Monday, May 27, 2013

Ethics of the E-Cat

I said in a previous post that the story of the E-Cat has lost all interest for me in scientific terms. However, it is still interesting as a probe of the way the human mind works and for the several ethical and professional issues it raises. So, here is a letter from professor Guglielmi of the University of Bath which addresses some questions to the authors of the latest E-Cat report. It is published here with professor Guglielmi's kind permission.

From: Dr. Alessio Guglielmi
To: Drs.  Giuseppe Levi, Evelyn Foschi, Torbjörn Hartman, Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson, Lars Tegnér, Hanno Essén

Dear Doctors Levi, Foschi, Hartman, Höistad, Pettersson, Tegnér and Essén,

I have read your recent manuscript `Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device containing hydrogen loaded nickel powder´ on arXiv and I am very perplexed.

You are aware that several alleged technical mistakes have been pointed out, such as omitting control on DC current input (which has been acknowledged by Prof. Essén in a recent interview) and assuming that the output heat is released by a perfect black body (this assumption is contested by Prof. Gianni Comoretto, for example). The picture that emerges, and I am sorry if this sounds offensive, is that some crucial measures have not been taken seriously enough on a discovery that, if genuine, would alter the history of mankind.

However, I have an issue that appears to me even more important, because it concerns the very essence of your continued activities on Rossi's device. Our job as researchers is to advance knowledge, and to do so whatever we investigate must be reproducible by other researchers, so that the knowledge we generate becomes established and we can move forward. This seems at odds with your behaviour. You went to the workshop of a private individual who claims to be solving half of mankind's problems, and performed measures on a device that you could not fully control and that is not available to other researchers. Therefore, your manuscript does not contain any reproducible experience. So, how does it advance knowledge? What do we learn?

This brings me to asking another natural question: who will profit from the release of your manuscript? You do realize that Mr Rossi sells distribution licences and that he needs to convince customers to order some of his plants. There is no doubt that your manuscript will help that market, but is this something that academics should do? Is our job to help a private sell his stuff in the absence of solid, reproducible evidence?

In other words, I wonder whether you are adhering to the scientific method and I wonder whether what you are doing is legitimate for academics. Others questioned your technical ability, but I think that the ethical questions that I am posing here come before, also because they are more understandable by the layman. I trust that you appreciate my frankness, and I hope that you can prove my concerns unjustified.

I am forwarding this letter in copy to several persons who are following this matter: Ugo Bardi (Professor of Chemistry, Univ. Florence, blogger), Dario Braga (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, University of Bologna), Sylvie Coyaud (Scientific Journalist, Il Sole 24 Ore), Camillo Franchini (blogger, former Supervisor of the CAMEN nuclear plant) and Giancarlo Ruocco (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, La Sapienza, Rome). Whoever wishes to publish this letter is welcome to do so, of course, and I hope that also the answer could be given public form.

Could you please forward this letter to Dr. Foschi, whose address I could not find?

Best regards,

Alessio Guglielmi
University of Bath

Saturday, May 25, 2013

E-Cat: fool me n-times.....

The E-Cat keeps returning. Initially I had found it intriguing, then sort of fun (also here). Eventually, I had lost all interest in this ever-repeating story of unverified and unverifiable claims.

However, the recent publication on ArXiv of a series of tests on a new version of the E-Cat has generated a flurry of questions arriving into my mailbox. So I figure I could briefly comment on this subject, here.

Basically, the new ArXiv report is nothing new: it is the same style and substance of earlier reports from Rossi. It is true that it has at least a veneer of scientific correctness, but it falls apart after just a cursory examination. The new tests have the same problems of the earlier ones: poor experimental set-up, inadequate instrumentation, lack of reproducibility, and, more than all, the impossibility for external observers to verify the characteristics of the experimental set-up.

If you want to read an in depth criticism of these latest results, you can look at the post by Ethan Siegel of "Starts with a Bang". If Rossi and his followers want to revolutionize physics, they have to do way better than this.

