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November 04, 2005

Hydrinos?

I know just about enough about physics and such to know that the claims being made here are, if not outrageous, at least exceedingly large:

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."

I’m also sufficiently aged and cynical to not believe this part of it:

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.

No, I just don’t think the universe works that way. Happy to be proved wrong but I think it unlikely.

November 4, 2005 in Science | Permalink

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» Hydrinos from Luboš Motl's reference frame
Randall Mills is no small fish among the crackpots. By 2000, he has collected 25 million USD to convert his silly theories into "reality". [Read More]

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Comments

It has long been projected that hydrogen fusion power would be cheaper than current nuclear power. If this chap is talking about the generation after that, then maybe it is possible that this is the marginal cost of power using that process - I am sure that he hasn't accounted for the unknowable sunk costs of development.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Nov 4, 2005 9:56:12 AM

Now I know as much quantum physics as would fit on the back of a matchbox, but what I do know makes me beleive that if this wonder particle does really exist it will be very unstable and could only be made under very carefully controlled conditions. Due to it's instability I'd think it would also be prone to jumping back to "normal" hydrogen at the drop of a hat.

As to Dr Maas's claims for abundant cheap energy, didn't they make the same claims for nuclear power back in the fifties? Wasn't it going to be so clean and cheap we'd all have our own home reactors providing endless power for our gravity defying cars and armies of personal robot servants? By the 1970's!

Sounds more like dumb journos beleiving crackpot scientists to me. Shades of Cold Fusion and Red Mercury.

Yours, ever in cynicism,

RM

Posted by: Remittance Man | Nov 4, 2005 10:04:22 AM

My Quantum Mechanics is a bit rusty but as I remember. There is a form of fusion reaction where there are effects like the one that he seems to be talking about called Muon Catalysised Fusion.

The Muon being like an electron but more massive has a different de broglie wavelength, which is what lets it happen nearer the neucleus. Theoretically in a molicule of hydrogen where both electrons have been replaced with Meuons the nuclii could get close enough to fuse. However this is all theorical really since there is no good source of enough Meuons around to really do the experiment.

But to get a normal electron to orbit closer to the neuclius you would need to make it more massive, and the only way to do this would be to add energy to it which would generally raise the electron to a higher orbital long before making a new lower one available.

Posted by: chris | Nov 4, 2005 12:05:47 PM

This seems to have a little more substance than most of these adventures - cold fusion (about 1995) comes to mind.

Despite the credentials it still seems unlikely. If you get energy out it must have been put in. Or so my amateur mind believes.

Thus, if this uber-hydrogen really exists Mills could have discovered it. But discovering is different from generating. Generating would still require adding energy unless he generates it by subtracting energy.

At least Mills has kept an open mind. His remark "the only explanation is that quantum mechanics is wrong" trumps my hypothesis "Mills might be wrong."

Smiles from Arizona where life is again possible until next summer.

Posted by: K | Nov 4, 2005 8:58:54 PM

So, a medical doctor turned electrical engineer has overturned 60 years of physics theory supported by a mass of observational evidence.

I'm not buying it.

Posted by: Agammamon | Nov 4, 2005 11:01:37 PM

What were Einstein's credentials again? That is, before anyone took him seriously.

Posted by: yoichi | Nov 13, 2005 5:22:53 AM

Hi Tim,

Some weird stuff. I'm a mechanical/environmental engineer, so this is way out of my league. I don't even understand enough about it to understand why it would be significant.

Let's suppose that an electron can indeed get closer to a proton than is currently expected. If that's the end product of a reaction, it generates more energy. But that product must eventually absorb energy from somewhere to get back to the "normal" hydrogen state.

This article makes it sound even more unlikely:

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/generalscience/blacklight_plasma_000523.html

In contrast to this "hydrino" stuff, I understand alternatives to tokamak fusion. I don't know enough to know whether they'll work, but they don't require revolutions in quantum mechanics to be explained.

I'm particularly intrigued by "focus fusion"...it's a hydrogen/boron fusion that's "aneutronic." The product is helium.

Here's my blog with a very brief review of some of the alternatives to tokamak fusion:

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2006/04/alternatives_to.html

I've been trying to get Roger Pielke Jr. over at Prometheus to write a public policy paper on the appropriate technology prize(s) for development of alternatives to tokamak fusion, e.g.

- 5 $50 million prizes for generating 100 watts for one hour, within a factor of 100 of breakeven

- 5 $100 million prizes for generating 1000 watts for one day, within a factor of 5 of breakeven

- 3 $1 billion prizes for generating 1000 watts for one month, at greater than breakeven.

As I've told Roger Pielke Jr., it would be the greatest return on investment any government has ever made on an energy source.

P.S. Those prizes are just pulled out of thin air as examples. Some thought would need to go into what are the appropriate values. (I think the real appropriate values would be far, far larger.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner | May 12, 2006 4:58:08 AM

We'll see if I can do the last link as a hyperlink. (I thought Typepad didn't allow that...though that's always seemed strange to me.)

Alternatives to tokamak fusion

Posted by: Mark Bahner | May 12, 2006 5:03:35 AM