Maybe it's time I confront this.
"Cold fusion" is a term that elicits knee-jerk responses. From a peer-reviewed review in 2015:
So, some personal history. I had the background in physics to understand, in 1989, why "cold fusion" was radically implausible. I could explain it and often do.Occasionally, with decreasing regularity, one hears statements to the effect that ‘Cold fusion has been proven to not exist or to have been based on errors’. Almost always the words ‘long ago’ are appended. Never are examples of error given at any level of scientific sophistication. If pressed the authority of experts in the fields of nuclear or particle physics are invoked, or early publications of null results by ‘influential laboratories’ – Caltech, MIT, Bell Labs, Harwell. Almost to a man these experts have long ago retired or deceased, and the authors of these early publications of ‘influential laboratories’ have long since left the field and not returned. The issue of ‘long ago’ is important as it establishes a time window in which information was gathered sufficient for some to draw a permanent conclusion – some time between 23 March 1989 and ‘long ago’. Absurdly for a matter of this seeming importance, ‘long ago’ usually dates to the Spring Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) on 1 May 1989. So the whole matter was reported and then comprehensively dismissed within 40 days (and, presumably, 40 nights). From what we now know is this sensible? Has pertinent new information and understanding developed over 25 years of further study been examined with the wisdom of hindsight? What is the status of these early null results?
But I also knew that there were gaps in our knowledge, and that "we cannot calculate the solid state" (Feynman, in his lectures, 1961-63, and I was there). The apparent impossibility was based on assuming that, for fusion, rates could be estimated by assuming plasma conditions, not condensed matter. So maybe something else was possible, and there were plenty of scientists that also considered this, including several Nobel Prize winners. (And I could easily write more about this, and why the idea that "cold fusion is impossible" was actually preposterous.)
By 2009, I had assumed, from lack of progress (as far as I knew), that it was all a mistake, same as nearly everyone else. And then I saw, on Wikipedia, a suspicious site blacklisting by JzG. I had no prior interaction with him, but I questioned this and was attacked in return. So I confronted that, eventually with ArbCom, my position was confirmed, he'd abused tools. And then I began to look at the WP article, and noticed obvious imbalance. I was not a "believer." I was a Wikipedia editor dedicated to neutrality. And, of course, I was attacked, and eventually, with a successful filing of another AC case against William M. Connolley, who was desysopped, I was banned from the topic (and the project for three months). Yes. They shoot the messenger, routinely.
So I continued to look into cold fusion. There was an experiment described in multiple peer-reviewed papers. I had been told that to run a successful demonstration of what is more neutrally called the Anomalous Heat Effect would take $10,000, minimum, with no guarantee of success. But this experiment was simple, by comparison. One of the papers, published in Naturwissenschaften in 2009 was Triple tracks in CR39 as the result of Pd–D Codeposition: evidence of energetic neutrons.
I looked at the materials and did the math. If I were to buy about $5000 worth of materials, I could sell a kit of materials for a single experiment at about $100 with a 50% margin. So I did it. That operation only had two sales. One was a kit sent to a student who was featured in the move "The Believers" -- terrible title. He ran the experiment, looked good, but something happened to the track detectors, they were badly damaged in etching, unknown cause. I also sold some LR-115 solid state nuclear track detector material to one experimenter. That was it. Total sales maybe $300. Now, I could have run the experiment myself, but by this time I was realizing that this wasn't what the field needed.
The triple track papers were strong evidence that something nuclear was happening in a palladium-deuterium co-deposition cell, and it hadn't budged mainstream opinion (and neither had many other published works showing similar effects).
Something much stronger was needed, and I knew what it was. I wrote a paper about it, which was published in that same journal. This is summarized as "the heat/helium correlation in the Anomalous Heat Effect," or "cold fusion." It's been multiply confirmed, but the error bars are maybe 10-20%. This could be replicated with increased precision, and most of my activity for the next few years was encouraging that to happen. It was funded. We know who funded it. Famous. (But is insisting on anonymity).
So what happened? I don't know. The team -- highly reputable! -- appears to have brokeg up, there were rumors of personality clashes. Nothing clear, and last I was told, it was on its way to publication. Soon. And I was told this more than a year ago, by a quite reputable person.
And that's the field, I've read easily more than a thousand papers, and there is one SNAFU after another.
Yet, overall, the evidence is clear. Something nuclear is happening, it's real, but very difficult to control.
There have been recent realizations as to why. It was known from very early on that the effect was incredibly sensitive to exact material conditions, and the same piece of material would show no effect, then show a clear effect, then show nothing more. All unreliable. (But in some experimental series, more than half the experiments show significant excess heat. Some show a lot of heat, though nothing approaching practical energy generation -- unless it could be done reliably.)
It is now known that there is a previously-unknown phase of palladium deuteride, normally found only in material that has been subjected to high pressure (5 GPa) and temperature (above about 500C). This material may form in small quantities under certain conditions, and the repeated electrolysis of a standard Fleischmann-Pons experiment, stressing the metal, might be adequate. If that is the nuclear-active material, it was only being made adventitiously. And this is untested and unproven. Toss hundred million dollars at it, maybe some results.
There has been much derision from the peanut gallery about the claim that failure to investigate this effect could be resulting in a lost opportunity cost of something like a trillion dollars per year.
The peanut gallery laughs, but billionaires invest.
Aside from the donor who funded heat/helium research, Industrial Heat spent over $50 million recently, about half of that merely to rule out the "Rossi effect." (And they had a commitment for another $150 million.) Google has funded an ongoing project, the story is about $10 million so far. See their first paper. No cigar yet, which is utterly unsurprising to those who know the field. There are some promising approaches. The Japanese are reporting significant heat, but none of this is a bombshell.
But the effect is real. (And the Google group has so far failed to create the effect.) Is it "cold fusion"? Well, what is "fusion"? The original idea isn't what is happening. It is not d-d fusion, i.e., two deuterium nuclei being smashed together. That reaction is well-known, and it results in not just a few neutrons, but copious neutrons. If that were the explanation of the reported heat, there would be the "dead graduate student effect," as the pseudoskeptics called it with glee. Tritium has also been found, but like the neutrons, the levels are far, far below what would be expected from the reported heat, about a million times down -- and the neutrons reported, instead of being about equal to tritium, from d-d fusion, are another million times down.
But helium production matches the heat, within experimental error. This was not discovered until about 1991. . . .
Because the effect is so cantankerous, there is no reliable protocol to create the anomalous heat. But when there is no excess heat measured in these experiments, there is no helium. When there is excess heat, there is proportionate helium. And that's been confirmed by many research groups.
This is extremely strong evidence, and my goal was to nail it, though measurement with increased precision. My home kits were useless for that, they were designed to measure neither heat nor helium. They were a one-trick pony: neutrons or not.
The levels of neutrons reported are extremely low. They tell us nothing about the main reaction.
So, yes, I abandoned that approach. I might still run some experiments, or not; it is far from a priority. Of late, there are reports of using the neutrons to fission uranium-238. So co-depositing some uranium (easy to do) on the cathode might produce some interesting effects, neutron amplification. Or not. That work is being done by members of the original SPAWAR team, commercially, with governmental support.
I have no confidence that practical applications will be seen in my lifetime. My interest has only been scientific and journalistic, but I do realize -- as have many -- the possible implications.