Now, as I said, the story of the E-Cat keeps repeating itself. This is the n-th claim of success of a long series that has led to nothing verifiable and that has become rather boring. What's not boring in the story is the question of why these claims find so much resonance with people everywhere. It is important to understand this point, because our survival in the coming decades depends on whether we'll find good solutions for the problems we face; from mineral depletion to climate change. And good solutions need good science. Let's not forget that.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Song of the Gallic Rooster

Post by from "The Oil Crash" - Translation from Spanish by Max Iacono

As another example of the complex relation of mineral depletion, the economy, and the tendency of grabbing what is left, one way or another, this article by Antonio Turiel sheds plenty of light on the difficulties that the nuclear industry has in obtaining a steady supply of uranium

by Antonio Turiel

"All told," I say, "I would say that if France has invaded Mali,  it’s for the uranium.  You know that don’t you?"  

"Of course I do!  Everyone knows it."

Night was falling,  cold,  rainy and dark,  over Bordeaux.  I found myself looking at my friend, once my boss.  He was looking at the ground and then continued in a calm voice:

"France has 89 nuclear power stations, 59 of which are commercial.  83% of the electricity produced comes from nuclear sourcing.  We can’t do without uranium."

I didn’t say anything and we continued walking.  I had lived for several years in France and at the time I didn’t quite understand how to interpret the curious display of cynicism and pragmatism with which the French public accepted certain kinds of barbaric actions  which their government committed in the name of “La France”.


For a few weeks, France has been at war.  Several thousand soldiers and dozens of armored vehicles have been deployed to the battlefront in Mali.  The objective:  to prevent the advance of the Islamic front which has rebelled in the north of the country after the fall of Gheddafi in Lybia, and also due to the fear that the country could transform itself into one of the various nests of Jihad which is threatening the western world.  Or at least this is, broadly speaking, the official explanation.

Gheddafi had kept himself in power thanks to mercenary units formed starting with various Tuareg desert tribes,  and these mercenaries,  -upon the fall of the Lybian dictator, -and together with the training and military equipment they had received,- took refuge with their cousins in Mali.  In Mali and in Niger, for several years and periodically from time to time,  various armed groups rebelled calling for and seeking better living conditions for the Tuareg.  However this time their military capacities were considerably more significant.  In just over a year the Tuareg took control of two thirds of the country and without Mali’s weak and corrupt army being able to do much to stop them:  That the problem has the character of a civil war is evidenced also by the fact that not just a few of the various army units switched sides, something also indicating that Mali’s government does not have the unconditional support of its population.

In fact before France began its bombings on the 11th of January, both factions had agreed to a cease fire and were negotiating a peace accord.  Nonetheless, France pretended to present the internal conflict as a battle for democracy and against Islamic fundamentalism and organized a coalition of African countries as a defense force.   And this, so as not to appear like the old colonialist power which interferes in the affairs of its ex colony.  And it even managed to secure a UN resolution to justify the intervention.  But the support of its allies was nonetheless lukewarm.  Other than some words of support from the United States and some cargo airplanes from its European allies, France found itself alone in its fighting in Mali, while the African coalition force is yet to arrive. The fact is that France started to deploy its troops without waiting for anyone else as soon it found itself facing the real possibility that the government of Mali could fall,  and that the Tuareg could come to power.

What is driving France in this manner in Mali?  It is neither petroleum nor gas, primary resources whose potentially exploitable quantities in the country are not significant,  and which also easily could be obtained elsewhere.  Nor is it the precious metals that the country is rich in.  Rather, what is driving France to act at this time is uranium and, moreover, from a double perspective, that is, both short-term and long- term.

In the long term exploiting the uranium mines in Mali will be fundamental to satisfying the Gallic hunger for uranium on which depends its entire industrial model - one of which they are also often proud,  given that they consider the nuclear energy which is produced as indigenous (notwithstanding the fact that the base fuel, uranium, is obtained outside the country)

The quantities of uranium in Mali are significant but not spectacular, -(if one considers that at Falea there are roughtly 5,000 tons of natural uranium which is equivalent to recharging ten times – once every 18 months-  a nuclear power plant of one Gigawatt capacity,   and that the exploration phase for additional uranium is not even yet complete)  But in any case, these mines will be indispensable in the future.  And in the short term, the aspect for which Mali is crucial for France is for the transportation of uranium from Niger – not to be confused with Nigeria.  This is indeed truly fundamental for French industry:  One third of the uranium which is consumed in the old metropolitan country comes from the territory of Niger.  And the uranium resources of Niger are truly important and significant and  are among the largest in the world….

