Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rossi's E-cat: the slow death of a meme

Results of a search using Google "Trends." The E-Cat is dead, but it keeps bouncing; a little. 

News about the E-Cat, the (in)famous desktop nuclear fusion reactor: Mr. Andrea Rossi, the inventor, has announced that he finally succeeded in obtaining a patent for his device and that it will be soon commercialized as a home water heater.

After four years of similar claims by Rossi, all regularly unfulfilled, it is not interesting to discuss this new one except, maybe, to note that, in the patent, the famed "nuclear reactor" has now become just a chemical reactor, hence contradicting all of Rossi's previous claims. But, at the same time, in one of Rossi's sites (as described here), it is still claimed that a nuclear reaction takes place, but not anymore the one that once was described, involving nickel and hydrogen. Truly, Rossi seems to aim at the world Guinness record for the number of times a person can contradict his/her own public statements.

So, from a scientific viewpoint, this story is a dead cat, but it is still interesting in terms of describing the trajectory of a meme. For those of you who don't know what a meme is, let me say that it is a self-replicating unit of information existing in the human knowledge space, a subject studied by a science called "memetics". As you can see in the figure at the beginning, the "E-cat" meme has had a typical viral trajectory, literally exploding in 2011. Then, it peaked and started a slow decline, that is still ongoing. It is a very general behavior of Internet memes, for instance the recent story of "Cecil the Lion" is following the same trajectory.

Some of the "bumps" that you see in the curve, above, are the results of Rossi attempting to revitalize his idea by means of new, flamboyant statements, of which the latest one is about the patent. It is likely that this new claim will result in a further, small bump, that then will subside. Apparently, memes have this "natural" trajectory, that resists most attempts of modification.

So, the story of the E-Cat raises an interesting series of questions: why do memes behave in this way? What determines the intensity and the duration of their penetration in cyberspace? How can these parameters be modified? It is a truly fascinating subject which has to do with the way human beings exchange ideas and define common beliefs. And from this story I am starting to understand a basic point that has to do with our current plea: we are doing everything wrong by searching for a technological miracle.

Many people were so eager to follow Rossi's unfounded claims (a few still are) because they genuinely thought that we need a new energy source in order to solve our problems. Well, I think not. We don't need new gadgets, we need something much more fundamental: we need cooperation. That is, we need to work together to manage the planetary commons (that the Pope calls the "Creation", it is the same concept). And management is not the same as exploitation: it means caring for the commons. If we don't get to do that, no technological wonder will ever do more than worsen our problems. Think of climate change: there is no reasonable kind of gadgetry that can reverse the damage we are doing to our own ecosystem, as long as we keep doing it. What we need, first of all, is an agreement to stop destroying the ecosystem. But how can we arrive to such an agreement? Well, it may be largely a question of memetics. So, the E-cat, though mostly a loss of time for everyone, may turn out to be useful, in the end, for learning something new.  

To learn more about memetics and its application in the fight against climate change, you can start from this post by Joe Brewer


  1. Using trend is really a good argument…

    And you don’t count the support of Tom Darden
    the move of Tohoku university to LENR with mitsubishi
    Indian academy trying to restart the cold fusion program ended at BARC
    Airbus Innovation interest in LENR
    Brillouin claims of funding and public recognition
    Carl page attending ICCF19 in Padua (I was there BTW, after having met Airbus Innovation executive chief scientists in Milan at LENRG event)
    NTVA and Statoil interested in LENR
    Elforsk support to LENR, beside E-cat

    each of this announce should be a bomb in the media, and notice how it was not covered, not even criticized (except by Sveriges radio remote controlled by hysterical Sylvie Coyaud)

    all the attack come from incompetent people, like theorist, journalists, non material science physicists… they all claim without evidence, imagine conspiracy without evidence, spread innuendo with talent and no evidence…

    Why less E-cat research? maybe because there is no need to search… I see traffic increase on e-cat world and lenr-forum.

    The meme is that cold fusion was debunked… still living, despite they have no paper to support it.
    Lewis, Hansen and Morrison are debunked, and wilson in fact confirm the reality of F&P results.
    Anyway whatever you think of F&P, few of the best experts in calorimetry (unlike Caltech and MIT), there is hundreds of reviewed papers showing anomalous heat, and just hearing the skeptic being 100% sure, not even admitting the possibility of LENR, you know they are in desperate groupthink.
    Given the evidence anyone sure it is impossible is a tinfoil hat, and academic tinfoil hat.

