Rossi (on the right) demonstrates his E-Cat equipment

Low-energy reactor - hype or hope?

Andrea Rossi, an engineer from Milan, claims to have found a process to give the planet almost free and clean energy - tomorrow.

That said, the scheme does face a sceptic or two. Mention the words "Cold fusion fiasco" and you will understand why many scientists and the bigger journals are keeping their distance. Is this just another false hope, or has Rossi stumbled on the abundant and cheap solution?

Rossi calls it E-Cat, for E catalyser. Sitting in the University of Bologna, on a table, it is an ugly thing; a wishbone-shaped construction clad in insulation, to which pumps and pipes are attached. Fifty grams of nickel powder are poured into the tiny (50cm3) combustion chamber. A canister containing hydrogen gas is also connected to the strange-looking device.

To start up the E-Cat, the input from a heater is approximately 1000 watts. After reaching 500degC, a reaction between the nickel and the hydrogen in the presence of a secret catalyst begins inside the chamber. Once the reaction has started, the input is lowered to around 80W. After a few minutes, water starts pumping through, emerging as steam. Standard calorimetry allows the E-Cat’s power to be determined.

Physicists from Bologna University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences have overseen trials, checking no secret cables or batteries were connected. They monitored by camera, so that no tampering could take place.

The nickel the Swedes measured consumed over a day was a fraction of a gram, hydrogen used one gram. Yet the 25kWh heat output from six hours of continuous operation was the astonishing equivalent of 2500cm3 of oil.

According to Nobel prize winner and Cambridge emeritus physics professor Brian Josephson, an early supporter, the enormous output indicates the E-Cat must be generating energy from nuclear reactions, not chemical ones.

Uppsala Prof Sven Kullander, chairman of the energy committee of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a monitor, said: “The actual combustion chamber only has a volume of 50cm3. So if this chamber was completely filled with something combustible, the energy density per litre must have been 20 multiplied by 25=500 kWh per litre - or per kilo for a material with a density of one [kg/l]. There is no chemical substance with such an energy density.”

NASA’s chief scientist at Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, is a supporter of Rossi. In a radio talk, Bushnell said that LENR (low energy nuclear reactions) were one of the most promising areas in current energy research and Rossi’s experiments were some of the best. He added: “I think we're almost over the ‘We don’t understand it’ problem. I think we’re almost over the ‘This doesn’t produce anything useful’ problem. This is capable of completely changing geo-economics, geo-politics and solving climate and energy.”

A tiny fraction of global nickel production could supply the world’s energy needs. Rossi confirmed that a 1MW power plant in Greece is to open on schedule in October, comprising several dozen connected E-Cats. Some say Rossi has a murky past, sceptics are ten-a-penny, many unknowns remain, but he is not soliciting investors and has a very definite deadline.

Further information:

See the Rossi video demonstration

Watch an Italian TV report (in English)

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