I’ve mentioned before (here and here) one of the main challenges of explaining cold fusion. In conventional nuclear fusion, nuclear energy is transformed into the kinetic energy of a few (usually 2 or 3) very-fast-moving particles. But if cold fusion is a real thing, then the nuclear energy would seem to be transformed into something else. The reason we know this is, very-fast-moving particles create radiation (I mean neutrons, gamma-rays, etc.), and people have looked for it and found that there is very little of it (see here). For example, some people have been doing cold fusion experiments for many years, without dying of radiation poisoning. Well, I mean, I’m not an expert, but they don’t look dead. So, this is the mystery of the missing radiation. The mystery has been approached in sensible ways and in nonsense ways, and in this post I’ll give some examples of both. Edmund Storms’s “hydroton theory” will be my nonsense example.
Overview. Palladium-deuteride cold fusion, if it exists it all, almost certainly proceeds along the following lines:
Nuclear fusion releases energy → ???? → Energy is now heat
In traditional nuclear physics, liberated nuclear energy turns into only one thing: Kinetic energy of a few particles (2 or 3 usually). (For gamma-rays, replace “kinetic energy” by just “energy”.) But it seems that the “????” must be something else. What? No one knows. But people are working on it. Here are some examples:
Sensible approach 1: “Fractionation”
Peter Hagelstein’s idea is that the “????” is an intense crystal vibration, amounting to billions of phonons. These phonons are supposed to be made directly and simultaneously during the fusion process. Since quantum mechanics relates energy to frequency, this is a type of “subharmonic generation”, where a signal at frequency f sets off another vibration at frequency f/2 or f/3 or (in this case) f/1000000000.
Subharmonic generation only happens under unusual circumstances and I doubt that this theory could actually work, but I don’t want to say anything for sure until I understand the arguments better. But anyway, I call this a “sensible approach” to solving the mystery of the missing radiation because there is no law of physics that obviously rules it out, and if it’s true, it would explain the mystery.
Sensible approach 2: Weird SRIM loophole
The arguments I summarized on this page all say that we know that thus-and-such energetic particle is not present because if it were, it would create a certain amount and kind of radiation which is absent in experiments. These kinds of arguments are based on models of how energetic particles move through solids, e.g. SRIM (“Stopping and Range of Ions in Matter”).
What assumptions are there underlying these calculations? Is there a loophole? Could there be some weird circumstance that allows the fast-moving particles to slow down while creating much less observable radiation?
Well, I don’t think this is very likely. But it would be a sensible thing to look into.
A nonsense approach: Hydroton theory
Edmund Storms imagines a line of deuterium atoms that oscillates like in this animation:
Here’s an excerpt from the description of his “hydroton theory” of cold fusion.
Once coherent vibration starts, mass-energy emission starts…. This vibration causes two nuclei to get closer for a brief time while the opposite nuclei get further away, as shown in Fig. 86. As the structure resonates, two photons of equal energy and opposite spin are ejected in opposite directions, with each photon being ejected from each of two nuclei as they approach each other. Each approach removes a small amount of mass-energy from each hydrogen nuclei while spin and momentum are conserved. … The energy of each emitted photon is determined by how long this close approach lasts, which is determined by the frequency of resonance. Eventually, the resonance cycle moves the two nuclei apart again before additional mass-energy can be lost. This process is repeated as each deuteron approaches the opposite nuclei. Again, a photon is emitted …. This process continues until most mass-energy resulting from helium formation has been lost by emission of many low-energy photons. –“The Explanation of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (book) by Edmund Storms, p222-4. [Text is not available online, I actually bought a copy, crazy!]
I’m not ready to say that everything in this passage is pure nonsense, maybe it has a kernel of truth. (And there are other aspects to hydroton theory beyond what’s in that quote.) But let’s read this passage narrowly as a proposed explanation of the mystery of the missing radiation. In that respect, if I’m understanding it right, then it’s a complete failure.
Remember, when you have two protons and two neutrons, they have 24 MeV more energy in the form of deuterium + deuterium then they do as a helium-4. But there’s essentially nothing in between those two states. There is no such thing as a half-fused helium-4 with 12 MeV extra energy. There is no such thing as a deuteron with less rest mass than normal. So the idea that the system can emit two real X-ray photons at a time to gradually lose energy is absurd. There are no configurations of matter that have 1MeV, 2MeV, 3MeV, … less energy than how it started.
This is why, in Hagelstein’s “fractionation” proposal above, the billion phonons are all emitted in a single coherent quantum process. As implausible as this proposal may be, it’s not nearly as bad as saying that there is a ladder of real states spanning the gap between fused and unfused energies.
So I would suggest that Storms forget about nonsense like “remov[ing] a small amount of mass-energy from each hydrogen nucle[us]”, and say instead that the fusion energy turns into 10,000 x-ray photons all at once, in a “fractionation” process, a la Peter Hagelstein’s theory mentioned above. That would at least be a step in the right direction.