    Just analyse the fact reasonably, and this is all crystal clear.

    Start by bringing evidence, remove theory, remove failures, remove frauds, remove debunked, remove innuendo, remove eliminated artifacts… there is 0 papers, 0 artifacts that survived, 0 proven fraud except your own (2). This is pure pseudo-science, the exact pseudo-science you denounce.

    1. Hello, Alain. Nice to see you here again. Did you have good summer vacations? I see that you are still going strong on the E-cat. Congratulations! I hope you are having as much fun as I am!

    2. Let's stick to the patent, OK?
      Is there something which adds a dime to our knowledge of the phenomenon (let's assume it is real)?
      My guess is no.
      Well, there is a recipe (two tablespoons of lithium, three of nickel, one of aluminum), there are drawings, there is what is necessary to replicate the device.
      But nothing about what should happen inside, exception for the chemical reaction described in the patent.
      Which is -as said above by Ugo Bardi- a brand new one with respect to the dozens Mr. Rossi claimed in the past four years. And -I want to stress it again- is CHEMICAL.
      And look at the nuclear side: nothing about that! Better: nuclear reactions are explicitly excluded by the Author, so IMVHO if the device is REALLY effective, and if the effect is LENR (or "nuclear" in a wider sense), there is no way for Mr. Rossi to claim anything.

      So, what I expect in the next weeks: plenty of replication attempts, the same number of failures to get a COP > 1, a peroid of silence from Rossi side, new claims (my guess: this time there will be Gammas and transmutations), new attempts to replicate and new failures.
      And so on, and so forth...

  2. The patent in itself is quite interesting. It refers to a CHEMICAL reactor, with no mentions of any LENR whatsoever, and describing a chemical reaction, without any transmutation (i.e. no nuclear reactions at all).
    It is also interesting that this is widely considered, in the Rossi community, as a proof that LENRs are actually taking place.

    1. Rossi himself wrote in one of his many sites that there are nuclear reactions inside the patented E-cat. This man is a continuous self-contradicting machine.

    2. Rossi's latest claim is that "proton-lithium-7 fusion" occurs in the E-Cat:

      One major problem with this obvious lie is that the nuclear reaction Rossi proposes (proton + lithium-7 ==> 2 He-4 + 17.3 MeV) only occurs 20% of the time! The other 80% of the time, this happens: proton + lithium-7 ==> Be-7 + neutron - 1.6 MeV. So a running E-Cat would give everyone around it a lethal radiation dose. Be-7 also has a 53.2 day half-life, and would have been present in Rossi's fake E-Cat ash.

      Is this the last lie of the E-Cat scam?

      Rossi is either a pathological liar or a delusional sociopath, or maybe even both. Poor Alain was duped once again for years by a delusional lunatic.

  3. Perhaps I am feeling particularly cynical, but sometimes it feels better living with the fantasy that some technological breakthrough (either carbon free energy like desktop fusion or workable carbon sequestration) will save the day. Because if stopping climate change will require humans to collectively manage the planetary commons, I think we're toast (both literally and figuratively). Bill Gates and Steven Levitt seem to sleep well at night, confident that technology is the smart (and perhaps only) bet. If it's good enough for them, why not me? Levitt is the economist who points out that there were predictions that horse manure would overwhelm London in the years just preceding the horseless carriage.

    1. That's the point I was trying to make. All this vaporware machinery is the result of our desperate hope for the miracle. There will be no miracle; we'll be saved by collaboration, or not saved at all.

    2. I observe that it is more reassuring for some people to imagine that future is doom, and science is stable, than to look at evidence.

      the way the malthusian myth regularly gain popularity, before being proven wrong by human creativity and scientific evolution, could be a mystery , but some prepare to be sure doomed than to be uncertain.

      your arguments are very good, and just need to be inverted.

      again I don't see the least argument to challenge the mass of evidences, scientific, business, and even politic, that flow...
      you just claim it is evident.
      so funny.

    3. Alain, you don't understand: it is not "doom", it is "change", and change is the very essence of the universe. Searching for the technological miracle means trying to stop change; to remain the way we are. But that's not possible, and even if it were, it would not be good for us.

