The E-Cat is essentially a boiler, but the mechanism that drives it is as mysterious as the warp core on the Starship Enterprise. According to Rossi, the nuclear reactions occurring inside the E-Cat emit low-level gamma rays. Lead shielding surrounding the reactor chambers converts these gamma rays into thermal energy, which heats up the water. This is significant. Proof of gamma ray emissions could solve one of LENR’s big riddles: If it’s truly a nuclear process, where’s the radiation? But Rossi has refused to allow independent measurements of his machine, perhaps because he doesn’t always know whether he’s going to pull a rabbit out of his hat or a cobra. Last year, he demonstrated the E-Cat for a group of private investors who were considering a commitment of up to $150 million. The E-Cat came apart at the seams, hissing steam and spitting water. Rossi blew a gasket, too. The investors could still hear the echoes of his curses as they sped away from his warehouse.
Rossi had been warming up the E-Cat for an hour, which he said was necessary to trigger the nuclear reactions. The module was plugged into the wall. Critics have slammed him for not unplugging it during live demonstrations, casting doubt on his claims of excess energy output. Some even suggested that Rossi juiced the E-Cat through hidden wires. To show me he had nothing to hide, Rossi circled the table, methodically clamping a handheld ammeter around every wire.
“Zero amperes,” Rossi said, showing me the ammeter’s display. He clamped it again. “You see? Zero amperes.”
He decoupled the E-Cat’s power cord with a theatrical flourish and darted over to a laptop. The computer logged temperature data from a probe stuck into the top of the E-Cat. The temperature gradient on the laptop’s screen peaked around 140°C and remained there. The E-Cat was running in what Rossi called “self-sustained mode,” implying that the reaction occurring inside of it—whatever that reaction might be—generated enough excess heat to keep itself going. The E-Cat ran at 140°C, unplugged, for about an hour. It’s impossible to say what produced the heat. Even if Rossi was showing me an accurate calorimeter reading, it wouldn’t be enough to conclude that his machine contained a nuclear reaction. A device the approximate size and volume of the 10kW E-Cat module would have to operate in self-sustained mode for at least one week to rule out the possibility of an exothermic chemical reaction.
Rossi jutted his square chin and clasped his hands behind his back. “We are not making some water or some laboratory experiment,” he said. “We are making an industrial product
that is going to the market to make real kilowatt hours. This is our revolution.”
Rossi’s past demonstrations were tightly controlled affairs. A month after the botched investor demo, when he debuted his 1-megawatt (mW) E-Cat for the public, he made people stand outside in the cold, inviting them in one at a time for a five-minute glimpse. So I was surprised when he left me alone to poke around his warehouse for hours.
It was stifling inside, and occasionally Rossi came out of his office to offer me something to drink or to steady a stepladder as I teetered on the top rung taking photos. I crawled around every inch of a big blue shipping container that housed 106 linked E-Cat modules—one of Rossi’s 1mW plants. I’d seen pictures of a similar unit on the Web, but Rossi said that one had been sold to a “military concern.”
After I finished clambering around the plant, I met Rossi in his office, a small gray room decorated only by a wall calendar featuring a blonde woman wearing a bikini. “Maybe you brought luck to us,” Rossi said, pouring me a cup of water, “because the certification examination of today has been very good. Has been pretty final.”
That very morning, he said, the Swiss industrial certification firm SGS had completed safety tests of the 1mW plant. He didn’t have the actual paper certificate from SGS to show me (he expected to receive it by mail in August), but he did have new customers—sort of. Two more plants would be going out the door in September.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.