing the proof, which would validate the technology beyond question, in weeks or months rather than years or decades.

Until we can see a working prototype that can be subjected to independent tests, it is best to keep an open mind on this and other exotic sources of energy. At the same time it is important to remember that just what is at stake could have a major impact on human civilization. If Millsí hydrinos or similar exotic technologies turn out to be valid, the world will start to change rapidly Ė hopefully for the better.

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