LENR: A skeptical perspective

LENR: Science or pseudoscience?

As chronicled in the earlier Math Scholar blog, a community of researchers has been pursuing a new green energy source, known as “low energy nuclear reaction” (LENR) physics, or, variously, “lattice-assisted nuclear reaction” (LANR) physics or “condensed matter nuclear reaction” (CMNR) physics. This work harkens back to 1989, when University of Utah researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons that they had achieved desktop “cold fusion,” in a hastily called news conference. After several other laboratories failed to reproduce these findings, the scientific community quickly concluded that the Utah researchers were mistaken, to put it mildly.

But a number of other researchers did find excess heat and other signatures of interesting physics, and these researchers have continued to explore the phenomenon to the present day. If anything, this community, representing numerous nations and research institutions, has significantly grown in the past few years, with researchers claiming better results. The larger scientific community, however, continues to reject this work.

So what is the truth here? Is LENR a real phenomenon, one that could lead to a remarkable new clean, radiation-free form of energy? Or is it mirage?

In an attempt to further explore this issue, the earlier Math Scholar blog presented a bibliography of 39 recent papers published by the LENR community reporting experimental work, and discussed the status of the field. It concluded that we are left with three rather stark choices: (a) well over 100 qualified researchers from around the world, representing universities, government laboratories and private firms, each have made some fundamental errors in their experimental work; (b) at least some of these researchers are colluding to cover less-than-forthright scientific claims; or (c) these researchers are making important discoveries that are not accepted by the larger scientific community.

So which is it? Wishful thinking or reality?

A selection of skeptical research and commentary

While many in the LENR community remain optimistic that they have identified and real and promising phenomenon, some other researchers who have been following the field remain highly skeptical of these results. These researchers have expressed their disagreements in a number of published papers, and also in a variety of online discussion forums.

As a single example, the last-listed item below (May 2019) recounts the efforts of a multi-institutional team, including researchers from the University of British Columbia (Canada), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Google to revisit LENR. These researchers failed to find evidence of fusion or heat, although additional investigation is required before the phenomenon can be ruled out completely. An overview of their work is available Here.

Below is a bibliography of papers that present some of these skeptical assessments, and some responses by the LENR community. This listing is in rough chronological order (most recent last) and, for each entry, includes literature citation, PDF link and a brief synopsis.

  1. Kirk L. Shanahan, “A systematic error in mass flow calorimetry demonstrated,” Thermochimica Acta, vol. 387 (2002), 95-100, PDF. Synopsis: This paper re-analyzed the cold fusion study of E. Storms (presented in 2000 at ICCF8), which suggested a non-nuclear explanation of the signals.
  2. W. Brian Clarke, “Search for 3-He and 4-He in Arata-Style palladium cathodes I: A negative result,” Fusion Science and Technology, vol. 40 (2001), 147-151, PDF. Synopsis: A study of 4 Arata-style Pd cathodes found no evidence of 4He production.
  3. W. Brian Clarke, Brian M. Oliver, Michael C. H. McKubre, Francis L. Tanzella and Paolo Tripodi, “Search for 3-He and 4-He in Arata-Style palladium cathodes II: Evidence for tritium production,” Fusion Science and Technology, vol 40 (2001), 152-167, PDF. Synopsis: Researchers found 3He (a tritium decay product) in Arata-style cathodes (same as in [2]).
  4. W. Brian Clarke, “Production of He in D2-loaded palladium-carbon catalyst I,” Fusion Science and Technology, vol. (2003), 122-127, PDF. Synopsis: A failed replication attempt of Case-method cold fusion.
  5. W. Brian Clarke, Stanley J. Bos and Brian M. Oliver, “Production of He in D2-Loaded palladium-carbon catalyst II,” Fusion Science and Technology, vol. 43 (2003), 250-255, PDF. Synopsis: A study of 4 Case-method samples showing strong evidence of air ingress, leading to artificial 4He signals, and thus drawing into question earlier claims of 4He production.
  6. S. Szpak, P. A. Mosier-Boss, M. H. Miles and M. Fleischmann, “Thermal behavior of polarized Pd/D electrodes prepared by co-deposition,” Thermochimica Acta, vol. 410 (2004), 101-107, PDF. Synopsis: An experimental report of LENR, with negative comments regarding [1].
  7. Kirk L. Shanahan, “Comments on ‘Thermal behavior of polarized Pd/D electrodes prepared by co-deposition’,” Thermochimica Acta, vol. 428 (2005), 207-212, PDF. Synopsis: Shanahan’s response to [6], showing how data in [6] supports his skeptical conclusion.
  8. Edmund Storms, “Comment on papers by K. Shanahan that propose to explain anomalous heat generated by cold fusion,” Thermochimica Acta, vol. 441 (2006), 207-209, PDF. Synopsis: A response by Storms to the 2002 Shanahan paper that suggested Shanahan erred.
  9. Kirk L. Shanahan, “Reply to ‘Comment on papers by K. Shanahan that propose to explain anomalous heat generated by cold fusion’, E. Storms, Thermochimica Acta, 2006,” Thermochimica Acta, vol 441 (2006), 210-214, PDF. A response to [8] delineating errors in [8].
  10. S. B. Krivit and J. Marwan, “A new look at low-energy nuclear reaction research,” Journal of Environmental Monitoring vol. (2009), 1731, PDF. Synopsis: A positive overview article on the status of LENR (cold fusion).
  11. Akira Kitamura, Takayoshi Nohmi, Yu Sasaki, Akira Taniike, A. Tahahaski, R. Seto, Yushi Fujita, “Anomalous effects in charging of Pd powders with high density hydrogen isotopes,” Physics Letters A, vol. 373 (2009), 3109-3112, PDF. Synopsis: Claims of LENR in Pd/ZrO2 systems; a replication of a prior claim by Arata.
  12. Kirk L. Shanahan, “Comments on ‘A new look at low-energy nuclear reaction research’,” Journal of Environmental Monitoring vol. 12 (2010), 1756-1764, PDF. Synopsis: A review of some of the problems and difficulties omitted from [10].
  13. J. Marwan, M. C. H. McKubre, F. L. Tanzella, P. L. Hagelstein, M. H. Miles, M. R. Swartz, Edmund Storms, Y. Iwamura, P. A. Mosier-Boss and L. P. G. Forsley, “A new look at low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) research: a response to Shanahan,” Journal of Environmental Monitoring, vol. 12 (2010), 1765-1770, PDF. Synopsis: A response to [12]. Note: Shanahan in reply has argued that this response employs a faulty logical device (strawman argument) to conclude Shanahan [12] is wrong.
  14. Kirk L. Shanahan, “A realistic examination of cold fusion claims 24 Years later. A whitepaper on conventional explanations for ‘cold fusion’,” SRNL Technical Report SRNL-STI-2012-00678, 22 Oct 22, 2012, PDF. Synopsis: Unreviewed whitepaper with sections on: Fleischmann and Pons calorimetry errors, response to [13], response to S. Krivit’s response to [12], unpublished manuscript regarding problems in [11].
  15. Curtis P. Berlinguette, Yet-Ming Chiang, Jeremy N. Munday, Thomas Schenkel, David K. Fork, Ross Koningstein and Matthew D. Trevithick, “Revisiting the cold case of cold fusion,” Nature, 27 May 2019, PDF. Synopsis: The authors embarked on a multi-institution program to re-evaluate cold fusion to a high standard of scientific rigour. They found no evidence of fusion or heat, but did find new insights into highly hydrided metals and low-energy nuclear reactions.

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