News / Vancouver

Burnaby fusion lab unfazed by claims of Italian cold fusion breakthrough

Physicists in B.C. who are competing in the global race to solve the world's energy problems are undeterred by reports that a major breakthrough in cold fusion has been independently verified in Italy.

"Unless this is one of the most elaborate hoaxes in scientific history it looks like the world may well be about to change," wrote Mark Gibbs for Forbes earlier this week.

Gibbs, a tech writer, is referring to an unpublished paper written by a panel of scientists that says it has tested a device invented by notoriously secretive Italian scientist Andrea Rossi.

Rossi has been claiming for the last couple of years to have successfully demonstrated an elusive, theoretical reaction called cold fusion. If the paper passes peer-review, it means Rossi's Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) has tapped into an energy source 10 times more powerful than conventional sources.

But Michael Delage, vice-president of business development at General Fusion in Burnaby, said it's too early to say whether Rossi's invention, which so far has not been rigorously tested enough to secure U.S. or international patents, could be a game-changer.

"Rossi has been making news on and off for the last few years," he said.

"...You've got to show that you can build things at scale and reliability and you've got to be able to produce power for the grid -- so who knows?"

General Fusion is one of the few labs in the world that is trying to build a power plant capable of catalyzing nuclear fusion, which is the atomic reaction that fuels stars.

By contrast, cold fusion would occur at or near room temperature, and has largely been rejected as a failed experiment by the mainstream scientific community.

Delage said General Fusion will continue its quest to demonstrate nuclear fusion, also known as hot fusion, armed with $40 million in venture capital, a team of 11 PhDs and a support staff of more than 50.

So far, it has built 14 of 200 high-speed pistons it needs to complete a full-scale proof-of-concept fusion generator, and the company figures with enough capital the plant could be complete within three years.

To build the rest, Delage said, it will just need to raise another $150 million — but that is pocket change when compared to the potential fiscal and environmental rewards of providing cheap, plentiful, and clean energy for generations to come.

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