    4. maybe one day you will understand who you are.

      things takes time, and happen often by accident and by crisis. not before.

  4. @ U.Bardi,
    you put the LENR issue in the right context. This is not science, it belongs to some sort of sociological phenomena, and it is better described by the tendency of a meme, rather than by any real physical quantity.

    This patent will cause just a bump on the above curve. I agree, but I wonder what it wishes to cause the recent article hosted in the French site for Africa of the Voice Of America. This news has been scooped by AlainCo in his lenr-forum: He stressed the fact that the VOA is the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government, and asked himself weather this move was an accident or not.

    Any opinion?


  5. You know the story as well as I do. It is always the same "Entity X has expressed interest in/declared it works/started replicating the tests on/said it will commercialize the E-cat". With "X" the US navy, The University of Bologna, Industrial Heat, Siemens, MIT, and many more. Sometimes, it is even true that people who hear this story for the first time want to understand better what's going on. But, eventually, it all disappears in the great vapor.

  6. I'll try to take a stab at this. Technology is as fundamental to humans as evolution. Our tools shape us, as we shape them, so the process of us creating new gadgets (useful or otherwise) will continue unabated. Some even argue that technology as supplanted evolution as the fundamental process that defines humans, because it moves to much faster than evolution. They would say that to deny technology is to deny the existence of any other natural force -- let's say gravity.

    Technology has promoted to expansion/survival of humans many times. Without the stone axe of 1.2 million - 200,000 years ago, we would not be who we are. The same can be said for the green revolution of the 1970s. Had that not happened, predictions of mass starvation might have come true.

    What I find interesting is the question of whether technology will always be able to confront the next existential crisis. It's similar to calling a market bubble. Watchers start calling a bubble, but the market (stock, real estate, tulips) keeps going up, so the people calling bubble are discredited. But eventually the bubble bursts.

    It seems as though we are gambling with civilization.

    A revenue neutral carbon tax, growing to become very punitive over the next 20 years, spurring real investment in renewable energy deployments today using existing technology, aggressive closing down of coal-fired electricity due to high tax rates, and real investment in futuristic energy sources. (Although we are going to really do BAU, with the smart money investing in carbon capture).

    1. Carbon capture. To try that with technology appears just another dream, provided by the same miracle thinking, I call ignorance of consequences, that brought us into the situation in the first place. Just a word to the "green revolution" of the past, (it was the opposite of green, by the consequences) - we tend to "solve problems". And while doing so creating even larger, quite unsolvable problems, in this case created 3 and half billion more people that need food and everything else.
      Wonderfully - no?
      Or just plain crazy?

      Maybe this is my miracle thinking - I do not know and greatly would appreciate opinions, more understanding and so forth. In short video there is a presentation about the Carbon cycle of nature. The next then is a video explaining the possible carbon capture - in soil. Using natures ways does make sense to me, does it make sense?


  7. you made my day with this sentence prof 'we are doing everything wrong by searching for a technological miracle' :) grazie

  8. I understood from Tom Whipple's story that the reason the patent application doesn't mention fusion of any sort is that it would have been disqualified a priori.

    1. Well, more likely it is because, indeed, there is no fusion whatsoever in the device - as it should be obvious.

    2. I don't care at this point whether stories like this are "true" or not; H. sap is at the end of the line either way. What's far more interesting to me is how such stories prompt commentators to put their dis/beliefs on display. I wonder how many people are using this as an opportunity to identify and investigate their own belief systems. It's been a gold mine for me in that regard.


  9. AlainCo,

    Tom Darden has quit, Vaughn is now HI's CEO.

    None of those "interested" you discovered or invented since 2011 have bet a cent on LENR but for politicians in Japan trying to save the face of their friends Arata & Co.

    science is stable,

    Cold fusion hasn't changed since 1926,. Even that LERN-free and science-free patent you're promoting is an old-fashioned attrape-gogo. Valiant's heat pump boiler has a higher COP than Rossi's chemically assisted one, and you can buy it right now.

    James B.
    American coal giants seem to disagree, they have been filing for bankruptcy since 2013. Even Peabody are bleeding billions, closing mines by the dozen. - and public funds for CCS have all but dried up.

    it all disappears in the great vapor

    Yes, but I'm sure AlainCo will keep entertaining us with new ones.

