Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The E-Cat Horror

In a horror movie, when a young lady decides to undress and take a shower while alone in the house, well, you know exactly what's going to happen to her. It is the predictability of horror.  (above, from the 1960 movie "Psycho")

Some things, in life as in fiction, are highly predictable. One of these is the plot of horror movies. As the story moves on, you know exactly the destiny of the young lady who decides to undress and take a shower while alone in the house. And you know exactly what's going to happen to the hapless character who, while exploring the haunted house, says, "Hey! I heard a strange noise coming from the basement. You stay here, I'll go down there to investigate". It is part of the fascination of this kind of movies: rational judgment is suspended as the plot unfolds and you keep watching without asking yourself why exactly those people found themselves at midnight in that cemetery, in the moonlight, while a horde of zombies is approaching.

It is with the same kind of fascination that you may have been watching the plot of the "Energy Catalyser," or "E-Cat" unfold, the weird device that Andrea Rossi claimed to be a nuclear reactor, able to solve all the energy problems of humankind. A real horror movie set in Bologna, Italy, where plenty of hapless characters have been sucked in and metaphorically devoured by the E-Cat horror. The plot has followed all the predictable steps for this kind of stories. First, in January 2011, there was the announcement of the discovery of the home-made nuclear reactor. That attracted plenty of hopeful people looking for a solution for the energy crisis just as, in movies, old haunted houses attract scantly clad young ladies.

Then, the plot moved on, according to well known rules. We saw plenty of scenes in which inventor Andrea Rossi attempted to demonstrate how his device was supposed to produce energy. He looked very much like Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein", while trying to revive the monster (Image by Renzo B, from 22passi: Frankenstein and Igor on the left, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi on the right). And what we heard from Rossi about the innards of his machine sounded very much like the introduction speech about space vampires in the famous movie "Plan 9 from outer space"

Some of the cheap effects of the movie were easy for everybody to detect. Just think of the gas heater used to warm the factory when the nuclear reactor was supposed to do the job alone. Nevertheless, the interest in the movie never waned: with plenty of twists in the plot, evil characters, monsters, conspiracies, mysteries, the military, secret services, and more.

Still, even a good horror movie must end at some moment: after a couple of hours, you go home and you forget about zombies and vampires. So, the E-Cat movie arrived to a close, with recent events leading to the final showdown. The villain has confessed his crime, the secret has been revealed. Is it the end of the E-Cat horror?

Maybe it is the end, but we can't really say. Maybe there will be a sequel. It will have new twists in the plot: most likely, we'll see how the efforts of the savior of mankind have been  thwarted by the evil conspiracy of oil companies or the lobby of renewable energy. The E-Cat horror still lurks in the shadows! 

In case you are interested in the real world, rather than in fiction, you can read an excellent confutation of Andrea Rossi's claims about the E-cat in an article by Antonio Turiel. The recent events, in which Rossi confessed that his device is not a nuclear reactors are described here and here. The complete documentation can be found here. Rossi himself confirmed everything here here.  

h/t to Antonella for providing the inspiration for this post.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)