A physicist in Italy claims to have demonstrated a new type of power plant that provides safe, cheap and virtually unlimited nuclear power to the world, without fossil fuels or radiation concerns.
The only hitch: Scientists say the method -- cold fusion -- is patently impossible. They say it defies the laws of physics.
Andrea Rossi doesn't seem to care. He told FoxNews.com that his new device takes in nickel and hydrogen and fuses them in a low-grade nuclear reaction that essentially spits out sheer power, validating the strange science.
“With low energy, it's possible to give a heater a certain amount of energy and to get from the same heater a superior amount of energy,” Rossi explained. He claims he demonstrated the device, called an E-Cat, at the University of Bologna in Italy on Oct. 28.
Rossi's claims have confounded the scientific community, many of whom have either dismissed the demonstration outright or have questioned whether the E-Cat really works. Several experts who spoke to FoxNews.com declined to comment or go on the record.
Nearly a century ago, in the 1920s, Austrian scientists Friedrich Paneth and Kurt Peters hypothesized a form of nuclear reaction that doesn’t produce radiation. And since then, the theory of cold fusion -- or "low-energy nuclear reaction," as its champions now call it -- has popped in and out the public's eyes, notably hitting the cover of Time magazine in 1989.
Jonathan Koomey, an energy consultant who has advised the EPA, said any extraordinary discovery requires extraordinary proof. He said the E-Cat must be verified by an independent study conducted by scientists who are allowed access to the machine’s inner-workings.
“[The E-Cat experiment] should be treated as a hoax until independent scientists are able to replicate these results,” Koomey told FoxNews.com -- as one would treat claims that someone had defied the laws of gravity or found a major flaw in the theory of relativity.
Koomey explained that cold fusion defies the laws of thermodynamics. Energy requires an initial, consumable power source that erodes and breaks down -- it simply isn't self-sustaining.
But Sterling Allan, CEO of the alternative energy news agency Pure Energy Systems, told FoxNews.com he attended Rossi’s demonstration and the E-Cat is self sustaining.
“What Rossi demonstrated was 470 kilowatts of continuous output in self-sustain mode -- meaning the output was enough to keep the thing running on its own,” he told FoxNews.com.
Allan hinted on his blog that an unnamed “customer” of Rossi's device is a military organization that starts with an N. Rossi said this customer measured and verified the test -- and told FoxNews.com that Paul Swanson with the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems unit (SPAWAR) can vouch for the demonstration.
FoxNews.com spoke with a man at SPAWAR who identified himself as Swanson, and who said only that he was "not in a position to talk to the press." Several other sources within the Navy and the Pentagoneither declined to comment or did not return messages.
The Navy has long been interested in cold fusion research. At a 2009 meeting of the American Chemical Society, chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss of SPAWAR revealed what she and colleagues claimed was the first clear visual evidence that low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) devices work.
"To our knowledge, this is the first scientific report of the production of highly energetic neutrons from an LENR device," Mosier-Boss said at the time.
It's easy to see why the Navy could be interested. In a normal nuclear reaction, atoms collide to generate heat, but the resulting fission produces radiation that must be contained; exposure to even small amounts can be lethal. Rossi's reactor is different, containing about 100 of the small E-Cat machines.
“The heat is initiated by electrical resistance,” Rossi explained, a stage that takes about two hours. The reactors then produce another 479kWh of energy for another 3-4 hours without needing that initial electrical input -- the low-level nuclear reaction continues on its own.
“The test we made by the customer was to see if the process was working properly, and to control whether the energy was in an amount superior to the amount supplied to the system,” he said.
Rossi claims his company, Leonardo Corp., will produce the E-Cat machine, which he first demonstrated earlier this year at the University of Bologna. Proof of the experiment's success is that the customer will pay for the technology and start using it, he said.
As for the skeptics, Rossi said he needs to prove the experiment only to his customer.
“We have nothing to say, just to make plans that work properly and let those facts win against the skepticism,” he said.
Rossi says his company will soon start making the E-Cat in the U.S. Whether one will power your city soon is an open question.