  10. Leaving the scam of E-cat aside for a moment (and the fantasy of carbon capture), what are two or three clean energy technology developments that we should find exciting? For example, what are the chances that liquid metal batteries will be cost-effective on the grid scale?

    On coal, I think it is important to note that the America coal mining giants are declaring bankruptcy (the guys doing the mining) primarily (though not exclusively) from competition from natural gas. The fossil fuel energy companies and the oil companies are still doing fine. Predicting the failure of the those companies is like waiting for Godot -- at least so far.

    Last thing on coal. Isn't the biggest threat from coal coming from the developing world that needs cheap electricity? The Copenhagen Consensus and The Breakthrough Institute write that cheap coal creates so much economic development that we will be able to afford climate change. Something like 50 years from now, Bagladesh will be as wealthy as Holland is today, and they will be able to deal with it.


  11. But isn't calling every experiment which contradicts the established theory a scam leads kinda the wrong way? I mean if the theory is incomplete then you cannot move forward if you ignore contradicting data, right? So calling everybody who sees something different a scammer, a fraudster or just incompetent without getting to the bottom of this could actually hurt science. And there're experiments besides Rossi-related which I find very difficult to explain away as scam. For example Dennis Craven's demonstration at NI week.
    I guess if high temperature superconductors were harder to reproduce, they would have the same fate as cold fusion. No established theory there either, right?

  12. When one looks at the history of science,technology and skill evolution one finds that 80% of the technological needs were solved by trial and error root without the presently demanded training background.It is often later that the proper scientific principle or theory have been found to explain the working. But many in the science community demand that unless one first establishes the whole process and design something on the basis of existing knowledge it is stupidity. There are still any number of working practices which needs explanation. Just to mention one , Homeopathy which is medical practice not yet explainable by science.
    So LENR is a bold venture, it may sustain or die; but the human determination and perseverance behind it is quite amazing!

  13. aa

    Like most of ecat denials you know nothing what you are taking about.

    The patent is not intended to prove anything. The patent is made to protect the rights of Rossi because he is going to sell commercial ecat units soon, this is the only reason for patents. He sold or leased one comercial ecat, 1MW capacity, in end of 2014, this device is tested rigorouly until FEBRUARY 2016, a "1 year plus" field test. Rossi has more than enough investors, at least 60 million dollars invested so far. Probably there are several buyers who are waiting eagerly. My estimate are that 10 ecats at least with calacity 1 MW will sold untill end of 2017, this will be a pilot before mass production. Building is complicated, we are not talking about a toy, we are taking about a device of 10 tons weight, made of more than 30,000 components.

    It does not matter if many people are talking about ECAT or not talking, because this is not the time for talk, this is the time to shoot. And ecat will start shooting in 2017, after final preparations done (including 64 patents application waiting approve, including production lines planning for mass production).

    Look at the calender, it is 2015 now, not 2011, all the silly doubts of 2011 are behind us now, ECAT works very well in industrial envuroment more than a year, it suplies suplying at least 4 times heat energy than the electricity it consumes. Sales in the market are soon and those who live in the past will be left behind talking and talking about doubts which are not valid today.

    1. Soon?
      Ha ha! Back in Jan 2011 he begun to say the magic word "soon" on the shelves.
      Where the the wonderful robotized one million piece/year factory gone? Vanished? Sold to Willy Wonka to make snaks?
      And what about the 13 one megawatt containers sold to the army?
      I bet my a## that in 2017 the tantra will still be "soon soon soon"
      What that won't run out in this story is the fun that comes out.
      Like most ecat supporters you "do" know what you're talking about. JoNP is your friend.

  14. I don`t understand the personal attacks in this blog and others like it. Having followed the e-cat for a long while I`m certainly aware of Rossi`s faults. But the proof is in the pudding and if some investors lose money on this they certainly have the possibility of great gain should it prove out. That is the nature of the capitalist system. I personally put little faith in the scientific status quo that disrespects even the possibility of success because they don`t understand it in principle. Science, as great as it has been in many ways, doesn`t even know where 96% of the universe is. (missing mass problem) There is a lot science doesn`t understand and some humility is called for. Not name calling.

    1. Still whining after such "a long while" of no results from Rossi and his ilk? Well, you can keep whining forever, but that won't change the way things stand.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)