Fisking the Latest “Miracle Fuel”
WARNING: The following is a long, boring physics post and I recommend skipping it.
Sandy points out an article in the London Guardian that examines yet another miracle fuel claim. A Harvard trained medical doctor, Rendell Mills, claims to have invented a new cheap energy source. The story is very reminiscent of the Pons and Fleischmann cold fusion controversy (although he doesn’t claim to have discovered a nuclear reaction). Here is my fisking:
If it seems too good to be true it probably is. This kind of claim has been made many, many times, but has never panned out. But then again, you never know.
“the only law that this business with Mills is proving is that a fool and his money are easily parted.”
“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.
Technically, this “hydrino” would not be a new atom, but a new state of the hydrogen atom. Energy would indeed be given off when an electron transitioned to the new, lower energy state just as it gives off energy when it transitions from higher to lower energy states under the existing theory.
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.”
This is a common explanation, but it is not quite right. Electrons do not exist in “orbits” but in “energy levels”. Electrons do not orbit the nucleus like planets around the sun, but reside in certain energy slots (they do not necessarily correspond to the physical distance between the electron and the proton). Quantum mechanics determines the energy levels, and the number of electrons that can be at that energy level. Even if we stipulate that quantum mechanics is wrong, we must acknowledge that no one else has ever observed an electron at this energy level (and the hydrogen atom is well studied). So if the new level does in fact exist, it is very rare and hard to achieve. This is unlikely because electrons naturally prefer the lowest energy levels, and will give off quantas of energy until they reach the lowest available energy level. Why, unlike the other energy levels, do electrons transition to this new energy level only under unusual circumstances?
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."
Once again, this is reminiscent of Pons and Fleischmann’s cold fusion. Either Dr. Mills is wrong or the known laws of physics are drastically wrong. I’d put my money on Dr. Mills being wrong. And I have a news flash for Dr. Mills: There have been a hell of a lot more than 50 “validation reports” and 65 peer-reviewed articles in FAVOR of quantum theory.
And another thing, these “fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory” would love nothing more than to assign quantum mechanics to the dust bin of science. If Dr. Mills is correct, all of modern physics will have to be re-examined, providing physicist boundless opportunities for fame and fortune, not unlike the quantum mechanics revolution. Just think of the money to be made writing new textbooks alone.
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.
Secret investors? Another warning sign. NASAs involvement may or may not be significant. How much are they funding and why?
"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."
Granted. We will know soon enough whether this pans out. Until then, my own stance will be reckless extreme pessimism.
Let’s go back to the Village Voice article for a quote from another real physicist (and potty-mouth) Phillip Anderson:
“If you could fuck around with the hydrogen atom, you could fuck around with the energy process in the sun. You could fuck around with life itself. Everything we know about everything would be a bunch of nonsense. That's why I'm so sure that it's a fraud.”