31 March 2016 10:50:20 IST

Andrea Rossi and his money box

Andrea Rossi listening to the 1 MW E-Cat energy producing box | Picture coutrsey: andrea-rossi.com

Energy-producing box E-Cat, invented by the Italian engineer in 2008, might be the final nail in the fossil fuel coffin

As I write these lines, Andrea Rossi is preparing to make a blockbuster announcement about his invention — an energy-producing box — which he made in 2008.

Who is Andrea Rossi?

He is an Italy-born engineer, currently living in Miami, Florida. In 2008, he invented a contrivance he called E-Cat — short for energy catalyser. To put simply , it produces more energy than you put into it — a lot more energy.

Up till now, versions of the E-Cat have been replicated and tested in various lands — Switzerland and Russia, to name two — and yielded positive results. The beauty of the whole thing is the device is a miracle — in that nobody, including Andrea Rossi, knows how it works! It works, period.

All Rossi needed was a few milligrams of nickel and some hydrogen. He then spiked the mixture with some chemical, the name of which he has kept to himself. He got the stuff to react inside a small reactor and, hey presto! Out came heat!

Experts theorised that some kind of nuclear fusion reaction was taking place inside it. The scientific community lost no time in declaring Rossi a fraud and a con-man, particularly because he wouldn’t reveal the name of the chemical he used, which could have made for further scientific inquiry.

The ERV report

Rossi persisted regardless. He has since moved to Miami, upscaled the device to a 1 MW capacity, and has been working on commercialising it. The process of commercialisation involved testing the upscaled E-Cat for one year and getting the results validated by an expert.

And last week, the Expert Responsible for Validation (ERV) submitted his report jointly to Andrea Rossi and an American company called Industrial Heat (which has partnered with Rossi’s company, Leonardo Corporation, chipping in with $10 million).

This ERV report is about to be disclosed to the public — a big moment not only in Rossi’s life but also in the history of energy, for Rossi said he is “very pleased” with the report.

The world is watching the developments. Industrial Heat is reported to have engaged a large lobby firm, presumably to make a splash with the announcement, and as you read these lines, it is probably in the public domain.

Mind-boggling consequences

India is also watching. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre took note of Rossi’s experiment in 2008, but did little after that. Now, however, things seem to have gathered pace.

On March 19, over a dozen institutions met at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, to discuss E-Cat-related developments. The meeting was organised by NTPC.

The consequences of a success report from the ERV are mind-boggling. The energy catalysers produce cheap, clean energy — no pollution, no global warming emissions, no nuclear radiation. It is presumed that the energy will be very cheap, and will get cheaper with increasing adoption. It would also hammer in the final nail in the coffin of fossil fuels. The applications are limited only by the imagination. For example, you could have an E-Cat system in the basement of your apartment block, producing electricity for the entire building, 24 x 7!

I know, I know, all this sounds like science fiction, too fantastical to attach credence to. But I can tell you this: among those watching the developments are Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill has been fully briefed about it and is ready to pump in billions, if the device works.

Inside job

Now, how does the thing work? What happens inside the E-Cat?

Scientists theorise that there is some kind of a nuclear reaction taking place in it. Only, it is not a nuclear fission reaction we are more familiar with — which is, break a nucleus, neutrons fly out, giving heat in the process, and these neutrons crack open other nuclei that may be unfortunate enough to be in their path, releasing more neutrons and so on. This is the other nuclear reaction, which is fusion reaction, or fusing together of two nuclei.

To understand the basics of fusion reactions, you have to go very, very far — to the sun — the nearest home for such reactions. In the intense heat of the sun, nuclei fuse, producing more heat, allowing for more nuclei to fuse. You need that much heat to get two nuclei to become one.

But conventional scientific wisdom has it that to get nuclei of any atom to fuse at room temperatures or, for that matter, any earthy temperatures, is impossible. That is why when Mats Lewan, a Swedish journalist and author, wrote a book on Rossi’s machine, he called it An Impossible Invention .

Science rewritten?

In 1989, two American scientists Martin Fleischman and Stanley Pons came within a whisker of bagging a Nobel Prize by announcing the discovery of a mechanism for making cold fusion happen at room temperatures. Their experiments, perhaps due to some flaw, did not materialise and they promptly became the butt of ridicule and scorn. Cold fusion became an even touchier subject in the scientific world.

Until Rossi came along.

Appropriately, a Martin Fleischman Memorial Project has very recently tried out a modified version of the E-Cat, with great success. Check it out here . Some believe that Rossi’s invention will cause science to be rewritten.

Or, maybe there is no nuclear fusion happening. Indeed, Mats Lewan has come up with a possible theoretical explanation for how energy is produced. You can read about it here , and if you remember your high school physics, you will be able to understand it too.

Whatever it is, these days are epochal in energy. A very disruptive technology is within sight. If you want more information and updates, click here .