The concept of cold fusion goes back to the 1920s, but the general public really only became aware of the idea in the late 1980s when two respected electrochemists, Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah, announced they had detected "anomalous heat production" in a laboratory setup orders of magnitude simpler than the equipment used by today's hot fusion researchers.
Alas, the results of Fleischmann and Pons (left in photo) experiment proved very difficult to replicate and the entire cold fusion field fell into disrepute. Moreover, those who gave the concept of cold fusion any credence after the discrediting of Fleischmann and Pons, were ridiculed and ostracized. Even being interested in cold fusion could potentially end an academic science career.
So, for the last two decades, research into cold fusion has been the province of a handful of maverick researchers.
And thus we come to last year's Backspin column on cold fusion. At that time, an Italian inventor by the name of Andrea Rossi had been slowly gathering attention for a device he called the "E-Cat" (short for Energy Catalyzer). How the E-Cat works has never been revealed and, despite the involvement of several respected scientists, the question of whether the E-Cat really functions as claimed has yet to be resolved.
On Oct. 28 last year Rossi held a demonstration in Bologna, Italy, of a 1 megawatt plant, but due to unexplained problems, the power output was only half that, and the fact that a running half-megawatt generator was connected to the E-Cat setup for the entire time and that no one was allowed to inspect the setup made the entire event totally inconclusive.
Since then Rossi has made numerous announcements about significant technological advances and pricing of commercial products, but it's all still "jam tomorrow" (an expression for a never-fulfilled promise from Lewis Carroll's Through the looking glass.
Rossi now has as many critics as he does believers and has been repeatedly accused of being a fraud and a con man. Even so, despite this negative press, he still claims to be moving forward. He recently held a meeting of his worldwide licensees in Zurich, Switzerland, which indicated that his company, Leonardo Corporation, has, in fact, developed a surprising level of commercial credibility without a demonstrably provable product.