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Energy, Physics, and Soda Pop
by Declan McCullagh

3:00 a.m.  3.May.99.PDT
BETHESDA, Maryland -- David Wallman deftly slides the dark glass shield into place in front of his carbon-arc machine and tells his audience to step away. "Don't look directly at it from the side," Wallman warns.

He flips a switch. The light is blinding. The machine begins to bubble and froth as 40 amps of current leap the gap between two carbon rods and electrify the sugar water that fills the tank.

Those very special bubbles -- Wallman calls them carbo-hydrogen gas -- will, he hopes, change the world.

When burned, the gas produces much less pollution than gasoline, and it may prove cheaper to manufacture. The former Hewlett-Packard electrical engineer rattles off a laundry list of possible uses by consumers and industry. A clean new fuel for cars. Revolutionary power generation. A supplement to solar panels for remote homesteaders.

But the most intriguing result of Wallman's demonstration is that it seems to violate the laws of physics by generating more energy than it consumes.

As any college chemistry student knows, that should be impossible. Your car's internal combustion engine wastes about three-quarters of the energy in the fuel it burns when you drive down the road. And it guzzles even more when you step on the gas. It never, ever creates more energy.

If Wallman's calculations are correct, the only explanation is that some form of a small-scale nuclear reaction is taking place inside that bubbling tank.

Serious scientists have admitted they can't explain the results in any other way, especially the presence of helium in the gas -- an element that didn't exist in the sugar-water solution. If it works, Wallman's process would not quite be cold fusion, since the temperatures in that brilliant carbon arc reach 7,200° F. Perhaps it's cool fusion instead.

Wallman is one of a legion of garage researchers who gathered Saturday in a ramshackle Holiday Inn in Bethesda, Maryland, at the first Conference on Future Energy. Some presenters are careful engineers hoping to attract investors. Others ooze the unwholesome patina of snake-oil salesman hoping to make a fast buck. Cold fusion advocates hope vindication is finally about to arrive. All believe the media, government, and academia ignore, either accidentally or deliberately, honest-to-goodness scientific advances.

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