Could starships use cold fusion propulsion?

Is it possible?
Is it possible?

The latest cold fusion claims are coming out of Italy from a physicist named Andrea Rossi, who has invented a cold fusion device known as the e-cat, or energy catalyzer.

Rossi claims that enriched nickel is being fused with hydrogen nuclei to create copper, and release large amounts of energy -- using simple tabletop electrochemistry instead of huge machines that recreate stellar-scale temperatures and pressures.

Sounds pretty frickin' awesome, doesn't it? The e-cat would be just the ticket for powering an interstellar mission.

Rossi has exhibited the e-cat at a few semi-public demonstrations, most recently on October 28. The purported "success'" of this latest demonstration has been met with enthusiasm by cold fusion acolytes and the occasional gullible journalist.

So why aren't physicists (and more level-headed journalists) all over the world jumping up and down with excitement over Rossi's spectacular breakthrough? Ethan Siegel of Starts With a Bang handily lays it all out for you:

  • Rossi has never published a peer-reviewed paper on how his device works, either theoretically or experimentally.
  • here are only very rough schematics publicly available, and they are all from the Journal of Nuclear Physics, which is Andrea Rossi's own private journal. But doesn't Journal of Nuclear Physics sound reputable? Not quite: it was founded just last year, in 2010. Don't confuse it with the real journal, which is simply Nuclear Physics.
  • Andrea Rossi had a company in the 1980s, Petroldragon, which claimed to turn garbage into oil. Sound too-good-to-be-true? Andrea Rossi went to jail for this scam, although he gives his own version of the events.
  • The first reactor, scheduled to be built for Defkalion in Greece, was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute by Rossi....
  • No one observing these tests has ever been allowed to "look inside the Turk," so to speak. In other words, no one -- other than Rossi himself -- has any idea what the internal design and mechanism that result in the claimed nuclear fusion (and energy production) actually is.

Ethan followed up with a second post the next day, co-authored with Brookhaven National Lab's Peter Thieberger, explaining in careful detail the specific physics of why Rossi's claims of cold fusion are highly suspect. Go read that, and if you still want to invest in Rossi's technology -- well, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying, too.

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