France has suffered many setbacks in Niger, which just like Mali , is one of its old colonies.  Throughout the years the governments of Niger have been rather docile and have allowed the extraction of their uranium at low cost and without having to include or internalize the costs of the environmental damage that extraction generated.  The majority of the mines are open-pit surface mines which degrade the living conditions of the peoples of Niger nearby, who often have been placed under military influence or control whenever that became necessary.  This has generated frequent revolts, strikes and increasing difficulties for the exploitation of such mines,  also due to the armed persecution on the part of separatist groups near the border with Mali.   In fact certain experts are of the opinion that behind the precipitous French action there was also the need to reinforce the security of the mines, and the observable  facts tend to confirm this directly.

To the difficulties of exploiting Niger’s uranium which already existed for some years,  now also can be added the more recent competition in the field with China, which has obtained various mining concessions in Niger and is expanding rapidly its own operations in that country.  Incapable of competing with such a powerful country,  the French company Areva opted for seeking collaboration and partnership in some mining projects, also in an attempt to lower its costs.  And this is fundamentally because the resource which it desperately needs is becoming ever more scarce, expensive and dangerous to extract in addition to now also having to be shared.

All of this scarcity on the part of our cousins on the other side of the Alps (the original article was in Spanish) takes place in a general global context  which is not at all flattering or encouraging:  Uranium is becoming more rare and scarce.  At the moment a relative stagnation is occurring in its extraction. :  According to data from the World Nuclear Association,  2012 is the the second year in a row during which global extraction has decreased.  (54,660 tons in 2010, 54,610 in 2011 and 54,221 in 2012)  Even if such oscillations of production which are observable in the historical data -coupled also with the Fukushima disaster- have decreased slightly uranium demand, there continues to be a considerable difference between the uranium which is extracted and that which is consumed;  the latter having been up to now covered by the re-cycling of uranium from Russian nuclear warheads that were being dismantled in keeping with the Megatons to Megawatts program.  Unfortunately that program will run out precisely this year, in 2013, and will not be renewed or continued, and therefore we also can expect a deficit of uranium whereby one easily can foresee a fairly serious scenario of fresh problems in its supply;  and perhaps even the precipitous arrival of the feared “peak uranium”.  And it is within this ever more tense and tight market for uranium that France is now playing out its own “raison d’etre”.

This war by France is yet another of the various wars for resources, similar to other preceding ones, and to others which will follow it.  The only thing which differentiates it from those which surely will follow it, is the extent of desperation by the aggressor.   The Industrial France which arose again with force in the twentieth century,  is now agonizing.  Its financial condition is not nearly as good or as healthy as is thought,  and probably will become prey to the same vultures which have not stopped observing and watching Spain, even if at the moment the opposite is being pretended.

France is playing with an important part of the survival of its industrial model in trying to assure its supply of uranium from Niger and Mali.  If it were now to fail, the vacillating economic and industrial fabric of France would not be able to allow itself another war.   This war is the Song of the Proud Gallic Rooster.  Perhaps its last.

Cheers, AMT

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The frog that jumped out

Dear readers of "Cassandra's legacy"

let me introduce to you a new blog; the result of an effort of mine and of some friends. It is titled "The frog that jumped out" and is dedicated to communication on climate change. 

After several years of debate on climate change, it seems clear that telling the truth is not enough. We must develop effective strategies that take into account the reasons of the diffuse skepticism and rejection of the message on climate. That's the objective of the new blog that takes its name from the old story of the frog that didn't jump out while being boiled alive. We must jump out before it is too late! To do that, we must understand the risk and that's a problem of communication.

The new blog is a modest effort made without funds or external support. It starts small, but we hope it will have some success: there are many excellent blogs dedicated to the science of climate change, but not so many dedicated to communication on climate change.

The new blog will publish the posts on climate that formerly appeared on "Cassandra", which now will be dedicated to other subjects related to sustainability. If you like the frog blog, I hope you'll consider diffusing the link to your contacts.




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)