Take water and potash, add
electricity and get - a mystery
Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
British researchers believe that they have made a
groundbreaking scientific discovery after apparently managing to
"create" energy from hydrogen atoms.
In results independently verified at Bristol
University, a team from Gardner Watts - an environmental technology
company based in Dedham, Essex - show a "thermal energy cell" which
appears to produce hundreds of times more energy than that put into
it. If the findings are correct and can be reproduced on a
commercial scale, the thermal energy cell could become a feature of
every home, heating water for a fraction of the cost and cutting
fuel bills by at least 90 per cent.
The makers of the cell, which passes an electric
current through a liquid between two electrodes, admit that they
cannot explain precisely how the invention works. They insist,
however, that their cell is not just a repeat of the
notorious "cold fusion" debacle of the late 1980s. Then two
scientists claimed to have found a way of generating nuclear energy
from a similar-looking device at room temperature. The findings were
widely challenged and the scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley
Pons, accused of incompetence, fled America to set up labs in
"We are absolutely not saying this is cold fusion, or
that we have found a way round the law of energy conservation," said
Christopher Davies, the managing director of Gardner Watts.
"What we are saying is that the device seems to tap
into another, previously unrecognised source of energy."
According to Mr Davies, the cell is the product of
research into the fundamental properties of hydrogen, the most
common element in the universe. He argues that calculations based on
quantum theory, the laws of the sub-atomic world, suggest that
hydrogen can exist in a so-called metastable state that harbours a
potential source of extra energy.
This theory suggests that if electricity were passed
into a mixture of water and a chemical catalyst, the extra energy
would be released in the form of heat.
After some experimentation, the team found that a
small amount of electricity passed through a mixture of water and
potassium carbonate - potash - released an astonishing amount of
"It generates a lot of heat in a very small volume,"
said Christopher Eccles, the chief scientist at Gardner Watts.
The findings of the Gardner Watts team were tested by
Dr Jason Riley of Bristol University, who found energy gains of
between three and 26 times what had been put in.
In a written report, Dr Riley concluded: "Using the
apparatus supplied by Gardner Watts and the procedure of analysis
suggested by the company, there appears to be an energy gain in the
In tests performed for The Telegraph, the cell heated
water to near-boiling, apparently producing more than three times
the amount of energy fed into it.
Scientists admit to being astonished by the sheer
size of the energy increase produced by the cell. "I've never seen a
claim like this before," said Prof Stephen Smith of the physics
department at Essex University.
"In the case of cold fusion, people talked about
getting a 10 per cent energy gain or so, which could be explained
away quite easily but this is much too big for that."
Prof Smith said he was sceptical about the theory put
forward by the company. He conceded, however, that scientists had
also been baffled by the source of energy driving radioactivity, as
the key equation involved - Einstein's famous E=MC2 - had yet to be
According to Prof Smith, if there is a flaw in the
company's claims, it lies in the measurement of the amount of
electrical energy pumped into the cell. It is possible that, as
sparks pass between the electrodes, there is an energy surge which
would not be picked up by the instruments measuring the electrical
Prof Smith said: "This needs to be very carefully
checked, as there could be far more energy going in than the makers
Prof Smith's views were echoed by Dr Riley, who said:
"There's no doubt that there was a heat rise but I'd like to see a
more thorough investigation of the electrical energy supplied into
While many scientists are trying to solve the mystery
of the thermal energy cell, its huge commercial potential has
already caused interest.
Cambridge Consultants, one of Britain's most
prestigious technology consultancies, has teamed up with Mr Davies
and his colleagues to develop a working prototype. "We've had a
multi-disciplinary team working on this, and we're perplexed," said
Duncan Bishop, head of process development at Cambridge
"We are offering to risk-share on it, as it will need
about £200,000 to prove the principle behind it."
According to the Gardner Watts team, it will take
about six months to carry out tests putting the reality of the
effect beyond all doubt. The company then plans to develop a
prototype capable of turning less than one kilowatt of electrical
power into 10 kilowatts of heat.
Mr Davies said: "The technology could be licensed by
a company making household boilers for the domestic market. " He
added that the plan is to have the first thermal energy cell devices
on the market within two years.
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